UK TV assistant editor tries Final Cut Pro X

Friday, 14 April 2017

Chris Chapman is an edit assistant who works on UK prime time soap opera Emmerdale. He has written a detailed blog post on his impressions based on two weeks trying out Final Cut Pro X.

I chose to download the FCPX 30 day trial to edit a project with, and see how I liked it, this blog post is essentially a breakdown of how I worked, what I liked and disliked about FCPX, and if I think I'll move over.  I think my situation is probably similar to many others, who edit occasionally at home and are looking for the most cost effective solution to work with; especially as students have just had their Adobe CC subscriptions almost doubled recently. 

He had positive things to say…

…the option for creating Optimised and Proxy Media is excellent.  This very simple, but very useful, feature is truly brilliant.  It essentially creates ProRes media in the background to put all media on the same level playing field: 'Optimised Media' up's lower quality footage (such as H.264) to ProRes 422 to give a better editing experience, 'Proxy Media' creates ProRes Proxy media to improve playback for higher quality footage you struggle to run at full resolution (such as R3D, RAW or 4K).  I found the background rendering to be very fast when I tested it, but I was running mostly 720p or 1080p media that was natively H264 files from an iPhone, and typically an average of 1-2 minutes a clip.  

The biggest advantage of this elegant feature is the removal of the conform process, gone are the days of keeping track of all media throughout an edit,  and relinking your original media when you have locked your final offline sequence, and in worst case scenarios having to manually re-lay all media on a sequence with the high res native media.  With two mouse clicks you can playback a full resolution edit, and be reconnected to your native media instantly 

 

There were many other functions in FCPX that were very useful when cutting a vlog, a big one was the speed changes I often do to footage Siobhan and Emma shot as timelapses.  This was especially easy in FCPX as there are easy to reach functions for this, one option being below the viewer, it is a 'Retime Editor' who's icon looks like a 'speedometer'.  The quickest way to 'fit a clip' into a certain space or time gap, is to highlight a clip on the timeline and press 'cmd+R', this brings up the 'Retime Menu' which gives you a percentage above the clip.  You can now either use the dropdown to select a certain speed (50%, 25%, 2x, 4x) or a custom percentage.  Or even faster, drag the right edges of the Retime Menu, as if you were trimming the clip and this will speed the clip up, or slow it down to fit the space used by it.

 

Outside of what I was cutting, I'd imagine FCPX would handle mixed media well, mostly because of it's function to create optimised and proxy media upon import, but also because of it's impressive ability to cache and render on the fly as you work; this does come at a price.  When normally cutting these vlogs, in Premiere CS6, I would be running with about 50% of my 24GB of RAM in use, with FCPX it was closer to 90% and sometimes more.  This is likely down to the program's use of my full machine, and also the constant background rendering, waveform creation, poster frame creation and a more complex program in general.  The rest of the machine however didn't suffer if I jumped to another program briefly such as: Finder to copy a file, Safari (often to google a simple function), or even Premiere (to check how I styled things in past videos).  

 

…and things he did not like:

[3-point editing] appears to be very difficult also due to the requirement of 'gap', which as far as I'm aware is a main staple in most people's editing arsenal.  FCPX allows you to put down in's and out's on the timeline but they have to be placed over existing media, or gap.  This makes accurate 3-point edits feel difficult for anything other than replacing clips which can be done easier by dragging a new clip over an old one.  More and more I feel FCPX wants you to be throwing clips in roughly at first and finessing on the timeline, rather than being accurate from the start.  A way around this would be to lay 'gap' at the end of your timeline at all times to allow some breathing space, this is however more of a work-around then a true problem solver; but I don't see this style of timeline changing anytime soon.

 

Also another quirk is the lack of sync markers to warn you, if a shot slips out of sync with it's original audio; this is a worry for me and could potentially be a huge issue with an accidental slip of an edit - I feel the lack of sync markers is Apple's arrogance that as long as you edit how they suggest you do, it'll never go wrong, so why worry you with it.  

 

I do still feel that FCPX isn't designed or appropriate, for the mass pro market though.  And I don't see it ever replacing the staples that are Avid and Premiere; it doesn't handle multiple users and mass data banks with hard ware like Avid does, and it's lack of integration with After Effects amongst other programs, will be a drawback for many; such as small creative studios.

Those with years of experience of using Final Cut may find much they disagree with here. They might think that Chris doesn't know how to to things ‘properly,’ so is therefore unqualified to make these judgements. In reality, he represents the kind of person we want to be trying Final Cut. Apple would do well to pay attention to what people like Chris think. Smoothing all sorts of ‘onboarding’ stories is what Apple and other concerned parties need to do. It is important to realise that this report is based on what he has gathered while trying Final Cut for two weeks. I hope the Final Cut community is standing by to assist as and when needed. We will see if he changes his mind about the things he doesn’t like at the moment. 

The bottom line is that although he isn't sold on some of it’s features, he will stick with it for projects away from his work in commercial TV.

When talking to those with a great deal of experience in another NLE, I suggest that they try Final Cut by doing a project that is very different from what they usually do. Feature editors should try to make a music video. Documentary videos should try to cut a short film. Fast turnaround editors should try to cut a short documentary. That means they will be able to use Final Cut’s ways of doing things without constantly comparing them to they way they use Media Composer of Premiere every day. 

In the past I've been quite against FCPX and not interested in 're-training' so to speak, but as I'm being pushed to my limit with CS6 I have to make a decision at some point, as to which NLE to move onto for projects I work on alone.  In all honesty, I can see me using FCPX for these projects.

I'm looking forward to seeing what he says in six months. Perhaps in the meantime, another person who is experienced in Media Composer and Premiere could report how their point of view has changed over the months of using Final Cut Pro X!

UPDATE: A very useful detailed comment has been added below the post by Mathieu Ghekiere to help out Chris Chapman with his personal take and pointers to find out more:

Some notes from someone who went from a place of hate to a place of love and experience (woaw, that sounds a bit new age, didn't mean it like that!), you should also keep in mind that it will take a while for new muscle memory to get created in how the timeline reacts, how you organise stuff, etc. ... In my experience this started after about 3 months of editing.

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Hope some comments could help you along the way. Happy editing!