My Thoughts on FCPx

I’ve had a few people ask me about my thoughts on the new Final Cut Pro, so I though I’d have a crack at it to join in with all the others. My perspective might be a bit different: I don’t work in a post-house and my workflow isn’t really industry standard but is specifically tailored to what I do. Also, despite this site mainly focusing on color grading, I’ve been an editor much longer than a colorist. I’ve been editing for around 10 years now (admittedly not all of it at a “pro” level, but still…) and using Final Cut Pro since version 2, right before FCP3 came out in late 2001. Anyway, here are my thoughts from using it in the last few weeks since it was released. Sorry if any of it is just a repeat of what you’ve read elsewhere, but this is what I’ve encountered in daily use.

The Good

No more HDSLR transcoding – I recently went to our student ministry’s Beach Week to film for them. I would film for about 13 hours each day on my 5DmkII, then go back to my hotel room and edit a recap of the day for the following morning. I did the same thing using FCP7 last year, and was up until about 4:30am every night because I had to wait for the footage to transcode before I could start editing. This year I copied the clips over and got right to the editing. It was a beautiful thing that saved me at least 2 hours a night compared to the previous year.

The hotkeys – I’m actually pretty impressed with the thought behind the new hotkeys in FCPx. I,O,J,K,L are all the same, but they moved the Insert and Overwrite keys (plus a few new ones) off of the F keys at the top (now leaving them solely for volume, brightness, etc. system keys) down to Q,W,E,D. This is a way more natural hand placement on your keyboard. Also, can I just say I’m in love with the append function (E)? No matter where you are in your timeline, you can easily add a clip to the end without worrying about accidentally overwriting or splitting a clip by a frame or two.

Another great hotkey change is the ability to hold down a timeline tool hotkey to temporarily use that tool until you release the key. I’m still trying to get into the habit of this, but when I remember to use it, it’s much faster. Need to make a quick cut with the blade tool, but then go back to the arrow tool? Just hold down B, make your cut, then release. much faster! I’d also say this shines the most of the trim tool (T) for slip edits, etc.

And this is just the start. Almost all of the new hotkeys are brilliantly well thought out (as are most of the new timeline tools, which leads me to…)

The Timeline – I don’t really know how best to explain this part, but here goes – when performing a ripple edit, as you make the change the timeline actually moves to show your change, not just showing a timecode difference and an outline of the change as in previous versions. This coupled with the waveform views for audio make timing audio cues ridiculously easy.

Also, having ripple be the default action when shortening or lengthening a clip is pretty handy. I never understood why this wasn’t the default in previous versions…

Waveforms adjusting in height to reflect the volume in the timeline has been a great tool for me. I can take a quick look at all my dialogue and see if they are around the same volume, and pick out any problem shots without having to watch each clip.

Rendering – The background rendering is fast, and the ability to preview effects, titles, coloring – pretty much anything – all in real time at almost full quality is fantastic.

Automatic Sync – I used this for the first time the other day, and it is almost miraculous! Select the clips, right clip, sync. That’s it. My only suggestion would be the ability to select multiple clips and have it match them all at once, but it’s not a big deal.

Speed – I’m not talking the program speed here, though it is pretty good. I’m talking my speed with editing. Compared to my friends from film school, I’m not the most creative editor, but I can do, we’ll say…90% the quality/creativity of what they can do, but in a tenth of the time. My strength is my speed. And as I’ve gotten familiar with FCPx, I’m pretty sure that once they work out a few issues with it and I spend more time with it, I’ll be able to go even faster than I could in FCP7. FCPx really does seem to make pure editing faster. 

The Bad

Codec Support – probably my biggest beef with FCPx is the transcoding and rendering codec lock-in. With FCP7, I almost exclusively used ProRes 422 LT. For my use, it was a fantastic mix of the great ProRes quality, but with more practical file sizes than regular 422. Even though FCPx supports h.264 from HDSLRs, if I had the option I’d probably still use ProRes LT for performance reasons (h.264 takes more precessing power than I’d prefer for projects I have more time on than my Beach Week example) in my editing, and I’d definitely prefer it to render to LT to save some space, even if I was editing the h.264 files.

Format Settings – FCPx lacks the ability to tell it that it incorrectly analyzed footage, like not marking something as anamorphic for example. I work with Anamorphic DV content every week, and have been unable to do any of this work in FCPx because it keeps reading the footage without the anamorphic flag, and there’s not a way to correct it that I know of. A small annoyance, I know, but one that I hit frequently.

Thumbnail Filmstrips in the Timeline  – I miss the old thumbnail-at-beginning-of-clip-only setting from FCP7. The filmstrip is UI clutter. Just say no.

Events & Projects – I don’t mind the whole new event/project paradigm. I just wish it didn’t load every event and project when it started up. Seems like it could balloon out of control quickly.

Transitions – Why do second layer (what I’ll call any track/clip above the main “storyline”) clips not allow transitions unless they are in a “secondary storyline”? I shouldn’t have to make a new storyline just to have a clip transition in/out. Same for audio editing, like shortening a music track. You can’t add a crossfade unless it is a “secondary storyline.” Frustrating…

Coloring – The auto-balance is weak. The inability to type in numerical values is frustrating. The key/qualifier fine tuning is almost nonexistent. And, am I crazy, or is the dividing area between highlights, mids, and shadows very sharp? It makes it hard to adjust low-contrast shots, because the divisions are so harsh. I haven’t been able to do more than basic corrections in this setup. More on this to come in a later post.

Copy/Paste/Effect Management – What if I don’t want to copy every effect and setting from one clip to others? What if I just want to copy the coloring settings? Or the Audio effects only? Or just one effect? Really… all or nothing? #fail.

Interoperability – This is the biggie. All of the others are surmountable or tolerable to a degree. This is the reason I’ve only been able to use FCPx for highlight videos and small edits. I wanted to use FCPx for my latest TV commercial, but the inability to send the timeline to Mocha and After Effects for VFX and custom title work, Soundtrack Pro for better audio mixing, and Color for more controlled grading was a deal-breaker. Editing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You have to be able to talk to other programs. This is not an option for anything more complicated than basic interviews or wedding videos, and even then… Seriously. Don’t even get me started on my long rant about this. Ugh.

My conclusion…

All in all, I’m actually pretty happy with what is basically a 1.0 release. I won’t be giving up FCP7, Color or the rest of FCS3 anytime soon, but I think I’ll find myself using FCPx more and more. If they can fix the interoperability so I can send projects to AE, Soundtrack Pro, or even Color, I think we’ll be in business. The rest I’m sure will come with time. It’s definitely not right for everyone, especially “super-pros,” like those who need to integrate with Flame or Nuke, etc., but I don’t think it’s nearly the travesty that everyone else seems to think it is. I’ve always loved and used Final Cut Pro, not because I’m an Apple fanboy, but because it’s the best tool around in my opinion. There are a ton of great tools out there like Avid and Premiere, but FCP always seemed the most fluid and flexible. I’m hoping this new FCP can make up for lost ground and get back to where it should be. It’s got a long way to go, but I like what I see so far.

  • Reply Martin

    08/07/2011, 11:03 pm

    Sadly the bad things are the most important… :S

  • Reply Gerrit

    08/09/2011, 9:56 am

    Now that Color has been EOLed, will you be switching to different color correction software in the future?

    • Reply Aaron Williams

      08/13/2011, 2:34 pm

      Even if Apple isn’t supporting it, Color is still a very powerful tool, and will probably remain so for at least another year or two (as will FCP7 I think). The main catch will come when new codecs and formats come out and get popular quickly. That said, I haven’t put all my eggs in one basket :). I used Color because it’s readily available with the FCP suite, but I also know Resolve, Lustre (well, moreso EFILM’s “EWorks” variant, but it’s not too different) and Color Finesse. Eventually (when I can afford it), I’ll probably move to Resolve, but in my daily workflow Color still suffices.

      • Marcus Samuel-Gaskin

        12/23/2011, 3:02 pm

        Exactly the same here. Im in no hurry to run over to Resolve yet. I installed it on my ATI setup here and I barely got ANY fps out of it, even though it’s suposed to run on ATI hardware now. As a consequence I can’t even train on it.

        Even though Resolve is affordable, and in one sense, ‘free’, it requires deep expenditure in new hardware that I can’t afford right now.

        I’m waiting to see what Apple are doing with the future of the Mac Pro.

        I’m also waiting on Thunderbolt to mature as I really think the ‘Workstation’ model is on the way out. A significnt rev of the iMac in 2012 along TB i/o and TB monitoring could be the future for me.

Write a comment