Second, a number of people have commented that I don’t compare FCPX to other NLEs. This is NOT meant to be a comparison review. This post is a response to what has been a hot topic of debate in the editing world: namely, is FCPX a viable NLE for the professional.
I wrote this review because a lot of reviews I’ve read were either passionate filmmakers pissed off (therefore biased against writing an objective review), veteran editors who have a financial incentive for you to get FCPX, or objective journalists who, although they liked the program, didn’t really learn how to use it properly. I’m none of those things. I have no financial incentive whatsoever. Just a sincere desire to help the industry. Those of you who know me and this blog know that I like to get down to brass tacks and not let personal feelings get in the way of making a good decision for your BUSINESS. That’s what this series is about. Will FCPX be a good choice for your business or career as a filmmaker. But, there is just enough commentary to satisfy the creative in you as well.
I first took film and video production courses the summer of 1992. Back then we used LINEAR, tape to tape editors. Ugh! What a pain. Over the years since then I’ve used Media 100, iMovie, and eventually Final Cut Pro 1.0. For the past eleven years I’ve been a die-hard FCP user. And I, like many FCP editors, were waiting with bated breath for Apple to release an update.
Then in the spring of 2011 Apple released Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) and the response was disastrous. Professional editors and other filmmakers who had made FCP their NLE (non-linear editor) of choice for many years felt like Apple betrayed them. A ton of key professional features were missing. A whole new paradigm for editing was created. And perhaps the most egregious thing…it looked like iMovie! In fact, that’s what it was called. “iMovie on steroids!” The backlash was so significant, Conan O’Brien had his editors made a funny spoof video about it. (Think about that. A late night comedic host poked fun at a professional NLE as a skit aimed at the general audience.)
But a funny thing happened along the way. Apple started releasing updates. Some of those missing features were eventually added back. Now, almost two years later, there have been seven updates to the program. On top of that, Apple even created a fully functional 30-day trial (something Apple has never done with pro software, as far as I know.) But have the updates been enough?
It Pays to be Patient
I originally wrote about FCPX and the reaction from filmmakers in my post “FCPX and the Problem with Creatives.” As of this blog post writing, it is still the fifth most read blog post on this site. Basically I said the problem with creatives is that they’re often too quick to jump on a new thing, especially if it’s tech related. They have to get the new iPhone, new camera, or new NLE the minute it hits the market. I learned a long time ago, especially when it comes to software, never to get it when it first comes out. It’s always better to sit and wait. And wait. And sometimes, wait some more.
So I waited. Waited to see what Apple would do with FCPX. As I waited, many of my colleagues jumped ship for Adobe Premiere. And why not. It’s a terrific program that integrates so well with perhaps the king of motion graphic programs, Adobe’s After Effects. In fact, Conan’s editors loved it so much, they made a follow-up video praising the new Premiere (one of them joking that it’s like “Final Cut 8.”) I stuck with FCP7. Partly because I had too many projects in progress and I didn’t want to switch mid-way. But also because slowly but surely Apple started adding things back.
Then last summer I listened to an episode of the Digital Convergence Podcast where co-host and nearly 30-year editing veteran Chris Fenwick told a story about a job he did for Mini Cooper. A job he said he couldn’t have done with any other NLE other than FCPX. My ears perked. Here was a veteran editor actually proclaiming the virtues of “iMovie Pro”? I saw other articles pop up here and there from seasoned filmmakers. By this time Apple had released 10.0.5. Things like multicam editing was added back. XML support was added. As well as some other key features.
Then 10.0.6 was released last fall. More features added. Many bugs fixed. Major production houses (like @radical.media and Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment) were coming out on Apple’s site with case studies again (FCP7 had a lot of convincing case studies that naturally were removed when FCPX was released. It took a while before new case studies were added). I finally determined it was time to give it a look-see.
I’m glad I waited. If I hadn’t, I might have missed out on what could possibly be the NLE of the future.
Making the Switch
One of the main reasons I held out for so long was also to see if FCPX would stick. Would Apple stay committed to this program? Or were they abandoning the pro market altogether? There are three things that give me confidence Apple is in this for the long haul and still committed to the pro.
- Built from the ground up. You don’t put that kind of money and manpower into something you don’t plan to keep for a while.
- Number of updates. I was in the software industry for eight years. I know what it takes to get out new updates. That fact that Apple has had as many as they have in such a short period of time is significant.
- Pro features. As promised, Apple has added back the key pro features that were missing in 10.0.0. And the capabilities the program has now are impressive.
So I downloaded and installed the trial. What I DIDN’T do was start playing around in it to “figure it out.” I read enough about the program to know that it was a paradigmatic shift in editing. I would only get frustrated trying to figure it out. So I looked for training. First, I tried to find free videos online about how to use it. And there are indeed quite a number. But it was getting too much of a pain Googling and searching for 3- to 5-minute videos here and there. So I decided to just fork over 40 bucks and get Ripple Training’s Apple Pro Video Series which was updated for 10.06 (and now 10.0.7 as of this writing). It was the best $40 I invested in training. Over 5 hours of training with about 40 lessons. The great thing was, I didn’t have to finish all five hours before I learned enough to start editing client projects. I would say about 1/3 of the lessons were enough for me to start using the program. (In truth, I still haven’t finished all the lessons. I go to it now when I need to learn something specific).
Immediately I could tell I was editing faster. Not only that, it felt fresh. FCP7 was looking really stodgy. FCPX had a sleek and sexy look. It was actually fun to edit again.
Since booting up that trial version last November, I’ve edited about seven client projects with FCPX and three personal projects. And I gotta tell you, I’m hooked. There’s nothing I did with FCP7 that I can’t do with FCPX. In fact, in most cases, I can do it faster and better.
I took the liberty of keeping a running list of all the things I love about FCPX. I’ve added them at the end of the blog post for your reading enjoyment.
Is FCPX the Future?
I do think FCPX could be the NLE of the future. There are three main reasons:
- Power. Despite the fact it’s called FCP X (X as in 10) it’s really more like a 1.x version. considering everything it can already do as a 1.x version (now officially, a 1.7 as of this writing), it can only get better from here.
- Proliferation. Specifically the proliferation of 3rd party developers. They are springing up everywhere, giving creatives more options and flexibility (and power) in their editing. As more developers come online, that will mean more people talking and marketing it.
- Price. At only $299 expect more first-time, student and indie filmmakers turning to FCPX. Think about it. It pretty much can do all the essential tasks the old FCP did, but at a third the price. That’s huge. More and more small Mac-based producers like me looking for editing help will find that a majority of applicants will be FCPX users.
The question you may want to ask yourself is: “Is FCPX in your future?” Admittedly, it’s not for everyone. If you’re a heavy After Effects user, it may make perfect sense for you to use Premiere Pro. But, if the only reason you have disregarded FCPX is because you’ve heard it’s just “iMovie Pro.” Then you’re being short-sighted and missing out.
As promised, here’s that list of notes I took about FCPX as I started to use it.
- Keywords and smart collections will make doc filmmakers drool. Use them! Such a breeze to find the specific clips you need.
- Quickly created smart collection to find files not yet optimized. VERY COOL.
- Selective copy and paste is terrific. Before when you pasted attributes, all attributes in a particular category (e.g. “filters”) were pasted. Now you can paste specific filters.
- Cmd-dragging a selection in a clip is great. Lovin’ the “/” key to auto play around the selection.
- I kept wanting to hit cmd-S to save. No need to. :)
- Select a clip, then hit “x” to make it a selection range
- As Steve says in the tutorial, creating split edits is “crazy simple”
- Audition clips are genius. Why aren’t more people excited about this? Crazy stupid.
- Precision editor makes it extremely easy to trim and fine tune edits.
- Shift-F for reveal in Event library is sweet. Nice being able to quickly find the original media
- At one point on a real gig, I had inadvertently deleted a keyword set after spending a lot of time tagging ranges. I worried I’d have to go back to all those clips, find the ranges again, and re-tag. But FCPX remembered the ranges so all I had to do was re-create the keyword then quickly add them to each of the selected ranges.
- To-do markers are very useful.
- Timeline index makes it a breeze to quickly find tags, to-do markers, etc.
- Audio enhancements easy to use
- Retiming tools are visual and powerful. Love that you can manually affect speed of clip by just dragging retiming bar.
- It was always a pain to apply variable timing effects in FCP7. Now, it can easily be done visually using the retiming bar and the range selection tool. While the retiming bar is activated on a clip, just select a range you want affected. Then you can manually retime just that section of the clip. Holla!
- Preserve pitch for video retiming is awesome
- Say goodbye to that janky, Boris 3D titler (Blech). Easily add titles on fly, change them on-screen with easy access to formatting, fonts, alignment, and a bevvy of styles. Can even easily add a basic title or lower third
- Awesome and easy to use Multicam editor. For the life of me I could never get multicam editing to work in FCP7. It never synched right. So I just never bothered. In FCPX, it quickly and easily syncs.
In my next installment I’ll cover some caveats about Final Cut Pro X.
If you’ve made the switch, share what you do and don’t like about FCPX? Do you think it could be the NLE of the future?