Post Production

Final Cut Pro X a dream for DSLR filmmakers

Photo by Lars P.

I was at the April 12, 2011 FCPUG meeting in Las Vegas and from what I saw, I couldn’t wait to get Final Cut Pro X. And yesterday morning when I saw a Tweet that Apple had released it on its App store, I purchased it right away, testing it out with Canon 5D Mark II footage shot at 1920×1080 24P on my way to Hawaii.

Before proceeding, I highly recommend reading “Final Cut Pro X – A first Look” by Steve Martin, where you can see plenty of screenshots. He provides a quick overview of the big picture of the software with a lot of screenshots — most importantly covering some of the major differences to Final Cut 7.

Final Cut X for artists not engineers (some initial thoughts)

The difference between the new software and the old was the lack of an intuitive interface — a design more for engineers than artists. Remember, for those out there screaming that Apple has betrayed them (see USA Today’s “New Final Cut Pro editing software draws mixed reviews”), the original version of Final Cut was a refit of Macromedia’s editing software. Apple — so long known for its intuitive design in their other software (and hardware) — lacked that strong feature in its own pro editing software, until now. By starting over from scratch, they’re going to make many people upset, because everything has to be built back up from an entirely new design.

Also, remember, AVID is the professional standard for motion picture editing and it is not easy to learn. Independent filmmakers took on Final Cut as a low end solution, since at the time AVID was tied to really expensive hardware costing in the high thousands.

What we have now is what Apple should have delivered over ten years ago — and if that means professional editors have to wait some time to get everything that they wish for (including multicam support, better audio editing features, and so on), then it’s worth the wait.

Why be upset when Final Cut Suite 7 already works for those who need it? If Apple wants to keep the so-called pro market, these other features will be added, later.

Final Cut X is for artists. And despite the fact that many rumors floated around that this is not a “Pro” version or an iMovie Pro, those rumors are likely based on the fact that Final Cut X allows users to import iMovie projects. Whatever. I can see why Apple wants to cater to this market, but since I’ve never used iMovie, I just overlook that and look under the hood — which is way more than iMovie (one person said it was like comparing a bicycle to a motorcycle). It doesn’t have all the features of the Final Cut Suite, but what it does have is intuitive and will likely meet most everyone’s needs.

Some people probably appreciated the rocket-science knowledge needed to use Apple Color, for example, but in the version incorporated into Final Cut X it’s intuitive. I’ve also used Premiere and Avid and found them clunky and non-intuitive to learn. The only software I’ve used that’s intuitive and powerful is Sony Vegas (PC platform only) — until now.

For those who want the old version, you’re welcome to it. I’m moving on, because my frustration level of not only using it, but also teaching it to beginning students in my intro to video class is way beyond my need to have all those complex engineering features. Final Cut X will be much easier to teach because of its intuitive nature while at the same time retaining application power.

For example, I was able to shape a mask over a person’s head, and by clicking on keyframes, I was able to map the motion of the person’s movement without any fuss or frustration—or a manual. I figured it out intuitively. I provide a screen shot here (lesson coming in a later post):

In addition, Final Cut X includes elements of Soundtrack Pro, so, in essence, you only need this version for $299 to do most DSLR projects.

With the new version, I find the intuitive nature of the software refreshing. It’s a new paradigm for editing and a joy to use.

I’m with Jared Abrams, who wrote on his Wide Open Camera blog “FCPX is one of the best things to happen to independent filmmaking since the DSLR. Dig it!”

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   Paul Antico said on June 24, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I agree with you Kurt to an extent. The new interface is definitely more fluid and perhaps even more open to creativity than the older one. I kind of like where Apple is going with it. However, it’s not finished, and has put many people in a pickle. As such, some of your statements are off-base:

1) FCPx definitely doesn’t include all the functionality of Soundtrack Pro, or even the free Audacity. Apple (via David Pogue) says export audio to is coming and to that I say thank God. It’s a pretty large omission. There’s not even an audio mixer in FCPx.

2) FCPx is probably fine for people that are one-man shops editing wise. People who rarely output to other media houses because of budgetary reasons or what not. I am actually one of those people much of the time. Much of the time, FCPx may actually work well for me.

But as soon as the project comes along where I have to share my project with a colorist, or essentially any other post house that uses a myriad of professional tools to work on content – I’m screwed. FCPx only exports video (and in only a standardized set of sizes no less), and FCPx projects. That’s it. And at that point, I look like an idiot and I am hurting my client by not being able to do my job correctly. That’s a big risk to take.

If I have a client that prefers their output to tape, as the way most of the broadcast world works – I’m also stuck. Essentially if I want to share anything out of this program but a ProRes file or optical disc, I’m stuck if they don’t own FCPx as well – and even them they have the same export limtations if they want to work with other programs.

Even if I do decide to share my FCPx projects with other FCPx users, my smart collections don’t transfer over along with some other data. That means the next person can’t “jump in” in the middle of my workflow and work because my collections are tied to the original machine.

Never mind the lack of 3rd party filters (such as the outstanding ones from Red Giant) and so forth but we know that’s coming. The lack of multicam is difficult for me as well but it is coming. So I’ll say “ok” to those now and work around them.

Now you say like everyone else who defends the program – “ok, so what? Use FCP 7.” Heck, even I thought I could export FCPx edits as ProRes files and add filters and finishing touches to them in FCP7 and then export to my heart’s extent, right?

Well, yes and no. I can use FCP7 today, but we don’t know about tomorrow. Apple EOL’ed FCP7. You can’t buy it from them, you can’t update it now if you install FCPx, and you can’t get much support for it anymore. It’s like it disappeared to Apple; it’s a dead product now not a viable choice. If Apple had done with FCPx as they did with iMovie – offer and support iMovie HD for 2 years after the release of the “new” iMovie, I am sure pros would have breathed a sigh of relief knowing their old workflows would be preserved. But now there’s no guarantee of that. You’re stuck as OS versions move forward and so forth. It’s possible one day (soon) your copy of FCP7 may stop functioning. And when that day comes, Apple will direct you to FCPx as they do now. But as we see, FCPx is incomplete.

This wouldn’t have been a problem if Apple had duplicated the key workflow functionality present in older versions but they did not.

So the blanket statement of telling people they still have a choice to use FCP7, they do not. It’s no longer sold or supported. Those people, like me, are forced to make decisions based on a now ticking time bomb piece of software and that is unwise.

Anyway, you might read all of that and think “what does that mean to DSLR projects?” Well, you know from your own book that DSLRs are still used in professional, team-based productions (albeit not as much, they’re still key). To say that DSLR filmmakers are fine with FCPx is a bit of an overstatement. If they want to live in a bubble, it’s quite a nice program. But once they need to share anything beyond a video file, they’re stuck relying on an EOL piece of software that you can’t buy anymore.

And that is baloney.

In the digital era, Artists also must be Engineers. Saying people that have concerns with the grand omissions of FCPx are not artists is truly insulting. And your article is really shortsighted to what is actually going on in the editing world. I suggest you open your eyes and stop insulting people.

FCPx is fine for what it is. But it hurts a lot of people for what it isn’t, and there’s no longer a viable Apple alternative. It may be fixed in time and then I can erase this post. But in the meantime, a lot of people are simply stuck.

   Kurt Lancaster said on June 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

The biggest question — how soon will Apple fix these issues before Final Cut 7’s lack of future support hits the meltdown point for those situations you describe? Larry Jordan says 12-18 months, which may be too late for some.

And I agree, Apple should have marketed it differently and kept 7 going until X caught up to all of its features.

   Mikko Löppönen said on June 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Sorry but Premiere cs5.5 is the REAL dream for DSLR filmmakers, not FCPx which still transcodes everything to prores.

   Kurt Lancaster said on June 25, 2011 at 1:00 am

David Pogue at the New York Times said he talked to Apple about many of these issues.

His blog is worth reading:

But it’s clear that Apple didn’t plan some of their features properly and should probably have held off with a statement: Final Cut Pro-Am, then released Pro X when most of these issues were covered.

In any case, it seems to work well for the independent filmmaker, documentary producer, and backpack journalists — especially when using DSLRs in the workflow.

   Michael Clark said on June 25, 2011 at 11:08 pm

FCPX does not have to “transcode everything to ProRes”. You can chose to stay native or render into your choice of formats.

   eco_bach said on June 28, 2011 at 12:38 am

I just purchased both FCPX and Motion, and have yet to spend enough time to give a fair evaluation.
Love the speed, background rendering, beautiful interface!
But …a dream for DSLR filmmakers? Hardly. I remain optimistic but a ways to go me thinks.
To name just one of the missing features…LUT import or RGB curves, either of which are necessary to correct flat picture profiles used by the majority of DSLR shooters

   Ed Andrade said on July 2, 2011 at 2:59 am

Totally agree with you!!
After a week “playing” with FC X I can say it’s a pleasure to use and very, very intuitive.
I teach beginners video classes as well and I can foresee how my life (and theirs) will be much simpler with FC X instead of FC 7. I’ll be able to produce much more on one term with them than I can now…
Also, I think Motion acting like a plug-in maker/factory will create an interesting new “community” or even a small market modeled after the app store…
It’s a software for the future, not the past. It will shine on OS X Lion specially coupled with a SSD and using Thunderbolt as Media storage devices (I think with the dayse-chainning capabilities of thunderbolt a small shop of editors can work from one single cheap storage device instead of a dedicated server)
Above all, it is a pleasure to use and you can already do a lot of (complicated) editing on it right now, imagine in the next coming updates/versions…

   Richard Sisk said on July 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I have struggled for a couple of days with FCP X and have found that it needs a bunch of improvements. The big problem I ran into right away was the color grading limitations. I have been using the Technicolor Cinestyle which needs an “S” curve adjustment. THere is no tone curve in FCP X. So there is no way to correct that footage. I tried the “Color balance” feature and that screwed up the colors. I tried all the other tools and finally used the tone curve in Apple color to correct the footage. I Emailed Steve Jobs and suggested a streamlined new version of Apple Color which could cure these sorts of problems. It could sell for “$49. like the new Motion and Compressor. Or better yet be a free upgrade. I would also like to see an audio upgrade soon. Same sort of idea, integrate Soundtrack pro with FCP X and sell it for $49. or free.
I think we need to all Email Apple with our suggestions ASAP.

   Steve MacDonald said on July 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm

@Michael Clarke, true you don’t have to transcode your footage, but that doesn’t make much of a difference if your choices of outputting boil down to ProRes or 10bit uncompressed. The topic of using a Cinefrom file within FCPX was discussed and although FCPX does support that file form, you can’t export it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that would pretty much make editing with anything other than what you’re tied to export wise useless?

   James Wood - United By Photography said on November 22, 2011 at 1:45 am

The good points about FCP X and DSLR workflow is that as mentioned you don’t need to transcode immediately and work natively if you wish.

Also the synchronize clips function is an excellent way to work with dealing with dual audio or multicam setup using the audio as the means to synch.

Also it being 64bit is a great improvement on performance, FCP X is still in development roll on 2012 with hopefully some serious updates.

   marc lougee said on January 23, 2012 at 4:03 am

For my two cents, FCPX is still burgeoning as a pro-useful tool, as it is indeed suffering from lack o much of what is needed on a daily basis from an EOL. Granted, it’s intuitive, fast, etc… and yeah, I’ll be using it too– for those shoots when I cut on the fly, and deliver finals as a one man band.
As for anything involving a post house, several team members, normal complications for complex shoots? Premiere Pro CS5.5 is the best thing to have in hand. Intuitive, fast, and it’s a shallow learning curve. Just works nicer for me, and I’ve been cutting with FCP since version 1.2.
Many don’t have time nor inclination to wait for Apple to unscrew their initial approach with FCPX– so many editors are indeed switching, and wisely.
I like using FCP 7– but it’s not worth waiting for FCPX to catch up to more robust app’s that play nicely with the post/ production arena. Cheers! M.

   Jessica said on February 10, 2012 at 2:48 am

I’m now using just the trial version and I’m already having the most basic of problems. I’m that independent one man band here and I love that it is similar to Imovie so easier for me to learn BUT I’ve tried to synch the audio and the Marker is not working. If I mark something and then move to go mark the matching audio, the mark on the footage disappears.

I love and hate Apple b/c I know I will drop the $300 and no sooner will I do so then they will come out with a newer version that is much better and that is just wrong. The upgrades should be free or at the very least inexpensive.

I’m not sure what to do. I have 24 days to decide and thus far my answer is “no”

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