This post is a follow-up to the “Final Cut Pro X for Final Cut Pro 7 Editors” workshop I did at Boston Neighborhood Network on Saturday, December 13, 2014.
If you’re still editing with Final Cut Pro Classic (my way of referring to Final Cut Pro 7.x or earlier) and sitting things out, you will eventually confront a transition to a contemporary non-linear editing system, perhaps one of Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, or Final Cut Pro X. Adobe and Avid represent a comfortable, solid, and respectable alternative: the conceptual model of the interface and workflow is similar to what you’re used to with Final Cut Pro Classic, based on design patterns that have been with us since the late 1980s. Final Cut Pro X, on the other hand, reflects a post-millennial re-thinking of editing workflow and interface, and is worth considering. I don’t say this from the perspective of an Apple apologist, I’ve been using both Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X in my teaching and last summer transitioned my feature-length documentary project from Final Cut Pro Classic to Adobe Premiere Pro CC (because at the time Final Cut Pro X was not quite there), however, with the changes that were introdcued in Final Cut Pro X 10.1, especially in terms of media management, I finally consider Final Cut Pro X a serious contender.
I tried editing with Final Cut Pro X the day it was first released. I quickly found some limitations that were show stoppers for me, the most serious around media management and relinking media files. Clearly the first release was the equivalent of an alpha release and deserved all of the derision, criticism, and the hilarious parodies. But that was then and this is now. Apple has been updating the software, fixing bugs, adding essential features, and it’s no longer the precocious inexperienced over-hyped curiosity it was when it was first unleashed on the market in one of the most ungraceful product transitions in software history. Final Cut Pro X 10.1 and beyond is a viable, respectable editing solution to be reckoned with. Prior versions were problematic for a host of reasons, so make sure whatever video your watching or article you’re reading refers to a version after 10.1. There’s no sane reason to work with older 10.0.x versions, unless you enjoy using software full of bugs and design problems. Today you can give Final Cut Pro X a try and be happy that many people before you went through the pain of using not-quite-fully-baked software so that you can have a smooth transition from Classic to X!
While naysayers like to refer to Final Cut Pro X as iMovie Pro, that’s not necessarily an insult if you think about it carefully. Final Cut Pro X has streamlined the editing workflow and interface and brings some spectacularly sophisticated features to the party. Before anyone says bad things about Final Cut Pro X, I think it’s important to learn how to use it, and then speak from experience. I hear a lot of mis-information being spouted about Final Cut Pro X. And once again, I’m not an Apple apologist, nor have I played one on television, however, I do think that if you’re currently using Final Cut Pro Classic and you take the time to learn Final Cut Pro X with an open mind—and yes, you have to learn it, you can’t just dabble with it, it’s really quite different—you might be pleasantly surprised how it re-imagines and streamlines the process of editing. Any transition in our tool set is disruptive, especially if we edit day-in and day-out and have learned to play our tools like a piano, but at this point it makes no sense to hold on to Final Cut Pro Classic, the new affordances of contemporary editing tools, especially Final Cut Pro X, is just too compelling at this point to ignore.
The days of using Final Cut Pro Classic are numbered, and for quite a few reasons. Final Cut Pro Classic has not been in active development for over 5 years. It’s dead as a doornail. It’s an old 32-bit application that does not take advantage of contemporary 64-bit architectures, nor does not take advantage of multiple cores/processors. Its use of memory is limited to a tiny slice of RAM, regardless of how much RAM is installed on your Mac. It’s based on the QuickTime framework which is no longer actively developed, having been replaced by AV Foundation. The inability of Final Cut Pro Classic to perform all but a few tasks in the background makes editing painful. Support for new codecs is non-existent, requiring third-party solutions or conversion. Continuing to edit with Final Cut Pro Classic means you’ll continue to waste time waiting for Log and Transfer, exports, and rendering to complete. Final Cut Pro X takes advantage of multiple cores/processors, multiple GPUs, supports 64-bit memory addressing so you can use large amounts of RAM, and being built on AV Foundation and other new frameworks means that FCP X will run faster, helping you get your work done more quickly with real-time effects playback, rendering, video monitoring, etc.,
One thing I really like about Final Cut Pro X is how fluid and responsive the experience of using it is on a contemporary MacBook. And while this has a lot to do with the systems architecture, it also has a lot to do with the new interface. If you prefer to continue editing with an NLE that is based on a conceptual model similar to Final Cut Pro Classic, Adobe Premiere Pro CC is probably the best option, as you will find it very similar to Final Cut Pro Classic in terms of workflow and interface. On the other hand, if you’re willing to give Final Cut Pro X a try, set aside your biases for just a couple of days, confront the task of editing with an open mind, you might find that Final Cut Pro X is the right tool for a wide range of editing tasks. Final Cut Pro X starts with the design question of how do we edit in an all-digital file-based workflow world and we have multi-processor computers with lots of memory and large capacity hard-drives? In addition to taking advantage of new system architectures and software foundations, Final Cut Pro X represents major changes in terms of: media management, metadata, interface, editing process and workflows, and the use of background processing, and the way it handles exports. The thing I like best about Final Cut Pro X is the way it handles metadata, Apple had me at metadata, but I had to wait for the media management design problems of earlier versions to be addressed before I could take it seriously, but now I do. It is finally ready for prime time. The following is are my top ten features that ameliorate any nostalgia for Final Cut Pro Classic:
- Sophisticated metadata handling including range-based keywords and smart collections that runs circles around old fashioned bins, this alone makes Final Cut Pro X worthy of a close examination;
- Native support for a wide range of formats including AVCHD, H.264, AVC‑Intra, REDCODE RAW, Sony XAVC, etc. with built-in support for MXF;
- Resolution independence and real-time playback lets me mix and match formats, frame rates, and frame sizes efficiently without constant rendering;
- Automatic synching of double-system sound elements based on timecode, markers, and/or using the audio tracks;
- Automatic detection of stereo tracks and elimination of silent tracks upon import;
- Fully utilizes multiple processors and large amounts of RAM providing fluid interface performance and seamless background processing of rendering, exporting, and transcoding of proxies and optimized media which utilizes not only multiple processors but also GPUs on graphics cards for incredible performance,
- Clean and straightforward support for multi-cam editing
- The ability to assign roles to video and audio elements facilitates export to other applications, e.g. with the X2Pro third-party utility audio roles are converted into Pro Tools tracks, providing me with the best of both worlds, the magnetic timeline in Final Cut Pro X and track based audio mixing for the sound mix
- The timeline index allows me to navigate the timeline by jumping directly to clips, keywords, markers, and to-do items.
- This is the feature that finally tipped the scales for me: The new media management scheme allows me to place libraries and media anywhere on a network to optimize media management when multiple users are working on a project, this was a serious limitation of earlier versions, a deal-killer for me, however, now that I can start project on one system and hand it off to another editor to finish on a different system (as long as it has access to the media files) has gone a long way of warming me to the new ways of Final Cut Pro X.
There are a lot of other cool features, I could easily make a top twenty list.
If you want to understand whether Final Cut Pro X is the right editing system to transition to, you really need to learn how to drive it and practice driving it in order to make a decision based on your own experience. I suggest the best way to do this is by taking at least a full-day walking through the software using one of the following three resources to guide you. Then devote a second full day to editing a couple of short projects from start to finish in order to reinforce what you learned on the first day. Without this kind of deep dive, it’s really difficult to understand Final Cut Pro X, you have to spend time on the dance floor.
- The Final Cut Pro X 10.1.x Essential Training tutorial by Ashley Kennedy available on lynda.com provides an excellent, methodical tour of Final Cut Pro X, it will take anywhere between 7 to 9 hours to get through, depending on your pace.
- The Final Cut Pro X 10.1 Workflow and Editing tutorial by Larry Jordan provides over 16 hrs of detailed training updated for Final Cut Pro X 10.1 and later. Larry Jordan’s web site is a cornucopia of editing resources and his tutorials are first-rate.
- If you prefer to have an e-book by your side as you go through the software on your own, the Apple Pro Training Series: Final Cut Pro X 10.1 Quick-Reference Guide (Kindle edition) by Brendan Boykin will provide you with concise, well-organized explanations that will help you walk through Final Cut Pro X 10.1.x and includes quite a few tips and reminders along the way. This guide, combined with the online documentation, should get you through your first project with Final Cut Pro X.
And along with these starter tutorials, the following white papers and articles are essential reading for a smooth transition from Final Cut Pro Classic to Final Cut Pro X:
- Final Cut Pro X for Final Cut Pro 7 Editors (direct link to PDF), a white paper from Apple providing a side-by-side comparison of the two systems
- Managing Media with Final Cut Pro X Libraries (direct link to PDF), a white paper from Apple providing an overview of the dramatically changed media management in version 10.1
- Conquering the metadata foundations of Final Cut Pro X is a book by Philip Hodgetts (available as a paperback or e-book) providing an essential introduction to the new metadata capabilities in Final Cut Pro X
- The Final Cut Pro 10.1 cheat sheet, this article by Sam Mestman covers the new features in 10.1, if you dabbled with an earlier version, this will get you up to speed quickly on the many changes found in 10.1
- The Top Ten Editors concerns about Final Cut Pro X by Alex Snelling provides a brief look at the some of the key features of FCPX from an editor’s perspective
- Why Should Final Cut Pro 7 Editors Consider Final Cut Pro X? is a recent (August 3, 2014) article by Larry Jordan worth taking the time to read,
- Should Professional Editors care about FCPX (again)? by Adam Wilt provides a case for reconsidering Final Cut Pro X
- Create Subclips, if you simply can’t live without ye olde subclips, Roger Jönsson explains how to create them in Final Cut Pro X, this is just one of the many valuable articles you’ll find on Larry Jordan’s web site.
- Larry’s Top 25 Keyboard Shortcuts, a handy-dandy list of shortcuts by Larry Jordan
- Final Cut Pro X Menu/Keyboard Shortcut Cheat-sheet, a handy reference by Scott Simmons last updated on August 12, 2014
If you have projects you want to transition from Classic to X, the 7toX utility does a surprisingly good job of bringing your Final Cut Pro 6 or 7 XML forward to Final Cut Pro X so you can update or finish older projects. I’ve had good luck using it with short projects. It helps if your media is well organized to start with. This utility translates metadata from an XML export of your Classic project (including bins, clips, subclips and sequences) to a Final Cut Pro X Event with clear, detailed reporting. Bins become Keyword Collections with original log notes and comments, Sequences become Compound Clips tagged with a Sequences keyword, Multicam Clips are supported, and the original track structures are represented by Roles.
At some point in the future every Final Cut Pro Classic editor will reach the proverbial fork in the road. I would be curious to hear about your thoughts on the options and what your transition experiences are like. You can share them with me via comments to this post or if you prefer, contact me directly. Good luck with whatever road you choose to take, the journey is the reward.