Apple's Final Cut Pro (FCP) is an amazing program that has grown in leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings in 1999.
In fact, you can no longer purchase it on its own as it's now part of the Final Cut Studio suite, which includes Motion, Compressor, Colour, Soundtrack Pro and DVD Studio Pro, offering you nearly all the tools you need to make and distribute your very own film. Version 3 of this collection has just been released and with it comes FCP 7.0.
One of the main advertised features of this new version is the inclusion of new formats. Two years ago, Apple introduced ProRes, which is an intermediate codec designed to retain as much of the quality of the original uncompressed video as possible.
The camera's format may be ideal for capturing data but is far too complex to edit with, unless you have an incredibly powerful computer (as is the case for AVCHD). You now have no less than five versions of ProRes to choose from: ProRes Proxy is designed for offline work only; it's followed by ProRes LT, ProRes (the original from FCP6), ProRes HQ and finally ProRes 4:4:4:4.
If you use a device that records in AVC-Intra however – like Panasonic's P2-equipped broadcast cameras – you'll be pleased to learn that FCP7 now supports that format natively, greatly speeding up ingest times and saving you a lot of disk space.
STREAMLINED SPEED: The Viewer window's Time Graph is just as flexible, but in the Timeline, you can now alter the Time Speed Indicator by dragging it (Click here for high res version)
But what's it like to edit in FCP7 compared to working in the previous incarnation? There are no new revolutionary features, but plenty of very useful tweaks and improvements to many existing functions.
For instance, not only can you now colour-code your markers, you can even edit them without having to pause playback. This is done with a set of keyboard shortcuts: you can select the marker's colour on the fly by holding down Ctrl and hitting one of the number keys (1 to 8). To edit markers as you go, add the Option key to that combination.
Best of all, sequence markers aren't fixed but move as you add or delete clips. This is especially useful if you've placed down specific scoring or chapter markers that are dependent on a clip's location.
MARKERS: You can now colour-code and edit markers during playback, as well as choose whether to have them ripple with the sequence or remain static (Click here for high res version)
Tabs have also received a splash of colour, which is handy if you work with a lot of open sequences and docked bins. You can also reorder your tabs just like you can with Safari, and instruct FCP to close all but one of them rather than forcing you to close each individually as before.
There are a few other nice improvements, such as the ability to join all through edits in one go to clean up your sequence instead of having to do it manually, one at a time. You can also highlight all clips in your timeline that came from the same media file – a timesaver when you're ready to colour correct your work (highlight one and go to View > Reveal Affiliated Clips in Front Sequence).
COLOUR: Aside from a few splashes of colour, the FCP interface remains unchanged and will feel completely familiar (Click here for high res version)
How you work with transitions has also changed. In the past, you had to add them one at a time. With FCP7, you can select multiple clips and apply the same transition to all of them in one go.
A new type of transition has also been included called Alpha Transition (located in the Swipe folder). However, in order for you to start experimenting with it you must first go to Apple's Final Cut resource site and download more than 800MB for just nine samples. However, it's a bit of a shame that they weren't included in the install discs.
Sadly, there have been no other noticeable changes to transitions. They're pretty much the same we've had since version 1.0. This also applies of FCP's text tools. You could of course jump into Motion to design modern-looking effects, but this breaks the flow and takes a lot longer than just clicking on a few tickboxes, like you can with programs such as Keynote and even the latest iMovie, both of which make FCP's text tools and transitions look antiquated.
The new iChat Theater support allows you to share the canvas of your project with anyone, opening up huge possibilities for collaboration. The image quality will depend on your internet connection speed.
The biggest improvement comes when you're ready to export your project: you'll find that Compressor no longer locks up FCP, which means you can carry on working while it does its thing in the background.
Even better, there's now a new Share menu from which you can quickly select a device you'd like to prepare your footage for, be it an iPod, Apple TV or even YouTube and MobileMe. You can even create a DVD from there without ever having to open DVD Studio Pro, and this is the only place in the entire suite from which you can create a Blu-ray disc.
BLU-RAY: Choose from a handful of menus to create a Blu-ray disc straight from within the Share menu (Click here for high res version)
Don't expect some of FCP's usual bugs to have been fixed though. For instance, if you accidentally or purposefully rename a clip in Finder, you'll sever its link with your project and you'll be forced to manually reconnect it. Why can't FCP's browser work like Aliases in Finder?
If you're fond of manuals, you'll also be in for a huge shock: they're gone. Apple used to include hundreds of pages of detailed instructions to help you understand this rather complex program. Now all you've got is a small booklet explaining the basics. This may be good for the environment, but they could have at least included them as PDFs, to help us out.
Despite this issue with the instruction manual, FCP7 is a solid update and the changes are very welcome indeed, but many parts of the interface are starting to feel old especially when compared to other Apple offerings. A major revamp is overdue. Let's hope we won't have to wait two years to see it.
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