updated 04:00 am EST, Wed February 8, 2012
Third free update fulfills program's promise
Final Cut Pro X, a radical re-thinking of professional video editing that initially sparked more a revolt than the revolution Apple intended, has gone on to win PC Magazine's "Editor's Choice" award after a review of the program and the features restored and improved by its third free update. The latest version, released at the very end of January, restored multi-cam editing, broadcast monitoring and richer XML support to the suite, enabling Final Cut Pro 7 projects and third-party plug-ins. In doing so, it has begun to silence its critics.
While users completely new to pro-level non-linear editing and those used to Apple's similarly-revamped iMovie have tended to appreciate Final Cut Pro X's style, the initial reception was highly hostile from FCP 7 users, with complaints of a severe lack of features compared to the previous version, a bewildering all-new workflow, incompatibility with older projects (and the removal of Final Cut Studio from the store, a move Apple was forced to backtrack on) and more. The complaints even surfaced into parody on late-night TV as industry professionals grumbled of having the run pulled out from under them. About the only thing Apple's existing Final Cut base liked about the new version was the price -- $300 for the full suite compared to a previous price of $1,000.
Facing a backlash and some customers publicly switching to competing products, Apple quickly promised that the missing essential features would return and worked with third-party developers to increase the number of compatible plug-ins, as well as posting new tutorials on its website. Foreshadowed by the appearance of a pair of plug-ins to allow FCP X projects to be exported to FCP 7 and vice-versa, and eerily similar to the complaints from users at the similarly-radical and unexpected overhaul of iMovie in 2007, the company has begun winning back disaffected customers over the last seven months, and the re-thought philosophy behind both iMovie and Final Cut Pro X is beginning to get a foothold in the industry.
The PC Magazine review correctly notes that the 64-bit, multicore-optimized, graphics-card-accelerated app is significantly faster than its predecessor, and that the revised workflow -- once a users gets used to it -- is actually much more productive. The updates that have been released over the last seven months have improved chroma-key masking, XSAN storage options, Media Stems exporting and richer XML import and export. Apple released a camera SDK so that new devices will be FCPX-compatible, and plug-in manufacturers, at first hesitant in light of the initial reaction, have begun plumbing the depths of the program and producing new options at a remarkable rate -- some of which are exclusive to FCPX.
Reviewer Michael Muchmore notes that users can skim through clips on a connected camera and import just portions of a clip, a feature not found in Adobe Premiere Pro (which sells for $500 more) and which saves enormous amounts of logging time. FCPX features a unique analysis process that can optimized media, stabilize it, color balance it and create Smart Collections based on the type of shot, a huge time-saver. The XML export/import meant that projects and events could be opened in other programs back and forth, along with file locking for those working in collaboration on shared systems. Users can tag clips or portions of clips, rate and even reject clips -- still very rare in video-editing programs at the pro level.
While detractors have often referred to Final Cut Pro X as "iMovie Pro" for its similar look and borrowing of some technology, the review concludes that that's like calling OS X Lion "iOS Pro" in terms of accuracy. The freeform, trackless Magnetic Timeline view, it argues, is a powerful editing feature beyond anything iMovie offers, particularly now that the latest update has restored multi-cam support. This allows for unlimited "lanes" as FCPX calls them, more than any other competitor, and employs drag-and-drop and "snap to neighbor" and a Dock-like "move aside" when trying to put a clip on top of another clip. Like iMovie, double-clicking a clip presents a Precision Editor.
A key feature is also Final Cut's Compound Clips that takes grouped material and keep it together as a unit, represented by a single clip. The Audition function lets you add multiple clips (for example, different takes) to the same spot in the timeline and choose between them at your leisure. The chroma-key features were ranked as superior to any available in Windows, and offered more control. Audio recorded separately can be automatically matched to video, and there is a built-in surround-sound editor.
The new multi-cam support can sync clips using timecode, but can also try to sync clips by matching audio peaks, a clever method for those who prefer to use clapboards and non-timecode-support DSLRs to shoot video. Editors can also manually use markers to help with syncing, or employ a plug-in like PluralEyes. FCP X allows up to 64 camera angles and offers Angle Viewer and Angle Editor to switch angles "live" from incoming video or during the editing process respectively.
Thunderbolt support in FCPX not only allows vast amounts of storage to be connected to desktop machines, but also lets users preview on broadcast monitors in the field on a portable MacBook Pro, almost inconceivable a few months ago. Thunderbolt also promised faster transfer speeds and the ability to import extremely-high-resolution 4K video without frame-dropping. The 64-bit nature of the app means that "waiting to render" is almost entirely a thing of the past.
The review concludes that, given the short cycle from "1.0" to a ready-for-prime-time release and the fact that editors have not been forced to replace FCP7 (both it and FCPX can even sit on the same drive), along with the availability of easy cross-exporting, Final Cut Pro X may open the door to a vastly faster and more powerful way of working, disrupting the industry just as it did when it initially introduced Final Cut Pro. It gave the program it's "Editor's Choice" based on price, speed, the latest update and the ease with which those who are ready to move on from iMovie can make the transition into professional-league video editing. [via PC Magazine]