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Mac Planet: Final Cut Pro X review


There's been a lot of controversy about Apple's latest Pro video-editing software, Final Cut Pro X. Some was justified. Lately, though, it's been more like an attack of angry parrots - angry about something they haven't tried, and parrots because they're just repeating what they have heard.

I've spent a week working through it (the full review, around 5000 words, is on my site).

Some Final Cut professionals spat the dummy, panning the software and even demanding their money back. The main causes for concern: not being able to open legacy projects - which I concur is pretty incredible - and no longer supporting dual monitors.

But X is virtually new software, which may be why it jumped from Version 7 to 10 (X).

It does look different. FCPX has one viewer window which displays whatever your Playhead is over, whether in the clips bin or timeline. For a full-screen run-through, press the full-screen icon, and Escape to go back. This isn't as good as having your full-screen viewer on a separate monitor, so I hope Apple adds this back into a future version, but it's easy to get used to as a working model.

These omissions have led to some professionals saying Apple has turned its back on them, effectively producing a 'prosumer iMovie' in the stead of the proper professional tool everyone was expecting.

That's not true. I can imagine professional disdain at booting something up that looks like - the thought! - iMovie, but I don't think that's a justifiable criticism.

FCPX does look like iMovie and has the same skim thing, where you move your mouse over a clip to 'play' it, but this is really handy. Anyway, press a blue button over on the right and it's off - which you need to be aware of, as edits can happen at the skim position instead of at the playhead.

I need to make clear I am no Final Cut Pro-fessional. I have made a couple of music videos with FCP 7 plus a short film, to learn how to use it. I am conversant with it. The short film I made, scripted by Guy Hamling (who helped edit) and shot by Tony Smith, was acted by Paul Ellis and Liesha Ward-Knox:

I am making another short with the latest version, to learn the ropes. (I haven't made any money from these efforts, or even tried to charge for them.)

Tabs are gone from the Timeline, but Back and Forward arrows just above the Timeline switch instantly between open projects.

Final Cut Pro X demands learning some new routines - and if you're a video pro, that may be a hard ask in a busy workflow. Actually, I think some of the resistance to X comes from this. But you're going to have to learn new stuff, and new routines sometimes, in your working life. Learning FCPX, if current lacks in its feature set aren't so important to you, will net you real working speedups.

Among the new features (there's more detail in my full review):

* The Clip Appearance button at bottom right by the zoom slider has several options for how to view clips, plus a clips height adjustment.

* Pressing the Delete key with a clip selected does a 'ripple delete' - the clips close up. But there's a Replace with Gap option (Shift Delete, or Forward Delete on extended keyboards).

* There's no imposing of renders into your workflow. After a certain time, clips render in the background (you can control how this works).

* On my not-the-latest MacBook Pro, I could wait up to 30 minutes for renders in FCP7 before I could do anything else. The impact of background rendering on any workflow in FCPX are dramatic. I timed them, but since they don't stop you working, it's not quite so relevant.

* The renders in FCPX are not only in the background, they're also faster. I changed the speed of a 1080p HD clip (shot on a Canon 5D MkII) from 20 seconds to 1 minute, and Final Cut Pro 7 rendered it in 3 minutes 25 seconds. That was over three minutes in which I used to sit twiddling my thumbs. In FCPX, this 34% change in clip speed rendered in 1 minute 33 seconds, once it kicked in (there's a five second delay before renders start). And it did the work in the background, anyway.

* Final Cut Pro 7 boots on my 2.2GHz dual-core i7 MacBook Pro in 9 seconds - the OS is a pre-release of Lion. On the release version of Lion, Final Cut Pro X booted in 19 seconds the first time it loaded, but in 9 thereafter.

More changes
Replace Edit now lets you exchange one clip for another, using the existing duration of a clip in a sequence to determine what length the replacement should be. A list of options pops up: Replace from Start and Replace from End allow some really fast edits.

Connected Edits are great. Drop a new clip above another in the timeline and if connects to the clip below. The Timeline playhead goes through and plays the top clip when it gets to it, letting you fine-tune your compositing. The 'connected' part comes from the fact that if you move either the top or bottom clip, they stay connected. You can stack up your connect clips, a fast, easy flexibility that may result in a new look to your movies and faster, more flexible, on-the-fly compositing.

Moving a connected clip shows the point it's connected to in the viewer - another great way to visually fine-tune your edits.

This Inspector takes the place of that second Viewer window you used to have on the right. It also replaces the patch panel where you worked out what source of audio etc you would edit. Now you click on the Audio tab in Inspector and your audio channels appear when you expand Channel Configuration. Easy.

Inspector lets you access all sorts of things like crop and move, which you can fine tune with numerical input, all with reset buttons if you go too far or change your mind.

Inspector gives direct access to opacity and blend modes (linear, burn, screen etc). I found the way you applied things like this in FCP7 really counterintuitive, although I guess you grew used to it if you used it a lot. So in my opinion, FCPX does this way better.
It has Alpha Channels built in, for direct access to masking and other effects.

You can apply stabilisation to any clips from the Inspector and a Rolling Shutter control addresses a problem typical of CMOS-style sensors - a wavey effect you can get when a camera was moving.

The zoom commands for the Timeline are better. Command Plus and Command Minus zoom in and out, and here's the kicker - they zoom around the playhead instead of ... who knows where? Inevitably the wrong place, anyway, for me in FCP7.

Zooming can go right into samples now. The zoom tool under the Select pointer lets you drag over an area to fill the timeline with your selection. Two-finger swipes on the trackpad let you swipe backwards and forwards in the timeline.

A new Timeline Index, accessed from a little button at lower left (the shortcut is Shift-Command-2) shows all the clips in the project and you can use it to navigate through clips. You can add tags to the clips and navigate by keywords, and jump right to an area of a clip instantly. You can filter it: only look for Audio, or Video clips. You can tick To Do markers when you've done them, to do a run-through and check your project tasks off.

The Index is searchable.

Shift-Z fits the timeline in the window, which is really handy.

Conclusion - it's great
Final Cut Pro X is very good. It has way faster rendering, great audio editing wrapped into the product and many new workflow speedups.

Working is way more intuitive and faster, once you know what you are doing.

People have accused Apple of arrogance, turning its back on the professional community it has fostered. I don't think this is the case. Final Cut Pro X is a professional product, based on its output and capabilities.

Any arrogance was in expecting professionals to have to learn a new program, without unleashing a big enough campaign to explain this would be the case, and in leaving out backwards compatibility.

Besides, you can keep the old version if you really like it. FCPX doesn't replace it (the Final Cut Studio applications are moved to a Final Cut Studio folder in your Applications directory when you install X). Considering what a bargain it is, why not have both as you transition?

To see if your Mac can handle it, check Apple's specs.

Meanwhile, Apple has promised to fix and upgrade FCPX as we go.

I will run through many more of the features in a follow-up blog here.

My advice is: give FCPX a chance. It's bloody fast and has some great features, particularly the connected edits and excellent inline audio tools. Once you've come to grips with it, you will be working much faster than before, partly because it does things more easily and more visually, and partly because the code is fast and so is background rendering, although I did notice my fans cranking up during some renders as the CPUs took a hit.

By far the good differences outnumber the bad.

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