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FCP X Tutorial: New Primary Color Correction Tools, Part 2: Saturation

This exercise follows on from the previous New Primary Colour Correction tools in FCP X (Exposure)

In this exercise we will be looking at the new saturation controls in Final Cut Pro X (which to avoid any debate is pronounced “Ten”). Similar to exposure the saturation levels are part of Final Cuts Color Board workflow. To begin with we will open up the Saturation controls. 

Step 1 - The Interface

Select a clip in the timeline that requires balancing then open the Color Board by selecting Show Color Board from the enhancements menu or type Command-6.

The Color Board opens and reveals the three parameters, Color, Exposure and Saturation. Click on the Saturation tab at the top to choose that. 


The display reveals 4 handles that will control your images saturation level. The Black, Grey and White handles inside the scale represent Shadow, Mid-tone and Highlight levels, respectively.

Sliding the highlight handle up will increase the saturation of the lighter toned colours as indicated by the small RGB icon at the top of the scale. Sliding the shadows handle down will in turn desaturate the darker toned colours, again as indicated by the RGB icon at the base of the scale. 

The larger slider to the left of the scale is a Global controller and adjusts saturation levels across the colour spectrum. Handy when you want to desaturate the entire clip. 

Tip: Making fine adjustments using these handles may prove a little tricky, so instead try using your cursor up and down arrows to take small incremental steps, just remember to select the correct handle to adjust before you start. 

Step 2 - Using Scopes to Assist You

Your eye is a great tool when colour correcting a clip, but it’s easily fooled, so don’t rely on it exclusively. The real trick to controlling saturation levels is to understand and use the correct Scopes. 

First let's activate the scope. From the Viewer Display Options choose Display > Show Video Scopes or type Command-7.

This will switch on the video scopes that more accurately measure your colour adjustments. Once the scopes are open we need to choose the Scope that measures Saturation levels. To do this, from the scope’s Settings menu choose Settings > Vectorscope from the DISPLAY section of the menu.

 The Vectorscope measures saturation by using a circular graph. Note on the graph that there are markers placed around the graph that read R (red), MG (magenta), B (blue), CY (cyan), G (green), and YL (yellow). These markers indicate where on the graph each colour channel should rest. The graph also has a center point and a diameter edge. The center point represents 0% saturation and the Diameter edge represents 100% saturation. 

Try moving the Global saturation handle down until it reads approximately -90%. Notice the vectorscope pulls all the color information down towards the center spot, and your image desaturates considerably. 

Now try going to the extreme and drag all four handles up over 80% and notice what happens in the vectorscope: your saturation values will have exploded across the vectorscope like some kind of Galactic Nebula! Your image will be unusable also, I imagine. 

In reality you’ll be looking for somewhere in-between. The main function of the vectorscope, as well as to keep saturation levels in check is also to assist you in creating balance from one shot to another, to aid the smoothness of  transitions and help maintain shot continuity.


Step 3 - Have a Play

Now try to create some balance between some shots yourself. Use the vectorscope to monitor the changes. If it all goes wrong, don’t worry. Click the curved Reset arrow in the Color Board and try again (careful though, as it resets all four values at once).

Tip: Balancing faces is usually the primary objective for saturation adjustments. Try using the mid-tone handle first if your footage has skin-tones.

Want to learn more about Final Cut Pro X? These FCP X tutorials by Michael Wohl are essential viewing!

David Smith

David Smith | Articles by this author

David Smith is Scotland's most qualified Apple and Adobe certified trainer. Having completed his education at Edinburgh College of Art's BAFTA winning Film School, David moved straight into TV production, first as a Vision Mixer then quickly becoming, at the age of just 24, a director of live TV studio productions. In 2001 he moved into Higher Education where he became a lecturer in TV Production, specializing in post-production and live studio production. During this time, and working with the support of the BBC, Channel 4 and independent production companies, David was instrumental in the design, development and implementation of industry-approved vocational courses across Scotland's Colleges. In 2006, after working closely with Apple Computers to create a unique multimedia studio for education at the Music and Media Centre in Perth, David became Scotland's first Apple-Certified Trainer for Pro Apps. This led on to David forming the first Apple Authorized Training Centre for Education, north of Manchester. In 2008 David made the move to full time training and joined the ranks at Academy Class, Ltd. where he continues to train industry professionals as a certified trainer across the Adobe Creative Suite and Apple Pro Apps range.


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