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First Look: Final Cut Pro X 10.3

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Get Started Now! course!

I’m writing this from Cupertino, where I’ll be attending the FCP X Creative Summit tomorrow, and where FCP X 10.3 was just demonstrated for the first time, also showing off the new MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar. While the new hardware looks terrific, it’s the new software that really looks amazing. The new UI, new timeline features and much more make this very likely to be the most significant update in FCP X’s history. Let’s dig in!

Crisp, clean, and no color in the icons

Crisp, clean, and no color in the icons 

New, Flatter UI

The first thing that hits you is how flat everything has just become. Drop shadows have been nearly eliminated, icons are crisp monochrome, text labels everywhere have been updated to the new San Francisco system font, and if you’ve seen the latest iMovie recently, there’s a clear lineage on show. The FCP X version includes a great deal more complexity, however. As an existing user, your first reaction may well be: So where is everything? 

OK, here we go:

  • Looking at the horizontal toolbar in the center of the interface, it now starts with “Index” (a text-only button which opens the Timeline Index).
  • Moving to the right, the Connect/Insert/Append buttons have been joined by Overwrite, a function that’s always been there but never had a button before. Tools are in their menu as before.
  • In the center of the toolbar, there’s a new readout, showing the name of the current Project, selected duration and total duration. Either side of this are the Timeline History arrows that step backwards or forwards between recently opened projects—these used to be at the top left of the timeline.
  • The Enhancements (magic wand) and Retime menu have moved up and now sit next to the Transform/Crop/Distort menu just below the viewer. The timecode readout has now also moved here, as have the clickable mini audio meter buttons.
  • Moving further to the right, the Skimming/Audio Skimming/Solo/Snapping buttons that used to sit just below the toolbar have moved up, and are joined by a button to change the timeline’s appearance, that used to sit to the lower right of the timeline.
Photos/Audio/Titles/Generators are now in the top left corner alongside Libraries

Photos/Audio/Titles/Generators are now in the top left corner alongside Libraries

  • The Photo, Audio, Titles and Generators browsers have moved to the top left corner alongside your Libraries. This makes logical sense, as they’re all things you can add to a project, but it’s one of the biggest moves. The dedicated Themes view has been removed, though Themes still exist within the different browser categories.
Still to be found in the bottom right

Still to be found in the bottom right

  • Effects and Transitions are both still in the far right of the toolbar, though the icons have changed. That also makes sense, as these items change clips in the timeline rather than adding new elements.
  • In Libraries, the Favorite/Unrate/Reject buttons have been removed entirely, though the shortcuts (F/U/delete) remain the same. The Filmstrip and List buttons have consolidated into a single toggle that now sits at the top of the Libraries pane, between the Clip Filtering menu and Search button.
  • The Inspector can still be raised with Command-4, though it’s taken on a new appearance. Instead of text panes (Video/Audio/etc.) centered at the top, there are now icons to the top left. More useful again is that you can now double-click the Inspector to expand it to fill the full available vertical space, pushing the timeline and Effect/Transition browsers to the left.
The new Background Tasks window, much like the old one

The new Background Tasks window, much like the old one

  • What else? The Import, Keyword and Background Tasks buttons are now at the very top left, next to the traffic light window controls (except in full screen mode, where they’re at the very top left). Share is at the very top right, and just to the left of Share, there are three new buttons which need a section all of their own.

Workspaces

Workspaces in  FCPX 10.3

Two of the new buttons in the top right corner hide the Libraries pane and the Inspector—both of which were possible before. However, you can now also hide the Timeline with the middle button of these three, giving you an optimized view for logging and keywording.

More powerful still is that under Window > Workspaces you can now switch between these combinations of open panes quickly (Default, Organize, Color & Effects, Dual Displays) but these workspaces remember the specific combinations of Scopes and Browser panes you’ve kept open. It’s faster than ever to switch between different window layouts, and that’s a definite improvement.

All that aside, probably the biggest change is to the timeline, which even has a new name...

Magnetic Timeline 2

The new Timeline 2 bring a whole lot of control to audio editing

The new Timeline 2 bring a whole lot of control to audio editing 

The timeline remains magnetic, and no, they didn’t bring back tracks. However, for audio editing, they came close, with an enhanced mode for Roles to play, and Audio Lanes that give a whole lot more control when working with audio.

Many colors to choose from — audio editing just got easier

Many colors to choose from — audio editing just got easier

Bring up the Timeline Index, then flick across to Roles, and you’ll see a new button at the bottom, “Show Audio Lanes”. Activating this separates the audio visually, based on each clip’s Role, and Subroles within each role are separate too. Audio roles can be re-ordered simply by dragging, and custom colors can be assigned for any audio or video role. A “Focus” button on each audio role acts like a visual “Solo” button, shrinking all other roles to a tiny bar. And yes, there’s a…

Roles-based Audio Mixer

Roles within Compound clips can be edited independently

Roles within Compound clips can be edited independently

You can now adjust levels or add effects to any individual role within a compound clip. At the end of your project, if you want to lower volume of all the music and apply a compression effect to all the dialogue, that’s very simple indeed.

And Many More Smaller Features Too

As well as the big changes, many smaller pain points have been eliminated. Just a few:

  • Motion templates, including titles, effects, generators and transitions, can be consolidated into a Library, to greatly reduce the chances of these elements being lost when moving between different Macs.
  • A new “Flow” transition uses Optical Flow to move from one clip to another as invisibly as possible.
  • The Trim Start and Trim End commands can now trim all selected clips at once.
  • The long-requested Remove Attributes has finally been added, along with the less selective Remove Effects.
  • Command-Up and Command-Down will select clips above or below the skimmer (or playhead), making keyboard-based editing more powerful than ever.
  • You can add an audio fade to an entire clip, or just the start or end, with a single key command. Search “Fade” in the Command Editor to find the new commands and add some shortcuts.
  • Libraries and Projects can now be set to process color in Wide Color, AKA the Rec. 2020 color gamut that newer Macs, iPads and iPhone support. While it may not make a huge difference to many workflows immediately, this will become more and more important in the future.

The Standard Warning

As usual, you should not update if you’re in the middle of a project, and this is even more true this time around—Apple have released a support document warning of possible audible changes in upgraded projects. Always keep a copy of the older versions of FCP X/Motion/Compressor before you upgrade, and keep a copy of important recent libraries too, just in case.

It’s a whole new world with a new flat interface

It’s a whole new world with a new flat interface

Conclusion

It’s been a while coming, but this release will make a lot of people very happy. Existing users will need to retrain their brains with the new locations of all the buttons, but new users will have an easier time than ever. If you’d previously dismissed FCP X, it’s definitely time to take another look. Audio has never been more powerful and the timeline has never been so nimble. It’s a great update, it’s a free update, and you’re going to love it.

Look out for new articles and training courses soon exploring all the new features of FCP X 10.3 and also looking at the newest releases of Compressor and Motion.

Learn Final Cut Pro X 10.3 at macProVideo

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Get Started Now! course!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

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