Final Cut Pro X: Is X the unknown?
Since its release, Apple’s Final Cut Pro X has received unequivocal acclaim from critics and industry professionals alike, and has become the most successful product release in history.
Sorry, that was the iPad2. Final Cut Pro X has not done any of that.
Actually it has generated quite a bit of press. It’s just that most of it is bad.
There are few reasons why this may be the case.
First, it’s new. The funny thing about new is that no matter what the Madison Avenue folks think, the first thing we associate with “new” isn’t “improved,” it’s “different.”
Second, as much as it is a shiny new icon in the dock, it is not nearly as polished and complete a product as Final Cut Pro 7. Which is not to say that it is not a good product. When you look at it in the correct light (i.e. not comparing it to Final Cut Pro 7), Final Cut Pro X is actually a pretty good deal at $299.99 and will surely get better as updates come.
And third, in the world of Apple news, there is Fear, Uncertainty and Disinformation, or FUD, and, while many criticisms are just, FUD has to a certain degree colored the application’s debut.
Fear: “OMG! I’m going to show up to work one day and find my old friend FCP 7 has been replaced with this toy!”
Yup. Probably not for a little while yet, but if you are a professional freelance video editor you will most likely find yourself at some point in the future sitting in front of Final Cut Pro X, simply because it’s cheap and the people writing the checks don’t know or care about the differences in the two apps.
The good news is that if you’ve spent five minutes with iMovie, Final Cut Pro X is not hard to use, and any editor worth his or her salt should be able to figure out how to get the job done just by poking around the interface long enough. Not optimal, but doable. And Final Cut Pro 7 still will be around for some time yet, so there’s no need to sweat it.
Uncertainty: “What about all the missing features? How will I get my work done without X, Y and Z?”
Well, I have now used Final Cut Pro X to cut a piece, and while some things were difficult or impossible to do (I still don’t know how to put a dropshadow on anything but text), I was able to get the video out by deadline. Making selects, editing video and audio, and color grading were all much faster than they would have been in 7.
If anything did slow me down it was figuring out how to do things by poking around in the menus. Doable, if not optimal. Besides, many feature will come with updates or from third-party developers. Till then, you can just stick with Final Cut Pro 7.
Disinformation: “It is our belief that Apple forces will make their landing on the European continent in the north though Norway and to the south at Pas de Calais. As such, we will move a significant portion of our forces away from Normandy to these other locations in preparation for the Apple invasion.” – German High Command, Berlin, May 1944.
Verifying the legitimacy of the above statement may prove difficult (HINT: I made it up). There are a number of misleading things floating around about Final Cut Pro X, like “Final Cut Pro X doesn’t support tape capture over USB, only FireWire!” Or “FCPX doesn’t support an external video monitor without third-party hardware.” These are both, in fact, true. The disinformation is the implied idea that any previous version of the app worked any differently. Tape capture has always depended on a FireWire input, and video monitors have always needed some kind of third-party hardware to drive a video monitor.
If you’re looking for the root cause of most of these complaints, I think it would be that it is just different, unknown.
So here’s a story to put things in perspective. I have worked for about nine years teaching folks how to shoot video and edit it using Final Cut Pro and various other nonlinear editing systems. One local news station that was a client chose an NLE (which I will refer to as HIDIUS) solely based on how well it connected to its server network. I’ll let that sink in…
To say I was not enthused by HIDIUS would be an understatement on par with saying that the U.S. economy is not where we would like it to be. I hated this thing and I couldn’t see anything good about it. And then came the traffic guy. This guy had never touched a video camera in his life, let alone any video editing software, and as we demonstrated HIDIUS, I was stunned to hear him exclaim “WOW! This editing software is AWESOME!”
My first reaction was “Oh, bless! He has no idea what he is talking about.” I was right, of course, but he also didn’t have the experience to make him expect any better, so he was open to the awesomeness of the application, whereas my objectivity was skewed by my expectations. I still feel that HIDIUS was a piece of junk, but I realized that part of why I hated it was that I was comparing it to something I already liked. Deep, right?
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll give you my first impression.
I like Final Cut Pro X. As long as I can continue to use Final Cut Pro 7.
In the pros column, the editing did feel a lot faster. Key wording made selecting the best portions of my clips for later reference a more streamlined process than it would have been had I had either cut my selects to a dedicated timeline to cut and paste from or made sub clips to edit from. Just select a portion of your clip in the browser with the range selection tool or set ins and outs, then press F to make it a favorite. Then you can set up a smart folder that will collect anything that has been made a favorite and edit from that folder. No switching back and forth between a selects timeline and a cut timeline, and no dealing with Subclip Limits.
In previous versions of Final Cut Pro, there is a move called swap clip that allows you to drag a clip from one place on the timeline to insert in a new spot and close the gap it would otherwise leave behind. It’s a cool trick, but the steps have to be done in a very specific order or it will do something else entirely, and it only works for one clip at a time. Final Cut Pro X, however, let’s you shuffle things around on the timeline as you like without making you jump through hoops in the process. If you want to move a sequence of shots at the end of your timeline to the beginning, just grab it all and move it there. Anything that’s already there will simply get out of your way. No complicated key combos required. In the parlance of Harry Potter, it’s more magic with less incantation.
Mixing audio is never my favorite part of editing; there are too many keyframes involved. That and the hearing damage I got from singing in a heavy metal band in the ’90s.
To adjust one section of audio up or down in Final Cut Pro 7, you need to place four keyframes on the pink line representing the audio level for the clip you’re working on and then drag the section of the pink line in the middle of the keyframes to make the adjustment. With Final Cut Pro X, you click and drag to select the range you want and then drag the audio level line up or down. No keyframes. But Final Cut Pro X does nothing for the ringing in my ears. WOO YEAH!
On the cons side, the background rendering doesn’t happen in the background as much as in the gaps. While you are working, clicking/dragging, playing video, any rendering pauses and starts back up again after you stop doing anything. By default, it waits five seconds to start, but you adjust the duration that it waits. This is how all of the background tasks work, in between foreground tasks while you sit considering an edit decision or checking Facebook to see if anyone Liked your last update. But if you are going at it hot and heavy, the tasks stack up and you will still have to wait for them to complete at some point.
The text generator doesn’t seem to have gotten any better in as much as you still can’t have two different point sizes in one text clip, and it still doesn’t have spellcheck.
Spellcheck, for crying out loud! At least it doesn’t have iOS’s autocomplete.
And then, of course, there is the multicam editing. Actually there isn’t any multicam editing. Multicam is a big favorite among folks who shoot with, well, multiple cameras. Allowing you to sync up and watch up to 16 different cameras and edit them as they play by clicking on the picture you want makes cutting interviews and live events much less time-consuming.
Sure, Final Cut Pro X has sync clips, in which the app analyzes the audio waveforms of your selected clips and matches them accordingly, essentially syncing them by ear, and then combining them into one clip that displays only one of the shots it’s made of. That clip then gets put on the timeline where you cut it, and then changes which shot is showing. All easily done, but not as elegant a solution as the old way.
Oh yeah, and where’s the dropshadow? In the old Final Cut Pro world, everything had dropshadow built in, right there in the motion tab, but in Final Cut Pro X, I find no mention of it anywhere but in the text generator.
Still, for all the things that can and have been said about Final Cut Pro X, you can’t be surprised by Apple’s move. If you know about Apple’s history, you know that it has destroyed as many technologies as it has introduced, some things appearing on both lists. Remember the floppy drive? Or the PS2 connector? Have you noticed how optical drives and FireWire aren’t getting the love they once did? Things like these are dropped by Apple without a single glance back. This is something they do while ignoring the cry of the masses who have become attached to their products. And I, for one, am glad that they don’t always give us what we ask for. It’s like that quote from Henry Ford: “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse.’” I don’t want a faster horse, I want a Mustang GT (and yes, I am aware of the irony).
Truth be told, I am a bit of a neophile. I like new things and bleeding-edge technology. Even though it is often more hassle than it’s worth, I will generally chose shiny-new over tried-and-true, so I like Final Cut Pro X. Also, I can be easily distracted with certain cat toys.
The thing is, Final Cut Pro X is here, probably to stay, which is good because it is a good product that will continue to get better. Whereas Final Cut Pro 7, which is, for now, the better product, will be going away. You can’t move forward without leaving the past behind, and after 10-plus years, Final Cut Pro needs to leave some things in the past. Odds are the code used for Final Cut Pro 7 has seen its last update and will soon enough be deleted from Apple’s development machines, forcing us all to follow the Final Cut Pro X roadmap. And by force I mean being relatively cheap. Economy is a powerful driver of technology. So, use the new app, learn it, know it, and be ready for the day when your new employer shows you to your Final Cut Pro X editing suite.
Until then, take comfort in the words of Long Island poet laureate Billy Joel, who said “say goodbye to the oldies but goodies, ’cause the good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems, woohoohoo.” Or just take a deep breath and remember that Final Cut Pro 7 still works.
- Tags: Learn & Discover
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