Final Cut Pro X

I recently started editing a lot more mp4/h264 footage than I've ever had to deal with before. (As an aside, if you're getting married and looking for an interesting and innovative way to video your wedding, may I recommend Wedit.) And Final Cut Pro 7, my mainstay editing tool for years, really doesn't deal well with lots of mp4 footage. It'll let you import it, but you're going to be hitting 'Render' a lot and there are weird glitches, slow-downs, and errors.

The right way to deal with that kind of footage in FCP7 is to first transcode all of your footage to something like the Apple ProRes codec. But that process takes hours and bloats the size of the files up by a factor of 5-7x (ProRes LT or ProRes, respectively) which may just be the price of editing HD footage, but my setup isn't ideal yet for dealing with that volume of file sizes. So, what do I do?

Well, I had a vague memory that one of the touted benefits of both the "new" iMovie and of Final Cut Pro X was that they dealt with mp4 footage better. I first took a look at iMovie '11. When iMovie had it's big re-write back in 2008, I never switched over and I've always keep a copy of iMovie HD 6 around as a useful footage capture tool*. iMovie '11 did import the footage just fine, but I just didn't feel like it was going to be powerful enough of an editing tool for the kind of fine edits I was going to need to do. In any case, if I was going to go through a learning curve, I might as well spend that time on a tool that really is one of my core skills. So, I took the plunge and fired up Final Cut Pro X.

There's been a lot of outcry from professional editors about missing features in FCPX, and about how different the interface is. There was even a Conan O'Brien sketch about it. Now, those are really are two separate issues. Most of the missing features are things that really only affect editors working at post-production houses and so—places where they're only part of a big workflow**. But the differences in the interface affect anyone who has every used FCP before. It's different.

My analogy of how different the interface is, for people who aren't familiar with FCP, has been to imagine if Microsoft came out with a new version of Word and you face that blank screen and type a sentence. So far, so good and you hit 'return' to make a new paragraph… and the cursor jumped back to the beginning of the sentence. You think, there has to be a way to make a new paragraph, but no matter what menu options you pick, you just can't get a new paragraph started. That's what my first hour or so with FCPX was like. I nearly gave up and moved back to FCP7 with all of its limitations in this workflow. But I did a little Google searching and I happened to stumble across Dan on a Bouncy Castle's Youtube tutorials on FCPX. Dan is a 17-year-old filmmaker in England and his tutorials aren't comprehensive (and he's occasionally wrong, like some of his glossing over the various audio correction options) but he really helped me click into how exactly FCPX was supposed to work.

And, it's great. I can really see how this will be, once I get the muscle memory for the new way of editing down, a really fast and efficient way to edit video. There are defintely features still missing and some rough edges, but I can also see the vast improvements. Audio controls for a clip, for example, are presented in a much more accessible manner. And at $300 (+ $50 for Compressor and + $50 for Motion) it's still not a cheap program, but it's much more accessible for the prosumer than the $1500 or whatever that Final Cut Studio was.

* iMovie talks to some of my older cameras and Analog-Digital convertors that newer versions don't, and its ignoring of time codes lets it capture damaged footage that Final Cut chokes on.
** I really am feeling the lack of the MultiClip feature this week, though. Apple has promised that it'll be added back soonish.