I swear I’m not dead! I’ve spent the last few weeks on a DIT job between Los Angeles and Indianapolis, only to be hit with some other production needs as soon as I arrived home. With all that out of the way I wanted to write down my thoughts about Adobe Speedgrade CC. Rather than jump right in and rattle off the new features like everyone else does, I wanted to take some time to explore the program in a real world context like the feature film I just completed.
During production I was tasked with creating DVD dailies from Arri Alexa 2k ProRes 4444 footage for the producers to screen. I used Speedgrade to apply the SD burn-in preset along with the log-c to rec. 709 LUT, exported NTSC widescreen SD footage using the MOV container and DVCPro compression, and then processed footage into Premiere Pro so I could marry the original camera audio (I’ll relate this to a software bug shortly) and add Adobe Encore chapter markers before exporting to MPEG-2 and authoring with Encore CS6.
While I could have used Resolve to export files with sound, it doesn’t export anything DVD ready so in either case an additional step for DVD authoring prep in Premiere Pro was needed.
The editorial team, being part of a larger post house, insisted that they take the burden of creating their own offline DNxHD files from footage I delivered daily while we filmed in Los Angeles. I volunteered to do it on set, but they insisted it was unnecessary. Bonus for me.
Speedgrade introduces some modest UI enhancements that will seem less foreign to new users and that veterans will appreciate. Nothing groundbreaking, but things feel a little more cohesive and the program handles better on smaller screens like that of my 2012 15″ MacBook Pro.
In particular, my favorite new feature is the ability to collapse the look browser in the grading tab as well as having my masks on the grading tab. Masks also introduce motion tracking which, after a modest amount of testing, perform decently with some babysitting and will lead to some saved time during grading. Creating multiple playheads is much more intuitive and along with that comes the shot matcher. The shot matcher seems to do its best work getting rid of color casts/shifts while lift/gamma/gain adjustments are better left to additional manual tweaking.
While the modest set of improvements are welcome, the Speedgrade team seems to be dragging its feet with bug fixes and product documentation. Speedgrade lacks a deep and proper manual from Adobe; many features appear cryptic or, worse yet, vestiges of features that have been stripped out (did you know that Speedgrade could once read and generate LTC audio signals?). Iridas still has its wiki up which acts as Speedgrade’s Rosetta Stone, decrypting many features shared with older versions.
Speedgrade needs stability improvements. Both the Windows and OSX versions will crash semi regularly. Luckily, the program is set to autosave often and it restarts quickly. A welcome change from something like Resolve 9’s beta which an AE and I both attempted to use while shooting a feature on location last year; I’ve yet to see something kernel panic or hard freeze a Mac as often as that program did.
There are, however, two deep flaws yet to be mended with Speedgrade. If you attempt to use scene change detection on a partial clip, scene change detections will be applied with the assumption that the full clip is on the timeline. This causes applied cuts to be shifted in time and the result inaccurate. The true show-stopping bug affecting Speedgrade CC and CS6 is audio for dailies. If you follow Adobe’s directions on how to create dailies, you may have noticed that each rendered file has audio from the entire timeline rather than just audio from it’s corresponding clip. This makes exporting dailies with audio completely useless and it’s forced me to contemplate purchasing something like Cortex Control Dailies. Speedgrade’s development team needs to fix this, but in an ideal world Adobe would develop Prelude into their dailies app: allowing for LUT application, metadata burn-in and external audio file sync. One can dream.
Will I continue to use Speedgrade? While it’s not a perfect program, if Premiere’s recent 7.0.1 update is any indication, at least I can hope that these issues will be fixed sooner than later.