REVIEW JUNE 13, 2001
Final Cut Pro 2.0
First off, by way of introduction, I should note that I'm not a Mac guy. I'm not prejudiced against the Mac, but I'm not going to praise a piece of software just because it runs only on the Macintosh. I've edited on the Mac and Windows in the past, and I've experienced systems ranging from Avid and DPS to Media 100 and Adobe Premiere in a professional capacity.
Currently I edit DMNTV, our weekly video magazine series here at Digital Media Net. Our studio's editing equipment consisted of four Media 100 i systems (Macintosh) and one Media 100 iFinish (Windows). But when Final Cut Pro 2.0 was released, we decided to give it a shot.
What I found from the very beginning was a system that included all of the best features of the highest-end NLEs on the market and that coupled these features with astonishing ease of use at a price point that's difficult to ignoreabout $1,000. But don't let the low price fool you: This software package is easily powerful enough to hold its own against any other NLE out there.
I've been using Final Cut Pro 2.0 for about two months nowbasically since the time of its releaseand have found that it's fast, intuitive and easy to use. What's more, it does everything I want it to do. Every time I use Final Cut Pro 2.0 in an edit session, I ask, "I wonder if FCP can do this?" Invariably a few moments later I find myself saying, "Wow, it can do this too!" I know this may sound like I am overly enthusiastic about Final Cut Pro, but this seems to be the norm with this program; every time you think you've reached the limit, you discover something new that expands the abilities of the program. To date, I've never had to export my video to accomplish something I couldn't do in Final Cut Pro.
What I like about
In terms of the software's features, one exceptional capability that stand's out is Final Cut Pro 2.0's media management, especially the ability to nest sequences, which is a particular benefit to those who are working on episodic productions. You can open a sequence from an old project, add new video or audio and then add this modified sequence into a new program. When editing DMNTV, I start a new sequence; open a default show that contains all of the graphics, sequences and titles; and drag and drop those folders into the new program. The only thing I need to do is add new material and place the sequences in the correct order. If I did not have the ability to copy these folders and projects (and have Final Cut Pro keep the links to the media), editing would take five to 10 times longer than necessary.
Final Cut Pro 2.0 allows the user to overlay up to 99 layers per sequence. Because you can nest sequences, this amounts virtually to an unlimited number of layers to work with. This is invaluable. It allows you to create some fantastic sequences without having to flatten or merge tracks to free up video space, as you have to do in other editing systems. This means that you can always go back and undo an effect or delete a video track if, later, you discover there's a problem.
Final Cut Pro supports the standard image formats, allowing graphics created in other programs to be easily imported into the system for inclusion in your project. If you're like me and use Photoshop for 90 percent of your graphic creation, Final Cut Pro 2.0 maintains the layers, which gives you more control if you have to manipulate or color correct layers. As an added bonus, Final Cut Pro 2.0 also has a built in character generator that is pretty powerful. Scrolling, crawling and regular text can be generated using any of the fonts on your system, and all effects (drop shadows, etc.) are keyframeable.
Speaking of keyframing, nearly all of Final Cut Pro's effects (75 preinstalled) can be keyframed, giving the editor control over every aspect of the editing session. The effects you will find in Final Cut Pro are the same as or similar to the effects you will find in other NLE applications. But the fact that many of them become real-time effects when any of the above mentioned video boards are installed as part of a NLE system is a huge time saver.
In addition to still images, QuickTime movies can also be imported if they have been encoded with compatible CODECs. It is my experience and suggestion that any graphics or QuickTime movies you plan on importing are created using the same CODEC you are editing with. For example, if you plan on editing in DV format, make sure all QuickTimes are encoded using the DV CODEC. If you do not, you will have to render these imported files, and that eats up a great deal of time.
If you're one of those people who insist that the quality of Final Cut Pro 2.0 is not up to your "specs," the EDL can be exported to many different formats, including CMX 340, CMX 3600, Sony 5000, Sony 9100 and GVG 4 Plus.
Flaws and fixes
While keying DV is not impossible, the keying functionality in Final Cut Pro 2.0 is not quite there. Too many chroma keying errors and tweaks need to be performed in order to get a decent key. This can easily be solved, as Final Cut Pro 2.0 supports many third-party Adobe After Effects plugins, like Ultimatte.
Another drawback is not really the fault of Final Cut Pro 2.0 itself but rather in how it interacts with other programs on your system. Occasionally during transitions and graphic overlays a luminance change will occur. This, of course, makes outputting the final results impossible, as no client in the world would accept these errors in their video. One solution that I found, which may work for you, is to uninstall or deactivate the RadDV CODECs. These CODECs may have been installed if you have Media Cleaner Pro 4 or Cleaner 5, or may have come preinstalled on your system. This was one solution; I have not seen any further discussion on any of the Final Cut Pro discussion forums that offers a different solution to this error.
It is surprising that with the big hullabaloo surrounding Mac OS X that Final Cut Pro 2.0 is not supported, even in Classicat least not yet. If Apple wanted to really boost sales of Mac OS X, they should carbonize Final Cut Pro 2.0 and get the real time card manufacturers to support it as well. In its current incarnation, Final Cut Pro 2.0 has only crashed a few times; it is very stable, and I love it compared with some other Mac-based NLEs, which crashed on average of twice every half hour. However, Mac OS 9.1 is not as stable as I once believed, and the crashes that I attribute to the OS could be greatly reduced on OS X.
This has just been a brief overview of the program. There are so many great features, I could write for five days straight and still not cover all Final Cut Pro 2.0 has to offer. We'll bring you more tips, techniques and feature overviews in the coming months.
If you are frustrated with your current NLE, I suggest checking Final Cut Pro out for yourself. I have a feeling you will be very surprised at the results. Final Cut Pro 2.0 is a very stable and solid package that is incredibly powerful, yet easy to use. If you are tired of using NLE systems that are clumsy, lack many of the features that clients are asking for during edit sessions or do not want to spend a fortune getting into the NLE arena, then Final Cut Pro 2.0 is a must have.
One final note: We have recently upgraded our rating system to do justice to those applications out there that belong at the core of any creative professional's studio. Previously our highest rating was "Strong Buy." It is now "Must Buy." Final Cut Pro 2.0 is the first to receive this new rating, and well deserved.
Post a message in the Creative Mac World Wide User Group.
Stephen Schleicher is the producer of DMNTV, Video Systems, Millimeter and Digital WebCast and is the host of the Video Systems, Millimeter and Digital WebCast forums at the World Wide User Groups. He has taught at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, and at the American InterContinental University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he also ran his own animation company, Thunderhead Productions. Stephen also freelanced in the Atlanta area as a producer/editor for five years working on everything from training videos to live shows.