After watching a couple of the free tutorial videos on the Cinema Grade website, it’s easy to get started with using the software. Before long you’re using some of the shortcuts and really steaming through grading your video. As well as helping with making corrections, Cinema Grade encourages you to think about the overall creative look for your video and makes it easy to deliver.
Easy to understand and use
The Basic version misses some key features
$29 additional charge to use with all three host software packages
What is Cinema Grade?
Cinema Grade is a video grading plugin that’s compatible with Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere Pro CC or DaVinci Resolve video editing software packages. You have to purchase the appropriate version for your editing software, but for an extra $29, you can unlock it to use it with all three host programs.
As it works as a plugin, Cinema Grade is accessed from within the host program and after grading the footage, you go back to the editing software to output the final video.
This review looks at Cinema Grade with Final Cut Pro X, but the processes within the plugin are the same with each host package.
Product type: Plugin for Final Cut Pro X 10.4+, Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2018+ or DaVinci Resolve 15+ (or all three)
Platform: Mac from 2011 onwards
Operating system requirement: macOS High Sierra 10.13.x and later
Purpose: Video grading
Accessing Cinema Grade’s controls
Once you’ve installed Cinema Grade, you’ll find an icon to access it in Final Cut Pro’s Effects window. To start using it, select the clips that you want to grade and double-click on the Cinema Grade icon in the effects panel. Then, click on ‘Open Controls’ in the Inspector panel.
This opens a new screen showing the Base Correction area of Cinema Grade. At the centre of the screen, you’ll see a preview of a frame from one of the clips.
To see a different frame, use the left and right keys on your keyboard to scroll through until you find one that you think will be a better grading subject.
Use the up and down keyboard keys to move through your clips.
Cinema Grade Base Correction
The Base Correction area is where you make the adjustments to ensure your clips all have good exposure and colour balance.
If you’ve shot in Log mode you can make the first basic corrections using the Color Management tools that are reached by clicking on the arrow on the left of the screen. Simply click on the Camera dropdown control and select the appropriate Log setting (or camera) to make a 1-click adjustment.
Alternatively, you can import a LUT or use Cinema Grade’s X-rite Color Checker Video and X-rite Color Checker Passport Video chart compatibility to make a basic correction.
If you opt to make a colour chart correction, find the frame that includes the chart then use the Color Chart dropdown list to select the type of chart that you used. This puts the relevant reference box over your preview, you need to drag it over the chart and manipulate it so that the coloured areas go over the right parts of the chart. Once you’re done, click in ‘Match’ to apply the adjustment.
Once you’ve finished making any automatic adjustments, you can move on to using the controls at the top left of the screen. Alternatively, click on the arrow on the right of the screen to reveal a panel of sliding controls.
The controls at the top of the screen are more intuitive to use, but they adjust the same parameters as the sliding controls and you can see the sliders move as you use the upper controls.
It can be helpful to click on the pin in the top left corner of the sliding control panel so that it stays visible while you use the other controls.
The tools at the top of the screen are arranged in the order that it’s best to use them. Start with the Light control before moving onto the work on the contrast control before moving on tackle the white balance and colour.
After selecting a tool, simply click on an area of the image that you want to adjust to add a control point. Then drag the point up or down to adjust, not just that area, but other areas that are the same.
With the Light tool selected, for example, if you add a control point to a highlight and drag down, you will darken all the highlights but the midtones and shadows are unaffected.
Over in the slider control panel, you’ll see the highlight setting change and you can reset or adjust it using the slider if you like.
Similarly, when you move on to the Saturation Highlights/Midtones/Shadows Adjustment tool in the Color section, you can select the tonal range that you want to work on by clicking to add a control point and then adjust the brightness or saturation of that tone dragging up or down.
In addition to the standard view, Cinema Grade has a False Colours view that makes it easier to visualise the different brightnesses within the image so you can receiver highlights or bring out details from shadows.
Once you’ve worked your way through the tools and you’ve made all the base corrections, it’s time to click on ‘Shot Matching’ at the top of the screen.
In the Shot Matching area of Cinema Grade, the aim is to group all the shots that should match. To do this, pick a colour from the options on the left and then click on the first clips that should match. Switch to another colour to group the next set of clips and so on.
Cinema Grade sets the first clip you select in each group as the ‘Hero shot’, but you can set it yourself by holding Command while clicking on the clip that you want to make the Hero.
The next step is to click on ‘Match Shots’ to see each clip next to its Hero shot. Click on ‘Copy Correction’ followed by ‘Apply to Group’ to adjust every image in the group to match the Hero clip. Then, guided by the scopes, you can use the editing controls to tweak the clips to get a perfect match.
Again, use the up and down keys on your keyboard to toggle through each clip in the group. Click on another colour from the selection on the left to start working on another group.
Once you’ve got all the images in each group matching, it’s time to move onto the Final Grading section where Cinema Grade enables you to apply an overall look to each group of clips.
This is where things get really interesting. As you’d expect there’s a selection of Looks and LUTs available to apply to each group, but there’s also a Look Transfer Tool. This allows you to upload an image for the software to try to match.
Naturally, the success of this varies depending upon the source and target, but it’s a useful feature that can help you get a cohesive look to your videos, and your videos and stills.
Which version of Cinema Grade should I buy?
Aside from needing to buy the edition of Cinema Grade to match your video editing software, you also need to pick from the three versions to invest in, Basic ($69), Pro ($99) or Filmmaker ($199).
While the price of the Cinema Grade Basic version is very appealing, inevitably it doesn’t have all the features that you might want. The direct image-grading with the ability to click and drag to make adjustments is present along with over 60 presets, the Look Matching Tool and the LUT preview, but you don’t get the Pro version’s shot matching with groups or the Academy Color Science (ACES) and Xrite chart support to make adjusting Log footage and matching cameras easy.
Don’t bother starting with the Basic version and upgrading to the Pro, go straight for the Pro.
For an extra $100, the Filmmaker version gives access to a series of high-quality training videos and sample footage in the Color Grading Academy that explains colour grading as well as how to use Cinema Grade itself, a Look Hacking System that teaches you how to get the look of your favourite films and TV shows and a collection of 52 additional looks.
If you’re new to colour grading, it’s worth considering going for the Filmmaker version for the training. However, for most people, the Pro version is the one to go for.
Cinema Grade is a really useful plugin that speeds up grading video. It’s easy to get to grips with and the on-image adjustments are a very intuitive way for working.
Its structure leads you to a more organised and logical way of working with video.
The shot grouping is well-thought and makes quick work of editing lots of clips. It also makes the Pro version of Cinema Grade the logical one to buy. The additional resources brought by the Filmmaker version are nice for an extra $100, but they’re not essential to the process.
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