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.
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
- 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
- QuickTime 7.0.4 or
- 4GB of disk space
to install all applications
- Additional 42GB to
install all optional templates, loops, content, and tutorials (may be installed on
- 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.
$1299 as part of Final Cut Studio ($1078 EPP store price, and various upgrade
pricing is also available)
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.
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
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
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.
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
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:
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:
||Make stylized backgrounds
||Create borders around
||Manipulate color and
||Adjust black, white and
||Creating texture and
||Correcting exposure and
fine color adjustment
||Key out backgrounds -
Blue and Green Screen
||Creating masks and compositing
||Moving clips spatially
||Manipulate contrast to
||Create visual effects
- emboss, posterize, solarize
||Problem correction -
flicker, stabilizer etc.
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
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
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!
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.
- Well designed, flexible
- Realtime editing
- Designed for production
- Wide range of built-in
- Tight integration
with OS X
- Good value for a
professional video suite
- 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
4 1/2 out of