Apple Color Color Grading/Finishing Tool Review

Color, The New Frontier

Apple’s Color software is embedded in the Final Cut Studio 2 video editing software bundle. There were early reports of stability issues with the first release, but Apple has recently released the Final Cut Studio 2.0.1 update (and perhaps more updates by the publish date of this review) which is aimed to resolve these issues.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no color timing expert, so I approached this review with the point of view of most enthusiasts, trying to figure out if Apple Color is worth my time and effort. Any professional videographer will tell you that color timing is well worth your time and money. Let’s get our feet wet and test the waters.

One of These is Not Like the Other

One thing is for certain: Apple Color has a GUI (graphical user interface) very different from the rest of the Final Cut Studio 2.0 applications. This may leave new users intimidated and a bit confused. With a little bit of time (and some help from Creative Cow’s Apple Color Resources), the basics to this GUI weren’t so intimidating.

Despite the different-looking GUI, Apple Color works relatively seamlessly with Final Cut Pro. We exported XML data from our Final Cut Pro timeline and imported it into Apple Color. Instantly, we had our native HDV project (1080/60i) loaded and ready to go. But wait a minute, a closer look at the Apple Color manual reveals that Apple Color does not support the HDV codec, technically. This concerns us greatly, as many of our enthusiast shooters (and even independent digital filmmakers) are using HDV camcorders. Yet, we were able to import our HDV project and use Color without a hitch.

Apple ProRes to the Rescue

One of the simplest ways to work with HDV in Apple Color is to first transcode it to the Apple ProRes codec. This can be done most quickly upon capture from the camcorder, but you’ll need third-party hardware. There’s AJA’s ioHD breakout box ($3,500 MSRP), which can handle much more than just HDV. There’s also Blackmagic Design’s Intensity HDMI card ($250 MSRP), that allows you to capture Apple ProRes using an HDMI connection on an HDV camcorder. Or, you can also capture HDV video as-is and then use Compressor to batch render Apple ProRes files. This technique will take more time, but in the end you have a workable Apple ProRes file without paying anything. Additionally, Apple Color works with other professional video formats, including more commonly used Mini DV (DV25).

Taking Control

Apple Color excels at giving the colorist very powerful control – one could tinker for hours. Finding the Auto Adjust button in the Primary In pane is a great way to get your color correction started. Our footage needed just one or two tweaks at most in the Advance tab to fine tune the Auto Adjustment. This process saves you a great deal of time, as the Auto Adjust will get you very close to home with a click of a button. Comparing our edits in the HDV format compared to the Apple ProRes (HQ setting), we saw a great deal more dynamic control than expected. The ProRes files looked smoother when we pushed the saturation and hue. That was nice to see and gives HDV editors a strong reason to use Apple ProRes.


A Closer Look

One of the most outstanding features is the 3D Color Space monitor. For first timers, this might not be the most useful, but as you become familiar with vectorscopes and waveform monitors, the 3D Color Space view gives you both these perspectives in one view. New users in Apple Color may find more useful video monitoring with the vectorscope, waveform monitor and histogram. Unfortunately, those of you used to using a FireWire port to monitor video externally will find Apple Color does not support this method of monitoring. We realize that going out to FireWire would reduce the color space and be less effective; however, having some form of output is better than nothing for most enthusiast editors.

To the Next Level

Apple Color has plenty of room for new colorists to grow into and refine their skills. With eight levels of Secondary color, you could add a lot of fine-tuning to your image. Add the functionality of making your own masks and key framing, and the options seem limitless. We were relieved to see how easy the custom shape tool works, allowing the colorist to save and load custom shapes. Custom grades work in the same way, where the colorist can save settings from each leg of the process and apply them to other clips.

Upon completion of our project, we rendered our Apple Color adjustments in ProRes and exported the project back to Final Cut Pro.

Conclusion

The opportunity for mainstream enthusiasts to have powerful control over the color correction and timing is alluring and may lead some users into a big post-production time-eating trap. But, if your main concern is to make your productions look as good as possible, then it’s obviously a worthwhile investment for you – as long as you take the time to understand the theory of what you are doing. With any professional tool, the ability for you to make a masterpiece is equal to the possibility of making a disgraceful mess. So, use discretion and bone up on your color theory first.

TECH SPECS

OS: Mac OS 10.439 or later

Processor: 1.25GHz or faster PowerPC G4, PowerPC G5, Intel Core Duo, or Intel Xeon processor

Graphics Card: Standard graphics card in any Mac Pro, 17-inch MacBook Pro, 24-inch iMac with Intel Core Duo, or 2.5GHz or faster Power Mac G5 Quad, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600, ATI Radeon X1600, NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT/7600 GT/7300 GT/6600, Quadro FX 4500

Display: 1680×1050 pixels resolution or higher

Additional Hardware: 3-button mouse for full functionality

Memory: At least 1GB RAM, 2GB RAM recommended with compressed HD, 4GB recommended with uncompressed HD

Strengths

  • Auto adjust
  • 3D color space view
  • 8 levels of secondary color

Weaknesses

  • None

SUMMARY

Apple Color is a terrific tool for the advanced editor and the control freak enthusiast. The rest of us might want to stick to our same-old techniques for achieving color correction and effects, to save ourselves from self-destruction.

Mark Montgomery is Videomaker’s Technical Editor.

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

$1,299 (part of Final Cut Studio 2)

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