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Friday, June 24, 2011

Professional Video Editors Weigh In on Final Cut Pro X -

Professional Video Editors Weigh In on Final Cut Pro X -

In 10 years of writing Times columns, I’ve never encountered anything quite like this.

23POGUE-JUMP-articleInline-v2.jpgIn Thursday’s paper, I reviewed Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, a professional video-editing program. It’s not an update of the existing Final Cut, which is by far the most popular such program; it’s completely new and radically redesigned. It looks different, its strengths are different — and after one day of using it, many professional video editors are running through the streets with pitchforks.

The Times’s technology columnist, David Pogue, keeps you on top of the industry in his free, weekly e-mail newsletter.

“This is Apple’s worst release in history,” seethed one in an e-mail message. “Apple has absolutely no clue what professionals need. There are so many missing high-end features that we need, it should be called iMovie Pro.”

I wrote my review from the perspective of an advanced amateur; I’m not a professional editor. I made four movies with Final Cut Pro X, including helping my son with a 20-minute final eighth-grade project. I found FCP X infinitely more powerful than iMovie, yet infinitely less intimidating than the old Final Cut.

But in this post, I’m going to address the concerns of professional video editors, one by one. [UPDATE: The information here comes from consultation with Final Cut Pro X's product managers at Apple.]

The “missing features” generally fall into three categories: features that are actually there and have just been moved around, features that Apple intends to restore and features that require a third-party (non-Apple) add-on or plug-in.

I’m not trying to be an Apple apologist; FCP X offers legions of amazing features that the old version didn’t have, but it doesn’t have all the features of the old one, either. It’s only fair, however, to separate what’s really missing from knee-jerk “It’s so different!” hysteria.

Complaint: There’s no multicamera editing. In the old FCP, you could import the footage from various cameras that covered an event (say, a concert) from different angles simultaneously, and then easily cut back and forth between them while editing. It was a star feature of Final Cut, and it’s gone from FCP X.

Answer: Apple intends to restore this feature in an update, calling it “a top priority.” Until it does, here’s a stopgap facsimile of multicam editing: If you drag two clips into parallel timeline tracks, you can choose Clip->Synchronize Clips. By comparing their audio tracks, the program aligns the clips exactly. Now, each time you select a piece of the upper video track and press the V key (“disable”), you are effectively cutting to what’s on the lower video track.

Complaint: You can’t share a project with other editors. In professional editing companies, editors routinely exchange projects. But in FCP X, “all of your project organization is now globally contained in the application rather than in your project file. You literally have to give that other editor your entire computer,” writes one blogger.

Answer: Not true. You can share your project, your files, or both.
If the other editors already have the raw video files, you can hand over the project file. The other editors can inspect the Project Library; on its Info panel, they can click “Modify Event References” to reconnect the project to their own copies of the media files.

If the other editors don’t have the raw files, the various commands in the File menu let you move the project file, the media files, or both to another computer on the network, to another hard drive or whatever.

Complaint: You can’t freely organize your media files. “There is no way to customize the organization of the project media,” gripes one blogger.

Answer: You can customize the organization freely if you’re willing to understand the new keyword tagging system. Dragging a clip into a folder essentially applies a new keyword to it.

Complaint: You can’t specify import locations. “When you import video files, FCP X puts them all into your User-> Movies folder, like iMovie does. Ridiculous,” says one reader in an e-mail.

Answer: Again, not true. In the Import dialog box, there’s an option called “Copy files to Final Cut Events folder.” If you turn it off, Final Cut leaves the imported files where they are.

Complaint: No Reconnect command when media is offline. When media is offline, you get a red screen with an exclamation point. There is no Reconnect Media command, as there used to be.

Answer: True. Then again, the old Reconnect dialog box got people into a lot of trouble; they often reconnected a project to the wrong files, or the wrong versions of files.

FCP X assigns a unique behind-the-scenes identifier to every single video clip. When you reconnect the missing hard drive, your project reconnects to its original files automatically, even if you have moved them around or renamed the hard drive. You can’t reconnect to the wrong thing.

Complaint: You can’t assign audio tracks. “We send all our audio files out for ProTools mixing,” writes one editor in an e-mail. “We always put narration on Track 1 and 2, interviews on Tracks 3 – 6, and so on. So our audio engineers know exactly what’s on which track. But FCP X’s ‘trackless’ design makes that impossible.”

Answer: For now, you can use a utility called Automatic Duck Pro Export 5.0 ($200 to upgrade) to create and manage these tracks automatically when you export to ProTools. Apple says it will restore this feature to FCP X.

Complaint: No custom frame rates or custom frame sizes. Editors are complaining that you can’t specify unusual frames-per-second rates or frame dimensions.

Answer: Not true. When you create a new project, you can specify any frame rate or size you want, right in the Import dialog box. You can also change the frame rate or size when you export the finished product — if you’re willing to spend $50 on Compressor.

Complaint: No support for RED digital cameras. The RED camera is a favorite of filmmakers; it records incredibly high-resolution video directly to a hard drive. But FCP X can’t import its files.

Answer: Apple is working with RED to create a plug-in that will give native RED support to FCP X. In the meantime, you can set your RED camera to shoot and capture video in the QuickTime format, which FCP X imports just fine. Or you can use RED’s free conversion program, which converts its own files into the Apple ProRes format, which FCP X loves because it’s so much faster and easier to edit than the native RED files.

Complaint: No P2 support. Professional Panasonic cameras record onto special memory cards called P2 cards. Editors are used to inserting the P2 card into a card reader and importing its video directly into Final Cut.

Answer: FCP X imports files from P2 cards just fine. The trick is to use the Import From Camera command (even though it’s a card), not Import ->Files.

Complaint: No ability to pause or fork the Autosave. Final Cut Pro autosaves your work as you go. Editors complain, therefore, that they can’t save different versions of a project as they go along.

Answer: You can duplicate your project at any time, thus freezing it in its current condition. Just click it in the Project Library and choose File -> Duplicate Project.

Complaint: Can’t specify the scratch disks. In previous versions of Final Cut Pro, you could choose individual hard drives for storing your project’s render (preview) files. But if you didn’t know what you were doing, things could get messy. For example, you might store the project on one drive, and then render files on another; then, later, you would open up the project when the render-file disk wasn’t available. You would have to re-render the whole project.

Answer: In FCP X, the render files are stored on the same disk as the project, so they don’t get separated. You can still store your files on any drive; you determine that by where you store the project file.

Complaint: Can’t output to tape. Videotape is on the way out — you would be hard pressed even to find a camcorder that takes tape anymore — so it’s not built into FCP X. This is one of several ways that FCP X is clearly a program designed more for the future than the past.

Answer: You can buy tape-deck control programs like AJA VTR Exchange and Black Magic Media Express. AJA and Black Magic are two major makers of add-on circuit boards for professional video editing. These apps work with their boards.

Complaint: Can’t export EDL files. These are Edit Decision Lists: a 30-year-old, ASCII-text, single-video-track export file format that can be moved from tape machine to tape machine, in order to continue working on a project on another computer. FCP no longer imports or exports them.

Answer: No solution in sight. Plenty of video-editing companies still traffic in EDL files, but Apple thinks these crude files should be retired. There are much better formats (read on).

Complaint: Can’t export AAF or OMF files. These formats are successors to EDL. They let you export your project to other programs, like Avid, Quantel or Pro Tools, for more sophisticated editing.

Answer: Automatic Duck ProExport 5.0 adds AAF and OMF exporting to FCP X. There will be other companies offering similar export plugins (including EDL, by the way), once Apple publishes its XML programming guidelines (API).

Complaint: Can’t connect an external monitor. Pros work with Final Cut on the Mac screen, but they prefer to view the actual edited video on a dedicated second screen. While Final Cut Pro X works just fine with a second computer monitor — you just choose Window -> Show Events on Second Display (or Window -> Show Viewer on Second Display) — there are complaints that it can’t connect to an external video monitor (TV), which pros feel offers better color fidelity.

Answer: Just as before, you need a Mac Pro with a video-output card in order to connect a TV monitor. Apple expects that the output-card companies will soon offer the necessary drivers for FCP X; AJA, one of the major makers of these boards, already offers beta versions of such drivers. Apple is working with Black Magic to offer drivers for its boards.

Complaint: Can’t specify QuickTime export settings. In FCP7, you could export your project as a QuickTime movie, with full control over the frame size, compression scheme, frame rate and so on. In FCP X, you have a few presets, but not the full range of control.

Answer: FCP’s companion program, Compressor, has a full range of compression schemes. It’s a separate $50 purchase, and its presets can be installed in FCP X directly.

Complaint: Can’t import old FCP files.

Answer: As I noted in my column, this is true; your old projects are stranded forever in the older FCP program. You’ll have to keep both programs on your hard drive, and edit the old projects in the old program. When you install the new FCP, your old copy is safely preserved.

The Bottom Line: Apple has followed the typical Apple sequence: (1) throw out something that’s popular and comfortable but increasingly ancient, (2) replace it with something that’s slick and modern and forward-looking and incomplete, (3) spend another year finishing it up, restoring missing pieces.

Professional editors should (1) learn to tell what’s really missing from what’s just been moved around, (2) recognize that there’s no obligation to switch from the old program yet, (3) monitor the progress of FCP X and its ecosystem, and especially (4) be willing to consider that a radical new design may be unfamiliar, but may, in the long term, actually be better.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 24, 2011

An earlier version of this post misstated an export capability of the previous version of Final Cut. It could, in fact, export OMF files without a plug-in.