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Apple Final Cut Express 4

Powerful step up from iMovie By Heath McKnight

Apples Final Cut Express 4 (FCE 4) is a powerful non-linear editing software application (NLE) that is perfect for those working in consumer-based NLEs, such as iMovie, or those looking to start working on a more professional platform.
To start off, Ive never used FCE before; Im what would be called a ?power Final Cut Pro (FCP) editor. I use FCP nearly every day, and have been editing films, TV shows, news, commercials and more on the platform since 1999. Ive always regarded FCE as Final Cut Pro-lite, but I was proven wrong when I sat down to review FCE 4.

FCE 4 has added AVCHD support; AVCHD is a growing consumer high definition acquisition format, developed by Panasonic and Sony. Whats great about the format is its completely tapeless, but still built on the same principles behind HDV and even P2 technology. AVCHD outputs great looking picture and sound, but utilizes state-of-the-art compression to keep the file sizes small to fit on memory cards, hard disk drives (HDD) or DVDs.

FCE 4 also makes it easier to work with projects in iMovie 08, then integrating that into FCE. Through a web search, I found a number of loyal, dedicated FCE 4 and iMovie 08 users who regularly work within the consumer app and finish in the pro-level one. Or, some editors have friends that will do rough cuts in iMovie, then the editor will use the project to finish in iMovie. Almost like an offline/online deal, if you will.

Anyway, I was excited to try FCE 4 out. The first thing I noticed was I am wrong to call it Final Cut Pro-lite: This is a nearly-full featured version of FCP, and made me partly wish this app was around in 1999, when I first began editing on Final Cut Pro. It has many of the tools and functions youll find in FCP, and in some ways its easier to work with.
I captured and edited a 00:01:30 project for a non-profit organization. I had already done this in Final Cut Pro 6, but I wanted to see how things worked. I had no issues and rendering times were comparable. The project was shot in 1080i HDV, but delivered over the Web in a frame size of 600 x 338, via QuickTime H.264 encoding.

Overall, capturing and editing in FCE 4 is very similar to Final Cut Pro, except you cant do batch capturing. But to be honest, more and more Im just finding my clips from a timecode sheet, or hunting through the tapes, and just using Capture Now vs. logging and batch capturing. You can work with all the same tools to trim or lengthen your clips, add key frames, and more.

Like FCP 6, Final Cut Express 4 has an open format timeline, so you can edit together DV, HDV and AVCHD footage without any problems. This was a pleasant surprise, because I was testing the app out with DV (60i) and HDV (60i and 50i) footage.

When capturing AVCHD and HDV clips, FCE 4 uses the Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC), which has become a fine codec to use within newer versions of FCE, iMovie and Final Cut Pro. However, AIC can make HDV and AVCHD clips quite a bit larger in size, so make sure your second internal hard drive or external FireWire drive is large enough to handle the AIC clips.

One caveat: Dont expect to have an older Final Cut Pro-captured HDV project that isnt in the AIC format. A friend of mine recently bought FCE 4 and tried to import captured HDV clips from FCP 5, and Final Cut Express couldnt read them.

Okay, so there isnt native 24p support, but that doesnt mean you cant edit 24p footage thats been packaged in a 60i stream. With the exception of newer, tapeless HD and DV video cameras, the majority of units shooting in 24p have to package the 24 frames per second (fps) signal into a 60i stream. You end up with footage running at 60i, or 29.97 fps, but it retains the look of 24p/film.

I was able to capture and edit 24p footage from a Sony HVR-V1u camera, and Im sure itll work with cameras that shoot 24p (with the 3:2 pulldown that makes it 60i), such as the Canon HV20 and others. The only downside is you cant remove the pulldown to extract the 24p signal. But hey, if youre putting it to tape, a pulldown is usually automatically re-inserted, or its added in DVD players so it can be viewed on television sets. I didnt try out the Canon 24F or JVC 24p format with FCE 4.

Lets talk about plug-ins; for the heck of it, I copied my set of Nattress Film Effects filters from my FCP plug-ins folder (found on the main hard drive, Library, Application Support) and pasted them into the FCE plug-ins folder. I re-launched FCE 4 and was pleasantly surprised to see the filters show up in the Effects tab. If youre a serious Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Express editor, buy a copy of Graeme Nattress effects at Check out my review here
There are over 50 plug-ins and FXPlug support, that can be found in FCE 4. 

Outputting back to tape is a cinch, as is exporting QuickTime Movies (for Final Cut editing) or QuickTime Conversions (these are the common ones you see online, etc.). I was happy to see I could export my project in pretty much any format I can in Final Cut Pro, including DVCPRO 50 or HD, Apple ProRes 422 or HQ, etc. When youre exporting, choose which one you wish, then select which ?flavor of codec you prefer. I even exported using DivX Pro without a problem.

FCE 4 also only costs $199 ($99 upgrade from any previous version of FCE), and comes with LiveType 2 to do graphics and titles, including animated titles. There used to be a version of Soundtrack Pro, but is absent from version 4. The reason is simple: More often than not, FCE editors are using Garageband to write their musical scores. This makes absolute sense; I used to teach at a film school, and the majority of our students seemed to enjoy working within the powerful simplicity of Garageband over Soundtrack Pro.

I had a lot of fun working with FCE 4, and I highly recommend getting a copy if youre ready to step up from iMovie, or perhaps youre ready to dip your toes in the professional NLE pool. Find out more at One more link to check out is Apples FCE resources page, which includes links to books and training, third party plug-ins and more. Find it at

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Heath McKnight is a filmmaker and author who has produced and directed several independent feature and short films, including Hellevator, 9:04 AM and December. He is currently web content manager for doddleNEWS. Heath was also a contributor to VASST's best-selling book, "The FullHD," and has written for TopTenREVIEWS and Videomaker.

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