Media production in this wonderful digital age is an intimate combination of hardware and software, and both need to advance at the same time. New cameras, sensors, lenses and other gear need to be matched with improvements and innovations in the editing, grading and production software used to process their output.
This has been yet another great year for production software, with some amazing new applications appearing out of the blue, some major rebuilds of the engines driving other products, and slow and steady issuing of not-do-major updates for others.
The following list is very much a personal view and not an exhaustive all-of-industry one, based on products I use regularly, have been recently reminded of, have encountered by chance or good fortune, have tried in demo versions but not full versions yet or use almost every day. If I had included everything I would have liked to, such as LUTs, plug-ins and other software large and small, this page would have been almost without end, so I had to be selective.
But if I have left out any products you think really should have been included, please share via the comments section below. One of my main aims in writing for planet5D is to be educated and to help educate, and so much of learning to make movies remains a process of constant discovery, chance encounters and stumbling upon hidden gems.
3D LUT Creator, for Creating Your Very Own LUTs
3D LUT Creator – Photographer Oleg Sharonov came up with 3D LUT Creator when conventional image editing software failed to give him the sophisticated editing capabilities and especially the color modifications he visualized. The secret, he saw, was in bending color space. 3D LUT Creator does that and a whole lot more, in each of its two paid-for versions and a freely-downloadable demo.
With LUTs becoming more must-haves amongst colorists and moviemakers doing their own editing and grading, interest in creating your own LUTs is growing, and 3D LUT Creator is one of the most sophisticated yet easiest-to-use tools for the purpose.
Adobe Creative Cloud 2015 aka Adobe CC 2015 Gets Updated
Adobe Creative Cloud 2015 – No end-of-year survey of movie and stills production software can be considered complete without looking at Adobe’s vast range of subscription-model desktop applications considered essential by a majority of professionals, enthusiasts, agencies and production companies.
Adobe Premiere Pro CC remains an industry-leading non0linear editing suite, especially after many Final Cut 7 users jumped ship several years ago. Adobe recently recognized the growing prominence of DIY color grading by adding a radically improved Lumetri Color panel to Premiere. The Morph Cut feature has been welcomed by documentary makers and face-to-camera interview shooters, and the most recent update of November 2015 added support for HDR technology, improved time remapping, more Ultra HD movie formats and more.
Adobe After Effects CC, Adobe Audition CC, Adobe Prelude CC and Adobe Media Encoder CC remain movie industry stalwarts and received updates in November as well. Likewise, Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC remain photography industry essentials also in heavy use by moviemakers along with graphics applications like Adobe Illustrator CC and Adobe InDesign CC. All Adobe CC products are available as trial versions.
Affinity Designer & Affinity Photo Enter the Fray
Affinity Designer – Winner of the Apple Design Award in June 2015 and a serious contender for producing professional vector graphics including typography, icons, logos and illustrations, Affinity Designer has been built from the ground up to be fast, versatile, full-featured and accurate.
Affinity Designer’s tools will be familiar to anyone with a background in Adobe’s graphics applications and it exports in a range of file formats that can be imported into other graphics applications and video editing software.
One of the best things about Affinity Designer? No subscription, just buy it from the App Store for a pleasantly affordable price and get free updates from then onwards.
Affinity Photo – Like Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo is an award-winning professional quality, affordable, built-from-the-ground-up photography processing application that users familiar with Adobe’s graphics will feel at home in almost immediately.
Apple selected Affinity Photo as best Mac App of 2015 and for good reason. It edits raw files from a wide range of cameras in a dedicated raw editing workspace equipped with a histograms and video-style scope as well as more controls than most other raw processors. Its regular image editing workspace is one of the most complete digital darkrooms I have seen. And it imports and exports 3D LUTs.
Affinity Photo’s collection of non-destructive and live filters and effects is enormous. It includes six extensions for Apple Photos in El Capitan. And although still a first version product, after two huge updates Affinity Photo is definitely ready for the big time at a non-subscription, App Store price that is more than affordable.
Alien Skin Exposure Gains Its Wings With X
Alien Skin Exposure X – Alien Skin’s recent Exposure X update has consolidated the former Photoshop plug-in’s evolution into a fully-fledged standalone non-destructive creative photo editing application that processes raw files as well as other common bitmap file formats.
Exposure has always been a personal favorite due to its vast list of presets based on scans from vintage, historical and contemporary analog stills and movie film, vintage and not so old printing processes, and in-darkroom manipulations that used to eat up the hours during the analog era.
My favorite presets include GAF 500, a long-dead film that I and some of my favorite photographers adored, the toned lith developer look that built some photographer/directors careers a decade or so ago, and platinum printing in its cool and warm toned variations. Those are just the tip of the iceberg.
All preset looks can be edited to the n-th degree and Exposure is available for Mac and Windows as a standalone application with plug-in for use in other popular image editing software. A free trial is available.
More Audio Plug-ins From Crumplepop
AutoBalance & AudioDenoise – Formerly Final Cut Pro X-only plug-in developer Crumplepop recently dipped its toes into the Premier Pro support waters with these two plug-ins, the first to automatically white balance footage and the second to automatically remove microphone hiss and room noise.
Crumple pop also makes a host of other FCPX-only plug-ins including another two audio products, Spectre Spectrograph and Magnetic Stereo, produced in collaboration with Audiofile Engineering of Triumph, Spectre and Fidelia fame. Crumplepop’s audio, looks, effects and finishing plug-ins are available separately or bundled together in suites with big discounts.
Aurora HDR Dawns at Macphun
Aurora HDR & Aurora HDR Pro – Macphun makes some of the most fun-to-use yet powerful image editing software available and in my humble opinion Aurora HDR Pro is the jewel in the crown. It got me interested in shooting multi-bracket images for HDR processing after years of disappointment with other HDR products.
Macphun developed both versions of Aurora HDR with HDR guru Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs and the attention to detail and vast array of editing controls and presets is more than impressive. So is the extra Trey Ratcliff presets collection added to an already large array of default presets, in the Pro version.
Macphun’s wealth of experience producing other affordable, top-end image editing software like Intensify, Tonality, Snapheal, FX Studio Pro, Focus and Noiseless, all now bundled together in Creative Kit 2016, has been brought bear in Aurora HDR and Aurora HDR Pro. Little wonder Aurora HDR is an Editor’s Choice at the App Store and received a 2015 Best of Mac App Store award.
Capture One Pro Rebuilds & Gains Video-like Color Balance Tool
Capture One is not just for Phase One cameras and digital backs, however. Version 9 supports over 400 different cameras and their raw file formats and includes profiles for a large number of popular lenses by various manufacturers. This latest version brought a long list of new features and upgrades amounting to a complete rebuild of the Capture One processing engine.
Moviemakers will be pleasantly surprised by Capture One Pro’s grading-style Color Balance tool while many photographers working in the fields of advertising, fashion, landscape, portraiture rely on Capture One as their prime raw processing and image editing tool. A high-end product with a price to match, a free 30-day trial version of Capture One Pro is available.
DaVinci Resolve Updates and Resolve Studio 12’s Price Drops
DaVinci Resolve 12 & Resolve 12 Studio – Blackmagic Design continued to amaze and please new and experienced moviemakers with its free version of the leading color grading suite DaVinci Resolve 12, now also in the process of becoming an excellent non-linear editor. In a completely unexpected move, Blackmagic Design then placed DaVinci Resolve Studio 12 on the App Store at a massive price reduction, making more than one licence available to each purchaser. No more hardware dongles!
I reported on all this and VFX industry standard Fusion 8 in its free and Studio public betas recently. Top-end industry standard VFX, color grading and NLE software, free and price reduced. What’s not to like?
DxO’s Three Stills Applications Undergo Constant Updates, Price Drops
DxO FilmPack, OpticsPro and ViewPoint – DxO, possibly more well-known for its DxOMark image quality testing service, carries out those tests to build camera, sensor and lens profiles for use in its stills photography software processing products.
The set of three are powerful when used together as standalone applications or plug-ins, and are available separately or discounted as DxO Photo Suite. Each of the three applications received updates throughout the year as DxO added new camera, sensor and lens profiles.
I am never completely reliant on just one software product for any specific purpose, be it audio editing, video editing or for processing stills, but regulator readers may have deduced that I use all three DxO products a great deal and for good reason. In combination, they do a terrific job of converting, enhancing and optimizing stills. I would love DxO to bring some of that core technology into the video production space.
Film Convert Endures, Steady as She Goes
Film Convert – Film Convert made by New Zealand’s Rubber Monkey software division has long been the go-to stills and movie film stock and grain emulation application in its standalone and plug-in versions, for Mac and Windows users.
Before all the recent interest in filmstock-emulating 3D LUTs, Film Convert was working away standalone or as a plug-in for Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere, Final Cut Pro X and 7, DaVinci Resolve, Sony Vegas, Scratch and Avid Media Composer. The developers release free camera packs aka camera profiles for footage shot with a wide range of contemporary DSLRs, cinema cameras, GoPros, camcorders and mirrorless hybrids with the latest release being for the Sony A7S Mark II.
From Convert’s bundle pricing is very attractive and the company runs promotion campaigns with discounts throughout the year. Highly recommended.
Final Cut Pro X Cements Its Popularity with Version 10.2
Final Cut Pro X – Updated to version 10.2 earlier this year, FCPX (for short) is one of the most innovative, easy and fast to use non-linear video editing applications out there. Version 10.2 added 3D titles, more camera formats, advanced masking, improved scopes, conversion of the Color Board to an effect, and more. Highly recommend to be used with Motion and Compressor for more advanced encoding and effects work.
Frame.io Appears to Ease Collaboration
Frame.io – Media production has become a multinational collaboration game amongst professionals and clients located anywhere in the world, in every time zone, needing to view and modify files at their own convenience. Until now, tracking changes and ensuring everyone is equally up-to-date has been pretty much a nightmare. Until the arrival of Frame.io, that is.
Frame.io combines file sharing, video viewing and communications with clients and coworkers into one very impressive product that was almost instantly adopted by, it seems, everyone from solo freelancers through production houses of all sizes up to the biggest agencies and client corporations on the planet.
Hasselblad, Giving Us All Phocus for Free
Hasselblad Phocus – One of the most pleasant surprises when researching raw image processing a few years ago was Hasselblad’s free, yes free, professional-grade raw editor. Focus is primarily intended for users of the Swedish camera company’s digital cameras, but it also supports around 200 other cameras and their raw files.
I always recommend Phocus, now in version 2.9.2, to new photographers and those wanting to become serious about editing raw files instead if relying on JPEGs. It is an excellent starting point and learning tool.
HitFilm Does It All for All Aspects of Video Production
HitFilm – HitFilm, as its developers tell us, is no ordinary movie editor and its versatility is clear in high-end version HtFilm Pro 4, which fuses video editing, VFX, 3D compositing, titling, animating and color grading into big, impressive application. HitFilm is made for the Mac and Windows.
Dip your toes into the HitFilm waters with HitFilm 3 Express, a free version that can be beefed up as you go with Express Packs add-ons priced from US$9.99 up to US$99.99 each. HitFilm Ignite is a 140-strong collection of plug-ins for popular NLEs and color grading suites inlcuding After Effects, Premier, Final Cut Pro X, Motion, DaVinci Resolve, Sony Catalyst Edit and Sony Vegas Pro.
Iridient Developer, the Independent Raw Processor Alternative
Iridient Developer – This is an independently-produced raw image conversion application made for Mac OS X. I first came across it when researching raw developers that would support Fujifilm’s X-Trans non-Bayer sensors and have been impressed by its support for over 620 different digital cameras. Users report sharper, more color-rich results from Iridient Developer than with any other raw developing software.
iZotope Updates Its High-End Audio Editor & Enhancer to RX 5
iZotope RX 5 Audio Editor & RX 5 Advanced Audio Editor – iZotope’s RX and its Advanced version have been bywords in the high-end audio and video production industries since their arrival on the scene several years ago. Version 5 of both appeared recently, adding an improved workflow, enhanced plosive removal, improved volume leveling, ambience bed matching and plenty of other updates and new features large and small.
Both versions of RX 5 Audio Editor are a pleasure to use, especially for visually-oriented people, and most especially if you use Wacom or other brand art tablets. RX’s user interface revolves around a spectrograph where you paint in corrections or remove blemishes by hand, as well as a large collection of more conventionally-operated editing modules.
RX Audio Editor in both its versions is available for Mac and Windows, and works standalone or as a set of plug-ins for a range of audio editing applications and non-linear editors including Final Cut Pro X, DaVinci Resolve 12, Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, Audition, Pro Tools and more.
KeyFlow Pro Surprises as a Key Product for Freelancers & Workgroups
Many smaller production teams and freelancers keep media files scattered all over in networked and freestanding drives instead of the centralized servers more common to big production companies. KeyFlow Pro collects files located on desktops and media drives into library packages that can be copied or left in place for easy retrieval and updating by you and any of your coworkers.
A real production tome and money saver. Available only for Mac OS X via the App Store or downloadable as a 30-day free trial at the KeyFlow Pro website.
Neat Video Updates, Remains a Core Industry Staple
Neat Video – The Neat Video team recently twice updated Neat Video, long considered the essential video noise reduction plug-in for a large range of NLEs as well as OFX hosts like Fusion, DaVinci Resolve and more.
Version 4.1 of early December added support for Windows 10, Mac OS X 10.11 aka El Capitan as well as new OFX plug-in host applications like Quantel Pablo Rio, Natron 2 and IDT Vision Motion Studio. New versions of currently-supported NLEs and grading applications also received support in version 4.1 along with updates for Apple video products Final Cut Pro X, Motion and Compressor.
While fact checking for this article, I visited the Neat Video website and discovered an even more recent update, 4.1.1 dated December 21, for the Final Cut Pro X plug-in. A visit there might be a good idea is using the FCPX plug-in or others.
Soap Up Your Audio Quality with SoundSoap
SoundSoap – Developer Soundness kept SoundSoap alive after Mac audio software maker BIAS, Inc. dissolved big numbers of BIAS Peak and SoundSoap users in the lurch, and under Soundness SoundSoap keeps getting better and better.
Often described as an audio clean-up and enhancement “must-have” by movie post-producers and editors, SoundSoap is available at Apple’s App Store as a standalone-only version or direct from Soundness as a standalone and plug-in edition. It is also available for Windows.
SoundSoap’s elegant graphic interface in its standalone version hides a wealth of audio processing power, and it works as a plug-in in popular audio editing and NLE software like Final Cut Pro X, Premiere CC, Pinnacle Studio, Vegas, SoundForge, Audacity, Sound Studio, EDIUS and Pro Tools.
Switch to Telestream’s Switch for Quality Movie Playback & More
Switch – With successive versions of Apple’s Quicktime player losing importance and power as video playback, editing and file conversion solutions, Telestream has leapt into the breach to offer a promising alternative in Switch. Switch is available for the Mac and Windows, and is offered in three versions in both platforms.
Switch Player is free and is a great video file media player with an in-depth inspector. Switch Plus is aimed at video editors and other post-production pros, adding more playback capabilities, caption playback, audio meters and transcoding. Switch Pro is the top-end version, adding features aimed at broadcast and media production quality control professionals.
I have been evaluating the free Switch Player and am considering making it my default video player due to its support for HEVC, 4K, DNxHD and JPEG2000 video files. The free edition does not support WMV files but upgrading to the Plus or Pro version adds WMV support. I particularly value Switch Player’s single-frame backwards and forwards feature for precision footage review.
(cover photo credit: Photo-illustration concept and execution by Carmel M. Morris.)