Final Cut Pro X is not ready. But it’s the future.

This week, Apple released their long-awaited major upgrade to Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X.

For those who don’t live in the professional video world, Final Cut Pro was Apple’s surprise entrance into the world of pro video editing software back in the late 90s, and combined with the new, cheap DV camcorders, it slowly took over the world. Now, over half of the world’s film and video content is edited with Final Cut. Personally, I’ve been using it since v1.1, and it was the gateway to my first real job at Central Park Media. It’s a program I still use almost every day.

It’s a great program, and it’s an institution for a reason. Like Photoshop, it does practically everything that a video professional needs (though not always well). Once you know the program, you establish what feels like a mind-meld with it. It becomes an appendage. Unfortunately, both the worlds of video and the Mac have changed a lot in the 13 years it’s been on the planet, and it was getting more than a bit creaky in its old age. Much of its code base was still written for Mac OS 9. It couldn’t access more than 4 GB of RAM (which isn’t that much when you’re dealing with HD video), and often locked up or unexpectedly quit.

And so, enter Apple’s new Final Cut Pro X. It’s really not even Final Cut Pro anymore. It’s been completely rewritten from scratch and reimagined — using roots from Apple’s consumer iMovie. It’s a great, innovative new program. It completely re-invents how a non-linear editing program works, and the changes in workflow and the way the timeline works is already making me a better editor. It essentially takes the faux-physical “management of clips” away from the process, leaving the editor to just concentrate on flow and feel — their actual job. It directly integrates color correction and other standard correction tasks.

But all you need to do is search Twitter for #FCPX and you’ll pretty much see nothing but frothing at the mouth about how much people hate it, and how everyone will switch to AVID (the other, older, major editor on the market).

Part of this is the fact that Editors hate change. Most editors are, surprisingly, not particularly technical people, and hate learning new software. Once they know their tools, they want to use their tools and that’s it. I knew video editors who were still insisting on using their ancient Amiga-based Video Toasters well into the 2000s.

But this is also a pretty interesting case study on consumer behavior. What is frustrating and terrifying so many people about FCPX isn’t that it’s incomplete (though it is), or that it’s vastly different than its predecessors and competitors (though it REALLY is). What’s freaking people out is that this is NOT Final Cut Pro. It doesn’t even read old Final Cut Pro files. Apple should have given this a new name and called it a 1.0 release, because that’s what it is — a 1.0 release of a brand new product.

That product is the future of video editing. It’s also not really done yet — it’s pretty stable, but missing quite a few key features that professionals rely on. I’d liken it to the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X. The latter was clearly the future, with vastly better underpinnings and a much improved interface. But the first few versions just weren’t there yet for many people, and it was only after a year or two of upgrades that fixed its faults, most were able to transition completely away from the old software. Now, we look back on OS9 and it seems quaint and creaky.

Adobe Photoshop is in a similar position: it’s also in dire need of a complete ground-up re-coding and re-imagining. It’s drowning in decades-old legacy code, is appallingly slow and kludgy, and has an interface that looks thoroughly grounded in the 90s. But if Adobe’s next version looked and felt completely different, dropped vector support, and wouldn’t look at .PSD files, its users would be mutinous. By positioning Final Cut Pro X as an upgrade (or what looks like an upgrade), its users feel boxed in a corner, required to upgrade even if the new software isn’t what they’re looking for.

That said, I don’t know anyone that was all that happy with Mac OS X 10.0 and with Final Cut X in its current form, I’m left wanting in the following areas:

– There is virtually no integration with Motion. There’s no way to send a clip to a new Motion timeline easily, and definitely no way to get an effect you made in Motion back into FCP. You have to go through the file browser. Seriously?!

– There are very limited video filters. This wouldn’t be such a big deal normally, but major things, things that are available in Motion, are not available in Final Cut. Things like Gamma, levels, YUV adjust, blur, you name it. The only way to get these effects is to go through Motion, which is a huge hassle. (see above.)

– The browser for text effects and generators are so mired in prefab Apple templates that no professional would ever use, that it takes some getting used to before you realize that everything is customizable, and you actually do have quite a bit of control. But the templates are a waste of space.

– Multicam is missing, as many have noted. This is basically essential to cutting multicamera shows, and its absence will be a dealbreaker to anyone who deals with timecode-sync’ed video for a living.

– Poor to no 3rd party video device support. This means that unless you’re using DV or HDV, you’re stuck with capturing and printing to tape with the software that came with your card.

– There’s NO WAY TO HAVE MULTIPLE TIMELINES, spread out on a timeline, or otherwise break free of the singular approach Apple has dictated we edit in.

– All movie files, if you apply any enhancements to them whatsoever, are quietly copied into the project folder in the root of whatever hard drive you’ve chosen for the project. There is no way to turn this off. These are GIGANTIC files!!

– No import/export of timelines, even from old FCP. (iMovie doesn’t count.)

There are many great innovations in this app (the magnetic timeline is very cool), but it does inherit a lot of iMovie’s hand-holding, and frankly, many professionals would be horribly frustrated by that. Once Apple adds back in a lot of the features that it didn’t get to rebuilding yet, and smooths out some interface issues, we will have a winner. Right now, it’s a gawky adolescent.


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