The least-timely, shoddiest review of Final Cut Pro X

If you look at The Tech Report's main blog page, you'll notice a blurb describing each of the columns. In describing The MacHole (and more specifically its author, me), TR proprietor Scott Wasson wrote, "As TR's first self-described Mac blogger, Jason Fox joins us to cover the wonderful world of Apple products, with a focus on multimedia and video editing." As any medium-time reader of this sporadically published blog knows, I have pretty much ignored this specification and run roughshod over Scott's dream of having a moderately serious Mac blog on TR. But seeing as how I possess certain disc film negatives from seventh-grade homeroom involving an Atari ST and a marmoset, this arrangement shall remain.

My proclivities for ill-focused technological rambling aside, I do, in truth, enjoy video editing. My first exposure to real editing (as opposed to taping up broken splices on dad's old 8-mm reels) came in 1995 when I mistakenly entered the ad industry as a copywriter. This was during the big shift from online to offline editing. It was fun to watch and direct, but I was not allowed to play with the very expensive toys, even if I was technically the client. Smart move on their part.

In late 1999, Apple released iMovie and changed the way we edit poorly lit kids' birthday parties forever. It was easy to use and, thanks to the Ken Burns Effect, abuse. I used it at work to make a couple of new business pitch videos and rough TV spots (visual storyboards, if you will). But, as I often did, I craved more power, more control, more garbage mattes. So when Final Cut Express debuted in 2003, I ponied up the biggish bucks and went to town—if you consider being hunched over a Walmart computer desk with a dual-533MHz PowerMac G4 and a 16-inch LCD to be "town." A couple of years later, when I thought I was getting serious about shooting, I went all-in for Final Cut Studio, since I needed a version of Final Cut that supported 24p (FCE did not), along with DVD Studio Pro.

That was in 2005.

In 2011, Apple decided it was time to get the FCP editing community's collective panties (lion print) in a wad by introducing Final Cut Pro X. As in the Roman numeral for 10. Meaning, in theory, Apple skipped FCP 8 and 9, which isn't really accurate. It was more like they skipped FCP 8 though 23, because FCPX wasn't an upgrade to FCP7—it was a completely new program with new media management and, most importantly, an entirely new editing structure. Gone were the multiple video and audio tracks that pretty much every editing program extant had used since the dawn of computer editing. Gone were all your plug-ins until publishers released new versions for X. And gone were all your past FCP projects, because Apple didn't include a way to import old work.

Who wouldn't love that?

If you were paying attention to such things at that time, pretty much nobody who wasn't on the payroll in Cupertino loved Final Cut Pro X. Personally, I stayed out of the fray because I didn't (and don't) make my living editing. My editing needs were, as far as an FCP user goes, modest. I continued toiling away with FCP7, keeping tabs on updates to X that slowly, if not quite surely, assuaged the pro editors among us. At least those who hadn't bolted back to Avid or to Premiere in the interim. Yet I knew that some day I would have to give in and switch to X, hopefully before Apple forced my hand by including code in an OS 10-point-dot release that broke support for FCP7 altogether. Not that such a thing could ever, ever, happen. Never.

And so that dive has been doven. A few weeks ago, I finally started in on The Fox Family 2012 Year in Review video. Yes, instead of piecing together little vignettes of events as they occur (or, like normal people, never bothering to edit video footage at all), I wait until the end of the year and hack together what is basically a chronological spewing of scenes set to a song that may or may not have any relation to said footage. It's fun but rather time-intensive. And, this year, quite late. But I digress. The point is, I finally started my biggest editing project of the year, and I decided it was to time to quit cursing at my Hackintosh and to start cursing a new version of FCP.

Here are my thoughts after about 40 hours of use. And only two years after the program's debut.

Media management and browsing is easier. You can actually see clips and scrub through them without having to double-click them and stick them into another window. This doesn't sound like much, but when you're making selects from 700+ raw clips, the speed benefits become quite tangible. Also, FCPX reads the metadata on my files, automatically lists their dates with each clip (which FCP7 did, too, but in a much less at-a-glance fashion), and groups them as such. Grouping media into Events seemed odd at first, but it now makes a lot of sense. Although you'll want to invest in Event Manager X if you end up with a lot of events you don't need hogging up your window.

You can also directly edit AVCHD footage if you're a masochist or have a 96-core machine with 16 SLI'd video cards. Or you can let FCPX convert such footage to ProRes422 as it ingests. Me, I stick with converting using Voltaic, because FCPX requires additional files off your SD card in order to keep things straight, and I saw no benefit in changing my workflow.

The Storyline paradigm of editing makes a lot of sense once you pull a Yoda and unlearn your dependence on multiple tracks. In a way, you still get multiple tracks, where what's on top plays over what's underneath. But with the Storyline method, all those tracks above and below the, er, primary storyline are connected to that backbone. Which makes moving chunks of stuff around much easier and keeps the assorted bits and pieces in sync as you go. Is it better than the traditional, multi-track way? The jury is still out for me. It's different. It's fast. But I can't say it's superior.

Apple still doesn't provide a way of importing old FCP projects into X. Fortunately, you can drop $10 for 7toX (made by the same folks who publish Event Manager X) and get a fairly decent workaround. It's not perfect. The way it imports old sequences as Events instead of Projects seems a bit counterintuitive. But it works well enough and, as far as I know, is the only solution currently out there. Best advice: keep FCP7 on hand if you have frequent need of opening past projects.

Sweet Moses, is Final Cut Pro X a resource hog. I'd never had any issue with playing multiple tracks of 1080p video with FCP7 using a 5400-RPM SATA 3Gbps hard drive. "Sluggish" barely begins to describe FCPX's performance with this drive. Depending on what mood the program was in when launched, things were either minutely slow or majorly dysfunctional. As in, thumbnails would never generate, scrubbing was aborted, and the SBOD took up permanent residence in southwest Omaha. Obviously, I was forced to upgrade to a 3TB, 7200-RPM SATA 6Gbps drive. Speed and space problems solved. Except that I really need a new graphics card to speed up OpenCL rendering. Emergency flares have been fired. Stay tuned.

Two years of X existence have also led to a ton of new plug-ins flooding the market. I can only assume, because I'm too lazy to research, that coding plug-ins for X is easier than previous FCP flavors. I don't recall there being so many high quality, relatively cheap plug-ins out there. Best of all, for me, the few plug-ins I did own for 7 were offered in their X variants for free. Sadly, I was unable to find a plug-in that would take six hours of raw footage and cut it down to fit the glorious melody that is Mr. Mister's Kyrie. No, I'm not joking. My kids fell in love that song for some reason last year. Hey, it beats the snot out of Raffi.

And that's about it for the moment. Aside from figuring out where certain menu options are hiding, I haven't encountered too much grief. Granted, there's now something called YouTube that makes life a lot easier when it comes to learning a program like this. I learned quite a bit in a very short time following the smooth mouse movements and even smoother voice of Larry Jordan. Not all of his content is free, but his free stuff was enough to get me started with a minimum of vulgarities.

And if you've ever edited before, you know that isn't faint praise.



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