Apple Final Cut Pro X full review

The June 2011 release of Apple’s new Final Cut Pro X (FCP X) set off a firestorm that reverberated across the globe – at least in video circles.

The hotly anticipated new version of Apple’s flagship video software was unexpectedly accompanied by the immediate removal of the previous version – Final Cut Pro 7 – along with the company’s Final Cut Server and Final Cut Express applications, from retail distribution. That alone had long-time users jumping ship from the only non-linear video editor many of them had ever used.

Yet the bad news didn’t stop there – the reviews of the new application were almost universally negative. To long-time videographers who had built careers around Final Cut workflows, the new FCP X lacked the pro-level power features they considered essential.

A new environment without connectivity to broadcast monitoring and networked storage, without the ability to assign audio outputs, and without the ability to open archives of previous FCP 7 projects, caused the industry to respond with shock and outrage. Meanwhile, Apple’s competitors rejoiced in vitriolic glee at the prospect of regaining years of market share they had lost as a result of Final Cut Pro’s dominance.

Apple has addressed many of the concerns raised by professionals, restoring features that were absent in the original version of FCP X and adding some industry-leading extras

Then something astonishing happened: Cupertino backed down. Apple sent its product managers out into the editing community to reassure video professionals that it was indeed committed to supporting the product’s working professional base, and that Apple would soon restore multicam editing, broadcast monitoring and output, the ability to assign audio tracks in a specific order, and the ability to import and export to and from their favourite third-party applications for audio, colour correction, and finishing – as well as connect to Xsan or other networked storage volumes. In short, Apple told its customers not to worry.

Complaints addressed

With the FCP X 10.0.3 update, Apple has made good on its promises. In fact, it has addressed all but one of our complaints. But before going into detail, a brief history is in order.

With the FCP X version 10.0.2 update, released in mid-November, users could assign audio tracks to output in a specific order, export XML to other applications, and connect to Xsan or other networked volumes for editing. Now, seven months after the program’s initial release in the Mac App Store, the new FCP X 10.0.3 has added everything we had asked for – except native 3D editing – to the package.

Apple’s demo of the new version employed an iMac attached via Thunderbolt to Promise’s Pegasus array and AJA’s Io XT for playback on a professional broadcast monitor. That setup indicated that many of our original concerns had been addressed. But what we saw and heard next was even more surprising.

Apple spent a good deal of time talking about its partners and their relationships within the FCP X ecosystem. Many users do not realise the number of plug-ins that have become available for FCP X since its launch last summer – there are more plug-ins for FCP X than there were for FCP 7, as companies like GenArts and Red Giant supply the community with the tools and effects most high-end movie makers need.

FCP 7 projects to FCP X

Another big surprise was XML 1.1 integration with FCP via Intelligent Assistance, the company owned by video guru Philip Hodgetts. Available with the launch of this update is 7toX for Final Cut Pro. The software offers full import functionality, so users can convert their older project files into FCP X events. While we’re sure there will be many poorly organised FCP 7 projects that may not translate, we urge everyone to treat this news in much the same way as when we started converting and sharing our first FCP projects via XML or EDL.

A quantum leap with multicam

When FCP X was first introduced videographers were promised that in the near future they would be able to edit a multi-camera project, and Apple has delivered. With up to 64 active camera angles available, the application may actually shake the industry to its core with that level of multicam facility in the basic editing package. This means that you can actively edit more cameras than we’ve ever heard of being used for any multicam project, with the possible exception of the Olympic Games.

Apple didn’t stop there. Because FCP X contains the most powerful metadata engine of any NLE (Non-Linear editing system), users now have unprecedented control over multicam events, with the ability to access and sync tracks not only via time code, but with keywords, in or out points, or audio tracks.

Multicam functionality is intelligent enough via the underlying metadata structure to be able to dynamically identify multiple takes from the same camera and drop them sequentially onto a multicam track – something that’s utterly amazing. Apple augmented FCP X’s audio syncing capacity by allowing the application to exploit audio metadata to sync multiple cameras with similar audio content when there is no matching timecode on the files.

Multicam editing has come to FCP X. Users can sync clips by camera time code, camera name, in or out points, markers or using the source audio

It doesn’t end there, either. In addition, FCP X allows multicam projects to handle cameras with different codecs, image rasters and frame rates, without conversion. Think about handling a multicam project that includes footage from DSLRs and DV, HDV and professional cameras, without having to pre-process the content first. You can change, add or delete camera angles at any time and work with different codecs, frame sizes and frame rates without conversion.

Critical fixes to the pro workflow

Alongside the major upgrades to FCP X 10.0.3 are a slew of lower-profile but equally critical improvements, the lack of which makes a video editor’s life a bit miserable.

Layered PSD files  Hate having to open Motion to use a layered PSD file when editing? Well, layered PSD files are back and directly accessible from within FCP X. This was something users expected to be in the inaugural release, and which evoked disgust when it wasn’t.

Media relink  Trying to relink a project in FCP X has been abhorrent – until now. A clone of a project could not be opened on any computer except the one it was created on, eliminating editors’ ability to shuttle a drive from the office to home in order to work on a project in both places. That capability has returned in this new version, and it will surely inspire a collective sigh of relief.

Advanced chroma keying  The keying functionality in the initial release of FCP X was pretty good – better than FCP 7 ever was – but Apple has taken the opportunity to make it even better. FCP X 10.0.3 contains, without a doubt, the best keyer of any NLE, and rivals the abilities of dedicated production tools like Adobe After Effects and Autodesk’s Smoke 2012 for Mac.

More  Also look for improved text editing and effects performance; improved keyframing behaviour in the inspector – with keyframes automatically added when moving to a new point in time and adjusting a parameter; modified transition behaviour so all newly added transitions use available media and maintain project length; and various additional fixes.

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