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A Colorist’s Perspective: Practical Comparisons of DaVinci Resolve and Apple Color

This is a guest post by Tristan Kneschke.

With the release of Apple Color several years ago, the once-niche field of high-end color grading trickled down to the average user. When Blackmagic released DaVinci Resolve on Mac it became more obvious that color grading was the next big wave. Having already been grading professionally with Color shortly after it was released, I quickly decided to invest in a traveling DaVinci Resolve Mac Pro tower. The client demand for color grading in particular, and a traveling station specifically, has grown my business at a rate I never thought possible. Now, with Resolve 9 nearing its official, non-beta release, Blackmagic has separated itself even more from Apple’s killed product.

One of my biggest challenges outside of sessions is explaining the value of this system to new or potential clients. Most of these clients are still holding onto the Color program in a similar manner as some editors are to Final Cut 7, with an attitude of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Though one should be able to achieve the same grading results from both platforms, I do attest that my work is better in Resolve, but this can’t be easily measured. What can be assessed is the speed at which those results coalesce. As a working colorist frequently in a time crunch (let’s face it, every job), the features that allow me to shave a few seconds from a certain action add up in a big way even in a session that runs just a few hours. I want to highlight some of the biggest features that save me a lot of time in most sessions.

The tracker. When I demo Resolve, even seasoned graphics guys are stunned at just how well Resolve can track. This completely changes the way I grade, as I can key more aggressively and know that the keys can be constrained with a tracked matte. Resolve picks points automatically, which means that I rarely need to redo the track. The tracker in Resolve 9 has been improved even more, where you can select part of the track that messed up and retrack just that section, or manually modify it. I hardly used the tracker in Color, partly because it was a manual tracker and also because it was painfully slow. We’re talking 1 frame per second. I used it as a last-ditch effort, usually opting for keyframing instead in the interest of speed.

Resolve’s tracker automatically picks points for you after you stick a vignette on what you want to track.

Color uses a manual tracker which is often extremely slow.

The still store. With just a few clicks I can store and recall a still extremely quickly on my control surface, then wipe and reposition it to compare with the current shot I’m working on. This is a great way for clients to evaluate, say, a medium and wide shot to check for matching skintones. Color handles this with extreme clunkiness. The stills are located in a completely different room, and the transition wipe is frequently extremely slow, making it nearly impossible to use in a serious client session.

It’s incredibly easy to save stills and call them up immediately, and pan, tilt or zoom the images as needed so you can focus on matching specific parts of the scene.

Color stores its stills in a separate room, away from the coloring, forcing the user to toggle back and forth to call them up. Panning the shot you’re on requires heading to a different room as well. The “transition” slider here is what controls the wipe. For some reason, it tends to lag when using a control surface.

Nodes. Resolve’s corrections work as a set of nodes which can be arranged in serial or parallel. You can also easily adjust the mix on the nodes when the client asks you to “split the difference.” You’d be surprised how often that one comes up.

One of the big limitations of Color is that it limits you to 8 secondaries. For some jobs, this would be more than enough. But for a typical commercial job with a tweaker client, it’s simply not. Depending on the shot, some images frequently need a lot of keys pulled and vignettes added, but I also add nodes based on the manner in which a client makes requests. Let’s say they’re firing a bunch of commands at you. I sometimes opt to execute each small change in its own separate node, and then enable and disable those nodes to show them each small change. In this way they can evaluate the image in small increments, and if they don’t like the change, you simply delete the node. If the client likes the change, sometimes they’ll ask you to apply it to the sequence as a whole. Since you’re making small changes throughout, it’s easy to grab just the last node and apply it to the end of the node tree.

Compare that to doing a ton of things within a single node and then having to show the client by hitting undo and redo several times. It’s just less immediate for the client. The point is that you’re not conservatively worried about running out of nodes. Apple Color also only has one level of undo, whereas Resolve has multiple levels of undo for each shot, not just for the overall timeline, so I can tweak a medium shot, adjust a closeup, and then go back and undo the changes I made to the medium shot.

Recalling some shots from a previous job, the center shows my personal record for number of nodes for a single shot, (21!), as well as a “simpler” shot involving 15 nodes. I averaged 13 nodes per shot on this job.

Color can hold a maximum of eight secondaries per shot in addition to two primary overall corrections, usually not enough for a typical commercial job. You can also only store 4 different versions per shot.

The HSL key. Color, like all grading platforms, contains a hue-saturation-luminance qualifier. I actually really liked how it pulled keys as it softened out the edges nicely, as opposed to Resolve which starts with a harder edge. The thing with Color’s qualifiers was, I would always adjust the keys by control-clicking on each side of the parameter, in effect only changing one side, giving me control at both ends. Since Resolve works in a nodal way, a preliminary balance of the shot before pulling a key ends up with better keying results. In Color, the keys are always pulled from the unbalanced source image, so if you had a shot with a nasty DSLR orange color cast that you wanted to get rid of, it would be much harder to extract a good skintone key from it, even if you had performed a preliminary balance on it first.

A basic skintone key. If I didn’t want to alter the left side of the frame I could use a window to matte them out.

Outputting. Color necessarily must output to a filename that reads like “,” corresponding to the shot and grade number. This created problems in the past when working with graphic artists who liked to receive Quicktimes that reference the original filename they’ve been working on. It is also nearly impossible to work with Flame or Smoke artists who prefer DPX image sequences. Roundtripping back to Final Cut was also frequently buggy, with inaccurate frames and speed changes misinterpreted. Forget about modifying your XML and getting it back to Final Cut without issues. Color also cannot work with the Scarlet and Epic cameras. Resolve outputs to more formats than Color does, including Avid codecs, and can organize outputting to folders. I have experienced less issues with roundtripping back to Final Cut and Avid, even when dealing with speed ramp effects.

Resolve allows you to render to a large variety of formats, including Avid’s Dnxhd codecs, shown here.

Not many render options are supported, and files are rendered as “1_g2″, where “1″ is the numbered shot in the timeline, and “2″ is the grade number. This workflow is difficult to work with when working with graphic artists.

Those are just some of the huge differences between the widening gap of features that are present in Resolve and absent from Color. Using Resolve is less about imposing what I’m comfortable and faster with, and more about having the right tools for the right job. I’ve been in situations before where the job was underestimated and Color was forced on me, only to have the client demands go beyond what the program was capable of, but what would have been simple in more expensive DI rooms. The whole point is that smaller shops want to compete with the big boys, but need to realize that you’re not going to stand a chance with a program that is, let’s face it, considered an abortion.

I actually think Color would have been a really great program if Apple chose to develop it further. DaVinci definitely has had a head start as an industry standard, and many of the above features have taken time to develop. The Blackmagic team is insanely fast with updates, from quickly implementing a 3-way color corrector for those working without a control surface to lifting the $500 Avid tax to work natively with DNxHD footage. Apple is much more ambiguous as to where it stands with its pro market.

Helping clients understand the value of a Resolve system is a task that I don’t mind falling onto my shoulders as someone who carries specific knowledge about this niche in the industry. In fact, so many of them have been burned by Color’s inadequacies that I believe they are already predisposed to wanting something better. The number of rooms running Color are slowly disappearing, opening the market to much more robust color grading systems to forge ahead.

Are you guys interested in seeing similar comparisons with Speedgrade? Want more insight into the stills? Let me know in the comments.

Tristan Kneschke is a freelance editor and colorist who operates Exit Editorial based in New York City. He has worked with a long list of clients including Victoria’s Secret, Pepsi, Microsoft and Google, and has also enjoyed working with such artists as Beach House, RJD2 and Newvillager.


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 37 COMMENTS

  • mikko löppönen on 08.13.12 @ 9:46AM

    Yeah Speedgrade! How is it?

  • I never liked color. specifically did everything possible and seemingly impossible to stay in FCP. Even letting it cost me at times. I am totally Adobe now. I would love to see a comparison on speed grade and your thoughts on it!

  • I am interested in a comparison between adobe speedgrade and resolve. I am wondering if it is worth me while to invest time learning this system or resolve instead.

  • Paul DuVilla on 08.13.12 @ 10:07AM

    Please do Speedgrade!

  • Yes do a speedgrade comparison please

  • Excited about Resolve 9 but wondering about Speed Grade… comparison from working colorist would be great.

  • A freelance? It looks more like a Blackmagic guy to me…. In this huge article so called “Comparison” he only brings up why Da Vinci is better than Color… Yes I agree it is, but then call your post some other way.
    And by the way, first, yes with Color you can grade Epic or Scarlett footage, if it’s 4K or 2K you can…so that there seemed to me like a good moment to be precise. And finally, Final Cut Pro 7 is a professional software, FCP X is not, there is nothing of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” For the moment this is how it is… ask real editors.

  • +1 for speedgrade comparison.

  • +2 for Speedgrade comparison

  • Yes, Speedgrade would be very interesting!

    I’m always in for more insights into still and more. Would also be interesting to see some kind of tutorial on how you grade a scene from a theory point of view regardless of what kind of software people are using.

    How is your workflow? What corrections do you do first? How do grade skin tones?

    Thanks for the interesting article!

  • Thumbs up for speedgrade comparison!

  • Sigh, it falls again to me to be the FCPX fanboy. I.e. to explain why Apple gave up Color.

    FCPX has unlimited primary and secondary corrections with one color mask and unlimited shape masks per correction. It does not have trackers, but the shape masks are keyframeable in the same way everything else in FCPX is, meaning you don’t have to learn a different approach. Corrections are post-effect by default but you can have them pre-effect by the use of compound clips or opening a clip in its own timeline or a multicam clip.

    The fact the old 3-ways are gone and replaced by a supremely elegant alternative that will lend itself beautifully to touch interfaces is not a bad thing if you’re able to bring yourself to understand that elegant interface. The 3-way wheels were odd too when you first learned them, but that doesn’t mean they are The One True Way, it’s just the thing you learned first. I would rather have a multipurpose touch interface than a single-purpose triple-trackball rig in front of me. But if I was just a colorist and was selling my services as one then fine it would be impressive to have the Resolve control surface in front of me and I’d hope to quickly get $30K more business as a result.

    FCPX isn’t finished yet of course, the touch interfaces are as yet MIA, multiple monitor support and workspace config is poor, export and using plugins to fill some remaining gaps is cumbersome. But what it has allowed me to do is front-load a lot of basic color work in my editing workflow. Having your footage at least basically graded changes how you feel about it and that absolutely changes your editing choices. A scene with dismal lighting and white balance can be completely resurrected with some basic primary and secondaries and now will be milked rather than cut, no matter what faith you have in your colorist.

    Apple’s stock price and Avid’s stock price are a study in the effects of staying ahead of the curve or behind it. Apple hasn’t abandoned professional content creation, it’s doing exactly what technology should do, which is disintermediation, universal empowerment, and cost reduction. Absolutely the top colorists in the field will get more business than ever and will use Resolve or whatever other high-end solution is affordable by them. But more work is going to get done directly in the NLE’s by the editors and they will want it immediate and consistent and elegant. The heroism of “using what the pro’s use” plays well in an industry full of snob appeal, but the content is more important and the audience isn’t going to know.

  • Kevin Marshall on 08.13.12 @ 8:04PM

    Small correction – you actually can work with Scarlet/Epic footage in Color – albeit anything above 4K gets demoted to half-res. That said, I highly recommend against Color (after using it for over 4 years now), and am a huge Resolve advocate – with Resolve Lite being free, there really isn’t much excuse not to have it.

  • A similar comparison between Adobe Speedgrade and Davinci color would be very nice to have. I am just starting out in the color correction aspect of filmmaking (just started reading the “Color Correction Handbook” by Alexis Van Hurkman) and I have yet to determine which application would be the best match for my needs. Note that I am currently still in the hobbyist phase of filmmaking :-)

    On a sidenote, since I am still new at color correction, could someone maybe explain why you would need to track parts of a scene to do color correction? The only possible reason I can think of is that you would want to separately color a very localized part of the shot. Thanks in advance!

    • One of the objectives in composition is directing the eye and separating subject from context/background. You can do this a variety of ways on-set, e.g. with shallow depth of field or lighting. It can be difficult and costly to get that perfect on set so it falls to “fix it in post.” And what a colorist can do is create masks that change the lighting to have more of a spotlight, for instance, on the subject where none was on the shoot.

      This can be very effective if done tastefully and well (if not it looks like one of those highlighted yearbook photos). The problem is, with moving pictures, your subject doesn’t stay put, and they will not only move left to right they may get bigger or smaller as well, and your imginary spotlight will have to keep up. Trackers can help you do this automagically and when they work, to the extent they work, can save you some time vs. manually keyframing the moving mask or window.

      Sometimes doing things manually is inevitable though, because as your subject or camera moves, the light changes, everything changes, and there is a limit to how good any automatic solution can be.

  • Usually you look for track a part of a scene for restyle color of it. you can change drastically without involve another hue. Most colorists use this trick for get up different core of attention.

  • The thing i can’t understand is that all these applications are POST-NLE, so coming back on your edit is a back and forth it seems so antiquated, so Linear. I’d love to have Resolve do a Plugin for Premiere CS6 just like Colorista, but with the full interface like Magic Bullet Looks. I know some of you think i must be kidding, because it is not professional to work with looks or Colorista, but since it’s INSIDE the NLE, i can quickly do ajustments while i’m still in final touches of Editing or adding a Logo-Sequence out of AfterEffects, etc…

  • Since Apple is abandoning the professional market, I’m glad I never wasted time learning Color or Final Cut.

    Resolve blows Speedgrade out of the water with a superior UI, organized rooms, overall workflow, flexible tools, unmatched tracker, performance, etc.

  • From what I understand, Resolve has high hardware requirements if you want to edit in realtime. Dual multi-core processors, Raid Systems, Souped up Graphic cards, etc… Basically a $20,000 system. Is this correct? What about Speedgrade, can you edit in realtime with a moderately equipped system?

    • Not exactly. I run Resolve on a 27″ iMac with a quad core i5. I only have 4gb of ram and I’m able to handle basic grades in real time.

      • Michael G,your iMac is going to die soon… Hapenned to me when I thought it has being handled by my machine, and one day it just went off… Nothing possible to do to get it back…

        • I couldn’t find minimum system requirement for running resolve in black magic’s site, weird !!?
          does anyone know whats that minimum ?
          and is Nvidia (cuda gpu) graphic card the only graphic card that can run resolve ?

          • David Peterson on 08.19.12 @ 9:52AM

            Rwad the ‘Resolve Configuration Manual’ (from their site, or in the DMG for the installer). It has basic configuration details for the different types of Macs available, and what kind of footage you can expect to be able to handle.

        • Did it overheat?? What was the reason?
          Resolve says the 27″ i5 quad CAN handle it… :-o

    • Nah, you can just use a common inexpensive video gaming graphics card (I think it has to be an Nvidia one with CUDA)…you do have to have a 1080p monitor, or at least you did in the previous version of Resolve. Not sure about the newest one.

  • Thanks! Vote for comparison with Speedgrade!! And which macs/specs are best for Resolve, Premiere..?

  • Definitely would love the SpeedGrade Resolve shoot-out, I’ve been looking for one since it was introduced.

  • Great writeup. The only thing I can think of where Color is stronger still is creating nice bloomed highlights ala the way Spielberg films now have their windows blown out. That’s it, in every other regard Resolve trounces it.

  • Very informative and helpful, thanks for putting the time in to share with us.

    I haven’t looked into DaVinci yet, but am definitely interested as I make the next move from Color. I’m ready for a program that will be getting updates. Everything you mentioned is definitely something that bothers me about color, so I’m definitely pumped to get into DaVinci and play.

    A write up on speedgrade would be awesome!

  • Great article. I’m wondering how you normally handle speedramps that were created in FCP 7. Will Davinci 9 natively handle them? If not, whats the best work around. I’m stumped on a project I just edited. My colorist is having issues importing the XML and is getting lots of bugs….

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.



  • I realize this is an old article, but I would still love to see a review/comparison with SpeedGrade. I’ve used Color for several years, and as I’ve adopted CS6 to replace Avid/FCP for me, I’ve been getting trained up with SpeedGrade. Would love to hear technical pros/cons to using that vs DaVinci Lite, from the perspective of someone who knows much more than I do.

  • For those of you who are not dedicated colourists, and using MB Looks, without a dedicated program monitor out, is there a workaround for MB looks absence of still stores which makes it impossible / difficult to match between shots.