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Review: Final Cut Pro X

It’s Final Cut Pro, but not as we know it. Could this be Apple’s most controversial software release to date?

Final Cut Pro X on a MacBook Pro

Final Cut Pro X on a MacBook Pro
There's a whole new interface to get your head around in FCPX

Price: £199.99/$299.99
Available from: Mac App Store
Key features:
Re-written from the ground up
Completely new interface
Powerful effects and processing.

When Apple used the phrase ‘everything just changed in post’ as the tagline for Final Cut Pro X, they probably weren’t expecting the change to cause such a backlash. The controversy surrounding Apple’s latest iteration of their flagship video editing software is hard to ignore. Editors and producers across the globe have had their say on the software, which has been rebuilt from the ground up, and you only need look on the App Store (the sole retailer for FCPX) to get a feel for their reactions.

At the time of writing, five star reviews are neck and neck with one star reviews, and the comments are equally as varied with, “Not a pro app” sitting alongside, “Brave and innovative”. Apple have had their work cut out promising a range of features that the industry is crying out for and, if nothing else, FCPX is certainly causing a stir.

It seems only fitting then, that the program that provoked such a polarised response now wears a sleek black as opposed to Final Cut Pro 7’s light grey interface. The whole thing looks a lot slicker and it definitely shows that its been rebuilt from the ground up. Gone are the separate canvas and viewer windows (used for viewing the output of the timeline and previewing clips, respectively), replaced by a single unified viewer. The browser has seen an overhaul too, clips are now organised by events as opposed to standard file architecture. Sound familiar? That’s because you might have seen features like this in iMovie.

In fact, one of the most striking things about FCPX is its likeness to iMovie, both in terms of the look and feel, but also in terms of the simplicity of the editing process. Once you’ve imported clips (an import dialogue box automatically presents itself when you plug in your camera or you can use the import option in the file menu), scrub over them to preview, click on the clip to highlight it, drag the handles at each end of the highlight to set in and out points, then drag it into the timeline. It’s painlessly simple and very iMovie-like.

Similarly, editing clips within the timeline has changed dramatically, but it’s the simplicity of the process that really shines through. With FCPX, Apple have introduced the magnetic timeline, ditching the track-based approach to editing and taking snapping to a whole new level. Now when you drag a clip between two current clips in the timeline, they open up to allow a new clip to slot in, then close up again to avoid any ‘black gaps’ in the timeline. It’s not the easiest concept to get your head around, but in practice it’s very intuitive and allows for much quicker editing.

Final Cut Pro X
Final Cut Pro X - is it really just iMovie Pro?

Despite being extremely powerful, FCPX is brought down from the choice of pros to the ultimate in amateur film editing by its effects and transitions. Ranging from subtly novel to outright cheesy, a few of them appear to have been borrowed directly from iMovie and certainly wouldn’t make their way into a professional production anytime soon. Likewise, the audio editing tools aren’t exactly flexible, with one or two sliders for things like “loudness”. There’s a distinct lack of parameters to tinker with, and whilst that may be brilliant for those who want to get things done fast, it’s not so great if you’re used to tweaking away at your edits.

It speaks volumes that, due to the new architecture of the program, FCPX can’t import projects from previous versions of FCP, but will import projects from iMovie, but simply calling it iMovie Pro would be naive to say the least. One of the first features we went looking for when we delved into editing in FCPX was keyframes (similar to clip automation in Logic or GarageBand), whereas before a keyframe button appeared underneath the canvas window, it now appears when you click on the crop or transform effect for a clip. This UI tweak might appear to make keyframes a little harder to reach, but on reflection it’s actually quite logical and speeds up the keyframing process a little.

The problems for FCPX lie in its execution. Having used Final Cut Pro 7 before, we were a little baffled by features like the magnetic timeline at first, but after 30-40 minutes of use we started to get our heads around it. The difference between industry professionals and us, however, is that we have time on our side. In a professional environment editing needs to be done fast, and devoting an hour of your day solely to work out a vastly different editing process isn’t really possible.

That said, there’s certainly an abundance of powerful features available here; background rendering is a godsend for those who like to leave your editing close to deadline whilst the auto-analysis of content is both smart and, most importantly, actually useful. Seasoned pros may require a lot more from FCPX in order to win them over, but if you’re looking to make your first foray into the world of professional production, it should definitely be on your wish list.

For more reviews of iOS and Mac apps, including an in-depth look at FCPX’s magic timeline, check out the next issue of iCreate Magazine, on sale next month.