Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review

Welcome to our Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review. If you'd like to read our thoughts on previous versions of Apple's flagship professional video editor, you'll find them on the second and third pages of this article. 

It's been a long time since Apple updated Final Cut Pro X; the last update to version 10.2.3 was back in February 2016. Some may have thought that Apple was starting to lose faith in its professional video editor. But the recent release of Final Cut Pro X version 10.3, announced at the new MacBook Pro launch event, has lifted the lid on what the Final Cut Pro team have been doing since then and it seems that they've been very busy indeed.

Read next: Mac buying guide 2016 | Buy Final Cut Pro X 10.3

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Interface

The first thing that strikes you when you open up this new version of Final Cut Pro X is the redesigned user interface. Gone are the familiar buttons and layout we'd grown accustomed to. In their place is a much more modern, flattened look with a dark theme that helps you to focus much more on your sparkling video content.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Interface

The interface feels much more spacious, as many of the buttons that were arranged across the centre of the interface have been repositioned around the outside. This reorganisation may annoy some users but there's a certain logic behind it.

The photos and audio browsers are now positioned next to your list of Libraries in the top left so you can now quickly add content from your Photos or iTunes libraries to your open Final Cut Pro Libraries. Conversely, the Titles and Generators browsers are also located here too, despite you still only being able to add this content directly into your timeline.

The Effects and Transitions browsers remain where they've always been, next to the timeline, but gone is the often useful Themes browser where groups of similar transitions, titles, effects and generators could be accessed together. However, custom Motion Templates can now be managed a lot more easily thanks to a new option allowing them to be managed as part of the library bundle.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Motion templates

Gone too are the rating buttons, though the functionality of favouriting, rejecting and unrating clips via keyboard shortcuts remains. We also have the addition of a few more buttons; the Extend, Insert and Connect buttons have been joined by an Overwrite edit button; a new filter button appears in the Browser next to the search field, whilst new buttons in the top right of the interface give us quick options for showing and/or hiding the Browser and Timeline as well as the Inspector.

This brings us on to one of the key new features of the interface: customisable workspaces.

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Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Workspaces

Final Cut Pro X now has a much more flexible layout. You can choose to show or hide individual elements of the interface much as you've always done (which now includes the Timeline, though not the Viewer, it seems), but now you can save these as custom workspaces, which can be easily recalled and even transferred to different systems via a handy "Open Workspace Folder in Finder" option. For those working across dual displays, there are also new options to use your secondary monitor to display either the browser, viewer or timeline full screen - the latter being especially useful for those more complicated edits.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Workspace options

Whilst simply being able to hide the Timeline and recall saved workspaces is very welcome, it does only allow a certain level of customisation; for instance, the Effects browser can only ever live to the right of the Timeline, I can't move it anywhere else or make it full screen as I can in some other editing applications. One nice additional touch is being able to make the Inspector full-height by double-clicking its top bar. Overall, this makes working on limited screen sizes, such as laptops, much more practical.

Sometimes the changes are a little deeper, such as in the browser where you can now search through custom metadata fields as part of the standard text searches. A reworked Clip Appearance menu makes it easier to change the size of filmstrips in the browser as well as the grouping and sorting of clips. And with the new Continuous Playback feature enabled, you can also sit back and watch your rushes play through in their entirety as the playhead automatically moves to the next clip.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Clip appearance

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Small timesavers

There are many other smaller refinements to the editing experience that will just help to speed things up fractionally and, when you're editing all day, every day, add up to some considerable time savers. These include the ability to roll the edit points of adjacent connected clips with the trim tool (previously you could only do this if the clips were grouped in a secondary storyline), copy and paste timecode - certainly useful if your director has spent time logging the footage into a spreadsheet or Word document - and double-clicking a multicam clip now opens the multicam angle editor at the same frame meaning you no longer have to hunt through a long clip to try and find the point you want to, for example, isolate to stabilise.

And there are a host of new minor editing commands tucked away in either the menus or the Command editor that are much appreciated timesavers (even if you may have to add your own keyboard shortcuts), including new commands for adding audio fades to the beginning and/or end of clips which will speed up my audio editing and mixing no end.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Audio fades

New effects feature a revamped timecode effect which can now display project or source clip information, and the Flow transition which is supposed to “join” jump cuts in interviews without the editor having to resort to cutaways to smooth the pictures. Other editing applications have had similar solutions for a while, so this feels a little like Final Cut Pro X keeping up with the Joneses. However, in my tests, the Flow transition produced reasonable results (when used carefully) and, impressively, seems to work instantly with no need for analysing or rendering.

However, one new feature is bound to have Final Cut Pro X editors around the world fist pumping in unison: Remove Attributes.

Users of the legacy version of Final Cut Pro will remember this feature with fondness. And whilst FCP X has had the ability to copy and selectively paste settings and effects to other clips for some time, it's only with this version that we've got the sister functionality to selectively remove those unwanted attributes.

In true Final Cut Pro X style, though, it does go one better than its predecessor. Using the Remove Attributes function you can choose which individual attributes you wish to remove or reset across any number of clips in your timeline - whether or not those clips have that effect applied. A good example of this is that you might want to strip out all of an offline editor's colour corrections from an edit, but not any other effects they may have applied. By simply selecting everything in the timeline and choosing Remove Attributes from the Edit menu, you can choose to remove just the offending colour effects - even if not all the clips have the effect applied - leaving all the other effects untouched. If you do just wish to completely remove every effect, you can use the new Remove Effects command in the same menu.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Remove attributes

There are two notable features, though, that don't hark back to past glories, but instead are very much forward looking. The first of these is Final Cut Pro X's support for wide colour gamut, commonly known in the video world as Rec. 2020.

What this means in practical terms is that Final Cut Pro X can now support the importing, editing and delivery of the highest quality video. Log-encoded footage from major camera manufacturers such as Canon, Panasonic, Sony, ARRI, Blackmagic Design and RED can be manipulated in the wider colour space offered by Rec. 2020 (either by manual correction or the application of a manufacturer-specific log setting) to reproduce details within the video not available in the more common Rec. 601 or Rec. 709 colour spaces, resulting in a more vibrant, richer viewing experience. Final Cut Pro X 10.3 can process video within this wide gamut at both the Library level and for individual projects within that library and, when working on a suitable monitor, will display the wide video luminance and chrominance levels and allow you to colour correct your video in the appropriately configured video scopes. Finally, Final Cut Pro X will now output your video using the colour space of the project, allowing you to deliver your final video in either Rec. 709 or Rec. 2020. As most video distribution is still Rec. 709, this provides the flexibility of working with these log-encoded formats for delivery today but, as more and more video distribution moves to wide gamut delivery for UHD, 4K formats and beyond, it also means Final Cut Pro X is ready for this vibrant future.

More information regarding wide gamut workflows in FCP X can be found here.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Roles

The final feature to mention with this release of Final Cut Pro X is the expanded use of Roles and the updated Magnetic Timeline 2.

Roles have been a feature of Final Cut Pro since late 2011 with the release of 10.0.1. Back then they were used as a way of enabling or disabling elements in the timeline en masse, or choosing which elements to export out to your deliverable file format. Kind of like turning tracks on or off in a traditional timeline, but without tracks (obviously). In fact, though the original implementation of the magnetic timeline was powerful and flexible, the lack of tracks often made for a confused, often messy timeline, with clips that were part of the same role (i.e. voiceover, music, sound effects, etc.) often finding their own place in the timeline unless grouped in either a compound clip or secondary storyline, which then weren't necessarily taking advantage of the magnetic timeline.

In this version though, Roles are very much front and centre to the Final Cut Pro X editing experience and the editor would be wise to fully explore their functionality. The immediate effect of these new roles that you'll see will be the bright, colourful clips in the Browser and Timeline, which really jump out from the new flattened interface. But once the clips are in the timeline, the power of these roles starts to become clear, especially where audio is concerned.

Opening the Roles tab in the Timeline Index, you can now quickly rearrange the audio in your timeline so that all music might be above sound effects, for instance. Also, when you add a new clip tagged with a certain role, that clip will automatically find itself sitting alongside similarly tagged clips in the timeline hierarchy. Changing the order of the audio roles in the timeline index again automatically sorts the clips to this new order. And activating the small, circular focus button next to a specific role instantly minimises the other roles in the timeline allowing you to, well, focus on the audio elements you need to work on.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Roles in timeline index

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Audio Lanes

And then for Final Cut Pro X's pièce de résistance - Audio Lanes. By choosing to show either an individual role's audio lane, or the global Show Audio Lanes option, suddenly the timeline audio is spread out into nice, neat groups of audio (though not tracks, definitely not tracks). This, I think, along with the removal of every single connection point, will address the main criticism of Final Cut Pro X over the years that the timeline can be confusing to experienced editors used to tracks.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Audio lanes

It doesn't stop there. Whilst FCP X will automatically apply one of three default roles to audio (and two to video) on import, the enhanced Role Editor allows you to customise these roles and their colours, and add new roles and subroles - right down to the individual audio channels within a clip. Each role and subrole will have its own audio lane in the timeline and roles can be assigned or reassigned as you're editing. You can also now remove an unwanted audio channel directly in the timeline by selecting it and hitting delete.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Roles editor

Finally, when you're ready to put the finishing touches to your edit, you can collapse everything into a final compound clip, allowing you to add effects or level adjustments all the clips in a particular role or subrole, like using submixes or busses in track-based audio mixers. But without the tracks, of course!

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Compound roles

More information on working with Audio Roles in Final Cut Pro X can be found here.

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 review: Verdict

It's probably true to say that if you've not "got" Final Cut Pro X's editing paradigm by now it's unlikely you'd give this version more than a passing glance, but you really should think again. This version is building on the concepts and promises Apple initially set out when FCP X debuted and shows the company's determination and continued focus on its professional user base - the casual user has no real need to work in wide gamut, or sort their audio to the extent that the new roles allow.

Whilst some might still point out some gaps in the features, such as real-time collaborative editing, or built-in support for Loudness monitoring, these are now few and far between and are often filled by third-party support. In fact, 10.3 might just be the version that truly places FCP back on a professional footing in the wider consciousness.

Turn to the next page for our review of last year's update: our Final Cut Pro X 10.2 review.

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