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FCPX, Apple's Final Cut Pro X Editing Software Reviewed

FCPX, Apple's Final Cut Pro X Editing Software Reviewed

This is a brand new approach to editing video that provides a fun and fast experience to editors of all levels. Those who find it appealing will find it makes post-production work faster, easier, and fun.

By the time of this writing, the whole world knows that Apple has revamped Final Cut Pro into an "X" version, and it's not like anything you've used. Is it iMovie Pro? Only superficially. It goes so far beyond that. Apple did get one thing right at its National Association of Broadcasters sneak peak; FCPX is a whole new paradigm in editing.

The interface is radically different. We have a darker landscape that is very easy on the eyes, as well as a true full screen application. Every windowpane is dynamic; able to change for the type of work you need to do at the moment, which allows for access to a lot of tools in a small space. A lot is not obvious without digging in. The new keyboard customization window is nice and easy to deal with. It also makes exploring keyboard shortcuts very pleasant.

Media Management

Media management is greatly simplified, and can now easily span every hard drive your Mac can access. In the Event Library window, we see a list of all attached hard drives. We can create Events on each drive. Each drive that contains events has a Final Cut Pro Events folder on it. Events are a container of media assets, sort of our top level Bins so to speak. Assets inside each Event are sorted by metadata: tags, keywords, search criteria. It's more of a database management than a Bins management. If you've ever worked with Final Cut Server or other media access management systems, it'll be very familiar. Assets can also be imported in their native format, or as ProRes, it's the users' choice.

Access to filters (now called effects), transitions, text, generators and themes is easy via a media access window. This window and set of buttons gives us direct access to FCPX, Soundtrack Pro, Logic, GarageBand, and iLife sound libraries. Direct access to photos and videos inside iPhoto and Aperture is another pleasant addition.

Importing of DSLR and other tapeless assets has been quite streamlined. Simply use Import File, or Import From Camera (to maintain metadata) to look directly at the card and import the native files, or have them transcoded into ProRes. It's that simple.

We can also create folders in the Asset Library to help organize and consolidate Assets, which will become necessary when libraries start to grow very large. Apple recommends creating a folder called "Final Cut Pro Unused Assets" on your drive, where you can drag individual Asset folders in the finder so they won't show up in the FCPX Asset library window.

We no longer have Sequences, we have Projects. When you create a project it asks what attached drive to store it on. Each drive that contains projects has a Final Cut Pro Projects folder on it. A Project is simply a self contained Timeline. We can create Compound Clips now that act similar to Nested Sequences. A drawback is that these Compound Clips can't be saved anywhere independently, but can be copied and pasted between Projects. At the time of this writing there is no Favorites folder like we used to have. I say at this time because Apple has announced it will be adding many new features over time. What exactly those will be is anybody's guess.

Just like with Assets, you can make folders in the Projects window to help keep them organized and consolidated. Creating a folder in the Finder called "Final Cut Pro Unused Projects" to move individual project folders can eventually help out, also.

Editing Concepts

The Timeline is a whole new concept. There are no blatant "tracks," but we do have a track-like structure. The center of the Timeline is a Story Line, a solid track. This takes the idea that we always put our core story telling elements on tracks V1, A1, A2 in traditional non-linear editing (NLE). This Story Line has unique characteristics, such as there can be no empty spaces; this is handled by Gap Clips. A Gap Clip is a slug that we can ripple and roll with neighboring clips. It also makes replace edits for filling them in very easy. All of these elements act and look like tracks, but are much more dynamic, intelligent and easier to deal with. The new color coding of assets by type also helps to identify and comprehend projects at a glance.

Editing has been simplified with Append, Insert, Connect, Overwrite, and Replace commands, and very simple keyboard shortcuts. If you can remember Q, W, E, you're pretty much there. (These are traditional three point edits. Using the Shift key along with the edit keys will back-time clips. Otherwise they are timed by In points.) Connect edits are another new concept. FCPX assumes that your core story telling media is in the Story Line. Everything else will be cutaways, text, composites, sound effects, music, etc. These Connect to specific clips inside the Story Line. If a Connected clip is deleted or moved, other Connected clips above automatically come down to fill in the gap. This makes for a more compact and easy to work with Timeline. It's a new way to work, and some editors are finding it very comfortable. With this Story Line and Connected Clips paradigm, nothing can possibly go out of sync, ever, at all. Unless you purposefully move it out of sync.

Connected clips can also be moved by dragging, in order to connect them to other Story Line clips, or to move them above or below other Connected clips they need to composite with. Text clips are very thin and obvious, staying out of the way of other clips now.

An amazing new feature is called Auditions. We can place several assets in one place in our Timeline, then open the Auditions window to scroll between each asset. As we chose a specific asset it takes that place in the Timeline. This way we can Audition several different versions of an edit quickly, easily and save a lot of time. Clients will enjoy not having to wait for you to do multiple replace edits, or undo/redo over and over, or turn clips on and off repeatedly.

Audio is nicer to work with now, with native Dolby Surround Sound as the underlying framework. Being able to work with sound properties now gives us more options. An actual audio mixer is missing, though. I'm not sure how Apple would incorporate that into a non-track design, but it is an essential tool that is missing.

Color grading is one of the best I've seen inside the NLE. The color "bar" takes some getting used to; it's not as scientific as a wheel, but is usable. With shape and HSL matte tools, unlimited secondaries and all being processed in parallel rather than in series, color grading in FCP X is a sheer joy.

There is only one Viewer window. It makes for a cleaner workspace, but dynamic editing is not possible now. Which is a shame, because FCP 7's edit trim window was amazing for doing dynamic trimming. This is one of the drawbacks to FCP X. Aside from dynamic trimming, having only one Viewer window keeps things very neat and uncluttered. FCPX really was designed to work well on a single monitor system. You do have the option to show either the Event Library and Browser on a second desktop display, or show the Viewer on a second display. This configuration really frees up a lot of real estate on your screens and makes FCPX much easier to deal with.

Motion 5 And Compressor 4

One of the wonderful new features in FCPX is its very tight integration with Motion 5. All effects, transitions, generators and themes are now Motion 5 templates. Along with Motion's new Rig and Publish features, we now have more control over these elements than ever before. And, we can still open a copy of a template into Motion for extensive customization. FCP and Motion now run on the same framework, same playback engine and are like conjoined siblings. In Motion, users can now create their own templates for access in FCPX and on other systems. A Rig is a collection of parameters and asset elements configured into a customized control. Rigs and individual parameter controls can be Published with the Template, giving the end user more control over elements and actions in the template. This goes for everything, even transitions. We can now keyframe parameters in transitions.

Compressor has been streamlined, given the new FCPX look, and supports the HTTP Streaming format. DVD and Blu-ray grouped presets are gone; you have to manually adjust the codec settings yourself now. And, chapter markers can only be added to a video inside Compressor. The share menu accesses more preset options now, including Vimeo and iCNN. A "Send To Compressor" option is included in the Share menu as well. The old Qmaster application is now gone, as Compressor has this function built in and can automatically manage those services via Grand Central Dispatch abilities.

Conclusion

As of this writing, Multi-clip, XML, and other important features have been announced by Apple, indicating that we'll see FCPX mature over time. They are leaving the import of legacy project files up to a third party as it would be very technically difficult to do. With the exception of no dynamic trimming, FCPX is an amazing product, but not for everyone. All in all, working with FCPX, Motion 5 and Compressor 4 are a whole new way of creating media. Some editors will love it; some will hate it. It will be interesting to see how it evolves in time.

Tech Specs

CPU: Macintosh with Intel Core 2 Duo or better
RAM: 2GB min, 4GB recommended
Graphics: OpenCL capable card or Intel HD Graphics 3000 or later
VRAM: 256MB
Display: 1280 x 768 or higher resolution
OS: 10.6.7 or later, ProKit 7.0 or later
Footprint: 2.4GB disk space, 5GB with Motion 5 and Compressor 4

Strengths

  • 64-bit, OpenCL, Grand Central Dispatch capable
  • Visually clean interface
  • Advanced sound features
  • Advanced media management
  • Speed and ease of editing tools
  • Superior color grading abilities

Weaknesses

  • Lack of real-time audio mixer with keyframing
  • Loses In/Out points in Browser clips when switching windows
  • Color Bar is not as logical or scientific as the traditional Wheel
  • Several vital functions missing, although promised in the future

Summmary

This is a brand new approach to editing video that provides a fun and fast experience to editors of all levels. It isn't for everyone, but those who find it appealing will find it makes post-production work faster, easier, and fun.

Apple Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
www.apple.com
$300

Ben Balser is an Apple Certified Master Trainer, producer, consultant and creates macProVideo.com training videos.

Tags:  November 2011
Ben
Balser
Tue, 11/01/2011 - 12:00am

Comments

ProPhotog1's picture

Before I start I want to say up front that I love my Mac Products and I have no affiliation with anyone or entity. I work on a iMac Quad 16gram 3.4gh i7. While this article accurately defines the features, the author obviously has not edited on this new software where the project is 10 stories high filled with over 100 plus video clips, photographs, transitions and effects approaching 4 minutes in length. I can't explain how much I wanted to love this software because the first things you use in this editor work very very well! Importing and using the Event Browser are very friendly, with still a little work needed. But over a 3 and half month period, while taking many notes on the the very weird things that happen and don't happen in this editor...it hit me!!! I kept asking myself...why doesn't this editor work better??? The answer is in the very aspect of what is supposed to make this editor revolutionary...the Magnetic Timeline! While there are many other aspects of this editor that are very buggy...(like the timeline not always keeping up with the cursor-on a very involved project adding a text element can take a minute or two to render) These are just two of many. But lets get back to why this editor will never be what the potential suggested. Have you ever played with magnets? One gets too close to the other and it randomly moves and dances. This timeline acts the same way...unpredictably! I can drag a transition across a timeline and it would get snagged, copied and attached to another element along the way. Because every element has to connected to another, deleting one unwanted element can delete a bunch of other ones if not all. The Timeline is too magnetic and without the "predictability' of controlling tracks your editing experience can quickly turn to madness. This is not fun at all. Crop a photograph or piece of video and lay it over another, don;t think about applying a transition to it...it will apply itself to the entire frame of view. This is very disappointing. Transitions are not attached to clips so when you move a clip the transitions disappear. Append,Insert and Connect edits can only be applied to the "main" darkened track. Which means things will move and fly and your whole project will be changed. Copying and parting when it works is good. But when it doesn't it means elements jumping and moving around to try and connect to something else to make room. The project is now completely different. If you decide to move elements around it can often times create chaos as the timeline flashes and jumps. The bottom line is...sadly to say, this editor in application will never be accepted as more than ever, thanks to this Platform, the editor has to have control of the tracks in the timeline. If Apple is smart or should I say not too stubborn to really take a look at the unpredictability of an uncontrolled magnetic surface and implement the ability to have free tracks that can take any element, and have only the transitions or effects only apply to what is in that track and not the entire frame of view this will make using FCPX much more "Professional"! Output rendering is very fast and intuitive. But the need for compressor seems a bit confusing. Just put all the options in FCPX and get rid of Compressor. And to say that Motion is tightly integrated with FCPX is false. Nothing was easier than telling FCP7, "send to Motion"...add the desired effects/text and send back ready to edit. Why the need to activate being able to adjust the Motion settings in FCPX...just do it automatically!? When you are in the timeline in FCPX and have a piece of footage you want to lay some of the nice Motion Text to...you can't! You have so many more steps than you had in previous versions. I have given FCPX a very fair try and it just does not work...and won't with a Magnetic Timeline. Track Control is probably the most important aspect of video editing and its the one thing you don't have and it takes a lot more time fixing all the stuff that happens that you don't want to. So in the next few weeks I'll make a move to a new editing system that can take advantage of Multiple Core 64bit processing. I will miss the interface and file management of FCPX, even without dual screen support (a must). But I won't miss the shear madness of the Magnetic Timeline and the inability to really be creative with individual elements.
benb's picture

FCP X does take some getting used to, but once you do, it's very fast and easy. It is a version 1 of a product. Since ProPhotog01's comments were posted, an update has come along, and Apple has revealed more about it's plans for FCP X. Since the publishing of this review, and of the comments here back in October, FCP X has grown, is gaining more and more acceptance, and many of the complaints many had were simply a lack of understanding and training. The magnetic timeline at this point is making editing easier and faster for most editors using it, who very much like it. We will see FCP X continue to grow, evolve, and it is at this time very professional, being used by many professionals, and it's acceptance is growing daily. It will be a pleasure to look back as this and review it again in October 2012.