The Final Cut is the Deepest

There’s a big storm going on – a lot of very angry people – this week. And there are some rather happy people as well. But it’s quite possible you’ve missed all of this emotional turmoil unless you’re in the world of high-end video editing.

Apple have just released a completely new version of Final Cut Pro, their flagship video-editing suite, which has grown over the last few years to make up around half of the ‘pro’ market. FCP was a game-changer when launched because, at around $1000, it was a tiny fraction of the price of the market-leading product from Avid. This made it the backbone of many a small video-production bureau, yet it was also powerful enough to be used for major Hollywood movies.

In fact it’s a fairly daunting program for new users and can take years to master. Yet, like Photoshop, and maybe even to a greater degree, it repays the time invested. There are those who do spend years mastering it and so acquire skills which keep them and their families fed and clothed. And there is a large industry that provides training, books, software plugins, and other peripheral extras.

I’m a very humble user in comparison – I know my way around it enough to get things done, but I don’t have every keyboard shortcut embedded deep in my muscle memory in the way that the true Jedi of the movie-editing world do. At home I have its lighter-weight but still impressive sibling, Final Cut Express, which was decidedly cheaper, though I’ve often been tempted by the Pro version.

Well, that’s the background. And the big rumpus this week is that the new Final Cut Pro X (pronounced ‘ten’) is a radical change and has upset a lot of people’s… errm… Apple carts. While technically impressive, it looks as different from the old FCP as iMovie did after its rewrite a few years back (which many of us still consider to have been a retrograde step). But for most people, iMovie changes were a matter of personal preference when editing one’s holiday video. With FCP, there are a lot of people who have a lot more riding on it. And it isn’t just cosmetic changes – there are many bits missing which ordinary users might never notice but which are vital for those with complex workflows spanning multiple organisations and software packages. Especially if they still have to support older formats, like tape… And many still do.

David Pogue, who reviewed it in the NYT a few days ago, has followed up with a further post providing a bit more information about the changes to try and calm the madding crowds. “In 10 years of writing Times columns”, he says, “I’ve never encountered anything quite like this.”

The big questions causing concern are whether Apple is abandoning its hard-core FCP supporters by replacing it with a product aimed more at the larger audience of people like me, in which case those years invested in gaining FCP expertise may be lost. And whether some of the older formats, protocols and capabilities which are missing from this first rewrite are now gone for good, or will return in future updates, at which point FCP7 users can upgrade with a sigh of relief…

All very uncertain. But, as I say, there are some happy people around too. I imagine, for example, there are a lot of smiling faces in the marketing groups at Avid. And at Adobe, too: Adobe Premiere, a product which used to fall far short of the competition has, by all accounts, improved dramatically in recent times, and it may well win a lot of new converts in the next few months.

Another happy group will be people like me, who could never quite justify paying more than $1000 for a software package unless their livelihood depended on it.

Final Cut Pro X, however, is available on the Apple store for £179, and nothing before has ever offered that kind of power for that kind of price, which is why I really must stop writing now, because I have to go and start downloading…

Update: If you do decide to go for FCPX, I recommend investing in the excellent tutorial video series from Ripple Training.

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