Introducing Final Cut Pro X

An example of Clip Connections, which lets you move entire sequences in the timeline in a single step without going out of sync.

FCP X projects are now organized into Events (borrowed from iMovie and iPhoto) instead of bins or folders. I really like FCP X’s new sleek, yet simple charcoal layout, and importing footage directly from your file-based camera or computer is relatively simple. A big deal-breaker for some is that you can no longer import previous FCP projects or FCP XML files, but only previous iMovie projects. Not quite sure of the logic on this one, but Apple probably will lose its biggest market share of pro users for the lack of this simple feature. (If you’re a user of FCP 7, it would be in your best interest to keep the program on your system for a few years.)

But let’s make one thing clear—although iMovie and FCP X share many of the same features and are aesthetically similar, underneath the hood, this is an entirely different beast. FCP X has been built from the ground up on a modern 64-bit architecture that lets you access all the RAM in your system, making the editing process far more efficient in allowing real-time playback and high-speed background processing. Just playing around with the software for a few minutes, you really feel the power and speed of the new system.

In a lot of ways, you have to respect the fact that Apple has redesigned FCP X based on changes and trends we’re currently seeing in the industry, such as the move away from tape and the rise of Internet video distribution. But at the same time, I can sympathize with the professional editor who feels, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What’s New?

Although there are some obvious and glaring omissions that you’re probably aware of, Apple always has been forward-thinking about technology, even if it may upset users. After all, this is the company that unleashed the complicated OS 10 on the world and eliminated optical drives and ethernet ports in its MacBook Air way before most users were ready to lose them. FCP X’s raison d’être is the tapeless workflow, which is also another idea that professional editors are complaining about, since you no longer can import or export tape-based projects or control the use of VTRs. For a lot of professional production and postproduction houses, tape is still being used on documentaries and reality television. For indie filmmakers, I don’t think this is a deal-breaker at all since most have been using file-based camcorders or DSLRs the past few years. As the price for media cards comes down and card capacity goes up, this will be less of an issue in the very near future.

Compressor on a MacBook Pro.

The first thing you’ll notice when opening up FCP X is that there are no longer the familiar two-screen Canvas and Viewer. Your Browser and Viewer are now combined into your Event Browser, which is where you organize Events. You can see your clips in a list format or as thumbnail filmstrips. This wasn’t a difficult transition for me, although it did take a few minutes to wrap my head around it. Like Premiere Pro, FCP X is contained in a single window in which you can’t separate different sections or windows to other computer monitors. Also, until an update is made, you can only output a mirror image of your FCP X desktop to a professional external CRT or LCD monitor. This is completely unacceptable for colorists.

Other issues include the inability to export an Edit Decision List, the loss of Cinema Tools for conforming film negatives and no multicam support. These are features that the majority of new users to FCP X and indie filmmakers probably won’t miss.

In viewing clips, one amazing new feature is Skimming—similar to audio scrubbing—in which you can hover your cursor with your mouse or trackpad over a filmstrip clip to quickly view or “skim” through a shot. I found this feature to be extremely fast, yet efficient in setting in and out points. (Thank the 64-bit architecture for this feature.) Another terrific feature in FCP X is Content Auto-Analysis, which scans your media during the import process and creates metadata such as camera info, shot types, people IDs and more. In your Preferences, you can control these particular settings if you choose to.

One of the biggest drawbacks in using Final Cut Pro until now was its inability to work natively with the H.264 codec. Previously, you had to transcode all of your shots into a ProRes intermediate codec in order to edit, and the process was very time-consuming. Working natively with H.264 was a standard feature for both Avid and Adobe Premiere Pro so it only made sense for FCP X to get with the program. If you choose to transcode your H.264 clips into ProRes (although FCP X doesn’t transcode to all ProRes flavors), FCP X’s Background Tasks Manager lets you edit files as the clips are being captured, and it also performs rendering in the background as you work. Also at this time, you can’t work natively with RED, ARRIRAW and Sony S-Log, although that probably will change in future updates. You still can’t work with Sony AVCHD with its MTS files, which is pretty frustrating and one aspect that probably won’t change.