NOTE: If you want an EXCELLENT crash course in Final Cut Pro X, check out this great demo from Evan Schechtman that is sure to calm some fears. View Post
Disclaimer: I’m by no means a computer expert, an editing software expert, etc. so please take what I have to say with discernment. If anybody points out errors, I’ll be glad to correct them. The rest of the article comes from my personal experiences, so my opinion soaks this article. You’ve been warned!
A Bit Of History
I’ve used both Premiere and Final Cut Pro for a number of years. Premiere I’ve been using since version 5.0 which was out in the late 90s. I used it for years since I was on a Windows PC, the same goes for the other Adobe products. It was always a solid program to work in, After Effects too where I spent a lot of time. We had an old Apple II back in the day, but beyond that my Mac expertise was limited until I got into middle school and then I used it a lot more by the time high school came around. That’s where Final Cut Pro entered my life. At first, I wasn’t a fan. It had less to do with the editor and a lot more to do with the lack of resources I had in my video class to export, transcode, etc. I was used to having all my special programs back home for a ton of different things, and now I was stuck with this thing I barely knew how to use that seems very limited. In time though, I got used to it.
It wasn’t until Summer 2007 that I bought my first Mac for home. I dumped my PC that year and got a MacPro, my first Mac. It cost quite a bit, but I decided to take the plunge, mostly because I was sick of taking the time constantly to keep my PC running well. Defragmenting, virus scans, constant spyware/malware scans, etc. It was just tiresome, and I wanted a change. However, I did feel like I was giving Windows the bird, because it had a lot to do with why I do what I do today, and why I got into computers initially (mostly because it failed to work well most of the time, forcing me to learn how to fix things and understand software). Still, my bank account cried a river, and in came my MacPro in the mail. It was by far the fastest machine I had ever used personally, and I still have it. It runs well to this day, although it could use a fresh install of OSX. I still find it amazing how long Macs can last, even with their high prices. I do think you get what you pay for, although PC’s can last a long time too. I did all of Standing Firm (2010) on that machine using Final Cut Pro 7 utilizing the HDV footage I shot the film on. In 2008 I got a MacBook Pro adding it to my Mac collection. The 17 inch beast was a monster, and not particularly portable, but I tend to go for the power not the size. That recently died after I gave it to Denise and she had it about a year. I had given it to her because I decided to switch from desktop to laptop officially and get myself a 2011 MacBook Pro. High price, 17 inches again, but an absolutely powerhouse less then 1 inch thick. Based on tests it’s (not kidding) twice as fast as that old MacPro which is unbelievable. That has been what I’ve done all my work on up to today. Video editing, graphics work, web design, personal browsing, and on the list goes. Overall it’s been perfectly capable, and even when rendering it’s incredibly fast, although sometimes it feels like it could levitate off my desk. Keep in mind I work primarily in 1080p not something like 4K from a RED. Still, it’s amazing to have this thing as my main machine, capable of doing whatever I personally need, and portable like it is. That brings us to the present where on that computer I currently have Adobe CS5.5 Master Collection, Final Cut Studio 3, and Final Cut Pro…X (don’t throw stones I’m a sensitive man).
The Dilemma Of Performance
When I edited Standing Firm on Final Cut Pro 7 and that older MacPro, I rarely had performance issues. Crashes were semi-typical, which had a lot more to do with the size of the project I think then anything else. It took quite a while to save the project whenever I needed to. The reason I’m going into this is to mention playback performance. HDV is an old codec, and the camera I used to shoot my film was the XH-A1 that released in 2006, so already older tech as far as cameras go. That means that the bit-rate of the footage is very low, 25mbits/s and the resolution less then 1080p. It’s 1440×1080 with a 1.3 (approx.) Pixel Aspect Ratio giving you the 1920×1080 on playback. Overall, not very complex footage to handle for that old MacPro, and not a challenge for FCP either. Not unless I did some heavy FX did I have to render the footage to play it back and when I was playing it back I was using “high” quality most of the time without dropping frames. When I use HDV footage in Premiere CS5.5, and add a simple Fast Color Corrector (a basic CC of exposure or saturation), I have a hard time playing it back for more then a few seconds without dropping frames. This has always been confusing to me since it’s very primitive footage to deal with. A friend of mine suggested that it could be the actual color-correction filter I’m using, since it’s (according to him) and older filter bought by Adobe and incorporated, not something built from the ground up to take advantage of the new CS5 framework. EDIT: I installed the trial for Red Giant’s Colorista II, and I can confirm indeed that my old HDV footage plays back without dropping frames IF I’m using Colorista and not the built in Three-Way Color Corrector. That’s a relief!
One of the greatest benefits of using Premiere CS5.5 over FCP 7 is the 32-bit vs. 64-bit performance. Still, in 1080p the difference isn’t that big, but if I was working with 4K footage, Premiere is the only option I would currently take. Many use other editors to “edit” RED footage, but it’s all with proxies for the most part, save a few exceptions. There are other editing systems out there used by folks (AVID for instance) but I’m sticking to FCP & Premiere since they’re the only two I’ve ever known, and what most of my friends are using. Premiere’s excellent ability to edit .R3D files natively is amazing, and its integration of the RAW workflow, especially if you pair it with a CUDA card. One of the other strengths of Premiere is the seamless integration with After Effects, but that’s not something I use often. Adobe still seems to have some gamma issues depending on the format you’re using, but that’s more a Quicktime problem then anything else. Final Cut Pro X seems to be the best at keeping things consistent due to its use of Colorsync all the way through the process. Again, keep in mind I’m coming at this from a 1080p perspective, so everything I say has an obvious slant to it. If I had a CUDA enabled card (which is impossible to add since I’m on a Mac laptop and Mac currently uses ATI cards exclusively by default, although if you have a MacPro there are CUDA compatible cards you can get thirdparty) I could easily pick Premiere the winner in performance compared to FCP not just for playback reasons, but future performance needs if I ever moved beyond 1080p. The other benefit is when I hit the “render” button, and Premiere would be utilizing the CUDA GPU to compile my output. Now let me talk a bit about Final Cut Pro X and its performance. Because of the newly released update of FCPX called 10.0.3, I’ve given it a second look. This is closer to what people wanted in the first place, although still missing a few things, and still utilizing the “updated” way of editing that Apple has implemented in the interface. One big benefit of using it is it’s built from the ground up to utilize all of my Macs power, including the GPU. FCPX in terms of the power it can suck from my computer as a whole is similar to Premiere. Both 64-bit, and both use the CPU to their fullest potential, however without a MacPro and a CUDA card, Premiere can’t use my GPU for acceleration while FCPX can. Unless you’re a MacPro owner and you swap out the ATI Card you’ve likely already paid for with a CUDA compatible Nvidia card, FCPX is the only editor currently available that will utilize your Macs full potential. That means any of you who work off of laptops or iMacs primarily should probably give FCPX a closer look. I was honestly shocked the first time I used FCPX despite all the things I HATED, it was incredibly fast. The scrubbing of video, playback, ability to add complex FX and playback without any issues whatsoever, the ability to browse through FX and see a realtime example of what it’ll look like one after another without my computer freaking out (keep in mind I’m on a laptop) is pretty impressive. The rendering performance is equally so, with me seeing a faster output then I’m used to seeing, which I’m sure had to do with the GPU’s help. Overall, FCPX is a winner in terms of general speed, playback, and render performance. It’s media management is definitely something to get used to since it’s brand new, and it’s been my biggest hurdle, but the more I’ve learned about how to proper use keywords and meta data within the program, the more I see the genius behind it. I think this might be one of the most significant changes that Apple has brought along, and something you might see being copied in other editors you currently like. It’s incredibly powerful!
Read what 7 other editors think of FCPX on Philip Bloom’s site here: http://philipbloom.net/2012/02/07/fcpxeditors/
EDIT: I’ve played with FCPX more and most of the things I thought it couldn’t do anymore, it still does. For instance, I was reading on a forum about a guy who said he hates the magnetic timeline because he’s used to editing to music for his projects, and likes to edit out of order. You know, building your edit in pieces no matter where you want to start or continue on the timeline. To the casual observer, particularly the feature videos on Apple.com, it makes it look like that isn’t possible. By simply hitting “P” and turning on the position tool, you can place clips on the physical timeline anywhere you want. The “Placeholder” function of FCPX is also awesome and I see myself using it often. The audio filters and functionality ported over from Logic is great as well. The “Auditions” function is something I don’t think I’ll use much the way I edit, but I can see it being a huge strength for many pros out there.
I’ll be straightforward, most of the features people go crazy about in a lot of programs has absolutely no hold on me. I have terrible editing etiquette and always have. I barely ever use keyboard shortcuts, which speeds things up a lot. I’m primarily using my mouse, arrow keys, and the spacebar. I bet I do most of my editing that way, even my fine tuning. Most editors out there have the same basic functions, but they each provide their own unique special sub-features that you normally can’t get without using one of the other. Premiere has CUDA accelleration and integration with the rest of the Adobe suite (something not to overlook). Final Cut Studio 3 is older and stable, but as technology grows those who are die hard fans will be forced to adapt. Final Cut Pro X uses its own form of GPU acceleration on the Mac and doesn’t require an Nvidia GPU and includes roundtrip functions for Motion. Premiere currently edits R3D natively and has a great RAW workflow so if you’re using RED, it’s a great option. When it comes to basic editing functions, I don’t have a lot to say or die hard keyboard shortcut preferences. I rarely use trim controls. In fact, in FCP I’ve NEVER used the slip and roll tools to make edits, ever. I rely on the viewer window for in/out points, then my playhead and snapping in FCP when I trim the edges of things. That and the simple blade tool, which I almost always used by snapping to the specific place I hit the spacebar and left my playhead. Reading that probably makes the typical editor scream in agony, but that’s how I like to work, and after you do anything for a while (even something that looks inefficient) you can eventually get very fast. I say all this because for the most part, internal performance, good basic tools, good export options, and other things of that sort are what I rely on the most for making software choices. Very rarely do the things people rant about affect my work. Performance is key to me. I’m one of those folks who knows pretty much frame to frame where I’m going to cut things before I cut them, so most of the time (for initial edits) I get what I want the first time around, which is why constant use of the roll/trim tools hasn’t been necessary otherwise I would definitely be using them. It feels more like cutting film (old film, you know that shiny stuff you used to cut by hand?) where you’d run through the film, stop it where you knew you’d need to cut, physically cut the film, put things together, check, etc. We’re really spoiled now being able to make unlimited cutting decisions about one single cut without having all the trouble that would cause you in the old days. EDIT: The more I’ve played with FCPX, the more I like it’s way of trimming and rolling. Because of the magnetic timeline, performing those actions are more attractive to me, since I know it won’t mess up things before/after the clips I’m working with.
Choosing An Operating System
There’s a lot of debate out there about whether to drop Apple and move to PC, stay Mac and go to Premiere, etc. There’s a lot of options out there now, and I’ve done the research, so I know you can build an incredible PC for $2200 or so with a top-end CPU and one of the fastest GPU’s on the market, SSD, the whole thing while you’d pay much more for a comparable MacPro. It’s long been known that Mac’s cost far more then PC’s, but I won’t get into that whole argument beginning to end, it’s a long one. I’ve played with Windows 7 lately and it seems fine, but I’m not convinced I want to move to a PC and Windows again. If I was using my editing machine for that purpose alone, then probably, but OSX has become apart of how I work, and switching again would be painful. A hackintosh is always a possibility, but you need to be very careful when doing that to use compatible parts, and I don’t think it’s worth the trouble. One of the sole reasons I was looking at going PC was Premiere + CUDA processing. Being able to use your GPU in playback, rendering, etc. is attractive. However, since I’ve recently realized that my current 2011 MacBook Pro (2.2Ghz, 8GB RAM, etc.) can playback footage fine if I don’t use the internal color-correction tools (I talked about that farther up), then my original reason to want to switch is gone. That doesn’t mean the obvious benefits aren’t still there, but nobody knows the future of Apple’s pro line. It seems that Apple is waiting for the new Intel chips to release, Sandy Bridge…before they update. That makes sense to me, and I think it’s worth the wait. I’ve also heard rumors here/there that they could switch back to Nvidia, which would solve the CUDA problems for the most part. OpenCL support in Premiere isn’t likely for a long time, so I’m not banking on that. If I decide to keep using Final Cut Pro more exclusively, then all of this becomes a moot point. FCPX takes full advantage of my Macs resources, including the GPU. It’s incredibly fast, and this 2011 MacBook Pro is twice as fast as my 2007 MacPro, so my need to upgrade if I stick to 1080p is minimal. The only real limitation right now without spending a little money, is the inputs/outputs on my MacBook Pro. If some more Thunderbolt peripherals come out, that’ll make things easier, and if Apple releases their new MacPro with a few Thunderbolt ports (which they will), then that’ll be excellent! As I’ve thought about all these things, weighed out prices, pros/cons, etc., I sorta realized that for those working in 1080p and planning to for quite some time, all these big decisions don’t have to be that complicated, since almost anything now can handle 1080p competently and be fast enough for the typical editor. Choose what works best for you and stick to it!
Some Remaining Thoughts about Final Cut Pro X
I liked what I read in that Philip Bloom article. I was one of those people who took one look at FCPX and wanted to vomit. It looked like an absolute atrocity. Often I’m right about this kind of thing, and FCPX’s initial release build was pretty crappy given all it was missing and the stability issues. BUT, this isn’t a common thing for Apple in my opinion, so perhaps I should’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and actually spent some time using the program. It’s no surprise that the first one to try to truly change how editors work was going to get bloodied. I’m sure they saw that coming, and if not then that’s their shortsightedness. Now that I’ve used Final Cut Pro X enough and took the time to read articles, look up a few tutorials, double-check whether or not certain things I wanted the program to do were available or not, etc. I’ve found it to be a very competent and powerful program up to the task of editing. It’s certainly as I said before the fastest editor I’ve ever used on my Mac, which is a welcomed change compared to FCP7′s 32-bit bottleneck. Yes, it’s still missing some things, and yes, of course I have my quibbles with some of its functions, but there are some things that if I open up Premiere, I’ll definitely miss. Calling FCPX “iMovie Pro” is a little harsh I think. The UI looks like iMovie, but FCPX is miles ahead of what iMovie is capable of. Don’t let the weirdness of it at first glance and the foreign/changed way of working scare you. I think there’s a lot to be enjoyed and loved in FCPX. If Apple can keep updating it and listening to users, and make sure it holds up for use in larger projects then there isn’t much that should keep people away besides fear. We always fear what we don’t understand. I think that unless you have a newer MacPro, or a MacPro with a CUDA card, FCPX is likely the only other editor you can get for your Mac that will utilize the entire machine the way Premiere does on a PC. FCPX is like OSX, it’s a ground floor rewrite. It’s version 10.0.3 currently but you should really be seeing it as 1.0.3. Those wanting FCP8 with the 64-bit advantages and all that comes with FCPX obviously haven’t given much thought to what FCP7 was, which was a bloated program full of old code. A total revamp was the only way forward, and while you could argue they should’ve kept things the same, is any of what has happened with FCPX out of character for Apple? Perhaps they brought it out a tad early, but nobody said that all FCP users had to switch and dump FCP7. Look at it how you would any revamp of a program. Give it time, let it get into the wild, get a few updates, try it out, slowly transition if you feel it’s worth it, etc. Anyone thinking FCPX’s release and it’s setbacks means they have to bet the farm on Premiere wasn’t thinking straight. Odds are those people were going to switch anyways so that’s fine. Those who hate FCPX with a passion need to have a bit more perspective. There is much to be loved in FCPX that I miss when I open Premiere or another application. I miss the speed on my MacBook Pro first and foremost. Keep a level head, tread cautiously, do your research, and in time if you’ve put the program through its paces and actually given it a chance, make your choice.
Don’t worry about what’s “pro” or what’s being used by other people. Use what editor and OS that works best for you given your needs and wants. If you don’t mind paying for a Mac and think it’s worth the value, then by all means buy one. If you don’t, leave people alone who do. No need to bicker back and forth about what’s better and what’s not. Go edit something instead, because if the people who fight on the internet about this stuff spent more time shooting or editing and less time bickering, there’d be a lot more great content out there for us to share! There’s people I know who swear by Sony Vegas, and they use it for their “pro” stuff no matter who snubs their nose at the program. ”Lightworks” was used to edit The King’s Speech, and that’s not a program you’ll see in many Hollywood Post-Houses. So, it’s it worthless? It was used to edit last years Best Pictures winner so…obviously not. We get caught up in the politics and groupie mentality and it’s just a waste of breath. We do it with camera’s and gear as well, but that’s another post for another time! If you remember from the beginning of the article, I said I hated FCP (ver6 at the time) when I first used it. It felt like it was made by aliens (and I wasn’t a Mac guy at that point so that didn’t help), but eventually I got used to it once I gave it time, and then it became THE editor I would turn to. It’s funny how quickly we forget that almost everything requires practice, and FCPX is no different or any other program that comes out that we bash against. I’m not saying FCPX is the holy grail of editors, or that it’s perfect, because that’s certainly not true. However, with practice, patience, and some humility, maybe it’ll become my new favorite? Only time will tell. Happy editing…
EDIT: Here’s a growing wish-list of new features to be added to FCPX in the 10.0.4 update.