Earlier today, FXHome has announced the release of HitFilm Pro 2017, the latest version of their HitFilm video editing and compositing software for PC and Mac.
Before jumping into the HitFilm Pro 2017 review, here’s a super quick introduction for those of you who are unfamiliar with HitFilm in general.
A Short Introduction To HitFilm
It goes without saying, there’s plenty of video editing software on the market. The first ones that come to mind are big names like Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Magix Vegas, DaVinci Resolve, etc. Most of these applications are specialized to do a specific task, be it video editing (Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro), visual effects (After Effects), or color grading (Speedgrade and DaVinci Resolve, to name a few).
What makes HitFilm unique compared to most other products on the market, though, is the fact that it’s a one of a kind combination of a non-linear editor (NLE) and a video compositing tool capable of working with 3D objects. You can think of it as a blend of visual FX software like Adobe After Effects and video editing tools such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, packed into a streamlined interface that is far less intimidating for new users. It also comes with hundreds of pre-made effects and presets, which can be fully customized within the software. There’s loads of fun VFX stuff to play around width in HitFilm, from muzzle flashes and ready-to-use lightsabers to vintage film looks and particle simulation.
HitFilm cleverly organizes the interface into two entities that seamlessly interconnect with each other. There’s the editing workspace which is basically your NLE timeline with a media trimmer panel, visual effects, etc., and then you also have the compositing workspace which is designed for doing composite work. If you’re only interested in doing video editing within HitFilm, chances are you won’t ever need to touch the compositing workspace, and vice-versa. However, if you need to do any sort of compositing within your video editing project, all the tools you may need are right there at your disposal. The brilliant thing about HitFilm is that you can treat complex composite shots as video clips on the editing timeline, and then customize them further if required, without ever leaving the program.
Considering the amount of functionality that is packed into the software, HitFilm Pro is also quite reasonably priced at $349 (a one time payment, no subscription fees, up to three concurrent activations), especially compared to its rivals. Adding to that, our regular readers are probably aware of the fact that FXHome also offers a ridiculously generous free version called HitFilm Express, which was featured as the #1 pick in our list of the best freeware video editing applications.
The free Express version of HitFilm is totally worth checking out if you need an advanced freeware tool for editing videos, with optional add-ons that are available for purchase via FXHome’s website. The Pro version of HitFilm includes all the add-ons for HitFilm Express, along with a host of bonus features, but more on those below. Time to check out the new version!
Up Close And Personal With HitFilm Pro 2017
Software updates are always a bit scary, right? Sometimes they make your favorite software better, whereas in other cases things become worse than before, for whatever reason. The developers occasionally fail to take advantage of the less is more approach, and instead focus on piling up as much bloat as possible in order to make a program’s feature list look impressive on launch day. Thankfully, I’m pleased to say that HitFilm Pro 2017 is not that kind of update. On the contrary, the latest version of HitFilm pushes all the right buttons and introduces a concise set of valuable new features that improve the workflow and expand the program’s capabilities, instead of annoying its users with unnecessary options.
Being primarily an audio guy myself, I was extremely happy to see that HitFilm now features an audio mixer with peak metering, per-channel volume, pan, automation and mute/solo controls, as well as the master channel with a volume control and volume automation. Obviously, this makes handling audio in complex multi-track projects far easier than having to open each channel’s FX controls separately in order to access the Channel Levels effect, as things were in the previous versions of HitFilm. It would be nice to have the option to use audio effects on the master channel (a compressor or a limiter, preferably), so hopefully we’ll see those included in a future update.
The addition of audio sync is another time-saving feature included in HitFilm Pro 2017, meant as an aid for users who record video and audio separately. I’ve tested the feature on some of my raw backup footage from Musikmesse 2016 (ah, the time wasted on syncing the audio on those clips manually!) and HitFilm performed the task formidably for the most part, despite the ridiculous amounts background noise captured by the camera’s built-in mic. The success rate during my test was precisely 80%, as only one of the six tested clips failed to sync, in which case HitFilm displayed an error message that informs the user to “Make sure the selected items both have audio that is a recording of the same event”. It worked flawlessly on other clips, though, and the whole process takes around 10 seconds in total, which is quite impressive. To sync the audio of two separate clips, highlight them both in the media panel, right-click either of the two and choose the Merge Audio/Video option in the drop-down menu. If successful, HitFilm will create a new video clip labeled “Merged”, which uses the external audio clip in sync with the video. Neat!
Moving on to video features, perhaps the most notable improvement is the inclusion of Imagineer Systems mocha HitFilm and Boris FX Title Studio plugins in HitFilm Pro 2017. Advanced tracking and stabilization is now a lot easier to pull of using mocha, whereas Boris FX Title Studio brings title editing and logo animation functionality to the table, along with plenty of included presets for quick and easy lower thirds and text animation effects.
Next on the list of new features are the color grading scopes which are now available in HitFilm Pro 2017’s new Scopes panel. Much like the Audio Mixer panel, the Scopes panel can be docked to any part of the user interface, or used as a floating window. FXHome has provided a set of four scopes to choose from: Histogram, Parade, Vectorscope and Waveform view. The scopes can also be rendered into the video during export.
Speaking of exporting, HitFilm Pro 2017 introduces the export queue which allows the user to render any amount of comps (or multiple codec versions of the same project) in succession, without having to manage the whole process manually. Right-clicking a composite shot in the media panel now shows the Export option, allowing the user to export the entire composite shot, or a shorter segment of it (defined by the IN and OUT markers). HitFilm Pro 2017 comes with a set of quick export presets (YouTube 2160p UHD, YouTube 1080p HD, Vimeo 1080p HD, Facebook 720p HD, etc.), as well as the option to use fully customized render settings. Supported formats are MP4 (H.264 codec), AVI (uncompressed video) and image sequence (PNG, JPG, BMP, or OpenEXR). RAM preview size is also increased, which is great news for users with 32+ GB RAM systems.
HitFilm’s library of built-in effects has also been expanded, introducing a set of new distortion effects and improved lightsabers (just in time for Rogue One premiere!). The number of included effects and presets now exceeds 500 in totals, which is definitely impressive.
The video editing workflow has been enhanced with easier to pull of J and L cuts (the sort of cut in which the sound precedes the picture, or vice versa) and new keyboard shortcuts for easier trimming. It is now also possible to use an external monitor for the preview panel, making the main editing interface that much easier to navigate if you happen to use a dual monitor setup.
Something that I probably won’t be using anytime soon is 360° video support (along with 360° text and titles), but it’s nice to know that the option is there, if required. Lens warp has also been introduced, certainly a useful feature for handling (or emulating) action camera lens distortion.
Also worth mentioning is that HitFilm Pro 2017 is backwards compatible with old project files from previous HitFilm versions, including HitFilm 4 Express. My old HitFilm 4 Express projects loaded just fine in the new version of the software, meaning that it should be pretty safe to update your current HitFilm Pro installation to the latest version even if you’re working on some projects.
Last but not least, HitFilm Pro 2017 now includes Ignite Pro 2017, a suite of effects crafted by FXHome that can be used in other video editing and compositing applications. The pack includes over 150 plugins, adding up to over 500 effects in total, compatible with Avid Media Composer, Vegas Pro 14, Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and a host of other applications.
HitFilm Pro 2017 comes very close to being a perfect video editing and compositing tool for indie filmmakers. However, there’s one thing that I’d love to see improved in future versions of the software, and that is the performance when it comes to simple video editing tasks. Not working with effects, not doing any advanced stuff whatsoever, just plain and simple video editing. Granted, HitFilm Pro 2017 combines video editing and compositing into a single application, making the overall performance hit seemingly inevitable, however I can’t help but feel that HitFilm Pro could be at least a bit more optimized in this regard, particularly when doing the most basic editing tasks.
Don’t get me wrong, HitFilm becomes a mighty fast video editing tool once you’ve learned how to use it properly. But it takes an adequate machine with enough hard drive space, as well as a bit of experience, in order to get the best out of the application. If you’re a new HitFilm user, the method for getting the best possible performance while video editing in HitFilm Pro 2017 is explained below.
First things first, drag and drop a new clip on the timeline, hit the playback button and chances are you’ll experience a fair bit of lag and stuttering. The first remedy for this is to convert your source material to a proper video editing format using a format conversion utility such as HandBrake (FXHome has posted a great little video tutorial about this topic on their YouTube channel, embedded below).
After performing this step, the performance in HitFilm’s editing timeline will improve dramatically, however you will (most probably) still experience a bit of lag as the playhead moves from one clip to another. Needless to say, this can be quite a bit of problem when editing, as you’ll want to be able to playback your cuts in real time. HitFilm has a solution for this as well, and it’s called proxying. Right-click a clip (or preferably all the clips in a project’s media folder), and select the Make Proxy option in the drop-down menu. HitFilm will spend some time proxying the files and voila! All performance issues gone, forever (or until you cancel the proxies, once you’ve finished working on a project).
The thing is, though, that proxying media files in HitFilm Pro is a double-edged sword, as it’s rather costly in terms of hard drive space consumption, as well as the time required to make the proxies. My little test has shown that a 1:44 minute long video file (252 MB file size, MPEG-4 format) will consume 10 GB of hard drive space when proxied and will take somewhere close to 8 minutes in order to complete the proxying process. This was done on a 6th gen Core i7 machine with 16 GB of RAM and a 4 GB GeForce GTX 960 graphics card.
In other words, lag free video editing is definitely possible in HitFilm, however it will take some time and a fair bit of storage space in order to pull it off. On most occasions, loading your media files and giving HitFilm some time to complete the proxying process shouldn’t be much of a problem, but if something needs to be done super quickly, things can get a bit problematic.
On the other hand, HitFilm is close to flawless in terms of stability. All the videos that have been published on our YouTube channel since April this year have been edited in HitFilm 4 Express and I haven’t experienced a single crash in the process (knock on the wood!). Same goes for HitFilm Pro 2017, at least during the testing period for the purposes of this review.
HitFilm Pro 2017 is an epic update in all aspects. Handling audio in complex multi-track projects with the new Audio Mixer panel is plenty easier, whereas the introduction of audio sync functionality is a godsend for those of us who use an external recorder for capturing audio. Superb looking text animations, titles and lower thirds are now easy to make using Boris FX Title Studio, whereas Imagineer’s mocha HitFilm makes motion tracking and stabilization a breeze. The export queue is another welcome addition to HitFilm, as are the brand new color grading scopes which are placed in a separate panel.
My only gripe with HitFilm remains the somewhat lackluster performance when doing simple video editing work, unless all of the media within a project is proxied (at the cost of storage space). Hoping to see a better solution for this in future HitFilm updates (or at least a faster proxying process). Other than that, HitFilm Pro 2017 is a straight up 10/10.
More info: HitFilm Pro 2017 ($349)
HitFilm Pro 2017 Revew
HitFilm Pro 2017 is a well-made update which pushes all the right buttons. The new audio mixer and audio sync features are our personal favorites, shortly followed by Boris FX Title Studio, color grading scopes, and the new export queue. Performance is still somewhat of an issue while editing, although it can be drastically improved using proxies.