Final Cut Pro 3 full review

Over the past three years, Apple has released five upgrades to Final Cut, its high-end video-editing package. With Version 3, the latest, Apple’s engineers have added a vast array of impressive new tools. In addition to being fully Carbonized for Mac OS X, Final Cut Pro 3 (FCP 3) offers real-time effects, a new Codec for offline editing, a sophisticated colour corrector, and dozens of interface tweaks and improvements. Though some hoped-for features – such as multi-camera editing – are still missing, FCP 3 further solidifies the software’s place at the forefront of desktop video-editing on the Mac or any platform. As with previous versions, FCP 3 requires a hefty, video-capable Mac. Apple recommends at least a 300MHz G3 for DV work, and if you want to use FCP 3’s new real-time effects, you’ll need at least a 500MHz G4, or a dual-processor system. Apple has upped Final Cut’s memory requirements to 256MB – and, of course, you’ll want lots of disk space. Though FCP 3 now runs under Mac OS X, Apple has not abandoned OS 9 users. FCP 3’s feature set and interface is identical in both OS 9 and X. Fortunately, Apple has eschewed much of the Aqua screen-gobbling nonsense in OS X, and kept Final Cut’s lean interface. Most surprising of all, is that there’s little discernable difference in performance between 9.x and X 10.1. If you’re a regular Final Cut user and have been holding off on making the jump to X, there’s no reason to wait any longer. FCP 2 saw the addition of an RTMac real-time video card, which enabled it to create certain effects in real time, rather than having to spend time rendering. Version 3 improves on this feature, with the addition of G4 real-time effects. Now, if you have a 500MHz G4 or better, many of Final Cut’s transitions and filters function in real time. If Final Cut detects a real-time-capable processor, it will display real-time-capable effects in boldface in both the menus and effects bins. Such effects include cross-dissolve, most iris and wipe transitions, and the new colour-correction filter. In addition, most motion effects – opacity, scale, centre, offset, crop, and aspect ratio – now work in real-time effects. It’s important to note, though, that Final Cut’s real-time effects are previews only. That is, they display in the Canvas window at a preview resolution – Final Cut disables all FireWire output when working with real-time effects. Nevertheless, a low-res preview is certainly enough to provide a sense of timing and durations, and FCP 3’s real-time features are very welcome. When ready to output finished footage, you’ll have to go back and render effects at full resolution. Note that, for real-time colour-correction work, you can take S-video output from the computer into a PAL monitor. You’ll need a PowerBook with an S-video port, or an S-video-equipped Radeon card. How many real-time effects that can be displayed depends on your machine’s speed (and number of processors). In general, a 500MHz G4 should let you see one layer of transitions, or one effect. If you need more real-time capability, upgrade your CPU, or buy an RTMac accelerator card. Squished video
Because digital video devours hard-disk space at such an astonishing rate, Apple has provided the new OfflineRT Codec, and made improvements to Final Cut’s Media Manager – to facilitate working with low-res proxies when editing. The OfflineRT Codec captures DV-compressed video at 320-x-240 pixels, and compresses it using an AltiVec-optimized PhotoJPEG Codec. The result is an amazing one hour of video per GB. For documentary editors, or users who edit on a PowerBook, the OfflineRT Codec offers a great alternative to buying more storage. FCP 3’s new Media Manager can easily create a duplicate of the sequence, as well as automatically recapture footage at full resolution into that sequence. That sequence can then be rendered to create the finished piece. OfflineRT offers decent image quality – certainly good enough for cutting – and FCP 3’s real-time effects are available when editing an OfflineRT project. However, you’ll want to save for the later part of your workflow colour-correction work, special-effects work such as compositing, and other edits that require a high-quality preview. Three-point colour correction
Colour correction is a big part of any editing job. Whether it’s creating a unique “look” for your project, or trying to match the colour of scenes shot at different locations, colour correction can be what separates a professional-looking video from a home movie. Though Final Cut has always had a comprehensive assortment of colour-correction filters, version 3 adds substantially improved colour tools. The new colour correction three-way filter provides three virtual “trackballs” – for shadows, mid-tones, and highlights. Each displays a standard colour-wheel, and, as you move the wheel toward a particular hue, colours shift accordingly. Eyedroppers and auto buttons are provided for automatically analyzing and setting black, white, and mid points. Below the trackball controls are colour ramps that can be used to limit the range of the colour-correction tools. These let you target specific colours in the image, allowing for the colours of a particular object in a given scene to be adjusted, for example. While the controls for most Final Cut filters appear in the Control tab of the Viewer window, controls for the new Colour Corrections filters appear in their own tab. As with other filters, special keyframe controls are provided for animating colour effects over time, and Apple has added new Copy Filter controls that let you automatically copy colour corrections from the previous or next clips into the current clip. This feature makes it easy to apply consistent colour-corrections to a series of cutaways that are interspersed between other shots. We’d love to see this feature added to all of Final Cut’s filter operations. These tools alone give Final Cut respectable colour-correction power, and the fact they’re real-time effects makes them even more attractive. However, Apple has added several other features to ease those colour-adjusting chores. FCP 3’s scopes don’t update in real time while video is playing – rather, they present a view of the current frame. For colour correction, though, this is really all you need, and the scopes are a handy addition to the program’s new correction tools. For adjusting saturation and white points, a new zebra display is available in the canvas window. Just like a zebra display on a camera, the FCP 3 display shows animated diagonal lines in areas that are overexposed or oversaturated. Additional warning icons appear in frames that have colours that are blown-out or illegal. Speak up
Final Cut 3’s new Voice Over tool allows you to record voice-over narration directly into current sequences. Aimed at documentary filmmakers, the Voice Over is a great way to quickly throw a commentary track into a project. The Voice Over tool records directly into RAM, so the recording duration is limited by available memory. Any standard Mac input-device – USB or FireWire-based microphones, for example – can be used for recording. You simply record the audio and wait a few seconds for FCP 3 to process it. The program automatically sticks the finished audio in a free audio track in the timeline. Though voice-over recording isn’t a revolutionary feature, it sure is handy, and can save you from constantly going out to an audio app when editing. Other new features include the excellent new QuickView feature, that renders a half- or quarter-resolution preview into RAM. Because of the low resolutions, rendering is rapid, and the QuickView feature makes it easy to get a quick preview of an edited sequence – filters, transitions, and all, provided you have some RAM to spare. In FCP 2, if you chose to turn off a track you’d lose all render files – a maddening prospect if you wanted to view one track of a complex project. Fortunately, in version 3 you can now “solo” a track. Dozens of other tweaks and improvements have been made to version 3: render windows now show an estimated rendering time; timecode overlays let you see a timecode display for all layers under the playhead; a new chapter feature provides better integration with DVD Studio Pro 2, by letting you set chapter markers within Final Cut; and the program’s titling controls are greatly improved by the addition of Boris Calligraphy, a scaled-down version of Boris Red’s excellent titling tools. So what’s missing? For the most part, not much. There’s still no multi-camera support in Final Cut, and the audio controls have not been changed at all from version 2 – level controls and filters are still underpowered and poorly implemented.
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