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First-Person Final Cut Pro X, Day Four: Gaining Perspective

First-Person Final Cut Pro X is the unvarnished story of one pro editor's week-long introduction to the new Final Cut.

I thought the next installment would be on trimming, but I wasn't able to write it, because FCP X failed to save all the work I did yesterday afternoon. You may have heard that there's no "Save" command in X. This is true. It just instantly saves everything you do, just like Google Docs (and just like most applications will do on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, in a few weeks).

Unlike Google Docs, it seems that sometimes it completely fails to do this. Sigh. Apparently there have been other reports of FCP X failing to save, as well, so it's not just me.

I'm actually less upset about this than you might think. I'm not thrilled about it, of course, but I've been down this road before, back in 1999, with a new product called Final Cut Pro that professionals did not want to use because it didn't have a lot of features that professionals needed. Like, for example, multicamera editing.

From my perspective, FCP X is a totally new product that I'm testing out, and many of you have cheerfully watched me messing up as I did that; thank you for pointing out my mistakes. I don't expect X to instantly replace FCP 7. So if it doesn't have some features I regularly use, or it crashes or screws up on a project that wasn't that critical to begin with, that's not the end of the world. In fact, it's kind of expected. And having to redo the edits helps me master the program.

Furthermore, we all need to realize that FCP 7 is at the end of its road. As Apple moves its hardware and OS forward, at some point in the not too distant future that hardware and OS will not support FCP 7 and its legacy code, and so anybody who sticks with it for too long will get hosed. I suppose there is a small chance that Apple will announce that they're abandoning FCP X and will go back and just port FCP 7 to Cocoa exactly as it was, but I'm not seeing it.

[Keep in mind that there are plenty of shops still running legacy versions of Final Cut on Mac OS X 10.5 or 10.4. –Ed.]

But there are some things about the way FCP X is structured that make it unusable for certain projects. For instance, as I've mentioned, the lack of defined tracks is a significant problem. On a long project, I will segregate certain types of audio on certain tracks -- for instance, all the sound effects might be on tracks A5 and A6. The reason for this is that if the producer listens to the mix and says, "all the sound effects are too loud," I can easily find them all and lower them by 2dB.

On FCP X, I guess I would need to do this using the Timeline Index. I'd tag all SFX with the keyword "SFX," and then search for that in the Timeline Index and select all those clips and lower their audio.

I would be very reluctant to undertake, say, a 90-minute documentary in FCP X unless I knew for sure how this was going to work. And so are all my colleagues. When I first posted my FCP X experiences, my editor friends ripped me apart for appearing to defend this program too much! And a program that sometimes silently fails to save your work could be more powerful than any edit system in the world -- I'm still not going to adopt it if I can't trust it.

So I think we are all thinking about our options now. You can tell us that we're just too stuck in our ways to see the power of this awesome new program, but I've been doing this for decades now. In my career, I've already switched platforms three times: from linear editing to Avid and then to Final Cut Pro.

This would not be my first paradigm-shift rodeo. But many editors are thinking that if they have to make a change, FCP X is not their only option. In fact, the alternatives are eagerly courting FCP editors with some pretty aggressive cross-grade pricing.

Option one is to jump ship to Avid Media Composer. You could go to Media Composer today if you wanted; if not having to learn a new interface is a priority for you, its interface is pretty much frozen in carbonite, so if you used it in 1992 (I did!) you can use it today. It has all those features that FCP X doesn't. If you're a single-editor shop and you've got $2500 (or even $995) in your software budget --- just buy MC and be on your way. If you don't know how to use MC, now would be a good time to invest in learning it (there is a 30-day free trial of MC, which is not an option with FCP X). It's a great program.

Option two is Adobe's Premiere. I'm of two minds about Premiere. Don't let me stop you from buying it (or trying it), but if you weren't using it yesterday, why was that? Did it suddenly get better than FCP 7 overnight? I think that Adobe is in kind of a bind with that program. For years the Premiere market mainstay has been hobbyists. As a result, even though I think Adobe really want to make it a professional product, there are places where they are afraid to change it because they think their installed base will rebel -- just like Apple's just did. So Premiere, for me at this point, is a prosumer program with some professional features tacked on, even though Adobe is making a full-court press to convince FCP users to give it a try.

[Premiere does have native support for RED and many other formats that FCP X lacks, and if it's bought as part of the Production Premium bundle you get the advantage of dynamic linking with After Effects straight from the timeline. Premiere also will roundtrip import/export (or at least try to) your FCP 7 projects so you can choose the editor that works best for what you're doing; FCP X will not. –Ed.]

It's worth mentioning again: both Avid MC and Adobe Premiere allow 30-day trials of the application, which is crucial for effective evaluation and figuring out if the app works the way you want to work, rather than you having to change gears to work the way it thinks you ought to. Final Cut Pro X's price point of $299 is a big improvement over the FCP 7 pricing, but it would be even better with a 30-day trial in the mix; better still if FCP 7 remained available through the transition period, instead of dropping off the price list like a hot potato.

Other than standing pat for the next six months to see how FCP X evolves, the remaining option is to give FCP X a chance. Start learning it now, on the understanding that Apple will probably make big changes. Plus, even if you decide in a year that it's not the right solution for you, if you're truly a professional, it's likely that at some point somebody will ask you to use it or teach it or something, so you might as well start at least considering it now.

Professional film & video editor Matthew Levie is based in San Francisco; he produced and edited the documentary Honest Man and writes Blog and Capture. First-Person Final Cut Pro X is the unvarnished story of his week-long introduction to the new Final Cut.

Note that all opinions and assessments of FCP X expressed here are Matt's own, not TUAW's, and represent Matt's hands-on first reactions. –Ed.

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