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The iMac: Transformation Into Editing Bliss

I do a fair bit of video editing and I have upgraded my arsenal of tools throughout the years. Each time I go for something that can pack a little bit more punch in terms of video editing. However there is a problem with this, a problem many freelance videographers run into…money. But this issue is not the lack of money but rather the large price point of a professional editing suite. However it is possible to get professional results, for much less. Here are some tips for how I’ve been able to get better editing tools for my Mac without spending an arm and a leg.

I first started editing using a Powerbook G4 and used it for years, eventually getting a MacBook to use for more personal work. But eventually it hit me, that I needed a faster and more powerful machine for editing video. I would love nothing more than to own a Mac Pro tower, but it was simply out of my price range. So I went straight for the Macbook Pro. However it wasn’t a matter of affordability, I wanted the fastest computer I could get for the least amount of money. So I went with a 20″ iMac, and honestly I have never been happier.

Why the iMac?

I decided on the 20″ iMac over the MacBook Pro simply over cost. I decided I could get more raw power for my money if I were to get the iMac. I discovered that the low end MacBook Pro runs for $1,999, which was what I had initially put in my shopping cart. But then I noticed something, I could get the second tier iMac and get a faster machine, more hard drive space, and more power overall for $1,499. The portability over power decision was initially hard for me, but then I thought about how much editing I do away from my desk, away from my external monitors, away from a keyboard and mouse…and the answer was none. So a few days later I had an iMac at my front door.

Now you have a fast computer, but that is not all you need. You’re going to need your editing software, lots of storage, and speed.

Upgrade your RAM

So to begin your new iMac’s transformation into a video editing powerhouse, start by upgrading your RAM. Your iMac can hold up to 4GB, so why not have that? You can get RAM just about anywhere but my personal favorite would be Newegg. Newegg has some of the greatest deals on computer hardware you could ask for and great selection of Mac memory as well.

So you have some new RAM, a fast computer, what more could you need? Well, you’re going to need lots of hard disk space. The iMac already comes with a good amount of space, but eventually this will run out working with video, and it will run out even faster if editing high definition content. So look into some portable solutions.

Get some storage (you will need it)

Western Digital makes one of the best hard drives for this purpose. The My Book Studio Edition II offers 1 and 2 Terabyte capacities in a sleek affordable package. However, if you are still looking for something a bit more portable you could try the My Passport Studio. This edition of the super portable Passport line of hard drives offers Firewire as a connection option which is a big plus for video editing. But aside from the Firewire it also offers a large capacity drive in a small package. I know I would have a hard time getting around without mine, its as easy to use as plugging in and letting it go, so its essentially a really large thumb drive.

Display your assets

The 20″ iMac already has a gorgeous display, but you can add to that by adding a second of your choice. My choice would be one of Apple’s new cinema displays, but again those could be hard to come across without breaking the bank. So try to find a second monitor from another manufacturer, just double check that it is at the resolution, and size that you need.

From here all you need to do is install Final Cut Pro or Express; aside from the computer itself, this will probably be the largest purchase. But it is the engine that will drive this powerful editing machine.

From here you should be able to start editing on your new powerhorse. So what more could you possibly need? This is an optional and fairly aesthetic choice, but Photojojo sells a very nice keyboard cover to help you out in memorizing all those nice Final Cut shortcuts.

With a few up front costs, this package still isn’t cheap. But for those looking for a nice machine to edit digital video with, the iMac would be a fantastic choice, and it certainly beats the price point of the larger more powerful Mac Pro towers. Once these up front costs are addressed and it is all said and done, you should be ready to start making some films that have a more professional look and feel to them.

13 Responses to “The iMac: Transformation Into Editing Bliss”

  1. The MAC lord

    I’ve been in the video Business for 11 years. I’ve used a Power Mac G5 for the past 4. I’ve used and IMAC as well for the past year. Witt that said I agree with the article. YOu can do some pro level editing with the IMAC. Obviously the Mac Pro is faster but you can still get alot done with the IMAC.

  2. Pro All The Way

    I agree with the MacPro comment above. Half of making money in “pro video” is making good use of time. The encode times on a MacPro will likely justify its extra expense in a matter of days. We use 3 of them here and do a lot of distributed processing just to keep encode times reasonable. The iMac is a nice shiny toy for FCE users, sure, but the very notion that it would suffice for video “pros” is absurd. I get that everyone has a budget but I’d highly disagree with this article. The iMac is competent at editing, sure, but compositing, color correction and encoding (all 3 of which are staples in the modern age of vieo editing) demand something with more power when deadlines are a consideration, and when aren’t they?

    I’m not knocking the iMac – I’m simply suggesting that when time equals money you’d save a lot of both with a high initial investment. At our hourly rate I’d venture to say that we’d make up the difference in less than a week, easily.

  3. Dual monitors really make most sense, it just gives one so much more desktop space, and the ability to have two different things side by side, enabling one to compare and cross reference without having to minimise one to get to the other. Definitely works for me!

  4. I have a very similar setup – imac 24″, Dell 24″ Ultrassharp (Desperately want an apple display but my friend had a spare dell so couldn’t bring my poor student self to pay for the apple yet!) and a stack of various hard drives including 2 1tb Mybook studios, 1 mirroring the other which stores all completed projects. I have produced some fantastic results and couldn’t be happier with the setup, but I do know that as I finish my course and start to do real professional level editing and compositing that I’ll have to step up my kit and get a mac pro. Until then though I am very happy.

  5. I agree with article and can relate if you’re trying to get the best bang for your buck. I am all for working within your own means and budget but one thing that you dont mention is “time is money”. And for a freelancer, it should be considered as important as your equipment. An iMac has 6MB shared L2 cache at full processor speed and 1066MHz frontside bus, the Pro Mac has 12MB of L2 cache per processor (each pair of cores shares 6MB) and 1600MHz, 64-bit dual independent frontside buses. I am working on one of those new shiny ProMacs with those specs, and if I were to switch to the iMac, it would probably take me a few hours longer if not more do my ripping and processing. Time that I cannot afford to waste when I am on my own clock.

    Its what I considered when purchasing all of my equipment. Also too, the iMac is not nearly as expandable as the ProMac, which can last longer as it wouldn’t need to be replaced by a newer machine.

  6. While I agree with most of what you’re saying, there’s one thing that would make for better editing performance. Instead of going with the externals you mentioned, try building your own.

    On OWC you can get professional cases (FW800 and USB 2.0) that hold one or two drives for relatively cheap, and just monitor the prices on drives to buy a size that you want at incredible deals (I recently bought a 1TB 7200RPM 32mb cache drive for 122 shipped, and I’ve seen them cheaper since). The upside of this is that with these enclosures, you can define the drive setup; very handy if you want to RAID together drives or mirror them to have your data safer while you edit.

    The further benefit is that you can easily upgrade the drives later on, say if you buy a 500gb drive now, and get a better deal on a 1.5 terabyte drive later, then it’s a simple upgrade for your external.

    Furthermore, those cases on OWC use top-of-the-line chipsets giving you better performance and reliability. I work at an Apple Service Center and I see way too many hard drive crashes from video editors who use cheaper externals for me to ever trust anything cheap external wise again. Go for something made for video and you won’t regret it.

  7. I have this same setup, second tier 20″ iMac, 4gb ram, second 20″ cinema display. And while I mainly work on web sites for photography, I have been doing some video editing lately. I have to agree that this is a great set-up, and I really can’t justify the extra expense of going with something more. I still keep my macbook around for portability, but it is really hard to argue with the bang for the buck you get with the iMac!

  8. I have to agree with the comments here, I also have the 20″ plus a 22″ monitor plugged in which gives me a huge area in which to work. I upped the ram and find it pretty quick for almost all the work I do.

    Most people who see it for the first time expect a box somewhere that is actually the computer, finding it hard to believe that it’s all in the one shell!

  9. I was happy to find that someone else came to the same conclusion I did: go with the iMac. (I also edit on the second tier aluminum 20″ iMac.)

    My first video editing machine was a PowerMac G5. When it came time to upgrade my Mac, I did my research and found that the iMac gives you your best bang for your buck, in more ways than one. First of all, the display is phenomenal. If you have never used an Apple display, you’d be amazed how huge of a difference in color, crispness, and brightness you’ll find in an Apple display compared to the generics. Secondly, you’ll get more processing power to your dollar with an iMac than I believe any other Mac. Thirdly, it’s compact and elegant design not only frees up space in your office, but it turns heads.

    Since I switched from my PowerMac G5 to my iMac, I’ve never regretted it. My iMac is snappier and encodes faster than the PowerMac. If you can afford a Mac Pro and an Apple Cinema Display, by all means spend the 4 grand plus. But if you are like many and need to squeeze every last bit of performance out of every dollar, go iMac.

  10. Elgato’s Turbo.264 is worth considering; it’s a USB H.264 encoding accelerator. Reviewers report a 20%-60% reduction in encoding time and CPU usage. It’s about $90 from Amazon.

  11. I have an iMac for my music production station and you’re right; it’s an awesome machine.

    I do have to point out that you’ve made an error in not including Adobe Premiere Pro as an option for editing on the Mac. It’s been available for the Mac since CS3 hit the scene (and is now on CS4). I do have Final Cut Pro Studio 2 (the most recent version) as well as the Adobe suite, and I just don’t use FCP because I find the interface of the Adobe products much more intuitive for me. (I’m not saying that FCP sucks or anything, but it’s not the only pro editing game in town for the Mac.)

    You can buy Premiere as a stand-alone product (which includes Encore for DVD and Blu-Ray authoring) or as part of whatever Adobe is calling its production bundle this time around. Production Premium? Production Suite? Video Collection? They keep changing the name on me….

    Anyway, nice write-up pointing out the often overlooked iMac as a pro potential machine.