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Final Cut Pro 4: Beyond Evolutionary

You say you want a revolution? By Peter May
Final Cut Pro review by Peter MayOh, I bought it, the whole big sell. For at least a month before release I went to every web site Google said had FCP and 4 in the same sentence. I attended any Apple seminars and FCP user group meetings within a hundred miles and saw that introductory PowerPoint at least a half dozen times. I heard some reseller was shipping early and rattled over there as fast as my electronic shopping cart would roll. I almost stepped up to the checkout wondering if I'd really be the first on my block or was I just blinded by the wype (web hype). Ultimately I decided to wait for the announced release date. My patience was rewarded. Come June 14th I had a break between projects and a second edit bay free to linger on FCP 3 just in case. Before the FedEx truck was out of sight, I had a pot of coffee, a roll of Butterscotch Lifesavers and all the necessary CD-ROMs stacked next to my favorite workstation. I was ready to get loaded. Installation was a typically Apple-easy affair, though it did take quite a while owing to the data disks that accompany two of the four programs included free with the FCP 4 upgrade. That's right, four bonus apps -- the character generator LiveType, Soundtrack for composing music, Cinema Tools for managing film projects and Compressor, a new batch encoding tool used to prepare media for DVDs and web streaming. This cornucopia of complimentary code is a big reason I think FCP 4 deserves to be called way more than an upgrade. I don't say that in the excitement of the moment either. I've had some time to think about it. The FCP 4 splash screen doesn't look new to me any more. I've cut some new projects, opened some old projects without a hitch, tried out most new features and I'm feeling pretty comfortable with the program. I believe I'm now in a better position than that evening last spring, me all hopped up on caffeine and sugar, to say what I like and don't like about FCP 4. Mostly, I like.

It's surprising to me where I've found value in Final Cut Pro 4. One of the first things I was pleased to see is what I came to know in the Avid world as Dupe Detection, an indispensable little function that augments my failing memory by placing a colored bar in the timeline under repeated shots. I see this as a critical utility for long-form editors. I moaned about its absence in version 3 and was appropriately pleased to find it in 4. No surprise. But, the degree to which I've come to love button mapping -- now that's a surprise.


I never put much stock in keyboard and button mapping. In FCP 3 you couldn't move buttons around and people would say, "Well, what if you move from system to system, don't you want your button pattern on every system?" I would reply, "You can't move the buttons around so they are the same on every system." So when the FCP people announced that I'd be able to map my keyboard and add buttons I thought, "Big deal." When they claimed it'd "improve speed for left-handed users" by allowing us "to move buttons to more convenient positions," I was even more convinced that this feature's primary value would be playing practical jokes on other editors (the L-K-J keys, etc.). It turns out, keystroke for keystroke, no single improvement in this upgrade has meant more to me. I can sum up my adoration in this simple equation; Up Arrow = Zoom In (and the corollary Down Arrow = Zoom Out). If there's one thing I do more than any other while editing it's zoom in and out on the timeline. I've turned zoom in and zoom out into one-finger keystrokes and I love it! I was all set to assign scrolling left and right, the other constant in my editing, to the left and right arrow buttons but scrolling isn't offered as a button. Sad, because that seems to be about the only function or command in the whole program you can't turn into a button. I know because I've gone button crazy.

Click graphic for enlargement
(Click graphic for enlargement) I've assigned five buttons to represent my five favorite editing window layouts. I've mapped a "Save All" button onto the timeline in hopes I'll remember more often. I've mapped in both "Undo" and "Redo." I put a "Freeze Frame" button above my Viewer. I've also mapped a "Play In to Out" button above my viewer for use under the Filter or Motion tabs (when the built-in "Play In to Out" button disappears). Think about your own workflow. Do you import a lot of files? Me too. I've got an Import Files button on my Viewer button bar. Just about everything that I do often, everything that took me more than one keystroke or required a modifier key, I've mapped to a button.


More recently, I've cut back on my mapping. Since the button bars take up the same space as the project, bin and sequence tabs, overenthusiastic buttoneering can create space issues. The other problem is too many buttons can produce a forest that hides the tree you need. The only complaint I have about the whole button system is I wish the color choices for the buttons were a bit more? contrasty. I'm all for subtlety unless it diminishes readability. For example, the two buttons I glance at constantly -- Snapping and Linking. In FCP 3 they were too small. Now they're too pale. OK, this isn't funny anymore.

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Related Keywords:upgrade, Final Cut Pro 4, free programs, evolution, change the world, Peter May, review, Apple

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