Final Cut Pro 3
Apple Computing $999 www.apple.com/finalcutpro
Reviewed by Kim Fatica
Apple's third generation non-linear edit platform has gone from a novel curiosity to heavyweight contender in just two short years. Even the very first version of Final Cut Pro was an impressive freshman effort, but many thought Apple's headfirst dive into serious post-production waters would bellyflop.
Upgrades to FCP 2 included improvements in rendering, with real-time hardware-assisted effects (Matrox RTMac and Pinnacle CineWave), better ways to manage your media files, and advanced timeline features that brought the program more respect. It also added much-needed audio controls and monitoring. It was becoming the tool of choice for independent filmmakers and getting some looks from a few broadcast houses, but it was still viewed by many as a lightweight.
It took Apple about nine months to drop the jaws of an industry that had praised Avid and bashed Macintosh-based-anything as child's play. Final Cut Pro 3 arrived with a fury.
Before I get wrapped-up in a feature-intensive article, let me first say one of my favorite features of FCP 3 is the documentation. The last version came with a telephone book-like manual that was more than one thousand pages thick. Apple wised-up and produced a three volume set which also included additional manuals for new features and tutorials. If this is your first time with FCP and you find the documentation daunting, I highly recommend purchasing a guide such as Lisa Brenneis' "Final Cut Pro for Macintosh" ($24.99, Peachpit Press, www.peachpit.com). It boils it all down in just over 600 pages.
Apple added some great upgrades to this package, including color correction tools to assure compliance with broadcast standards (even providing zebra bars for hot zones) and for correcting poor white balances. Before FCP 3 there was no way of knowing if your luminance and chrominance levels were "broadcast legal". There is also a window that can display a waveform monitor, histogram, vectorscope and RGB parade in any configuration. Look at one. Look at two. See all four. The choice is yours.
FCP 3 is OS X native; meaning it takes advantage of the Unix-based platform for added stability, protected memory and advanced memory management. With Apple's built-in digital hub, audio and video can live in harmony under one roof. The elegance of the Aqua user interface isn't apparent when operating under X, which I found a little disappointing. Buttons and toolbar sliders that typically appear three-dimensional in OS X look very plain in FCP 3. There has been the argument that the basic interface is good because it doesn't present a distraction under professional working conditions, but one of Apple's selling points has always been to not look like "the other guy". Freedom of expression has always been Apple's credo. Perhaps the thinking here was to keep the familiarity with the program rather than unfurl a whole new look; something I think many people are still struggling with in the transition from OS 9 to X.
The introduction of OS X has been a blessing in many ways, but it is still evolving. There are some minor buggy issues that still need to be worked out before I'm comfortable operating FCP fully under X. Go ahead, call me a killjoy. Several of my colleagues who have been running FCP in X have had some trouble batch capturing (capturing a group of designated clips in one session). The program has, on occasion and without warning, shut down. An OS X bonus: only the program crashes, not the entire system. Rebooting works to restore the program, but that is a hassle. Some of my effects plug-ins and filters were written for 9 and won't operate under X. Final Cut can share plug-ins with Adobe After Effects, so you may want to check them to see if they are compatible. Developers are getting on the X bandwagon, so expect to see everyone caught up before year's end. Apple has turned the corner with this operating system and has no plans of backward compatibility in the future.
You may have heard of FCP 3's ability to show G4 real-time (RT) effects, something achieved previously only through the installation of hardware such as the Matrox RTMac board. Notice I wrote that FCP can "show" RT effects. It gets a bit murky here, so pay attention.
Final Cut Pro 3 offers a new feature called OfflineRT, an offline format that saves precious hard drive space. Video captured in the OfflineRT format is highly compressed. Apple's official press release contends you can keep 40 minutes of OfflineRT video per gigabyte of disk space. The "What's New in Final Cut Pro 3" manual included with the software says approximately 120 minutes. No matter. Capturing vids in OfflineRT format reduces the transcoding from DV's 3.6MB/second data rate down to 660K/second. When you finish editing your project in OfflineRT format, you head to the Media Manager and use the "Create offline" option from the popup menu to prepare your sequence for output to tape.
OfflineRT is not the same as the G4 real-time effects offered in FCP 3. OfflineRT is a format. G4 real-time effects is an editing tool that will work with OfflineRT or DV footage, but is only a way to preview your work as a timesaving measure. It provides the editor with a way to check the timing of an edit before they waste valuable time rendering to check the edit. Aha!
If you are working with G4 real-time, you had better be doing it on a desktop G4 with a processor speed of at least 500 MHz. Or you should have a 667 MHz Titanium PowerBook. Those are just the minimum G4 real-time requirements. The real-time effects won't work properly on G3s or slower G4s. The new dual processor G4s are idyllic and work fabulously for real-time. You also will not be able to view your effects if you output to a FireWire device. In RT, FireWire output is disabled. In order to see the RT effects on a monitor you will have to install a graphics card with video output. Laptop editors should note that G4 PowerBooks already have an S-Video output, so you are in luck. Oh yes, one other point about RT mode: you still have to render when you finish editing.
I made mention earlier of Matrox' RTMac board ($699, www.Matrox.com), a hardware solution to provide real-time editing to Final Cut. Installing the board means you won't need to use Apple's G4 real-time effects and your entire sequence won't require rendering time. Nice. Real nice.
Apple did some really nifty things to Final Cut to make life as an editor much simpler. It seems to take me forever to get a project done when I work out of my home studio. Distractions from my children and the occasional reminder I've forgotten to take out the garbage often force me to leave my work unattended for a while. And unsaved. "Autosave Vault" is a new enhancement that allows you to go back and view previously saved versions of your project. Your precious projects are now backed-up as often as you specify. You can indicate how often you want FCP to back-up your projects and how many copies per project are to be backed-up. To me that is equivalent of having 99 layers of "undo" in Illustrator (Adobe's vector drawing program). Go ahead. Let the kids whack the keyboard a few times. No big whoop.
Well there is one caveat: The Autosave Vault folder is not locked, so you had better not delete it. The manual warns you that the autosave files in that deleted folder cannot be re-created.
I was really impressed with the inclusion of Boris Calligraphy plug-ins, which allow you to make animated 3D titles. There's also the Voiceover tool that allows you to take track directly to disk and into your project folder. Version 3 also supports the use of up to 12 scratch disks-additional storage disks for saving captured media and rendered files. I also liked the new Chroma Keyer and flicker reduction filters, improved audio controls (three-band equalizer, hum remover, reverb, echo), and excellent support of five different EDL formats (CMX 340/3600, Sony 5000/9100 and GVG 4 Plus). The list goes on.
Keyboard controls make shuttling and scrubbing a breeze. You can shuttle through your clips and sequences by the simple J (reverse) K (pause) L (forward) keystrokes and mark in and out points with the I and O keys. You can also pick up a third party keyboard such as one of two Post-Op Video EZ Keyboards ($110 and $140, www.postop.com) for Final Cut, which are color-coded and labeled to make navigation even easier. Finally, I heartily recommend Contour Design's ShuttlePro programmable conroller ($99, www.contourdesign.com). The low-profile USB device fits comfortably to your hand has a familiar shuttle/jog wheel in the center and programmable function buttons.
I've been asked dozens of times for a recommendation of the best affordable NLE system. There are many fine programs available right now, but none can match the price/performance ratio of Final Cut Pro. You get a whole lot for your thousand bucks and right now there is nothing that can touch this program on a Mac, save for Adobe's DV Collection, which includes Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator for $1100. But that's four separate programs and Premiere is nowhere near as advanced as FCP.
Respect? If you were drawn to see Planet of the Apes, Lord of the Rings and Training Day, you should thank Final Cut Pro. The trailers were all cut on it. The three original networks, once stuck in a tape-to-tape loop have all used it. Have a Mac? Get FCP 3. With the new G4s having full digital integration at an affordable price, you can set up that home edit bay you've always dreamed about for $3,000 or less.
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