My love affair with video editing using Apple’s Final Cut dates back a decade to a translucent iMac DV. Times have changed.
10 years later Final Cut Pro X is far more capable and less expensive, Mac’s are more powerful, more affordable. The latest Final Cut is long awaited and my first look returns mixed results. Workflow is enhanced. Features numerous. Confusion proliferates immediately, as there’s much new to learn.
Is there a better way to create modern video productions?
Start At The Top
Final Cut Pro X is available only from the Mac App Store. Download only. Love it or hate it, the Store is here to stay. Get used to it. Apple seems to think DVDs are so 1999.
My first surprise, after purchasing and downloading FCP X, was the need for additional files to be downloaded—over 600 megabytes.
The second surprise was the basic FCP X screen layout. This is not your mother’s non-linear Mac editor. Maybe it’s your sister’s editor, but more iMovie Pro than Final Cut Studio. FCP Preferences are minimalist (just as your iMovie-loving sister would prefer).
The Import tab handles file organizing, video, and audio. If you’re looking for more preferences, don’t. Minimalist is being kind. Dumbing down? Only if FCP X is a prelude to Final Cut Studio 2012 later this year, instead of what feels like Final Cut Studio Lite.
A fresh install of FCP X gives you importing options. Yes, Virginia, Apple expects FCP X users to import iMovie Events. Sorry. I couldn’t find an import button for Final Cut Studio projects anywhere.
Really? iMovie events? Whatever. A few hours and one restart later, all our family video events were imported into FCP X. For other video projects, FCP X does clip analysis. That’s analysis. Not correction. Corrections have to be applied later. You can also fix clips as right click options abound.
The screen layout and workflow options make up the bulk of FCP X’s list of changes. In some respects, editing is easier (ala iMovie-like tools). Perhaps because FCP X is new and functions have been re-arranged, editing can become more complex; at least, initially.
Era Of Events & Projects
Today, everything is treated as an Event. You still import media from cameras or files, but it all shows up, ala iMovie style, as an Event in the Library. It’s all there, all the time, a giant personal media catalog a mere click away. Say goodbye to Bins, hello to Events, Projects, and Smart Collections (think keywords or tags assigned to clips, clipped together).
To be fair, Smart Collections save time and right-click options abound throughout the timeline and elsewhere in the FCP X interface.
Click to create a new Project, then drag and drop clips from Events above. Does that look like iMovie to you? The gap between iMovie and Final Cut Pro X seems less today.
Ala iMovie, clips seem to be replaced by Selections. In and out markers are quaint terms, replaced by a selection range (still with time code Start, End, and Duration, thankfully).
The live Skimmer (think scrubber) works great for precise audio and video, even on my aging iMac.
At least they didn’t take away the Playhead.
Another gotcha is FCP X’s inability to open legacy Final Cut Pro Projects. What? No backwards compatibility? That’s Apple. Say goodbye to the past. We hardly knew ye. Say hello to 64-bit trackless editing and a new paradigm for non-linear editing, Apple style.
If everything is a Project, then what of editing? Read on to Page 2 for more detail on editing in Final Cut Pro X.
Continued from Page 1…
Apple’s long-awaited Final Cut Pro X is a different beast from previous FCP versions. Not only has the workflow changed, terminology has changed, too.
Projects and Events are more iMovie than Final Cut Studio. Backwards compatibility of Projects is gone. For editors, the Timeline is still there, and so is drag and drop to the Timeline with three dedicated editing button on the Toolbar.
Three? Connect, insert, or append clips to the Storyline? Wait? Storyline? Or Timeline? Both.
Another gotcha is the change in metaphors. In the past, with Final Cut Studio (and nearly every other Mac-based non-linear editor), clips were dropped onto a timeline which was made up of tracks.
Tracks are so 1999, you know? The FCP Nazi says, “No tracks for you.”
Instead, clips are added to a primary Storyline, something of a container for audio and video, but more. It’s a lane, not a track. Clips don’t crash into one another. Everything just flows forward. Apple calls this the Magnetic Timeline and it’s actually fun to use (once you get used to it.
Clips can be dropped into the flow easier, faster, and with less disruption (similar to iMovie, but with more precision).
Editing For Fun And Profit
In the editing process, clips can be connected above and below the Timeline That’s good and bad. Edit elsewhere and the clip stays in place and doesn’t lose alignment.
Delete a clip and anything connected gets deleted, too.
Final Cut’s familiar shuttling and jogging J, K, and L keys still function appropriately, as does precision timecode, edit points, and the Playhead. New for navigation is the Timline Index. A simple click brings up a box which lists all video and audio, graphics and titles in the Project. You can even search for clips from within the box using names or keywords.
The Playhead remains, but is called a Skimmer, skimming across audio and video elements the old fashioned way. The Dashboard updates timecode to reflect the new Playhead location.
What’s new is that the Skimmer also lets you view clips in your Project. Simply drag the vertical line to find the content you want. What you get is a true audio and video scrubber. Already I prefer the Skimmer of 2012 to the Playhead of 1999.
Editing is still editing but it’s called Trimming, and despite the look and feel of iMovie, this is an improvement, yet the shortcuts of yesteryear remain.
Still there are the old standbys of Select, Trim, Position, Blade, Zoom, Hand, but now with Range Selection. The new FCP X Trim Tool does the work of roll, ripple, slip, and slide from previous Final Cut versions.
The Precision Editor is straight out of iMove, but with improvements. Get used to the Handle Frames of iMovie. They’re everywhere. And they’re easier to use.
Wherefore Art Thou, Audio, Color, Effects?
Audio editing in FCP X has improved notably. Gone is the standalone app, Soundtrack Pro, replaced by integrated audio functions available in any clip with audio. Fading audio within a clip is easier, faster. Drag the handle, the fade begins. Right click brings up fade types. The volume bar controls work as with previous versions.
The Audio Inspector brings more detail, including audio analysis of the clip, a waveform, built-in equalization, and audio effects. Surround Panner is built-in to FCP X using the Dolby surround output. However, FCP X won’t export audio to basic formats (OMF, AAF et al) so you can improve the audio track.
High on the About Time List is the color wheel, which is now a Color Board which now matches color from one clip to another. I love this. Grab the clips, choose Match Color. Color does the rest.
Outside of that, Color gets complicated as the familiar color wheel is replace by a Color Board which does more, but gives you another curve to learn.
I’m an Effects junky and FCP X gives an Effect Browser born of clicking the Effects button. The Inspector can be used to alter an effect for any clip using standard and precise sliders. Transitions between clips and scenes is also easy. Select the edit point, double click a transition, select and edit accordingly.
Titles in FCP X are different than previous versions, so you may want to purchase and download the separate Motion package from the Mac App Store. Click the T button for titles, drag and drop for placement into the Storyline.
FCP X can speed up or slow down a clip easier than in previous versions, including distorting clips, transforming video, photo elements or other graphics. Yes, the Ken Burns Effect exists as a Motion Effects option, but it’s not anything like iMovie. Think Photo-to-Movie.
Goodbye Yesterday, Hello Today
As Apple so often does, the Final Cut we used to know is gone. Final Cut Pro X is the heir. It’s better at handling clips, events, projects, and the interface, while different, is not as cluttered, while somewhat easier, still requires a learning curve.
There’s no backward compatibility with previous Final Cut Pro 7 projects, so don’t ditch your old version just yet. There’s no third party plugins. Audio is not as robust as Final Cut Studio’s Soundtrack Pro. Terminology has changed, too. Apple appears to be re-inventing the wheel. Again. FCP X is far more than iMovie, and in some ways less than Final Cut Studio (in some workflow ways, much easier), but far less expensive. It’s change, both good and questionable. That’s how Apple rolls. Next year’s FCP X will fill in some of the gaps. Until then, dive in, or wade slowly.