First impressions: Final Cut Pro X

Keith White
17 July, 2011
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I’ve just had my first hands-on encounter with Final Cut Pro X and these are my first general impressions. In the coming weeks I hope to report in more detail as I use it on a couple of projects I’m working on. Although Final Cut Pro hasn’t exactly been my bread-and-butter over the last few years I have used it fairly regularly for documentary production during that time and would describe myself as moderately competent.

Some early reviews of FCPX noted its surface similarity with iMovie 11. I retired from the iMovie scene when iMovie 08 completely rewrote the rules that I had enjoyed since version 1.0, especially with iMovie HD (version 6) so I’m not in a position to comment on that, although superficially the interface looks similar. The early polls on FCPX seems to divide quite neatly into two camps. Glass half full – exciting new program, full of potential, fast, slick and very up-to-date and it’s only the first version. Glass half empty – my world has collapsed. All the investment I have put into previous incarnations is now worthless. Look at what’s missing! What is Apple thinking?

Initially, I would have aligned myself with this second camp due to my unsuccessful encounter with iMovie 08. And my first play with FCPX seemed to confirm that. Many things weren’t where they should be and not much seemed to work like it used to. Then the lightbulb moment.

When I finished secondary school my wise old headmaster presented me with a book with an inscription which began: “Lean not unto thine own understanding . . . ” He had noted I tended to rely solely on my own resources to solve problems. So the lightbulb told me to seek a little help. I contacted the folks at who have already released five of an eight-part tutorial series (which are $19.50/tutorial or $68.25 for the whole bundle) on FCPX which should be plenty to get me started. I figured I needed something real to practise on so I chose a folder of HD video clips in .mov format from a recent family outing which I needed to edit into a complete DVD.

Tutorial one was an overview with a general look at the new interface, creating projects and basic editing techniques. My first mistake was probably to regard this introduction as a ‘shut up and watch’. In hindsight I would have been better launching my own project right at the start and trying out some of the basic techniques myself after watching the video. But on the other hand when later tutorials got into more detail I was reasonably well prepared. Each tutorial is broken down into a number of short segments of between two and four minutes. So, watch each segment and then try it out for real. One thing at a time.

The second tutorial dealt with importing footage into FCPX from a variety of sources. It was easy this time because I was only importing .mov files from a folder. The imported folder appeared in the Event Browser which replaces the old Browser and opened up to reveal all the individual clips. The import dialogue box now allows me to perform a number of operations on import. These include organisational tagging, analysing for video and audio imperfections and face identification. Really? Well, sort of. The first two clips had been done but not the rest. Maybe something I’d missed. But not to worry, Analyse and Fix can do the same tasks if needed after import. Very quickly and totally in the background while I continue editing at full speed. There was a whole lot of other stuff in this tutorial mainly to do with media organisation which I imagine might become more important in my next, much larger, project.

Tutorial three – Editing in the Magnetic Timeline – gave me all the information I needed to get my clips into the timeline and do some basic trimming. By this stage, going backwards and forwards from the tutorials to FCPX, I was starting to explore some interface elements on my own. Firstly the dark interface took a little getting used to but then it all made sense in that my footage stood out sharply, not having to compete with other light sources. The FCPX function buttons likewise. The new Magnetic Timeline meant that all my clips stuck together in synch as I moved things around. But if I needed to move a clip to its own space the Position tool allowed me to do just that. So, my trimmed clips were now in the timeline. All I needed for now were some transitions. These are not covered in the current set of tutorials but previous experience told me that Control T would probably insert a one-second cross dissolve between clips. And thus it came to pass. Further emboldened I opened the Transitions window, highlighted the cross dissolve in the timeline and double-clicked a new transition to swap it in. Very easy.

Again, tutorial three had more information than I needed at the time but was worth looking at for future reference. Similarly with tutorial four. The advanced editing techniques were surplus to current requirements but some features such as Audition, Secondary Storylines and Compound Clips suggested exciting new possibilities. Tutorial 5 dealt with audio. Having used digital audio as a musician and podcast producer for many years I was more comfortable here. The exciting thing is that nearly all the major tools of Soundtrack Pro are now included directly in FCPX. And all the audio effects on my system, Final Cut, Logic, Mac OS and third-party are available in the Audio Effects window neatly grouped into categories. Audio editing is now much easier with a variety of tools. Option-click generates keyframes and video transitions automatically include audio cross-fades which I can tailor to suit.

I did wonder why the Music and Sound browser took so long to load initially. It turned out that as well as loading in my iTunes library, FCPX was scouring my Mac for Apple Loops from Soundtrack as well as FX from iLife and GarageBand! There’s a lot of stuff there!

So at the moment I’ve got some clips for my project in the timeline trimmed and transitioned and a music soundtrack which I will play with later. In the next report I plan to tell you how I finished the project and highlight some more features of FCPX. The three macProVideo titles to come in the next three weeks or so deal with titles, effects and compositing, colour correction techniques (as with Soundtrack for audio the key colour correction features of Colour have been rolled into FCPX) and finally exporting/sharing. As I work through this and get more confident with the new paradigms I will be considering an important choice. I have a major documentary project coming up. Do I dive in and trust FCPX to deliver the goods or play it safe and stick with Final Cut Pro 7?

My initial verdict? Pretty impressed. Everything works blindingly fast with the new 64-bit architecture. A lot of the old features are still there although sometimes in different places and with different shortcuts. Collapsing the old Canvas and Viewer windows into a single Viewer makes a lot of sense to me. The transition hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be and some of the credit for this must go to the macProVideo tutorials. I’m really enjoying the journey so far and, as I said before, it’s very early days. Glass half full.

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