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

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.


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


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


  • 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


  • 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


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



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

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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