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Mac Planet: Final Cut Pro X in more detail

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(This is very long for a Mac Planet, sorry, at twice the normal length, but the really comprehensive review is posted on my own website.)

With this new Final Cut Pro X, you get a lot for your money. Along the centre-right of the FCPX display is a line of icons that access, in turn and left to right: Effects, Photos, Music, Transitions, Titles, Generators and Themes, and then to the utmost right is the Inspector logo (an 'i' in a circle).

The Effects Browser takes up the lower mid-right of FCPX's typical display and shows 101 different effects, some of which are audio.

They support Skim, applying the effect in the view window to the selected clip (or the one that the playhead's over) even if Viewer skimming is turned off. Skim over a selected clip to see what it does and press your Spacebar for a little preview loop of the effect on your clip.

You can't change effects parameters until you have applied one by double-clicking it, or by dragging it onto the clip. Then its controls appear in the top of the Inspector window (you may have to scroll up to see them). It's non-destructive - you can turn that plugin off just by clicking on the little blue square for each panel. You can stack Effects and rearrange their order by dragging.

Among the new tools is an effective Keyer for Green Screen. Once applied, you can adjust the sample colour and the edges with three view buttons (source clip, matte and the final image), a little like Adobe Photoshop's Refine Edges. It has a Fill Hole slider, and you can fine tune the edges and suppress Spill, all very easily and intuitively.

Copying and pasting filters, though, works differently than before. You copy the clip in the Edit menu, select your target clips and choose Paste Effects (Command-Option-V) rather than just Paste, which pastes the clip itself. You can then play around with the parameters in the Inspector to make sure the applied filter is working correctly in the new clip.

Dual monitors
I missed this the first time round - there is support for a second monitor, although it's not 'dual'. There's an option in the View menu to Show Viewer on Second Display, or to Show Events on Second Display, and this works really well.

Transitions
Click between two clips and hit Command T for an instant Cross Dissolve - an audio crossfade is built in. You set the parameters for this in Preferences, which is down to just three tabs vs the myriads of FCP7.

There are other controls for Cross Dissolves in that Inspector, also. There are 88 Transitions to choose from.

Precision Editor
One of the better features of learn , this. It shows a transition between the outgoing clip on top and the incoming clip below. You can roll and trim with great precision visually, and do ripple edits between them.

Text Effects
One-hundred and fifty-five come with the program. Titles appear as purple bars in the time line, and many contain prebuilt animations; some have drop zones you can put your own video into. If 155 seems overwhelming, you can filter them by the categories Build In/Build Out; Bumper/Opener; Credits; elements and Lower Thirds.

Double-clicking the one you want superimposes it where your playhead is, with most being preset to three seconds at shortest. You can drag and drop to insert them between clips.

Once applied, click the Text tab in the Inspector to modify font, colour, timings etcetera. This works a lot like the one in Motion, if that's a help, except you have more control still in Motion - for example, changing the colour means all the letters take on that colour. In Motion, you can individually customise each letter. But in FCPX, it's pretty handy, and could be all you need.

Generators
Content created inside FCPX: Backgrounds, Elements, Solids and Textures. Most of these are simply images stored as presets.

Once again, apply to get the creative flexibility - apply Fabric, and then you get linens, silk, leather and wool, which you can then tint to your heart's content.
These take a bit of exploring because most have unhelpful labels, like Texture 1 and Texture 2.

Final Cut 7 had more practical ones, apparently, but you can still get to these in Motion then output them as plug-ins for FCPX.

But there's no bars and tone generator - a serious omission.

Themes is a filter of all the titles, transitions and effects to keep them unified by a style - a quick and dirty method to bash out a project in a hurry, if your client isn't too discerning, maybe. Most creative pros would ignore them.

Timing
Timing was something I always found clunky in Final Cut. Now to the left of the bar starting with Effects, there's a Timer button.

Optical Flow analyses the clip for movement vectors and then does a much longer render than Frame Blending. You'll probably avoid the Normal default. You're appear stuck with 50%, 20% and 10% slo-mo, and 2x, 4x, 8x and 20x speedups (plus Reverse, Speed Ramp, Instant Replay and Rewind, but a Show Retime Editor (Command-R) lets you drag the edge of the Retime handle to set whatever speed you set. The bar stays orange if it's slow and goes into blue once you go over the stock speed. This is powerful and much easier to use than previously. If you trim this clip, clip adds or subtracts frames which then play at the speed you set.

The Ramp speed effects are easy to use too - a segment can progressively slow, or speedup. Motion is better at customising this kind of process, but it's nice to have at your fingertips.

Freeze frames get a whole new level of complexity. Called Hold in the Retime menu, a Hold frame (3 seconds by default) appears with a red indicator. This is editable - just drag the edge of the Hold bar.

Animation
Turn on the Transform controls to add keyframe animation to objects. The Add Keyframe button appears at top left of the View window, and turns orange when on. Mark the position of where the object will end up first, as adding the second keyframe is when things animate.

This, to me, is a blessing compared to Final Cut Pro 7x. I know seasoned professionals could do this easily, after all their experience, but to a new user, this is a huge improvement in usability.

Colour adjustments
You can do opacity effects right in the Timeline, but you have to turn the capability on via a little pop-out effects menu accessed right from clips, from a little adjuster icon at the top left of them.

Expand the clip view and you can draw instant opacity ramps by eye, and add control (keyframe) points like you can with audio in Logic and GarageBand to really customise control.

Audio
The major addition to FCPX is audio controls built in, negating the need for boosting soundtracks into Soundtrack Pro. I personally found this so daunting that if I needed to do serious audio in Final Cut Pro 7x, I booted it into Logic instead, which I was more familiar with.

FCPX audio supports many formats. Import them the same way you import video clips (File>Import>Files).

The wave-forms in the clips show volumes, including red peaks and they are also skimmable. You can also import audio via your iTunes library, for any tracks you have permissions to use, with drag and drop from the Music browser.

There's Foley to get you started, too (most pros will have reams of bought and created sound effects already). The Final Cut Pro Sound Effects Library (1377 items) adds to the iLife Sound Effects Library (if you have already iLife installed on your machine). It has a search field at the bottom of the browser.

In the Inspector, you can change the type of sound (Surround, Stereo etc), equalisation yourself or with presets (Hum Reduction etc), volume and pan etc. There's even a Match feature to match it to the EQ set to another clip, which creates a frequency map from a clip you've already made and applies it to a new one. You can choose between a 10-band or a 31-band EQ.

You can break the existing audio off from the video clips in the Clips menu. You can drag them back up into the clips to collapse them again.

Click on the tiny audio meter on the right of the timecode window to get a larger meter to the right. Drag the border leftwards to make this bigger. It has peak indicators.

Option-click on the volume line in the volume clips to create keyframes you can adjust dynamically, for much finer editing. The volume waveforms change dynamically and you can edit the keyframes in the Inspector. Backwards and forwards arrows give you click-to-navigate between keyframe points.

The little circles at left and right of each clip allow you to add audio fades instantly. You just drag them right and left, and there are choices (right-click on the dot) to choose from four types of fades (two in the previous).

In the Inspector, you get 12 pan modes (including None). Most of these (after Stereo Left/Right) are surround modes and come with sound stage scope view to assist you visually. If you don't have a 5.1 editing system, FCPX tries to simulate it in stereo.

Advanced adds all sorts of additional controls for those who know what they are doing (LFE Balance, Original/Decoded, Rotation ...).

You can keyframe your panning, too, for effective sound design.

In your Effects browser there are 136 audio effects (!) which are also skimmable. Apply an effect and your Inspector populates with settings dedicated to it. Some of these are from Logic - but if you also have Logic installed, all its other effects become available here, too.
The Channel EQ is particularly effective due to its Analyzer checkbox, which shows the waveforms form the actual clip, great for identifying hum. Post and Pre EQ buttons makes this really powerful. It's stacked with useful presets.

An Auto Enhance Audio analyses the clip, detects hum and background noise and applies compensation as a handy timesaver - all is tunable, in turn, in the Inspector.

Cut! Telling Final Cut Pro X what to do
Literally - in Lion, FCPX lets you use VoiceOver to talk to your Mac and direct your work.
This site tells you all about it ...

Learning Final Cut Pro X
As a download-only application, it's goodbye to the comprehensive manuals you used to get. It has Help, though, but this is a very dry way to learn a new program and requires considerable patience.

I recommend MacProVideo's tutorials on the subject, in this case by Michael Wohl, one of the original Final Cut developers. I would have been lost without MPV's training on the last version of Final Cut, and since this program is quite different, it has been indispensable to me. With the dollar high, MPV training is particularly good buying right now at US$19.50 per module (currently around NZ$25 each).

You can download the videos and pay for the ones you want, or subscribe, via the website.

Individual MPV units are also available in the Mac App Store and you can get the Final Cut Pro X 101 - Overview and Quick Start Guide for free.

Stability
I managed to crash FCPX one time when I tried to use the Zoom selection tool. I did have iTunes and Photoshop open at the same time - silly. At one point, a long render effectively froze FCPX, but I quit, rebooted, everything was there and things carried on working.
A third crash happened when it was just sitting there doing nothing - I hope Apple takes note of these crash reports and does something about it.

This isn't extensive crash testing, and newer Macs are already much more powerful than my September 2010 MacBook Pro, but it's something to be aware of.

Final Cut Pro X Supplemental Content
Once you have installed Final Cut Pro X, Software Update adds over 1300 rights-free sound effects installed into the Audio Browser of Final Cut Pro X and Audio Effect Presets for the Space Designer plug-in.

Additionally, you get more ProApps QuickTime codecs. Motion Supplemental Content adds Motion Templates, Library Content and Motion Sample Media.

I remain very impressed with this software.

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