Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love & Hate for Final Cut Pro X at BOSFCPUG Meeting

This past Thursday evening was the first meeting of the Boston Final Cut Pro Users Group since the release of Final Cut Pro X. With that in mind, I was dying to see what Final Cut users thought about the whole thing. The meeting also featured a presentation by Steve Martin of Ripple Training specifically talking about Final Cut Pro X, so if ever there was going to be a focus group to talk about the new release, this was the one.

As luck would have it, the first three people I spoke to were all Final Cut Pro 7 users who weren't sure whether they were going to upgrade to Final Cut Pro X. Interestingly, none of them seemed to be concerned about the lack of pro features; they were aware of all the kerfuffle on the internet, but weren't sure how it applied to them. They were waiting to see where the chips fell.

I had more success with a couple of guys from a local cable access station. They already have some Final Cut Pro editing suites and aren't sure what they are going to do.
"The interface is so different, it's going to be a big problem for our existing users," one noted.
"We looked at it, and that's not Final Cut," said the other.
They did say that they had downloaded Final Cut Pro X the night before, but had only played with it briefly.

Checking out gear at E. P. Levine prior to the meeting

Just before the meeting got underway, I struck up conversation with the two guys sitting behind me. They were in the wait-and-see camp. One has Final Cut Pro 7, and an older tape-based camera. He is thinking of upgrading to a solid-state camera, and thinks that when he does that he might move to Final Cut Pro X. I did point out to him that Final Cut Pro X could still import from Firewire cameras, though you would lose the logging capability. He said that he didn't use that anyway.

The other guy admitted to still be running Final Cut Pro 6, and his biggest concern was not being able to open existing projects. "I have some on-going projects, and I'm worried about updating in the middle of them" he said ruefully.

At this point the meeting started, and Daniel Bérubé polled the audience. I counted about 60 people at the meeting, with about ten admitting to having bought Final Cut Pro X. Only four said they were actively using it, while one person said he'd returned it. If any characteristic could be used to describe the communities attitude towards Final Cut Pro X, it appears to be hesitation.

I did make a note of where one of the "actively using" people was, with the intention of asking him a few questions about it afterwards, only to later discover it was Gary Oberbrunner, who was one of the presenters.

About ten admitted to buying Final Cut Pro X. Four said they were actively using it, and one person said he'd returned it.

Jay Ignaszewski of AJA started his presentation by asking "Are we calling it Final Cut Pro Ten or is it X Final Cut Pro?" Jay then talked about AJA's products with a specific emphasis on Final Cut Pro X usage and compatibility. Among his recommendations was to only use one monitor plus a broadcast monitor with the program.

Next up was Charles Roberts, a faculty member at Fitchburg State University, who walked through editing in Avid Media Composer 5.5 and grading in Apple Color. He asked how many people in the audience had ever used Avid, and about twenty raised their hands.

Charles exported from Media Composer using an EDL and then brought the results into Apple Color for grading, before sending to Final Cut Pro 7.0.3 for final output. When asked why he used Color rather than adjust the video in Avid he said that Avid has good color tools, but they aren't grading tools. "Color is the best thing to happen in my life in the last five years," he said, "and I got married and divorced in that time."

It does work, but limitations abound in the process; using EDL you can only export one video track, and up to four audio tracks. Also, you can't export titles; so you have to title in Final Cut Pro 7. Finally, he warned that if you have installed Final Cut Pro X, then you can no longer use the "Send to Final Cut Pro" option in Color, as it will launch Final Cut Pro X. Instead, you have to export to an XML and then open that file in Final Cut Pro 7.

If you like to edit in Media Composer, and want to grade in Color, this is a useful workflow, though given that Apple has discontinued both Final Cut Pro 7.0.3 and Color, I'm not too sure what future there is in it.

Gary Oberbrunner from GenArts followed Charles with a demo of their Sapphire Edge plug-ins. GenArts sells a it's complete set of effects and filters called Sapphire, but Sapphire Edge is a sub-set that's designed for the editor on a budget who's "in a hurry" to get work done. It comes with fifteen transitions and four filters, though each filter and transition has dozens of pre-sets.

Sapphire Edge costs $299 and is available for Final Cut Pro 7 and Sony Vegas. They are working on Final Cut Pro X compatibility, which should be available some time in August (it will then work in both versions, and existing users should get a free upgrade.) He demoed it briefly in FCPX, but it crashed! The license lets you install on two machines simultaneously.

After Gary finished talking, the meeting took a ten minute break, and I figured that I had to talk to the guy that had returned Final Cut Pro X.

When I first approached him, Norman Lang regarded me a bit like you would a rabid dog, but after a minute or two, he soon warmed to the subject of disparaging Final Cut Pro X.

"I downloaded it on the first day and I opened it up, and I said 'this isn't Final Cut Pro.' There's no timelines. There's no projects. I can't do anything. So I'm getting mad and then I go on the COW [Creative COW] which is probably the worst thing I could have done because they are all steaming about it. So I send Apple a letter, I tell them this isn't what I bought."

A couple of days later Norman got an email saying they were sorry and giving him a refund. We talked for a couple of minutes more, and I asked him whether he was planning to switch.

"Are you hanging around [for the screening]?" he asked me. I said I was. "Well wait until you see this," he said, indicating a USB stick in his hand. "This was cut with the best program out there, Final Cut Pro X..." And he kept talking for a minute about how terribly Apple had handled the introduction, but I was thinking 'what did he just say?' and I had to interrupt him.

"Wait. Did you say Final Cut Pro X?"

"Yes," he smiled impishly. "No, I went back into it, and its great. It's a completely new paradigm. But they completely messed up the release, they didn't set up the expectations right." He went on to talk about a multi-camera project he had shot and edited in Final Cut Pro X. "I ended up doing it in a different way to the way I normally do it, but it just worked."

I realized I was talking to an evangelist as he offered tips on how to use it. "There are some great online tutorials by the way," he continued, and listed more things he liked about it. He clearly now loves editing in Final Cut Pro X, though he thinks Apple completely miss-handled the introduction. "I don't know that I'd call it," he concluded,"it's not Final Cut Pro, but it is an amazing program."

One of the shorts screened at the meeting

Steve Martin of Ripple Training gave the concluding presentation of the evening, and said that the title was "Five Common Myths about Final Cut Pro X." He began his talk by joking that he was thinking about wearing a t-shirt that said "It's not my Fault" and then he proceeded to demonstrate some features and dispel some myths about Final Cut Pro X. These included:
  • Importing and optimizing media
  • Saving In and Out Points in clips without putting them into the timeline (you Favorite them)
  • Compound clips
  • Managing audio (including turning stereo into audio tracks)
  • Auditioning tracks
  • Manipulating the "timeline" (i.e. adding blank spaces.)
Steve concluded that there are some missing features, but it is a powerful editor.
"Its a completely new paradigm. But they completely messed up the release."
I could quibble with him. Using Favorites does let you mark in and out points and save them without moving them into the timeline, but they require a conscious decision on the part of the editor. It's a different way of working; I'm sure that once you are used to that way, you realize that it's more powerful than relying on the last set of in and out points you made when looking at the clip, but you have to adjust the way your work.

After Steve, three shorts by group members were shown, with each filmmaker talking briefly about their film.

I spoke to the guys behind me after the meeting ended.

"Did that change your mind?" I asked.
"It looked really cool," said one, and the other nodded.

It looks like it's still too soon to really evaluate the impact of Final Cut Pro X.

BOSFCPUG: Boston Final Cut Pro User Group
AJAFinal Cut Pro X and AJA
GenArtsSapphire Edge Video Effects

[UPDATE: The article was edited after being published]

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