The State of the Union of Final Cut Pro

Or one editor’s take on the year after FCPX


Here we are one year after the release of Final Cut Pro X so it’s time for the inevitable slew of FCPX one year later blog posts so I’ll add one more to the list … we are called The Editblog after all. Opinions on FCPX are still all over the map. Many people like it, some love it, a lot still hate it and there’s the group who have largely ignored it. In truth there are many things to like about FCPX, some certain features that I absolutely love but others that I hate and still wonder if the designers actually used the product outside of their own bubble. One thing this blog strives to be is totally honest about products we discuss and I hope we’ve been just that with Final Cut Pro X.

The SuperMeet heard around the world

I don’t think anyone came away from the first public showing at the NAB 2011 SuperMeet without both a feeling of optimism that we might be getting an amazing new NLE when FCP shipped but also a healthy dose of skepticism that it might not live up to the reality distortion field that’s often presented around Apple products. The automated tools looked great and no editor in their right mind would turn those tools down if offered in their favorite NLE. Features like skimming and Auditions were things that looked like they could really make a big difference in ease of use and speed of editing.

This was part one of the SuperMeet presentation. Part 2 is here.

But anyone who wasn’t yelling their praises at the stage with wild abandon came away from that event with just as many questions as answers. What about the other applications in the Final Cut Studio? Exactly how would that magnetic timeline work in practice? Is going trackless really a better way to edit? And how “pro” will this new NLE be if it’s based off of iMovie? That last question has proven to often be a controversial idea and one that has generated much debate. My stance has always been (and still is) that even thought Final Cut Pro X and iMovie might not share a single line of code many of the features and design elements are very similar. Apple designers either based much of FCPX off of iMovie or the concept of FCPX has been around for many years and the “new” iMovie was based off of that. They are more than distant cousins … maybe half siblings.

The iMovie magnetic timeline from Scott Simmons on Vimeo.

iMovie was the original magnetic timeline.

There was much commentary on Apple’s FCP launch and even some of FCP’s biggest fans say to this day that Apple bungled the launch. Maybe but they launched FCP like any product: a keynote at a secretive event and then it popped up in the store later. While the biggest single mistake was showing the FCP7 timeline in FCPX (that implied a feature that wasn’t there) so much brouhaha could have been avoided if the product hadn’t used the Final Cut Pro name. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.

The above TubeChop is that section of the SuperMeet keynote where Apple showed the FCP7 timeline in FCPX. Though the don’t specifically say it, rewatching to today it still feels like it implies you can easily move a FCP timeline into FCP.

The weeks before the release

Those few weeks before the June 21, 2011 release of FCP were interesting ones here at the Editblog office. If you follow this NLE stuff you might remember a mysterious twitter figure named MortGoldman2 that began leaking FCP screenshots out over the net. That definitely stirred the pot and speculation ran wild about what features might (and might not) be in FCPX and the new Motion.

The Editblog was quiet when these leaks happened not because we didn’t have an opinion (we always have an opinion) but because we were sitting on the source of all those screenshots right on our hard drive. As we all know now those leaks came from some rather in-depth Ripple Training training materials that were improperly obtained (illegally?) by someone who may or may not have been MortGoldman2. (That training is still some of the best out there btw if you’re wanting to learn FCPX.) A private, anonymous conversation saw that material arrive in our in-box. I sat and watched the entire series but it didn’t take long to realize that FCP was going to be quite a bit more controversial than it seemed after the NAB presentation.

What to do? There I was sitting on what would have been the post-production blogging scoop of the century (and I’m sure it would have generated the traffic to match) but it was obvious the data wasn’t originally obtained in an ethical manner. And while a big scoop like that wouldn’t have harmed Apple in any way I wasn’t so sure about the small company that produced the tutorials. At the time I didn’t know the Ripple Training guys but you could bet that Apple wouldn’t be happy their training got leaked onto the internet. I’m actually quite surprised that someone else didn’t make the scoop as apparently the videos were more widely available than what it would seem from only seeing the twitter screenshots around the net.

Long story short, after further contemplation and a couple of conversations with various editors (not video editors but editors in the journalistic sense) we decided not publish an early Final Cut Pro X story based off of these leaked tutorials. I was torn about the decision. On the one hand it would have been quite the scoop as Apple controversy is always good for ratings and FCP was undoubtedly going to be controversial. On the other hand the Editblog wasn’t meant to be the Woodward and Bernstein of the post-production centric Internet. The Editblog is just an editor with an opinion and an Internet connection.

An actual offline conversation with Ripple Training really made the decision clear that posting the story might have done serious damage to their relationship with Apple and in turn their successful training business. There was no need for that. So I filed that few gigs of FCPX Quicktimes into a folder on my hard drive and ended up with nothing more than a bit of advanced knowledge about how to run the application. It was the right decision.

June 21, 2011

It was that morning when my first indication of FCP’s actual release came in the form of an email from Automatic Duck announcing the release of an Auto Duck module to move FCP audio into Pro Tools. By golly that did work but as irony would have it, the brains behind Automatic Duck would later lend their talents to Adobe and release all of their products for free (except for the FCPX one). Many things in post did indeed change for many of us with that one. OMF export would return later with X2Pro Audio Convert.

That day of June 21 was rather unproductive for me. While I wasn’t able to download and try FCPX for myself that morning (I had an edit that day but can’t remember if I was using FCP7 or Avid Media Composer) I was mostly distracted by the overwhelmingly angry waves of twitter comments under the #fcpx hash tag that day as people began to kick the tires and post reactions. I chose to forego the usual Kicking the Tires article and chose to answer some burning FCPX questions instead. But we would later kick the tires on both the 10.0.1 update as well as the big 10.0.3 update.

The updates have come along at a surprising pace and added some much needed features. I wrote an early FCPX review for Studio Daily and the conclusions weren’t so good with that initial release. But a later review of 10.0.3 showed a much improved product mainly because of the new and updated features that weren’t around when the application shipped. This quick addition of needed features to FCPX led to a lot of speculation that FCPX shipped before it was really ready. Maybe, maybe not. If 10.0.4 would have been the exact version of the application that shipped a year ago there might have been less controversy around the app itself but there would still have been controversy. And a lot of it.

Next Up: FCPX today and where does it go from here.

FCP today


There sits FCPX in the Mac App Store rankings, alongside its iMovie kin, on June 20, 2012.

So where does Final Cut Pro X sit today? I think the truth is on a lot of editor’s desktops. As of this writing it’s number 19 on the Mac App Store. A $300 application doesn’t live that high in the rankings for so long without a lot of downloads. And after initially poor ratings for the first release the current version sits at 4.5 stars. Looking at the average rating for all versions sums it up best: most people are either 5 stars in their feelings for FCPX or 1 star in their feelings for FCPX.


The Mac App Store ratings is a pretty good summation of how people feel about FCPX

Personally I try not to give any NLE a rating (though I do have to do just that often when writing a software review) but rather use the best tool for the job. I’ve seen virtually no request from outside sources for FCPX at my post house. No incoming jobs looking to edit in FCPX and no outside jobs coming in for finishing that originated in FCPX (and I think this Nashville market is a good litmus test as it whole-heartedly embraced the old FCP). I have on the other hand seen an uptick in the interest in Avid Media Composer and an out of the blue interest in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. Does that mean FCPX is non-existent? Nope. But talking to other editors and post-house people in several markets around the country, they have seen very little interest in FCPX either.

So who’s using FCPX? A lot of one-man-band videographers I think; smaller operations doing “same day edits” usually seem very enthusiastic about FCPX’s speed as long as their originating format is supported. Wedding videographers seem to have really taken to FCPX. Apple does have an in-action section for FCPX on their website that highlights some higher end use.

If you’re using FCPX then most of these Intelligent Assistance tools are right at home in your dock.

There are a lot of 3rd party plug-ins that have come along for FCPX but the developers that I’ve talked to about it are a bit close to the vest when it comes to their sales. Noise Industries was among the first out of the gate with FCPX support and their roster of developers seems to be growing every month … and they scored Nattress. Crumple Pop loudly bet everything on FCPX and have made some popular plugins since. It took awhile for Red Giant Software to get the favorite Magic Bullet Looks to FCPX but they did eventually. We’re still waiting for Colorista II and it’s greatly needed to give some powerful alternative to the FCPX color board. CoreMelt finally came along with FCPX support as well. PluralEyes is still supporting FCPX in their new beta even though the same basic syncing technology is built in to the application. Just do a Google search for free FCPX effects and you’ll get tons of hits and free effects. Alex4d has made a ton of them himself. There’s a lot of people out there spending time making freebies just for you and me as there was with legacy FCPX. That’s something we don’t really have for Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro.

Most developers that I’ve talked to seem happy supporting the application but some of them felt it was best a marketing decision to support FCPX as opposed to user demand. I don’t think any regret the decision. Still a year after the release of FCPX the biggest defenders of FCPX, those who give it the highest praise, still seem to be the ones that are selling some type of supporting or companion product. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just good business. Always follow the money.

For me there have been a few jobs where I thought FCPX would be the best NLE to use but the lack of an install at my office (or a veto from the client) kept me from it. I have used it on a lot of personal projects, some being home movies, some being “real” edits. There’s still a lot of loves and hates:

  • Love multicam and how easy it is to setup, adjust and cut.
  • Hate how a lot of operations take multiple steps in the Magnetic Timeline.
  • Love skimming and how it means less mouse click and hold (though I do like Adobe’s Hover Scrub implementation of the idea better. If someone says Hover Scrub is a ripoff of skimming that’s not entirely true and it goes beyond that).
  • Hate that FCP still can’t remember an IN to OUT range that you’ve set when clicking away from a clip. I’ve become numb to the silliness that is all the explinations that people try to give as to why this can’t be possible. Just silly.
  • Love the searching, organizing and metadata possibilities that keywording and collections bring to the table.
  • Hate you can’t favorite, keyword (whatever you want to call it) part of a master clip to make what is essentially a subclip and actually change the NAME of that new “subclip.”
  • Love that you can change many attributes of master clips at one time with the Inspector.
  • Hate that there is no second Viewer / Source monitor to allow things like proper match framing and gang syncing. I’m anxioius to see how Apple updates with their announced Dual Viewer.
  • Love the idea of Roles as another layer of project management and how the Timeline Index can sniff out a lot of stuff in the timeline.
  • Hate how large projects still grind FCP to a halt and things like J-scrubbing backwards in a JKL scrub can cause a looooong beachball (though to be fair [as I’ve re-read this hate afte posting] that doesn’t happen on all projects). And this is even on a new iMac with a Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt RAID.
  • And audio mixing … let’s not even talk about audio mixing.

And what about Final Cut Pro 7

“Legacy” Final Cut Pro as it is called is still alive and well and being used out in the world on a lot of productions. It’s too ingrained in the post-production world to die off that easily. And while it may or may not still be available through Apple telesales you can certainly find it on eBay or Amazon if you really need it. I don’t use it near a much as I used to but despite its 32-bit shortcomings in a 64-bit world it still feels like a familiar old friend when I do use it. There’s no denying that good old legacy Final Cut Pro really did change post-production for many of us. It’s still got all the competitors beat when it comes to Markers and keyboard shortcuts. Those may seem like small things but to an editor who sits in front of the NLE day in and day out, little things matter a lot.

Where does FCP go from here?

I think it’s obvious that Apple is working hard on Final Cut Pro X and like any NLE, upgrades and improvements are much appreciated. There was a lot of “pro” debate when FCPX shipped: Is FCPX a “pro” application? What constitutes something or someone as being a “pro”? Is the term “pro” an outdated and derogatory term anyway? There will continue to be that debate as we move into FCPX’s second year of life. While we do have a ray of hope for the Mac Pro to get some type of real update in 2013, the words Apple CEO Tim Cook used were allegedly “something really great for later next year.” That could mean anything … like Steve Jobs’ alleged “next release will be awesome” comment about what came to be Final Cut Pro X. Awesome and really great are both in the eye of the beholder.

If FCPX was/is going to do anything for Apple it’s going to sell a lot of software downloads and probably a lot of Macs. Anything that sells Macs is good IMHO during an era of iOS taking the front seat to Mac OS. Follow the money. What FCPX does give us now is three distinct and different choices for an NLE on the Mac: Avid Media Composer as the stalwart NLE that can be trusted to get the job done right and on time but in the normal (though some would say old fashioned) way. Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 as the newly reborn scrapper that has caused quite a stir since its release. It’s often referred to as FCP8 and I think Adobe should take that as a compliment. And Final Cut Pro X that is really in its infancy with its new way of doing things. As youngsters often do, it’ll relearn some old tricks that still work well but it may or may not improve upon them all the while. Or it may try a new trick entirely.

As I said in my Studio Daily FCPX 10.0.3 review: Now that Apple has gotten most of the feature-set stumbling blocks out of the way, it comes down to how willing you are to teach yourself some very different but potentially rewarding new tricks.

The state of the union of Final Cut Pro X, one year after its release, was also summed up quite nicely on Twitter by Marcus Moore when responding to a comment about staying with FCPX despite some bugs: If you like the philosophy behind FCPX, then bugs will get ironed out. If you like the old paradigm better, try CS6. And that could just as easily mean try Avid.

The state of the union of Final Cut Pro X is still a bit shattered and some of the natives are still a bit bitter and restless. But tempers have calmed as parts of the population have embraced what FCPX has to offer while others have moved on to different things. But the state of the union of editing software in general has never been better as we’ve never had so many different editing choices than we have right now.

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Scott Simmons was born in rural West Tennessee and didn't really realize that movies and tv had to be made by actual people until he went to college. After getting degrees in both Television Production…

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