Final Cut Pro for iPad is here at long last. After much rumor and speculation, we had an announcement that it was coming and it’s ready to download in the App Store. It is subscription-based but you can get a free month to try it out.
Apple’s video announcement was impressive. I left that video thinking that Final Cut Pro for iPad looked a lot less like Final Cut Pro than I expected. After using it for a few days, I came to the conclusion below.
Final Cut Pro for iPad is a different beast than Final Cut Pro on the desktop
In fact, the question can be asked, is it Final Cut Pro at all?
Yes, there is a magnetic timeline. Yes, there is keywording. Yes, there is range-based selections. Yes, it runs on Apple hardware. But the similarities could end there.
Here are some key differences that I see between Final Cut Pro for iPad and Final Cut Pro desktop.
- You’ve get a little fader slider for adjusting audio levels
- The Inspector is on the left instead of the right.
- The Browser is on the right instead of the left where you browse everything, including clips, effects, transitions, titles, objects and soundtracks
- There is no Timeline Index
- There are no Libraries or Events
- There is no Precision Editor (but be honest, you don’t use that much anyway)
- There are a significant number of desktop FCP features missing from the iPad version
- There are no Libraries or Events. There are Projects but instead of a project being a timeline, a project is basically an “edit job” that includes everything you need and use for an edit project
Final Cut Pro for iPad is not “iMovie on steroids.”
After Apple’s Final Cut Pro for iPad announcement, I saw a comment that described it as “iMovie on steroids.” First off, the commenter had not touched FCP for iPad and second, it’s much more than that.
There are many, many more controls in FCP for iPad than iMovie. Anyone who has spent any time at all in any video editing application will want to use FCP for iPad over iMovie any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Beyond so many more controls and features, it’s easier to use with just a small bit of instruction.
This article will focus mainly on the craft editing and storytelling tools of Final Cut Pro for iPad. That’s primarily the world I live in, so in my time with this version of Final Cut Pro for iPad I dug into the editorial tools more than some of the more signature effects and iPad-specific features.
The editing tools are quite different from the desktop version of Final Cut Pro
The first thing I noticed on FCP for iPad was the editing tools (or selection modes as they are properly called) in the timeline are quite different. There are less of them and a different one altogether.
While I don’t think anyone will miss the Zoom or the Hand tool the change from the Trim tool to the Edge tool is the most significant IMHO. The Edge tool is like the Trim tool in that you can use it to select both sides of an edit for a rolling trim or one side of an edit for a ripple trim.
But what you can’t do with it is select a clip or a Slip or Slide Edit. In fact, I can’t find a way to do a slip or slide edit at all. Did Apple think the Trim tool would be too complex for a new user? The Edge tool is certainly named for what it can select but not the functionality of what it does. I’m puzzled by this one.
The revolutionary FCP Skimmer is there but if you’re only using the iPad with your fingers via touch you won’t see it. With a keyboard and mouse or trackpad the Skimmer will be there and you’ll feel right at home.
The Skimmer will also work with an M2 iPad and an 2nd generation Apple Pencil. I’ve been working on an M1 12.9-inch iPad Pro with that 2nd generation Apple Pencil and I don’t get the skimmer. That’s really a shame and I wonder if there was some technical reason for it or if Apple wanted to keep something exclusive to the latest hardware. The skimmer alone isn’t enough to go buy an M2 iPad Pro if you have an M1 already. You’ll get plenty of good use without it.
The Jog Wheel
If you’ve ever edited any video on an iPad using the touch screen you know how imprecise it can be. Even lifting a finger off of the screen can adjust a slider or a playhead by a small amount. While a stylus helps with that using a mouse makes it much more exact.
How has Apple addressed this shortcoming? By engineering what I think is Final Cut Pro for iPad’s most notable feature: a touch-screen jog wheel. By spinning this thing with your finger or Apple pencil you can do a lot of notable editing things with a lot of precision. Things such as:
- Moving the playhead
- Moving (nudging) clips or multiple selected clips
- Sliding keyframes
- Moving media interaction between the Browser and the timeline
- Moving interaction between clips and keyframes
What can’t you do with the jog wheel?
- Slip or slide clips. In fact, I don’t think you can do a slip or slide edit at all in Final Cut Pro for iPad. That’s a big (and strange) omission. I wouldn’t scream too loudly about the lack of a Slide in a magnetic timeline … but no Slip edit? Who missed that one?
- Play your media without having to reach away from the Jog Wheel. After spinning the jog wheel, if you want to play again, you have to reach away from the jog wheel to hit the play button. It would be much, much more useful to have a play button right on the touch wheel.
The Jog wheel also has inertia.
A fast touch spin of the job wheel and the playhead will quickly fly to one end or the other. The faster you spin it, the faster the playhead moves until it slows to a stop. It feels almost mechanical, is fun to use and instantly makes the actual timeline-based editing experience of Final Cut Pro for iPad a step ahead of the competition when it comes to actually having to use the touch-screen to edit by touch.
There are a number of curiosities in Final Cut Pro for iPad. Some really cool. Some kind of weird.
- There is a Picture-In-Picture mode under the Viewer options. This isn’t an effect but a very useful feature that will pop the viewer into a movable window that you can reposition. Picture In Picture will come on handy when you want to log media and need as big of a browser as possible.
- While there are video scopes there is no Parade scope which, I would argue, you need more than all the others on a device like the iPad with limited screen real estate.
- I work mainly in landscape mode when doing anything productive on the iPad Pro. When rotating the iPad Pro to portrait orientation, FCP for iPad doesn’t adjust its layout, rather, it goes out of full screen into a smaller window. You’ll want to stay in landscape.
- The main tool for color work is the Color Adjustments effect. This single effect is much more limited than desktop Final Cut Pro’s different Color tools. And don’t expect color wheels or curves as it’s all slider based.
- Strangely, the Color Adjustments effect is missing a midtones slider.
- You can’t seem to selectively insert only video or audio into an edit with Source Media: Video Only or Audio Only commands. That one stings.
- I don’t see any way to insert a Gap Clip. A Gap Clip gets created when you move a clip with Position turned on but I don’t see a way to create one, either from a keyboard shortcut or as an object in the object browser. A Gap Clip is an important element in the magnetic timeline for timing. That one stings too. ⬇️
- Some desktop keyboard shortcuts work like QWED for editing clips into the timeline. As well as OPTION + [ and ]. But others, like N for snapping and P for Position, don’t.
- Position is not a tool in FCP on the iPad but rather a setting that can be turned on and off. Gap clips are left behind. ⬇️
- Media in the media browser will show the telltale green, blue and red FCP identifiers for favorite, rejected and keyworded clips but doesn’t have an option for the orange used media ranges that will identify what is in your timeline. That would be incredibly useful on an iPad. ⬇️
- I don’t see any way to detach audio from clips. You can expand and collapse audio on both a clip level and a timeline level but the inability to detach audio seems like a big oversight. ⬇️
- Final Cut Pro for iPad has a different toolbar. There aren’t as many tools but there is a new tool: the Edge tool.
- There are no fade handles built into audio clips. I assume that is because the built-in fade handles would be too small of a target for a touch-screen, even with the Apple Pencil. But there are fade in and out parameters in the audio inspector. ⬇️
- Another curious thing about adjusting parameters in the Inspector. See the 16.0 s Fade Out parameter above? I would expect to be able to just tap and drag a parameter control like that to make a change. But you have to first tap and open the slider you see with the Fade In up above. That is a lot of extra tapping that seems it could be mitigated. Especially when you’re using an Apple Pencil.
- While there are connected clips as an edit option (as there should be as this is Final Cut Pro) you can’t put those connected clips into a secondary storyline as they don’t seem to exist.
- The timeline has no copy/paste attributes, but you can copy/paste effects in the Effects Inspector. But that’s an all or nothing as you can’t select.
- You can somewhat clumsily set audio roles a single clip at a time via a little menu in the Inspector. But without a timeline index and audio lanes their usefulness might only be for color. And you can’t setup custom roles. It feels like this is a true version 1 release and there is much more to come.
- You can share projects and the project media between iPads or send an edit to FCP on the desktop.
I want to make one note about all of these Curiosities listed above. They all come from a place of being burdened as a user of Final Cut Pro on the desktop. All the way back to Final Cut Pro X version 1.0. I intimately know all the tools that are in there so I know what FCP for iPad is missing. I realize some will make life easier while others might not be possible on an iPad touch device. Many users coming to FCP on the iPad for the first time will not have this burden. For one example of that, see the very end of this article.
Managing the storage will be important
As great as the iPad is, you’re still not able to manage media on an iPad like you can on the Mac. While FCP for iPad can import media from external storage like an attached SSD drive or camera cards, that media will be copied to the internal iPad storage upon import.
I was wondering about how this internal storage would be managed so I imported a bunch of media into a project that was just over 1 GB. ⬇️
Checking my iPad storage I see that Final Cut Pro was taking up just under 5 GBs with all of the other media and renders and edits I had in the app. ⬇️
I then duplicated that project 15 times to see where the storage sat on my iPad. ⬇️
It’s good to know that’s FCP doesn’t duplicate the media if you duplicate the project. ⬇️
And the actual data that FCP is using after those 15 duplicates only went up marginally which is great since, like any good NLE, the data inside the edit project is small and is mainly pointers back to the original media.
Yes, these are the kinds of things I think about with any new NLE. 🙂
And why did I go to this silly project duplicating extreme?
As I was working, I began to wonder how I could duplicate my timeline if I wanted to make a new version or preserve an old cut if I went to make extensive edits. There is no timeline in the browser so it seemed like duplicating the entire project was the way.
But I was wrong.
When you’re out in the project creation and selection screen, there’s a little pop-up menu arrow by the project name and format. There you can duplicate a timeline and create a new version.
This is important as any serious editing tool must be able to create different versions of an edit easily. If you want to duplicate an edit hit the the dots when looking at the timeline selection and there is an option to duplicate and rename a timeline. I wouldn’t call this method easy but it’s essential and nice to have.
Where are the Secondary Storylines?
Final Cut Pro for iPad doesn’t have Secondary Storylines in the same way that the desktop version does and this is a big change considering the importance of connected clips in the overall way FCP works. It’s another curious decision to leave them out.
You can sort of trick FCP for iPad into making a Secondary Storyline by applying a transition between connected clips. Like FCP on the desktop Connected Clips need to be in a container and that is a secondary storyline. Have a batch of clips you want in a secondary? Select them all and apply a transition. Want cuts instead of that transition? Just delete the transition and the Secondary Storyline will remain intact.
This makes me feel like secondary storylines will get a more prominent place in a future version of Final Cut Pro for iPad. Or somehow I completely missed how to create secondary storyline without this little
Multicam editing works well, but it’s limited to 4 angles. Four isn’t many but on a mobile device you might not need more as I think it’s targeted to much smaller productions like interview setups than a concert or music video.
You can see above that FCP still cuts the audio when doing a Multicam edit. I think it’s just the nature of the magnetic timeline and the clip container paradigm that FCP uses. I wish they had engineered around this because even though you don’t (usually) hear the cut in the audio, it is just unnerving when you are trying to cut mulitcam video angles to a single audio source. It doesn’t feel right to see cuts in your audio.
What does feel right is the angle editor right in FCP for iPad. You can sync by audio waveform of course.
What about the “progressive disclosure?”
One of Final Cut Pro desktop’s best features is progressive disclosure, where you are presented with a simple interface, but parts of that interface will reveal themselves as you need more complexity and features. FCP for iPad offers something similar, and it’s well done with the iPad’s limited-screen real estate.
I was editing on a 12.9-inch iPad Prp and at times, things got cramped. I can’t image what working on a smaller iPad will be like. And no iPhones here as this is iPad only.
How is the performance?
Very good. In my testing on a 12-inch M1 iPad Pro, both media playback and interface manipulation were excellent. It really is fun to use. Even with 4 streams of ProRes doing mulitcam, it never skipped a beat. Admittedly I wasn’t pushing it too hard (and you can render if needed), but it never stuttered or hesitated on any kind of playback.
You can render, if need be, in a desktop-familiar way.
Loving that HDR iPad Pro liquid retina display
I have to say one of the biggest and most amazing surprises was working with iPhone HDR media on the iPad Pro display. It is incredibly bright and gorgeous when working and then hitting a full-screen preview. And this is just amateur-shot phone footage, so I can imagine what a unique and cool experience it will be with professionally shot and exposed media.
FCP for iPad will have a full complement of features to support HDR creation, SDR conversion and LUTs, so some pro workflows are built-in. Prepare for the insane iPad camera rigs as people shoot, edit and finish all on the iPad Pro because they can. And we can enjoy!
What are some of those other signature Final Cut Pro for iPad features?
Live Drawing with a second-generation Apple Pencil is really cool and quite fun. It makes you feel like an animation whiz. I don’t know the exact limitation on exactly how big of a live drawing you can record but you can adjust their animation speed with a Draw On control in the Inspector. Once you are done you can move it around like any clip. I predict some fun videos being made with this tool.
Fast Cut features include an automatic Scene Removal Mask tool, Auto Crop and Voice Isolation. While those aren’t brand new, this “fast cut” description is, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more tools given this “fast cut” designation in the future.
You can share a Final Cut Pro for the iPad project and open it on another iPad or in FCP on the desktop. This ability to open it on the desktop is possible in Final Cut Pro version 10.6.6.
Soundtracks are audio tracks that edit themselves when you change the duration. So if you’re thinking SonicFire Pro then you have the idea. Or Adobe Remix, or you remember Soundtrack Pro. But Remix works with any track, and Soundtrack Pro was just based around loops.
And yes, Final Cut Pro for iPad is subscription based
I’ll leave this for others to touch on but this is a new FCP model that’s for sure. But it’s in line with what Apple (and every company that sells software) wants to do.
Okay, so it really is Final Cut Pro, but the engineers and designers have given it a healthy rethink for the iPad. I purposely didn’t mention any other iPad NLEs as this isn’t the place to compare and contrast. (There will be countless YouTube videos doing just that with most missing the point entirely.) This review is about our beloved FCP, where it is in time and what it’s like to actually edit with it when you’re familiar with the desktop version of FCP. We know FCP for desktop has been slow on the upgrades and features for the last few years. Was all that effort put into FCP for iPad so as to neglect the desktop version? Probably not, but Final Cut Pro for iPad is different enough that some extensive engineering went into its creation.
Will you be cutting the next indie feature or unscripted series on Final Cut Pro for iPad? Probably not, but it could be used to do some preliminary work. It’s closer to an NLE companion app than another A company got with their iPad NLE. Final Cut Pro for iPad is geared more toward the “creator” than the dedicated editor. You can shoot video on the iPad right from the NLE! But that creator thing is ok.
In my short time with Final Cut Pro for iPad, this was the best thing that I saw come from it.⬇️
That’s a kid making a video about his dog that he has always wanted to make but never tried before Final Cut Pro for iPad. I gave him minimal instruction, and he was ecstatic when it was done. That’s what you want out of some cool, new and accessible technology. Keep it up creators. You have tools like never before.
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