How most editors felt the day FCP X came out
I know it’s almost totally uncool to come out and like Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. I’m finally going to risk it.
It’s not a monogamous affair — I have both FCP X and FCP 7 installed on my computer, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Ask anyone who has been a huge fan of Sony Vegas or even Adobe Premiere until quite recently, and they will tell you how lonely it is to use a non-linear editor that most of your peers haven’t adopted.
However, I think FCP X is well on it’s way to becoming the most widely used pro video non-linear editing program, just like FCP 7 was. And here’s why.
It’s the DSLR of postproduction.
At 300 bucks (really $400 with Motion and Compressor) and with an available 30-day free trial, FCP X has seriously bent the cost curve of pro video editing, while at the same time adding features and a different take on creating video from previous NLEs.
Adobe has dropped the price of it’s CS 5.5 Production suite — by half — to $850, which is still twice the price of FCP X. (To be fair, you get other programs like Photoshop and Illustrator in that bundle.) Just like DSLRs did for video cameras, FCP X is driving category costs down. If you’re a student or first-time indie filmmaker who wants to edit video, $400 is an easier pill to swallow than $850. Apple can count on a fast-growing customer base in the next few years, from the bottom up.
And, when you add FCP X to the just-starting Thunderbolt revolution you get something interesting. Thunderbolt provides super-fast, daisy-chained audiovisual and storage components that can be plugged into any Mac. This will replace the Mac Pro edit suite with a modular, edit-anywhere model. When I look at this, I can see an upgrade path for an independent filmmaker from a $300 program on a Mac Mini to a professional editing system in small, affordable steps. Kind of like gradually tricking out a Canon 7D to become a full-fledged cine rig.
It fixes a lot of stuff that was really annoying in FCP 7, but we had all gotten used to.
FCP X keyframe editor
The color correction tools in X are far superior to 7, making for much cleaner adjustments in RGB color space (I do miss the old color wheel, though). It’s not quite “Apple Color built-in” but it takes you pretty far down that road for most commonly-used color corrections, including secondary corrections, vignettes, color-range corrections, and excellent color keying tools. Best of all, FCP X gets rid of the weird gamma-shift that existed inside FCP 7 that all but guaranteed your video looked different after export than it did while you edited it.
You can animate video and stills right in the viewer window, the experience is pretty much like using Motion right in FCP (very tactile / visual). Also inherited from Motion, you can see keyframes right in the timeline, and apply these not just to video transformations, but also to color correction, filters, compositing, and audio. And once you do use Motion to do more advanced graphics work, you can publish many of the effects and filters back to FCP, to use like any other effect, right in the timeline.
Finally, you don’t have to transcode most video formats at all, if you don’t want to. FCP X works a huge variety of codecs, and renders full-quality versions of the video in your timeline, only as you make changes that require it (like color corrects). Rendering happens in the background, and is quite fast, assuming you have a recent-model Mac with enough memory and a good graphics processor. Your projects also take up much less space on your hard drives, which can save a lot of money over time.
It tastes like Apple
FCP X uses a sleek, easier-to-learn interface than FCP 7 — or any other pro-level non-linear edit software. This was one of the most-maligned features, since X shares a lot of interface design DNA with iMovie. But why not? iMovie was designed by Apple from the ground up, while previous versions of FCP were always made to look and work like other NLEs.
FCP X interface
There’s a lot to be said for the two-window, three-point-editing paradigm that has been with FCP, Avid, and their ilk since the early days of computer-driven editing. But, it’s really short-sighted to believe that this is the ONLY way to professionally edit video. Apple very smartly recognized that a system based on editing online and offline edits with tape-based media was out of sync (pun intended) with nearly everything being filmed today.
So, FCP X replaces that paradigm with one based on digital media and metadata. It is designed around the ability to produce stunning results on a stand-alone computer, instead of requiring an edit suite with lots of boxes. Which, frankly, has been the state of affairs for most independent and web-based filmmakers for years — now the tools reflect the reality.
I’m still getting used to the idea of using keywords and tags to arrange media, but the possibilities for organizing complex projects are remarkable. Look for future cameras to include more on-set metadata to take advantage of this functionality in FCP X. Imagine being able to sort your project by scene, take, and notes such as “best take” or “bad sound” from the moment you import the footage. This is the next logical step (and the functionality is already starting to appear in high-end cameras).
More interestingly right now, FCP X has the ability to sync multiple sources of video and audio into compound clips or multicam clips almost effortlessly. This makes it much easier to work with dual-system sound and multi-camera shoots. I haven’t used the multicam feature yet, but from the demos I’ve seen, it looks to be the best multicam editor in any NLE.
One amazing feature I have started using frequently is to make an Audition clip in a timeline, where multiple takes live inside a single clip on the timeline. I can easily audition each take in the context of the story I’m editing. The timeline adjusts dynamically to differences in timing, and I finalize my choice with a single click. Take that, 3-point editing!
Finally, I’ve got to add that the new interface is just more fun to use. I’ve always found this to be true of Apple software design — the user experience tends to be one of exploration and fun. When I first taught myself editing on FCP 4, it felt like I was learning to fly a plane by instruments. FCP X feels like jumping into an X-Wing fighter and just using The Force. Way more fun and intuitive!