Editing in a Pinch: Sony’s Catalyst Production Suite Makes a Speedy, Simplified Tool

There have never been so many good options for non-linear editing (NLE) software.

Over the years, one-time industry standard Avid Media Composer has met with Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Adobe’s Premiere Pro (and applications like After Effects), and most recently Blackmagic’s upgrade of their color software, DaVinci Resolve, into a full NLE.

One common trait each of these NLEs share is that they continue to increase in complexity over time, in an attempt to meet all post-production needs in a single piece of software. For example, Adobe folded most all functions of Speedgrade, their standalone coloring application, inside of Premiere Pro; Blackmagic did the inverse with DaVinci Resolve, but both shoot for the same goal of an all-encompassing NLE.

Sony’s Catalyst Production Suite bucks this trend. Each component of the suite, Catalyst Prepare and Catalyst Edit, is designed to be as simplified as possible, not folded into one another, as Michael Bryant, Sony Creative Software’s Director of Marketing, announced at NAB 2015. In fact, Sony released an upgraded version of the software in November 2015 (titled Catalyst Prepare 2015.1 and Catalyst Edit 2015.1), which features 4K and RAW support, expanded editing tools, FX plug-in support and an even simpler interface.

Advertised as “focused” and “fast,” Catalyst is so streamlined that it can be used on touch-screen devices (absolutely impossible with the other NLEs mentioned above). If you are a fan of keyboard shortcuts, Catalyst’s point-and-click style might take some getting used to, and this simplicity makes the software best suited for mediums other than scripted feature films. However, if you like the idea of being able to tap your finger to a piece of media on your timeline, drag it a few frames over neighboring media, and having a dissolve automatically created upon letting go, then you might have a lot of fun with Catalyst.

The "Storyboard" function in Catalyst Prepare

The “Storyboard” function in Catalyst Prepare

Catalyst Prepare is for viewing, backing up, organizing and otherwise assembling footage. Preparations can include color correction, applying and creating LUTs (lookup tables), creating storyboards to help pre-visualize your edit, as well as transcoding a wide variety of footage formats. As you would expect it works particularly well with the RAW and S-Log footage formats native to Sony cameras (such as the A7s). While Prepare can export the footage to any NLE’s preferred format, the work you do in Prepare translates seamlessly into Catalyst Edit. The Prepare-to-Edit pipeline also eliminates problems with multichannel audio track discrepancies by automating the process. Prepare would find great use amongst digital image technicians.

I enjoyed using Mac’s split view and nesting Prepare and Edit side by side for a dual-app workflow. I could select clips from the bin structure I had set up, set my in and out points on a clip, and then edit my selection into the timeline. In this way, Prepare acted as the source monitor and Edit the program monitor, as in Premiere Pro.

The interface of Catalyst Edit is dominated by the timeline and video viewer, which can be scaled to the user’s preference. On the top bar, there are three main buttons: “Media Browser,” “Plug-Ins” and “Inspector,” which you can click on to add as a tab to the interface (you can only add one of these tabs at a time). “Media Browser” lets you access the work you already did in Catalyst Prepare, or lets you search and access media stored on an internal or external hard drive. “Inspector” lets you dig into your timeline, clips, or individual tracks to see metadata, add titles or effects, and fine-tune your editing choices. The “Plug-In” tab lets you access a whole menu of Sony FX, as well as third-party FX plug-ins such as Red Giant Universe.

Catalyst Edit's "Plug-ins" menu supports Sony and third-party FX

Catalyst Edit’s “Plug-ins” menu supports Sony and third-party FX

It’s very easy to export your project to a format suitable to any other NLE you may need to complete the job, or export your media as a finished project. This kind of ease of use from start to finish makes Catalyst particularly appealing to the consumer market, or in the fast-paced news and documentary fields (though serious feature film editors might prefer the usual NLE suspects). The ability to take out your tablet and treat editing the same way artists treat sketching could yield artistically inspired foundations for a project, to be fine-tuned with other creative tools down the line. MM

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