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Adobe SpeedGrade CS6 provides powerful, advanced video color grading

At a Glance
  • Adobe SpeedGrade CS6

    Macworld Rating

Adobe SpeedGrade CS6 is a color grading software program that used to cost upwards of $20,000 when it was sold as a professional stand-alone package from Iridas. But following that company’s purchase by Adobe, SpeedGrade is now included with the CS6 Production Premium, Master Collection, and Creative Cloud bundles, or sold separately for $999. Using what Adobe calls the Lumetri Deep Color Engine, SpeedGrade allows you to perform professional color grading on your video footage—either in its raw format or as an edited composition derived from Premiere Pro CS6 ( ).

This program is aimed at high-end professional video editors, film producers, and filmmakers. It is generally more advanced than what is needed by most video editors using a basic three-way color corrector plug-in with a non-linear editing system. But if you want amazing color grading for your footage and edited projects, and don’t mind a bit of a learning curve to achieve it, then SpeedGrade will definitely make your day. With SpeedGrade, you can add masking, vignettes, and even color grade 3D stereo pairs. Clearly, Adobe is aiming for a more sophisticated video production crowd with the entire CS6 suite and this tool is an enticement for those in the know—pulling in customers from Final Cut, and also from Avid. The learning curve may be too steep for most editors, and if you don't really know what you're doing, you won't get optimum results over using the basic three-way color corrector.

Premiere Pro CS6 integration

While SpeedGrade can be used on most any footage file type, Adobe has incorporated an edit decision list (EDL) file workflow with Premiere Pro CS6 that maintains all the edit points to allow you to grade cuts separately on the timeline. Adobe has also added a Send to SpeedGrade feature in Premiere Pro CS6, which maintains all edit points. You can also open individual clips directly in SpeedGrade.

To use this feature from inside Premiere Pro CS6, select the footage clip or sequence you wish to grade, select the Send to Adobe SpeedGrade option from the File pulldown menu, and choose a destination. This will save a SpeedGrade Project file (.ircp), which will open directly in SpeedGrade once it’s completed. This could take awhile, depending on the amount of content and edits in your sequence.

You can send footage clips or complete edited sequences in Premiere Pro CS6 directly to SpeedGrade, retaining all the edits.

Once your project opens in SpeedGrade, you can click and drag the Grading icon from the Setup panel to the timeline to add a Primary grading layer. If you add it to just an edited clip segment of the sequence layer, it will only affect that clip. If you add it above the top layer, it will create a segmented layer that mirrors all the edits in the sequence.

Apply a Primary grading layer to the footage sequence by clicking and dragging the Grading icon from the Setup panel.

However, this is where you really need some instruction on how to use the program, as many of these steps will not be intuitive for editors jumping into SpeedGrade for the first time. Adobe TV provides several how-to and getting started videos, which will help you get up and running.

Grading on a curve

Once you’re in the Look panel, the controls look and feel more familiar—Offset, Gamma, and Gain wheels adjust the overall shadows, midtones, and highlights very subtly. The controls on the wheels move much more smoothly than the typical three-color plug-ins most video editors are used to, but holding down the Shift key lets you ramp up movement exponentially, if needed.

Many other finetuning controls for saturation, contrast, and temperature let you make global adjustments to your overall footage. Using these adjustments, I was able to warm up my test subject and reduce a bit of glare from the hair light without flattening out detail or contrast.

SpeedGrade's grading tools allow you to make very precise adjustments to your footage at varying levels.

The program contains some good starting points with an example library of provided looks, which include Cinematic, Desaturation, Style, and Temperature. These looks can be modified and saved as your own custom looks for later use—or to hand off to a colleague. I can only imagine that there will eventually be libraries of custom looks created by users and passed around, before long.

The examples I tried from the library seem to have very specific yet practical applications. For instance, when applying the Sepia look from the Cinematic examples library, the richness and luminance were preserved, giving a deep, warm tone to the original image.

I applied the Sepia tone in the Cinematic Look examples library. It maintains the richness of the luminance of the original image.

Secondary grading layers and masks

You can stack multiple layers in SpeedGrade, as you might do with adjustment layers in Photoshop ( ) or Premiere Pro. They will continue to affect every layer beneath the stack order, and you can re-order the stack.

Create a Secondary layer and adjust select colors to key out areas you wish to confine to an alpha matte. This works with any color range—not just green or blue. This is especially useful for isolating skin tones or faded clothing you wish to adjust or “pop” without affecting the entire image.

Selecting a color or range, you can key out an alpha matte to constrain color grading adjustments.

You can create a mask using various shapes to start with, and then adjust for the areas you wish to confine. These masks can be applied to either primary or secondary layers and can work in conjunction with keyed alphas to further constrain an area for correction. Whether creating a circular or rectangular matte shape from the presets, you can reposition, scale, rotate, and adjust the falloff of the mask's feathered edge within the on-screen widget. You can also add and delete points to your mask to create custom shapes, as you would in Photoshop or After Effects ( ). If you’re masking an object that moves on-screen you can also attach a motion tracker to your mask so it will follow the object or shape.

The Mask tool is very flexible and can be combined with alpha keying on a Secondary layer.

Working with 3D stereoscopic pairs

SpeedGrade has a complete 3D stereoscopic workflow built into the program that helps you adjust and match your raw footage as well as finish an edited project. Stereo pairs (Left & Right) are selected when you create a Stereo Timeline and add one of either the left or right camera footage clip to the timeline.

There are various viewing options for your footage and orientations for monitoring while working. SpeedGrade also supports dual display setups and a variety of shutter glasses and mirror displays, including Xpand 3D, Dolby 3D, and RealD Z screens.

Adding a left or right side camera clip to a Stereo Timeline automatically adds the other view.

Not only can you do color grading on a stereo pair, but there are various adjustments to geometry and color-matching between the two views that can be automatically matched or manually adjusted. In most cases, SpeedGrade does an amazing job of both geometry and color balancing with the automated Match option.

Viewing the stereo pair in Difference mode while making geometry and convergence adjustments.

Output of the stereo pairs requires rendering the footage, but there are numerous choices—including quality and calibration LUTs, file formatting, and orientation options.

There are numerous options for output of modified stereo pairs.

Macworld’s buying advice

Adobe SpeedGrade CS6 is $999, and can be purchased separately or as part of the CS6 Production Premium, Master Collection, or Creative Cloud subscription plans. While it’s a powerful color grading and filmic effects creation tool with 3D stereographic finishing capabilities, it may not be for everyone, or practical to use on every video production you edit. The workflow takes some getting used to, but if its effects are needed, the learning curve will prove worthwhile.

[Jeff Foster has written and contributed to several books and magazines, and has been producing award-winning motion graphics, photography, and creative design for major corporations, television, and film for more than 20 years.]

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Multiple layers of grading, masks, and effects
    • Color grades edited sequences from Premiere Pro
    • Advanced 3D stereographic editing
    • Supports 3D stereoscopic pairs

    Cons

    • Process and interface not intuitive for beginners
    • Needs moveable screen splitter for preview
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