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First Look Review: Final Cut Pro X : Top Interface Features

The much anticipated Final Cut Pro X has finally hit the shelves App Store. With the promise of major speed enhancements, a completely redesigned interface, a new approach to editing and a price to make your wallet smile, this is no normal update or upgrade. Final Cut has gone from version 7 to 10 in one giant leap which symbolizes how massive a departure this is from anything that’s come before it.

The big FCP X questions are now ready to be answered. Is Apple’s radical new paradigm for video editing going to appeal to beginners and professionals alike? Is it iMovie on steroids? Will it be the benchmark that all other video apps will attempt to emulate? My take so far? Final Cut Pro X is potentially amazing.

You see, Apple is not only capable of generating unparalleled hype and buzz around a new product but also of creating products that truly capture the user’s imagination. And they’ve succeeded once again! 

In this first review of Final Cut Pro X we’ll take a look at some of the key features in the interface that are likely to change the way we edit video and perhaps even the way we build visual stories, too. 

...And stay tuned to the macProVideo.com Hub! We’ve got lots of FCP X reviews, tips and tutorials coming your way as well as the upcoming FCP X video training by Final Cut super trainer, author and world-renowned expert, Michael Wohl available NOW!


Installation

Final Cut Pro X is only available via the Mac App Store. That’s right. No more discs to install from. Connecting to the Mac App Store in Snow Leopard and purchasing Final Cut Pro X is painless and, depending on the speed of your internet connection and distance to your nearest Apple Retail Store, a lot quicker than the round-trip journey to pick it up in person.

Once downloaded there’s nothing more to do. It really couldn’t have been simpler.


Importing Footage and clips

Upon launching Final Cut Pro X you’re greeted with a—now infamous—sleek iMovie-style interface (more on that later) and in the top left, are given three easy-to-access icons to import movie clips from disk, from a camera or from an iMovie project. The Project pane at the bottom will allow you to create new projects. If you’ve ever got your head around Events and Projects in iMovie then you’ll take to Final Cut Pro X like a duck to water.

In a nutshell, any footage you import must be placed in Events (which can be organized, named, split, and merged manually). These Event folders are then available to every project in Final Cut Pro X. No need to re-import footage from one project to another.

Projects can be created and switched between with ease by choosing to Show/Hide Project Library (Command-0 (zero)). When you quit and launch Final Cut Pro X, you’ll have access to all the events and the projects you’ve been working on. You don’t even have to save them as this is done automatically!

When importing footage into Final Cut Pro X you’ll be presented with organizing, transcoding and analysis options. For example, Final Cut can now automatically analyze your clips for stabilization, balance color, face recognition and even audio problems during the importing process. Select the options you wish to be scanned for and then choose ‘Import’.


The Interface

There’s no hiding that FCP X's interface resembles that of iMovie ’11. One of the features from iMovie I enjoyed is the ability to (toggle) hide areas of the interface and resize these areas, too. At first glance Final Cut 7 veteran users may scratch their heads wondering where the second viewing window has disappeared to. Version 10 has dispensed with the need for a dual-window display (Canvas and Viewer). Instead, the Viewer acts as the only window into your clips that’s required. This certainly makes for more efficient use of screen real estate and will surely equate to easier intelligibility for new users.


The venerable Bin has been replaced by the Event Browser. I’m still reeling from this, but the sorting options available from the top of the Browser panel and via the Gear button at the bottom of the Browser allow for some valuable grouping by disk, date, duration and other criteria. It feels quicker and more intuitive to work with the Event Browser over the old Bin.

Another useful feature is the ability to show clips in the list view as opposed to filmstrip view in the Event Browser. Skimming and selecting the clips is similar to iMovie, but don’t let this detract from your Final Cut Pro X experience. The ease at which you’re able to quickly select an area of a clip (i.e. setting in and out points) and then insert that clip into the Timeline makes for a quicker workflow, in my opinion.


Track headers are absent from the new Timeline. But you have access to multiple tracks simply by dragging new clips from the Event Browser on top of a clip in the Timeline. FCP X automatically creates a track lane to accommodate that clip. Once you’ve added clips to the Timeline it’s an enjoyable process to actually trim, resize and fine-tune the clip.

Overall the Final Cut Pro X interface feels clean, modern and pretty responsive. 


Editing 

One of the biggest fears amongst pro video editors was whether key commands would be a thing of the past and the entire interface would need to be mouse- or track pad-driven. Of course that’s not the case! Some functions, however, feel more natural using the mouse. For example, ripple edits, roll edits, slip edits, etc. But using a combination of the mouse and choice key commands can certainly speed up an editor’s workflow. There are keyboard shortcuts here and they can be customized via the Final Cut Pro > Commands > Customize... menu.


If you find the automatic audio and video skimming distracting, you can simply turn them off using the relevant buttons in the top right of the Timeline area. Additionally there are comprehensive independent zoom controls for the Event Browser and the Timeline. Furthermore, clicking the switch next to the zoom sliders reveals a pop-up panel where you can adjust the clip height and the clip appearance. In essence, you can emphasize the audio and/or video elements of the clips being displayed. Very useful.

One of the most touted new features is the Magnetic Timeline. In all honesty it took me a little while to get used to and it initially felt disconcerting that clips were automatically moving out of the way to accommodate another clip being moved or trimmed. Certainly it’s a feature that will probably be the standard way to edit video in the future and I can already see how essential it’s going to be to my editing workflow. 


There are multiple tools available from the tool menu in Final Cut Pro X. If you try moving a clip to a completely empty area of the Timeline with the Select Tool you’ll get no joy. However, choosing the Position tool (P) will result in a successfully moved clip. There are far fewer tools available from the menu than in Final Cut Pro 7. However, this is not an indication that Final Cut Pro X is lacking features, rather that Apple have implemented ways to use key commands and/or the mouse to carry out the same functions directly in the Timeline. Therefore specific tools for these tasks would simply be redundant.


To the very right of the Toolbar is the Inspector button. Selecting a clip and clicking on the Inspector button displays the video, audio and other effects related to that clip. When performing some simple edits you’ll notice the match color and other Transform and audio effects are available there. You’re able to click on the blue button next to an effect to bypass it or double click the bar itself to reveal more parameters that you can adjust.


Final Thoughts

Apple has obviously thought long and hard about how to refine the interface so as not to overwhelm the user, while still giving easy access to all essential commands and functions. So don’t be fooled, there is certainly a lot more to Final Cut Pro X than meets the eye. While the Preferences window is minimal compared to the variety of preferences found in Final Cut Pro 7, a glance thorough some of the menus and a look at the color correction and audio features provides a mere hint at the power beneath FCP X’s sleek exterior. This is a platform that Apple is going to build upon and use as the next generation in video editing software. It might require a little time before FCP X fully matures and it's important to remember this is not an evolved version of FCP 7. This is the beginning of Apple's video editing revolution.

Stay tuned for more reviews on different aspects of Final Cut Pro X on The Hub and, of course, the upcoming FCP X video training by Final Cut super trainer, author and world-renowned expert, Michael Wohl on Wednesday June 22nd, 2011.

UPDATE: Read this article for more details on the FCP X training videos!


Rounik Sethi

Rounik Sethi | Articles by this author

Rounik is the Executive Editor for AskAudioMag.com & the quarterly print magazine by the same name. As an Apple Certified Trainer for Logic (and a self-confessed Mac fanatic) he's taught teachers, professional musicians and hobbyists how to get the best out of Apple's creative software. He is a Visiting lecturer at Bath Spa University's Teacher training program, facilitating workshops on using music and digital media tools in the classroom. If you're looking for Rounik, you'll most likely find him (and his articles) on AskAudioMag.com & macProVideo.com.

Comments

Jun 21, 2011
Rounik
One additional note: People have been asking how to get the additional content for FCP X and Motion 5.

Simple: Run Software Update from the Apple Menu. Be prepared for another long time waiting for the download to complete ;-)
Jun 21, 2011
Rounik
Note: People have been asking how to get the additional content for FCP X and Motion 5.

Simple: Run Software Update from the Apple Menu or select the option available from the Motion and Final Cut application menus.

Enjoy!
Jun 22, 2011
JFB
Thanks for the overview of FCP X, nice work!

Here's an article you might be interested in, an official Apple how-to guide to installing it "correctly":

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4722
Jun 22, 2011
Rounik
Thanks JF!

This is great link - and very important for anyone installing FCP X, Motion 5 or Compressor 4 onto a system where Final Cut Studio 3 is already installed!

A Must Read!
Jun 22, 2011
Rounik
Some people have contacted me about "missing Pro features"... I have 3 things to say about that:

1. Please leave comments here so we can all share opinions and feedback.

2. Some features are being added by Apple in the near future, like multicam editing for example.

FCP X is a brand new platform. It might take a little time before some of the more "pro" features are fully implemented.

3. Other "Pro" features may be omitted entirely. I believe, for better or worse, Apple are looking ahead to a video editing future that is quite different to our present experience of who and what video editing is all about...
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