SEPTEMBER 25, 2002
Shootout: Final Cut Pro 3 vs. Avid Xpress DV 3.5
It's impossible for me to know how you're going to use your system. Are you cutting long-form documentaries or music videos? If you're cutting film features compositing means nothing, organization is paramount. Weddings? Commercials? Could be the other way around. So, in a transparent attempt to shift responsibility, I want to try to convey to you how it feels to edit on the two programs hoping you'll start to figure out which one's the winner in your mind.
I've always moused my Avid. Many of you, especially if you came up through the linear editing ranks, probably keyboard your Avid. To me that's too much like typing. Personally, I'd be happiest if I could reach in, grab shots and lay them end to end. Failing that I mouse. I mouse pretty fast. Give me a trackball and I fly! I use my other hand on the keyboard for two things. First, to shift-click (when selecting more than one clip), to engage audio scrubbing or to hold down the command key telling Xpress to snap to the next edit, keyframe, etc. I've always appreciated having all my buttons convenient. I want my play buttons clustered, my effects buttons clustered and most used tools clustered. The idea is efficient mousing and mappable buttons contributed to my efficiency. That's why mappable buttons are important. In Xpress DV there's a row beneath the Source window, a row beneath the Composer window and another row above the Timeline. That's 40 possible button positions you can reassign at will. Add 76 additional buttons gained by tearing off the "Fast Menu" (you can always tell an Avid editor because they call the fast menu button "the hamburger"). On top of all the on-screen buttons you can map your keyboard as well (see screen shot below). You can pull out your command palette and begin mapping all your favorite functions just where you want to find them.
I've heard people absolutely gush about how much freedom this mapping offers and how you can move your settings from one Avid to another so every machine you boot up looks comfortable and familiar. Let me point out two things.
First, since FCP doesn't allow you to change the interface, every FCP system you sit down to will look comfortable and familiar.
Second, I have found the FCP interface functional, easy to learn and even intuitive. So I've never felt the need to have bevies of buttons available to me, possibly because of the FCP interface's genesis. Brian Meaney worked as a freelance editor before embarking on the development of Final Cut. Once underway he began by analyzing what he needed to do as an editor in a professional suite. He and his team then began dissecting editing and compositing systems. They balanced what needed to be done and how it could be done and came up with what, in my opinion, is an elegant and effective edit action.
"It has a certain simplicity to it especially if you're familiar with computers. It acts in ways that you would expect it to act," Brian offers. "I want to copy and paste an item, well, copy and paste is there. And, I can copy and paste attributes. It just makes sense. Although it's different from a lot of other editors, it also can be picked up very quickly."
Well, sorta. See, FCP is a tool-based interface, much like Photoshop. If you're trimming you don't enter the trim mode, you highlight the Roll Edit tool and stay right in your main timeline. Doing an "Add Edit" you use your Razor Blade tool.
Check out the screen shot above. I've isolated FCP's Tool Palette so you can get a look. Consider the implications of this palette for a mouser like me. Almost everything I want to do requires that I click on my tool palette first. That's not efficient mousing. Now consider how small that might be on a PowerBook. That's why the key to the efficiency on the FCP interface is using the keyboard and Iíve never liked using the keyboard. Listen to my tape-recorded notes for this article and you will hear some serious grumbling. Well, that was then. Now I have seen the light! I choose my tools and toggle functions on and off with my left hand. I mouse happily along with my right, clicking, dragging and accessing an impressive array of right-click functions. The contextual right click menus are so well thought-out that I can often accomplish complex operations by accessing step-by-step subsequent short-cut menus. I am now a two-handed editor and it feels good. But I must return to my first weekend with the product. There are so many tools, so may variations of tools, so many ways of doing things, this is not a find-the-buttons-and-you're-fly situation, at least not for a guy who's been faithful to Avid for so many years.
It follows that I am unqualified to tell you whether Avid is easy to learn. It was for me, but I had fourteen years.
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