Editing Additions: New Applications to Advance Your Workflow

These four applications just might have room in your toolbox in the new year.
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Telestream Switch

Apple QuickTime Player Pro (not QuickTime Player X) has been the go-to media player and encoding application, but Apple is actively deprecating QuickTime with each new version of Mac OS X. At some point it’s likely that QuickTime Player Pro will cease to function. Telestream—maker of the highly regarded Episode encoder—plans to be ready with Switch and hopes editors will use Switch where they would normally have used QuickTime Player Pro in the past.

Switch is a cross-platform, multifunction media player that comes in three versions: Switch Player—a free, multiformat media player with file inspection capabilities; Switch Plus—a $49 application to play, inspect and fix media file issues; and Switch Pro—a comprehensive ($295) file encoder. All Switch versions will play a wide range of media file formats and allow you to inspect the file properties. Unlike other open source media players, Telestream Switch can play many professional media formats (like MXF), display embedded captions and subtitles, and properly encode to advanced file formats (like Apple ProRes).

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Switch audio meters

The current version of Switch can encode in QuickTime (MOV), MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 (transport and program stream) containers. Codec encoding support includes H.264, MPEG-2 and ProRes. (ProRes export on Windows is ProRes 422 HQ for iTunes only.) Telestream plans to add more capabilities to Switch over time. There’s also a pass-through mode in cases where files simply need to be rewrapped. For example, you might wish to convert Canon EOS C300 clips from MXF into QuickTime movies but maintain the native Canon XF codec.

Switch Pro, the most sophisticated offering, is more than an encoder. It also includes SDI out via AJA I/O devices (for preview to an external calibrated device), loudness monitoring and caption playback. Even the free Player will pass audio out to speakers through AJA cards and USB-connected Core Audio devices. Along with inspection of file properties, Switch includes a set of audio meters that display volume and loudness readings. Although it does not offer audio and video adjustment or correction controls, you can rearrange audio channels and speaker assignments.

Telestream recently released Switch 2.0 with additional features for QC workflows. There’s a brand new Timeline feature to view the GOP structure of Long GOP formats, highlighting I, P and B frames. You can now view Vertical Ancillary (VANC) data on an external monitor, allowing broadcasters to view captions on multiple monitors.

Apple Photos

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Apple Photos replaces Aperture and iPhoto as a more streamlined photo organizing and enhancement application.

As most readers know, Apple replaced iPhoto and Aperture with Photos, a free photo organizing and processing tool that comes with the OS X operating system. If your need is to create slideshows and books, it’s extremely easy. Simply import the photos you want, group them into a project and then create a book or slideshow from that project. Any of these items is based on templates with preset designs that can be modified. They include editable placeholder text. Printed photo books can be purchased through the application.

Double-clicking any photo opens it in the image editor, which is the closest to Aperture’s adjustment or Lightroom’s develop mode. When you edit the image, a series of tools opens on the right. These can be used to crop, add stylizing filters, heal blemishes or fix red-eye. The Adjustments tool opens a set of sliders for various color adjustments, but the “add” pull-down enables quite a few more controls than the default. In total, this makes the level of control fairly sophisticated.

Exports are handled through a share menu, as in Final Cut Pro X. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the sort of batch-processing control that Aperture or Lightroom offers. This is a functional tool that many will like, but it really isn’t for photography power users who need an industrial-strength application.

iZotope RX Loudness Control

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iZotope’s RX Loudness Control is designed to analyze and correct tracks while maintaining the dynamics of the mix.

As more emphasis is being placed on loudness compliance around the world, it’s important for editors and sound mixers to have the right tools to stay legal. A new iZotope offering is RX Loudness Control, which not only analyzes your mix, but fixes it to be compliant. This plug-in is designed for Avid Pro Tools and Media Composer, along with the Adobe Creative Cloud applications. It quickly analyzes your final mix and performs a faster-than-real-time processing of the track.

RX Loudness Control includes presets for eight international loudness standards. Correction includes three components: fixed gain to hit a specific target, optional short-term loudness compression, and True Peak limiting. By design, the intent is to leave the mix dynamics in place, but IRC II (Intelligent Release Control) limiting is used where necessary.

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It quickly analyzes your final mix and performs a faster-than-real-time processing of the track.

In Media Composer, create a mixdown clip of your timeline mix and place it on an available track. Mute all other tracks. Apply the RX Loudness Control as an AudioSuite filter to the mixdown clip. Set the loudness standard preset, analyze and render. With the Adobe applications, the RX Loudness Control appears as a preset in the export module of Premiere Pro or Adobe Media Encoder. Simply export your timeline using the RX Loudness preset. Make adjustments to the settings as needed. If you want the mixed/processed track to be imported automatically back into the same project, make sure to check that box. The new WAV file will appear in your project, so simply mute all existing audio in your sequence and drop the processed WAV onto an empty audio track.

Serif Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer

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Designer includes a comprehensive set of raster-based paint tools.

Those who are looking for an alternative to Adobe Photoshop may find a solution in Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer for the Mac platform. Affinity Photo competes with Adobe Photoshop. Affinity Designer is aimed at Adobe Illustrator. Both applications are available through the Mac App Store. Affinity Designer won an Apple Design Award at WWDC 2015 for being “an excellent example of what a state-of-the-art Mac app should be.” Among Affinity Designer’s strengths, the judges lauded its flexible and intuitive user interface.

Since I don’t use Illustrator much, I can’t adequately compare Illustrator and Designer, except to say that Designer is a very capable vector-based drawing and design application. It will import AI files, but round-trip compatibility largely requires certain common file standards: PNG, TIFF, JPEG, GIF, SVG, EPS, PSD or PDF. The layout is built around three modes, called “personas.” Start in the Draw persona to create your document. Switch to the Pixel persona for paint and adjustment functions. Finally, export through the Export persona.

Affinity Photo’s four personas are Photo, Liquify, Develop and Export. The Photo persona is the closest to Photoshop’s toolset, while Develop is more like the Lightroom toolkit. Liquify is designed for image distortion based on a mesh.

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Affinity Photo includes many photo enhancement tools, including relighting effects.

In general, Affinity Photo feels a lot like Adobe Photoshop—the toolset, adjustment layers and layer styles work in a similar fashion. One powerful set of effects is Live Filter layers, which are similar to adjustment layers in that they are editable and don’t bake an effect into the layer. The difference is that a Live Filter can be added to that layer only and doesn’t affect everything beneath it, like a standard adjustment layer. Live Filters can be rearranged, disabled or edited at any time without relying on undo.

Compatibility between Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop is good, and Serif states that they are aiming for the best compatibility on the market. I’ve had better luck going from Photo into Photoshop using a layered PSD file than I did bringing a file created in Photoshop back into Photo. The usual culprits are layer effects and vector-based objects. In Photoshop, the Photo-created adjustment layer effects came across, but text with layer effects was merged into a rasterized layer with the layer effects baked in. When I went from Photoshop to Photo, layer effects were simply dropped. Affinity Photo is supposed to use third-party Photoshop plug-ins, but my attempts to use Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks crashed Photo. Unlike Pixelmator, Affinity Photo cannot use Quartz Composer-based filters, such as those from Noise Industries’ FxFactory.  

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