Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is a program that exemplifies Apple’s recent design aesthetic: minimalist, powerful and a tad bit confusing. The dueling interests of adding sophistication to a tool while keeping that tool free of confusing interface elements is at the heart of all great design, and sometimes the complexity of a system gets so great that it’s easier to start from scratch.
That was certainly the case with Apple’s Final Cut Pro, a nonlinear video-editing tool born in an era before the modern Mac OS X, and which was completely rewritten in 2011 in order to embrace modern features and give the tool a major performance overhaul. Gone were the countless buttons, menus and pallets, and in its place came a slick, understated interface that only hinted at the program’s power.
Gone, too, were a lot of the earlier Final Cut Pro users, who jumped ship when the transition happened and found some of their relied-upon tools weren’t yet part of the revised program. Since that (painful) transition, Final Cut Pro X has grown steadily once again into a powerful-yet-simple-to-master program that embraces all of the modern video world’s myriad standards and workflows.
Final Cut Pro X 10.4, released in December 2017, is another of the program’s small, yet significant updates, one that bolsters one of the program’s shortcomings (relative to some other video editors) while also branching out into two recent and important new video-editing areas.
A Whole New (Virtual) World
Apple has been making quiet but important strides in virtual reality and augmented reality for more than 10 years, but recent updates, high-level hirings from the VR community and a few corporate acquisitions point to Apple’s plans to be a dominant player in the upcoming market. The company’s iPhone operating system just gained native AR support, allowing developers to create AR apps with much less coding.
Whatever Apple’s future plans, VR/AR and 360º content is being created today by scores of content creators, and Final Cut Pro 10.4 brings the ability to edit 360º content. Sitting with Apple’s PR and Final Cut Pro teams, I donned a VR headset that was connected to an iMac running Final Cut Pro. I watched as edits were made in real time to 360º content. It’s possible to change camera position in Final Cut Pro and see those changes in perspective as the content is played back on the VR headset. It’s still possible to edit 360º footage without a headset—the program stretches the spherical view into a rectilinear one for easy editing.
Final Cut Pro also solves an annoying issue with 360º video capture: the unsightly presence of the camera rig or operator when viewers look “down” toward the ground. Many creatives solve this by dropping a logo or other element on that space—something that really breaks the fourth wall—but Final Cut Pro can mask that area with a tool that behaves similarly to the Content Aware Fill in Photoshop. Selecting an area to hide, it’s possible to adjust an overlay to simulate the area around the rig, hiding the equipment.
Thanks to Apple’s suite of complementary video tools, it’s possible to create titles and elements to overlay in the 360º space, which react to changes in the viewer’s perspective as if they were parts of the scene. Playing with the tools for a while, it’s obvious there’s a lot going on behind the scenes here, but the 360º workflow feels little different than working with standard video.
Expanding The Range
Another big advance in video is creation of HDR, or High Dynamic Range footage. While the advent of HDR-capable TV sets, and the competing standards to provide content for those sets, is a larger and contentious issue, HDR-ready shows and movies are already streaming to TVs and available on Blu-ray. Combine an HDR television and HDR source material, and the results can be stunning.
One of the problems of working with HDR footage is that it’s impossible to edit without an HDR-capable program, and Final Cut Pro X 10.4 brings HDR compatibility to the editing tool and to the companion program, Compressor, upgraded to version 4.4 with this Final Cut Pro update. Using the two, it’s possible to edit and export HDR content.
Working in HDR with Final Cut Pro X really requires an HDR monitor, though we used an HDR-ready TV set when evaluating the new tools. You’ll also obviously need HDR footage, which many cameras can now provide. With footage shot in a camera’s Log or HDR mode, it’s possible to use LUTs (Look Up Tables) included as part of Final Cut Pro X 10.4 to work with the full dynamic range of a camera’s sensor.
Footage can be processed using either the “Standard” option, available prior to HDR capabilities, or setting the program to edit in Wide Gamut HDR, which sets the color space to Rec. 2020, which has a much wider gamut than conventional displays. To really edit HDR footage accurately, you’ll want to work with a Rec. 2020-capable display connected to your editing station.
There’s little difference between working with HDR and non-HDR footage, except the requirements to connect a HDR-ready display. Absent a display, it’s still possible to edit HDR footage, setting Final Cut Pro X to display HDR as RAW values, which prevents clipping. Once in Compressor, footage can be exported for HDR sets and can also be exported for non-HDR devices.
One area in which Apple’s Final Cut Pro has lagged behind competitor DaVinci Resolve is in the range of color-editing tools. Resolve, which was previously strong on color tools and weak on audio and some video editing, has recently updated to be much more powerful all around. Clearly this is something Apple is sensitive to, as Final Cut Pro 10.4 now has a whole range of color-correction and color-editing tools in addition to the prior colorwheels.
I took some footage from the DJI Zenmuse X7 test (see the Zenmuse review, in this issue) and ran it through the new color tools and took some footage where underexposure and noonday lighting washed out the colors of the Hudson River and made the footage pop with the new hue and saturation curves. For color and grading work, the new tools are a significant improvement to the set of colorwheels in previous versions. Even better is the ability to select individual colors and adjust only their specific characteristics. This allows for shifting green leaves to a more fall-like selection and adjusting colors of clothing without disturbing skin tones.
Final Cut Pro X 10.4 and the iMac Pro debuted at the same time, and the program is optimized to work with the processing prowess of the newest Mac. With support for the multiple cores in the iMac Pro, Final Cut positively screams. We edited 8K video footage, in real time, with no rendering required on the iMac Pro. Transitions, effect, titles and more are possible to view in real time when working with 8K footage, a magical experience. To take footage from a RED camera and tweak it without using proxy media or waiting for rendering is amazing and will make the iMac Pro worth the sticker price for high-end video editors.
Having poked around in the new Final Cut Pro, and spending some time in video-editing forums, I’ve noted a few small changes that have improved the workflow as well.
Final Cut now supports HEVC (H.265) video and HEIF imaging support (the depth-mapping format in the iPhone). It’s also possible to import projects from iMovie for iOS, giving creatives a nice head start on editing. It’s easy to imagine a tentative edit being done on a plane on an iMac Pro and then the finished edit being completed back at the office.
There’s also a new warning for sharing Proxy Media, improved YouTube login and the ability to create a new project by right-clicking on source material—Final Cut Pro will create the project with the properties of the material automatically. (Thanks to 9to5mac.com for those finds.)
The most recent Final Cut Pro X 10.4 update ushers in a new era of video editing, one that looks to the future and allows creatives to take advantage of the new standards and technologies coming online today. These tools give the already-solid video-editing package an even greater range of functionality. The enhanced support for the iMac Pro makes Final Cut Pro the de facto editor for pros looking to eke every bit of performance out of their hardware.
A free update to existing users, Final Cut Pro X 10.4 and the complimentary programs that come along with it, are a must-have collection of tools for the professional video editor.