Apple introduced Final Cut Pro 3.0 at DV Expo last year with a lot of hype, proclaiming the new software, sporting a $999.00 price tag, to be a $50,000 editing solution at 98% off. Both the price tag and the feature set indicate this software would be a step up from iMovie2, which is for home users or hobbyists. Final Cut Pro is making a serious attempt to be in the realm of high-end software for Professional and serious Independent filmmakers. It is a powerful software solution for the entire filmmaking process, from capture to media management, compositing, audio production, and export.
Final Cut Pro performs very well in general use and has a host of features that make projects easier to work with. The interface is well organized, but can get cluttered when trying to compare scenes or takes side-by-side because doing so requires opening multiple viewers and the default windows are carefully laid out. The default layout provides a single Viewer (preview) window, the Brower (media library, effects, etc.), the timeline and the Canvas (work in progress). This layout works well and the browser works pretty well for organizing media.
Media management is one area where Final Cut Pro really stands out from the crowd. The concept of batch capturing might be new to some users, but the newness will be quickly replaced by joy. Final Cut Pro allows you to include a myriad of meta-data (additional information) about your clips when setting In and Out points to capture. You can then start the capture process and walk away; Final Cut Pro will take care of the rest. Each clip may be assigned a name and description, but also reel, scene and take numbers, in addition to the time code information. This makes it very easy to keep track of media in large projects and also allows you to easily locate and recapture footage if needed.
Unlike any other video-editing program I have used in the last 5 years, this program does not crash. Period.
Apple calls Final Cut Pro 3 as a $50,000 piece of software because of the impressive list of new features including ‘Real time’ effects, OfflineRT (a high-compression offline media format), advanced color correction tools, and the voice-over recording tool.
Final Cut Pro allows the user to apply transitions, filters and effects to clips in the timeline and preview them without waiting for them to render. This, of course, comes with a few caveats. First, you need at least a 500Mhz G4 (or 667Mhz Powerbook G4) with 512MB of RAM to do it. Second, the performance and quality of the ‘preview’ is dependant on your machine. A single-processor G4 at 500Mhz can do it, but the new dual Gigahertz G4 sporting 1.5GB of RAM will do it better. Third, only a limited number of the built-in transitions, filters and effects are supported by the real-time effects engine. However, the supported effects are common ones, and they work well. On our test machine, a dual-processor 800Mhz G4, all the supported effects could be played immediately after adding them to the timeline with no visual artifacts or slowdown in playback. While it is hard to estimate how much this might reduce the time spent editing a project, it certainly reduces the time wasted waiting for clips to render when experimenting. It allows the user to experiment with different choices immediately, greatly expanding the creative process. The list of supported effects includes all the most common transitions (cross dissolve, and all the iris and wipe transitions) and motion effects (crop, opacity, aspect and scale effects) as well as the color correction capabilities. If you’ve ever had to wait for a cross-dissolve to render (and realized how ridiculous it is to do so) you will love Final Cut Pro’s new Real-Time Effects.
The enormous amount of disk space needed has long been the bane of non-linear video editing. Video eats up disk space like the Cookie Monster does Thin Mints. Footage captured in the OfflineRT format is compressed using the QuickTime Photo-JPEG codec, which results in much smaller file sizes for captured video. Apple claims that 40 minutes of footage captured in OfflineRT format occupies about a Gig of disk space, where a Gig of disk space would only give you about 2-3 minutes worth of uncompressed DV footage. However, because OfflineRT is a compressed format, it is not suitable for use in the final render. So, why bother, right? Well, you can capture your footage in OfflineRT format, perform your edits, reattach your media(DV camera deck), and “automagically” re-capture your media at full resolution and output your final render. This is a boon to independent filmmakers or small studios that can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on storage solutions. Two large ATA hard drives, which are relatively cheap, would provide enough room to work on a few short-form projects at a time. You could also, as Apple points out, make a Powerbook G4 your primary workstation and edit your magnum opus at Starbucks in OfflineRT format.
Final Cut Pro now offers a whole suite of color tools. You can compare and adjust all things chroma and luma across clips, compare the histogram and RGB parade of clips to check for consistency within scenes, and check the chroma and luma levels of clip with the range-checking tools. The color correction features of Final Cut Pro are very powerful, and provide functionality previously unavailable in “reasonably priced” video software. The color correction tools are also clearly targeted at video professionals with experience in color correction. Most DV hobbyists, serious consumers, and independent filmmakers have not had access to tools like these before, so it will take a lot of learning to take advantage of them.
Final Cut Pro also added the ability to record audio directly to the timeline while playing back video. There is no learning curve to use this feature. Simply select voice over from the menu and a voice over window pops up. Select a point in your timeline and push record. Final Cut Pro then steps back in the timeline and starts playing with a lead in, when it reaches your in-point, the record light goes on and the voice over begins recording on an adjustable independent track. The feature is very powerful and very easy. This may seem like a minor feature, but Apple is promoting it pretty heavily. It can be very handy, and will be a great benefit to many filmmakers.
The Bottom Line
Final Cut Pro is a great application that provides an unprecedented list of features for the price tag. It is not for everyone, as both the feature list and price tag indicate, and deciding whether or not to upgrade or transition to Final Cut Pro is a complicated decision.
Do I need something more than iMovie?
If you don’t already know the answer to this question, then the answer is probably “No.” If your digital video experience consists only of iMovie, the jump to Final Cut Pro will be big one, as the price difference ($0 versus $1000) would imply. If you have outgrown iMovie, Final Cut Pro will more than fit your needs both in terms of features and power, but be ready to spend a lot of time in non-linear editing ‘boot camp.’ Because it is targeted at consumers, iMovie shelters its users from a lot of technical and conceptual knowledge that is mandatory for working well and efficiently in Final Cut Pro, or any more advanced editing software, so you’ll have some catching up to do.
Should I upgrade from Premiere, Final Cut 2, etc?
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it. Should one move from Premiere, or any other software to Final Cut Pro? Well, the answer is, of course, “It depends.” Final Cut Pro has a lot to offer professionals (and want to-be professionals), which is evidenced by its rapidly expanding user base and rapid adoption in the production industry. However, shops with a large resource commitment to other editing systems, workflows or platforms need to think hard about the decision. For experienced shops, 90% of your existing knowledge will be transferable to Final Cut Pro. I think the area of concern is hardware. If your hardware can meet the demands, Final Cut Pro’s new Real-Time Effects offer a compelling reason to upgrade.--J.O.