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Is Final Cut Pro X ready for professional use?

By Larry Jordan
larry@larryjordan.biz
http://www.larryjordan.biz



Of all the questions I get each day, this is the most popular:  "When will Final Cut Pro X be ready for professional use?"

Sigh...  Right now! Final Cut Pro X is ready for professional use today. Editors have been making money with FCP X since the first week it shipped.  But this is asking the wrong question.  

A much better question is: "Why should I consider using Final Cut Pro X?" This blog is designed to help you answer that question, from my perspective as a trainer, editor, and businessman.

THE DAMAGE BEGAN AT THE LAUNCH
The Final Cut Pro X launch was not one of Apple's best. In the launch, Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X, and killed the entire Final Cut Studio suite and Final Cut Server.

Normally, when new versions come out, old versions die. But, in this case, there were three missing elements:

* FCP X could not read FCP 7 files, so there was no upgrade path for current FCP 7 projects
* There was not feature parity between FCP X and FCP 7
* Not all the software in Final Cut Studio was replaced, Soundtrack Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and Color were gone.

The reaction was swift, bitter, and emotional; and instantly colored everyone's perception of Final Cut Pro X.

So, in thinking about Final Cut Pro X today, you need to separate in your mind your reactions to the launch from your perception of the product.

Personally, I think the launch was terrible, but that FCP X is quite good.

IMPROVEMENTS BEGAN IMMEDIATELY
One of the promises Apple made at the launch of Final Cut Pro X was that they would be updating it rapidly.  In fact, the software foundation of FCP X made these updates easier and faster to implement.

NOTE: One of the reasons Apple moved FCP X to the Mac App Store, at least initially, was that they wanted to take advantage of the upgrade mechanism built into the store.

In the year and a half since the launch, Apple has released seven updates for Final Cut; a remarkable record for any company. All updates brought bug fixes, along with a variety of new features. (The following list of highlights comes from Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_cut_pro_x)

10.0.1 added XML and SAN support (Sept. 20, 2011)
10.0.2 added changing time on Compound Clips (Nov. 16, 2011)
10.0.3 added major new features like multicam, video monitoring, improved keying, improved PSD import, media relinking and much more (Jan. 31, 2012)
10.0.4 improved multicam syncing and many bug fixes (April 10, 2012)
10.0.5 added support for retina displays (June 11, 2012)
10.0.6 added major new features like dual monitors, native RedCode RAW support, audio channel editing, persistent ranges, and MANY more (Oct. 23, 2012)
10.0.7 improved stability and cleaned up bugs (Dec. 6, 2012)

By my very approximate count, Apple has added more than three DOZEN significant new features to Final Cut since it's release.

Final Cut Pro X is not the same product it was when it was released.

CAN I CONVERT MY FCP 7 PROJECTS?

Yes. However it takes a utility from Intelligent Assistance to do so.

* 7toX converts Final Cut Pro 7 XML into a form that can be imported into Final Cut Pro X.

* Xto7 converts the XML export of a Final Cut Pro X Project (but not an Event) into a form that can be imported into Final Cut Pro 7.

The process is similar to moving an FCP 7 project into Adobe Premiere Pro CS6:

* Export an XML file from FCP 7
* Convert the XML file into something FCP X can read
* Import the converted file into FCP X

Just as with moving files between FCP 7, Premiere, or Avid (using the tools from Automatic Duck), some things won't transfer to FCP X. Edits and media transfer almost perfectly. Some effects and retiming do not; check the Intelligent Assistance website - www-intelligentassistance.com - for all the details.

NOTE: It could be argued that this conversion utility should have been available at launch. I would agree. However, these conversion utilities needed XML to work, which wasn't available until later. The important thing is that these conversion utilities are available now.

IS FINAL CUT PRO X SIMPLY IMOVIE PRO?
Well, you can believe that if you want, in the same way that a Ferrari is simply a super-charged VW Beetle.  They both have four wheels and an engine, but the results are totally different.

Just as you cannot say that since a Ferrari and a Bug are both cars, therefore they must do the same thing, you can not say that because iMovie and Final Cut look similar, they must BE similar.

NOTE: By the way, have you compared the performance differences between iMovie and FCP X?  My golly, iMovie is SLOW!!!

Yes, Final Cut Pro X imports iMovie events and projects. (On the other hand, with 50 million iMovie users out there, this was not a bad decision, as FCP 7 couldn't import iMovie at all.)

Yes, FCP X and iMovie have a similar look to the interface. (On the other hand, so do all the applications in the Adobe Creative Suite, or the applications in Final Cut Studio 3.)

Don't judge the book by its cover. The question is not how it looks, but whether it allows you to get your work done.

ARE MY FAVORITE PLUG-INS AVAILABLE FOR FCP X?
Yes. In fact the development of FCP 7 plug-ins has essentially stopped. This is for three main reasons:

* FCP 7 is no longer sold by Apple, which means the installed base is not growing.

* FCP 7 is a 32-bit application, which limits the amount of RAM and processing power a new plug-in could use

* Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and Final Cut Pro X are seen as the new sales opportunities for developers

Here are just some of the companies that have released new plug-ins for Final Cut Pro X:

* Boris FX
* New Blue FX
* CrumplePop
* BlockPops
* Ripple Training
* GenArts
* Red Giant
* Digital Heaven
* FX Factory
* Stupid Raisins
* PixelFilm Studios
* Toolfarm
* idustrial Revolution

And that is only a partial list. New plug-ins are announced every day.

One of the things I'm struck by is the number of new companies that are migrating to the platform and creating plug-ins for FCP X.

ISN'T IT BETTER TO BUY ADOBE PREMIERE PRO CS6?
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 is a great application. It is fast, cross-platform, 64-bit, supports many GPUs and multiple processors and easily imports XML files from Final Cut Pro 7.

Adobe has done an amazing job bringing this application into the modern day. I enjoy editing on it and creating training for it. However, while there are some things that Premiere does better than FCP X, there are also some things that Final Cut Pro X does better than Premiere.

This gets to the crux of my argument: Buy the tool that best meets the needs of your project.  (I'll have more on that in a few paragraphs.)

SHOULD I BUY FINAL CUT PRO X WHEN I AM STILL ANGRY AT APPLE?
Well, that depends. This question moves the issue from picking the right software into areas of personal expression and politics. Only you know how to answer this question for yourself.
Final Cut Pro X is not essential to Apple's revenues; that's not why Apple developed it. They created it to set their direction for video editing in the future.
If you want to make a political statement, feel free. But don't hide behind condemning the software when there are other reasons underlying your decision.

SO WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER FINAL CUT PRO X?
There's only one reason to buy any software: because it can enable you to do things faster, better, or more simply than other software for the same, or similar, price.

WHAT IS FCP X GOOD FOR?
Let's back into this a bit, by looking at other software first.

If you are happy with your current FCP 7 system, you don't need to upgrade. Keep on using FCP 7. However, that also means that you can't upgrade your OS either, and can't take advantage of future software or hardware improvements.

I would recommend editing all current Final Cut Pro 7 projects on Final Cut Pro 7.  Stay with the system you know for an existing project, unless, for other reasons, you are forced to move.

Avid Media Composer with Isis is probably the best choice if you are doing feature films, reality shows with thousands of hours of media, or workgroup editing,
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 also has many benefits:
* The interface is very, very familiar to FCP 7 editors
* Full 64-bit, GPU, and multiprocessor support
* It's really fast with the right GPU
* Full support of capture from tape
* The ability to easily import an FCP 7 XML file
* Tight integration with After Effects and Photoshop
* Tight integration with Encore to create DVDs

However, Final Cut Pro X has many benefits as well:

* Simplicity of the interface
* Full 64-bit, GPU, and multiprocessor support
* It's really, really fast on all Macs
* Ingesting, reviewing and archiving tapeless media
* Precision trimming; everything we could do in FCP 7 we can do in FCP X, plus the Precision Editor makes trimming even easier.
* Multicam editing, though Adobe Premiere CS6 is a solid second choice
* Chroma-key
* Color-correction and video scopes within the NLE; DaVinci Resolve is a better choice when using a stand-alone color grading application

The biggest weakness in FCP X, for me, is audio mixing. Here, FCP X is almost as bad as FCP 7, though with better audio filters. Currently, it is cumbersome to move projects out of FCP X into either Adobe Audition or ProTools for mixing.

THE INTERFACE IS A PLUS?
Yes, absolutely. However, not for the reasons you think. If you are a died-in-the-wool FCP 7 editor and just don't want to learn something new, then move to Adobe Premiere Pro CS6.

Premiere has speed, power, and mimics the keyboard shortcuts and interface of Final Cut Pro 7. Adobe makes a very good product that is fast and fun to use.

However, with each passing day, FCP 7 editors are not increasing in number. New kids are tackling video for the first time.

Here, I think, FCP X has an advantage. I did a test this semester at the class I teach at USC in Los Angeles. I decided to teach FCP X to non-film students, who just wanted to learn how to do video editing.  I discovered that I could make them productive in about one-quarter the time it would have taken me in either FCP 7 or Premiere Pro CS6.

From a standing start and no prior knowledge, they were knowledgeably editing video and outputting in 90 minutes. It would take me far longer to achieve the same results with FCP 7 or Premiere.

In terms of interface, Final Cut Pro X is the wave of the future, because it appeals to people who are new to editing.

BE CAREFUL HOW YOU DEFINE YOURSELF
One of the by-products of the "NLE Religious Wars," earlier in this decade, was that we defined ourselves by the tools we used.  We would say we were a "Final Cut editor," or an "Avid editor." Fist-fights would then ensue. (I plead guilty to supporting this dichotomy for many years, as I enjoyed poking fun at Avid editors.)

But, as the recession hit, I realized how misguided this was, because it costs us clients and money. We are not technologists, we are storytellers who use technology.

Each of us is an editor who loves to tell stories using pictures. We hire a carpenter not because they own a particular brand of hammer, but because they can build us a house that looks beautiful.

We need to define ourselves by the results we create for our clients, not the tools we use to create them.  

SUMMARY
This isn't a choice of "either/or." We are awash in excellent editing tools from Apple, Adobe, Avid, and others. This is truly a time when there are no bad choices.

Which is what we have, we have choices. I choose to use Final Cut Pro X as one of my major editing tools.

When it comes to my business, I am very cautious. I will learn and train on anything, but when it comes to the systems my business needs to make money and pay the rent, I change slowly and carefully.

I need to see a clear benefit before adopting a new tool.  With Final Cut Pro X I can improve my workflow, do more work in less time, and meet my standards for quality.

Final Cut Pro X allows me to make money, and keep clients happy, which is the essence of professional use.

As always, I am interested in what you think.


= = =

Larry Jordan is a producer, director, editor, author, and Apple Certified Trainer with more than 35 year's experience. Based in Los Angeles, he's a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America. Visit his website at http://www.larryjordan.biz.



Posted By Larry Jordan on January 28, 2013 12:09 pm | Permalink 
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