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Apple’s new Final Cut Pro X is certainly testing the patience and loyalty of one small but extremely vocal group of fans: professional video editors, who are up in arms over this completely reimagined post-production application. But will other users also break out torches and pitchforks to storm One Infinite Loop?
Let’s get the bad news out of the way up front: if you currently use Final Cut Pro 7, older project files will not open in the newest Final Cut—and more perplexingly, iMovie projects have no such limitation. Apple claims there’s no way to import older projects without “changing or losing data,” although there’s evidence that XML import may eventually come.
Veteran users may see a strange new world at first, but there’s a great deal of power hidden within.
For now, post-production houses dependent on videotape beyond basic FireWire capture should steer clear of Final Cut Pro X, along with users who rely on OMF, XML, or EDL files. Also gone (for now) are third-party plug-ins, although FxFactory pushed out an update the same day Final Cut Pro X was released, compatible with its key transitions and filters. Apple promises “great” multicam editing with the next major update, while other features like tape-deck control will arrive via third-party solutions. So yes -- at first glance, this latest version is missing a lot.
But Final Cut Pro X is not an upgrade. It’s an entirely new application, and veteran users should approach it as such. Built from the ground up to take advantage of modern 64-bit processors, Apple had to toss out years of legacy 32-bit, Carbon-based code and start over. The end ultimately justifies the means because Final Cut Pro X is (mostly) a dream to use. Squarely focused on the creative experience at the expense of a technical one, this app overhauls sequence-based editing in the same way Apple steamrollered old-school A/B roll editing with the original version in 1999.
Thanks to powerful 64-bit processing, waiting for effects and filters to render is now a thing of the past.
While dissatisfied users are threatening to abandon Final Cut Pro altogether, we found that it takes all the grunt work out of the editing process. For example, you can apply even the most complex filter to a clip and play it back immediately while rendering churns away almost unnoticed in the background. After years of losing productivity waiting for “Writing video…” prompts to render, it’s hard to imagine ever going back again.
Complicated media management is also a thing of the past -- Final Cut Pro X borrows Events from iMovie, but adds Auto Content–Analysis tools (including Range-Based Keywords and Smart Collections), making bins and scratch disks look positively quaint by comparison. Render files are now saved alongside project files on any mounted volume, and media files can go to a different drive. Archiving projects is also a snap, finally putting the complexity of the old Media Manager out to pasture.
Video and Events can be viewed in the main window or moved full-screen to a second display.
We’re also giving a big thumbs-up to Final Cut Pro X’s much-hyped new features -- Magnetic Timeline, Clip Connections, Compound Clips, Inline Precision Editor, and Auditions—which we’re happy to report all work as magically as Steve Jobs himself might have envisioned. After years of cutting on Final Cut Pro, the new tools take some getting used to, but a few trips to the Help menu will have you up and running quickly.
In fact, Final Cut Pro X makes it easier than ever to get to your content, providing direct access to iPhoto, Aperture, and iTunes libraries. While DRM-protected audio files can’t be added to projects, any other MP3 or AAC can (the latter’s a first for Final Cut Pro). Speaking of audio, projects can be easily mastered in 5.1 with the Surround Panner using slick presets like Dialogue, Ambience, and Music to get you started. Finally, Final Cut Pro X plays nice with media from iOS devices, Flip cameras, and other tapeless sources, seamlessly mixing formats within the same project -- about as close to digital heaven as it gets.
But despite the name, Final Cut Pro X feels far from final. It bears the version 10.0 label, but it’s really a 1.0 release in many respects. The Inspector sometimes appears devoid of data after you select clips, particularly when editing text options for titles. Usually we could hide the Inspector and reopen it to get things working again, but there are clearly bugs still lurking in Apple’s code. We also had a number of crashes so hard the entire app went down, even on a mid-2010 2.93GHz Core i7 iMac with 16GB of RAM. Frankly, we expect more from Apple.
Powerful titling abilities are occasionally hampered by display bugs with the Inspector window.
Once you’re done editing, you’ll find all of the export -- or rather, “Share” -- options are aimed at tapeless files or social networking services like Facebook and YouTube. However, you can now burn a DVD or even a Blu-ray disc (apparently no longer a “bag of hurt”) straight from Final Cut Pro X, but it’s a one-trick pony limited to a single menu and piece of content. For more extensive options, Apple offers the $49.99 Compressor 4, and projects can be pushed there for further processing. Motion 5 is also available for the same low price, but other Final Cut Studio components like DVD Studio Pro and Soundtrack Pro have gone swimming with the fishes.
For now, Final Cut Pro X doesn’t replace Final Cut Pro 7, but rather coexists with it -- thankfully, Apple says Final Cut Pro 7 will run just fine under OS X Lion. That means veteran users can experiment with Final Cut Pro X for small projects, but still get deadline-intensive, paying work done with “old faithful” for now. Apple has discontinued Final Cut Studio, which means users will be forced into Final Cut Pro X (or a competing product) eventually. But you might as well embrace the new, rather than whining about how “X” stands for missing features and crushed dreams, especially when this is but a glimpse of what the future holds.
Apple definitely should’ve been more open about Final Cut Pro X’s limitations prior to release, but we’ve quickly fallen in love with it; it took us less than a week to get up to speed after years of working professionally in prior versions. If you do any video editing—for money or just for fun -- our advice is to ignore the naysayers and try Final Cut Pro X for yourself. You’ll find creative impulses far less hampered by technology than ever before, and ultimately that’s what it’s all about.
The bottom line. You’ll need plenty of patience to navigate this strange new world, but we’re confident Apple will squash existing bugs and bring back missing features as quickly as possible, allowing users to fall in love with the application all over again.
Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better, Mac OS 10.6.7 or later, Intel HD Graphics 3000 or later
More affordable. Feature set is a huge improvement over previous versions, despite missing features used by a few. Fast and furious editing that takes full advantage of modern Macs.
Can’t open older Final Cut Pro 7 projects. Lingering bugs and crashes yet to be squashed. Missing pro features, primarily for older tape-based workflows. Can’t set timecode start for projects. 5.1 surround-sound audio gets downmixed to stereo for Apple TV exports, requiring workarounds. Requires time investment from busy professionals to relearn the app.