Final Cut Pro 5, by Apple
Posted: 22-Jun-2007

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: John Gebhardt Class: MULTIMEDIA

Overview
Final Cut Pro (FCP) 5 is Apple's professional level video editing application. It is now sold only as part of Apple's Final Cut Studio, which also includes Motion 2 (advanced graphics and animation), Soundtrack Pro (precision audio editing), DVD Studio Pro 4 (professional DVD authoring), and Compressor (encoding and format conversion). Priced at $1299, it is intended for serious users. It has capabilities to edit almost any video source in either Standard definition or High definition. FCP provides for highly detailed, complex video editing with a full range of features normally associated with a video editing application, including transitions, effects, audio mixing, motion editing, filtering, multi-camera editing, titles, graphics, basic compositing and output preparation. It is an order of magnitude more complex than iMovie and requires training or extended use with manuals or learning aids to develop proficiency. The results that can be produced are absolutely first rate as evidenced by the fact that it is widely used in the TV and motion picture industries. The currently available Final Cut Pro version 5.1 runs natively on both Power PC and Intel Mac.

Requirements
As you might imagine Final Cut Pro is no light weight application. It will, however run on G4 Macs if you have a little patience. Here are the complete requirements:

  • Macintosh computer with 867MHz or faster PowerPC G4, PowerPC G5, Intel Core Duo processor, or Intel Xeon processor
  • HD features require 1GHz or faster single or dual processors (authoring HD DVDs requires a PowerPC G5, Intel Core Duo processor, or Intel Xeon processor)
  • 512MB of RAM; 1GB of RAM for HD features (2GB recommended)
  • Display with 1024-by-768 (or higher) resolution
  • AGP Quartz Extreme or PCI Express graphics card (Final Cut Studio is not supported on systems using the Intel Extreme Graphics 950 GMA)
  • Mac OS X 10.4.4 or later
  • QuickTime 7.0.4 or later
  • 4GB of disk space to install all applications
  • Additional 42GB to install all optional templates, loops, content, and tutorials (may be installed on separate discs)
  • DVD drive for installation
  • Minimum supported graphics cards: ATI Radeon 9800XT, ATI Radeon 9700 Pro, ATI Radeon 9600XT or 9600 Pro, ATI Mobility Radeon 9700, ATI Mobility Radeon 9600, NVIDIA GeForce 6600 and 6600LE, NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT, NVIDIA GeForce Go5200 or FX 5200 Ultra
  • Recommended graphics cards: ATI Radeon X1900 XT, ATI Radeon X850 XT, ATI Radeon X800 XT, ATI Radeon X1600, NVIDIA GeForce Quadro FX 4500, NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL or 6800 GT DDL

My test system was a Dual 2.0 GHz G5, 1.5 GB RAM, OS X 10.4.8, 256 MB ATI Radeon 9650XT, 250 GB and 500 GB internal drives, Apple 20" Cinema Display (1680x1050 pixels). I used a Sony TRV520 Digital 8 Camera for a media source.

Price
$1299 as part of Final Cut Studio ($1078 EPP store price, and various upgrade pricing is also available)

Setup
Installation was typical of Apple software - easy, straightforward and fast. The installation media was a DVD with all of the Final Cut Studio applications. I installed FCP, as well as Cinema Tools 3, a database application that keeps track of the relationship between an original film and its digitized video counterpart. The installation required 403 MB of space for the Final Cut Pro application and Cinema Tools. The application installs into the Applications folder, unless you tell it to save it somewhere else. The only additional information needed is selecting a Primary Scratch Disk for temporary storage during processing (renders, etc.). This defaults to your main drive, unless you indicate otherwise. It can be changed later for any project. Initial launch requires entry of the license key. The application runs without the installation disk during normal use. The application uses Software Update to check for updates. In my setup, it downloaded and installed the 5.0.4 update. Version 5.1, the first Universal code version, is the current release of FCP, with updates to 5.1.3. Owners of 5.0.x versions of Final Cut Studio can upgrade to 5.1 for $49.

In Use
I should first make clear that I am not a professional video editor, and though I have been using iMovie since its initial release, as well as older Avid tools on a Power Mac 8500, this is my first exposure to a pro-level video editor. This review will not provide any comparisons to competing products, such as Adobe Premiere Pro or Pinnacle Liquid Edition.

The primary user interface of FCP consists of a browser, a viewer, a canvas, a timeline, a toolbar, and an audio meter. There are far too many buttons and gadgets and options to cover for a review; suffice it to say, there are far more features than I had time to learn during the use of the software.


Primary User Interface


Capturing and Importing
After getting over the initial shock of the user interface (compared to the relative simplicity of iMovie), I began to explore the various knobs, buttons, sliders and other means of control. I also took time to look at the Quicktime tutorials on Apple's website, read most of the Apple Pro Training Series: Final Cut Pro 5 book (by Diana Weynand), and studied various parts of the included PDF user manual (43.6 MB, 4 volumes, 1868 pages long!). The UI does have a basic similarity to iMovie, but with much more of everything.

Once somewhat adjusted to the UI, it was time to import some video to experiment with. FPC supports both capturing and importing media files. Capturing refers to bringing the media in from a camera or other external video or audio device. In addition to the viewer and canvas windows in the UI, a new window will open during the capture process. For devices connected by Firewire (the standard method), FCP provides complete device control (start, stop, forward, reverse, etc) unless the media does not have time codes. An example of this is analog Hi8 video being input from a digital video camera. In this latter case, you must choose to capture "without device control" and operate the deck or camera manually. The video capture works correctly, and FCP will assign timecodes during the capture. FCP handles standard video and high definition video.


Capture window with video scope


Capture window with image

Importing brings in existing media files from the hard drive or other attached or network storage devices. The FCP import function supports imports of any files that are recognized by Quicktime (video and audio). Still images in PICT, TFF, TGA, PDF, Photoshop or JPEG format can also be imported. I imported jpeg still images and Quicktime files taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7, which included monaural sound, with no difficulty at all. The imports were simple to incorporate into the video project.

Editing
After you have captured and imported the media for the project, the editing process can begin. Editing is, of course, non-linear and non-destructive (as are current versions of iMovie), so all of your original media is preserved regardless of your editing actions. The process is similar to iMovie in that clips and sub-clips (created by putting in and out markers on larger clip) are placed on the timeline. As with many of FCP's functions, moving the clips to the timeline can be done in several ways. The options include normal drag and drop, menu commands and keyboard shortcuts. By the way, multi-button, scrolling mice are supported and very useful when using FCP. FCP provides very precise control for sizing and modifying your clips. As you have may have noticed in the picture of the UI shown earlier, the timeline shows a single video track and 4 audio tracks. Final Cut Pro has the ability to deal with 99 video tracks and 99 audio tracks. It is this large multi-track capability that provides the extensive creative flexibility needed for professional media production.


Drag and Drop Editing


Audio, Transitions and Effects
Once clips have been created and moved to the timeline, and trimmed and organized, you can begin audio mixing and adding transitions and effects. Once again FCP provides a wide range of options. The built-in audio mixing function is very flexible and probably adequate for all but high level professional work. Specialized audio editors, like SoundTrack Pro (included with Final Cut Studio) and other third party applications, can also be used for editing. To use these, you export the soundtrack from FCP, edit in the audio software, and then import the completed audio product back into FCP.

A variety of audio sources can be connected to the computer and used during editing, including MIDI devices and microphones for creating realtime voiceovers. The audio mixer has several filters for reducing noise, cleaning up dialog, and adding echo and reverb. An important consideration about importing audio is that only sound in AIFF format can be imported. MP3 and AAC files are not recognized by the import utility. If you plan to add background music or other forms of pre-recorded sound, just be sure to convert them to AIFF format first. The import process is simple and direct, and adds the selected file to the browser "bin" or folder that you select. The sound file can the be dragged to the timeline and synched or edited as needed using the same techniques as used for video content. Final level and effect adjustments are made with the audio mixer.


Audio mixer Control Panel


Voice Over Control Panel


FCP includes a variety of transitions to enable interesting and professional progressions from scene to scene. The table below shows what is available:

Transition Type Number of Variations
3-D Simulations 6
Dissolves 7
Iris 6
Map 2
Page Peel 1
Quicktime effects 11
Slides 8
Stretch 4
Wipe 14

Most all of the transitions are editable for timing and other effects specific to the transition. Modified transitions can be saved as favorites and reused. Many of the transitions are real time and do not require rendering to view their effects. Those that do require rendering must be commanded to render or they will only render during the final rendering process. Rendering of short, 2-3 second transitions took about 12 to 20 seconds on the G5. During rendering, memory use was minimal, but both processors were at maximum load. Once again, FCP provides an incredible amount of control and precision in applying and modifying transitions.


Transition editor images


A wide range of effects are also provided with FCP. Below is a summary of the video filters that are included:

Filter Type Use or Effect Number of Variations
Blur Make stylized backgrounds from clips 4
Border Create borders around clips 2
Channel Manipulate color and alpha channels 6
Color Correction Adjust black, white and color balance 6
Distort Creating texture and appearance 6
Image Control Correcting exposure and fine color adjustment 7
Key Key out backgrounds - Blue and Green Screen 8
Matte Creating masks and compositing effects 9
Perspective Moving clips spatially with frames 5
Sharpen Manipulate contrast to enhance detail 2
Stylize Create visual effects - emboss, posterize, solarize 7
Video Problem correction - flicker, stabilizer etc. 9


Filters are applied as easily as transitions, either by selecting and dragging to timeline or selecting a clip on the timeline or viewer and then selecting the filter from the Effects sub-menus. The filters can be applied to the entire clip (or multiple clips) or only part of the clip. As with other features of FCP, the individual filters can be modified and adjusted with great precision. Customized filters can be saved and reused. Since the filter effects are also non-destructive, you can remove unwanted effects by simply selecting them and deleting, cutting or clearing them.

Motion effects were, to me, one of the more fascinating capabilities of FCP. Basic motion effects allow manipulation of images and speed within your project - such as slow motion, fast motion, and freeze frame. In addition, motion effects allow you to change frame geometry and incorporate movement of graphics within frames. I suppose you could call this a form of animation. Motion paths, which define the movement of an object within the frames, can be as simple as a straight line, or very complex combinations of lines and curves. Other capabilities include the creation of multiple images within the frame - still images as well as moving images. If the Motion effects in FCP are not enough for your creative needs, then you can use Motion 2, the special purpose application bundled with Final Cut Studio and for which there happens to be an excellent review by Halle Winkler at the
Mac Guild review site.


Motion Control Panel


Titles
Final Cut Pro offers six basic forms of text generators for creating titles or annotations. These include "Crawling" text that moves horizontally across the screen, "Lower 3rd" which places text in the lower third of the screen for identifying people or objects, "Outline Text" which creates static outline text that can be filled with colors or images, "Scrolling Text" that moves up the screen (like movie credits), "Typewriter" that creates the appearance of active typing, and more. Titles are created in the same manner as transitions and effects by selecting the appropriate text generator from the pop-up menu, and then entering the text in the designated field of the generator control panel. Once again, FCP provides numerous specific adjustments to fine tune the title appearance and behavior to your particular needs. Titles can also be created and imported from special purpose applications such as Photoshop, LiveType and Motion.


Text Generator Panel

Media Management
A very important aspect of serious movie making is the organization and control of the material used in putting the movie together. As you can imagine, even a short subject film will entail many hours of video footage, sound files, still images and so forth. FCP includes powerful media management capabilities to help keep material you are using organized. It does require that you invest some time in properly identifying media as you add them to the project. This includes applying "Reel" numbers, sequence names, clip names and other identifiers. The fact that FCP is designed for professional editing organizations is supported by its ability to establish and manage media libraries on shared hardware assets such as RAID servers. FCP will track locations of media wherever it is stored, and supports reuse and multiple use of media assets.


Media Manager Panel


Comments and Observations
There were a few things that I was not able to test in FCP due to lack of the proper equipment. First, my editing tests were all done with normal video, not High Definition. I understand that work in HD is nearly identical to non-HD, but that rendering takes longer. Second, one of the most acclaimed features of FCP 5 is multi-camera and multiclip editing. This feature allows you to edit media from multi-camera shoots simultaneously and in real time. The material being edited must have synchronized timecodes, something that is normally done using timecode generators in professional productions. If the cameras were not synchronized during the shoot, FCP can add auxiliary timecode tracks needed for multi-clip editing. Cameras are set to shoot at different angles, and the resulting shots used to create the best dramatic or technical effect. FCP can support up to 128 angles, but can only display 16 angles in real time. Each angle can be a clip with video and audio, video only, or audio only. The ability to simultaneously view the multiple shots allows you to accurately combine and transition from angle to angle without having to load and view individual clips.

FCP is an application that benefits greatly from a large display. I found at times that my 20" Cinema Display (not really very big these days) was barely adequate. The complexity of the UI and the number of view and control windows that can be open at the same time would quickly overwhelm a smaller display. A couple of 30" displays would be optimal!

Summary
Apple's Final Cut Pro is clearly a robust and flexible tool for performing first line professional quality video editing. It is a complex product that requires significant time to learn to become a proficient editor. It's professional design provides multiple interface and control methods to allow its use to be tailored to the style of the individual editor. FCP's effective integration enables well trained users to be very efficient in high volume video production environments. The application runs efficiently, provides an ample selection of special effects to support creative techniques, and appears to have an ongoing development path. Though FCP can be used by amateur video enthusiasts, it is likely out of budget reach due to the fact that you must purchase the complete Final Cut Studio in order to get the application. The fact that FCP is now the cornerstone of the Final Cut Studio bundle makes it a good value for professional users because of the other included applications.

Pros

  • Well designed, flexible user interface
  • Realtime editing
  • Designed for production volume editing
  • Wide range of built-in effects
  • Tight integration with OS X
  • Good value for a professional video suite

Cons

  • Steep learning curve for the unexperienced
  • Some functionality is not highly intuitive
  • Audio file format limited to AIFF
  • Only available as part of Final Cut Studio suite


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice