Upgrade, Downgrade, or Something New? Apple Introduces Final Cut Pro X for $299

Posted in News, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on April 12, 2011

Generally, software updates come with incremental interface and speed improvements and a couple showstopping features to compel the upgrade.

But leave it Apple to completely rethink the consumer experience, and in the process create a new market entirely (think mp3 players, phones and tablets). With characteristic panache, Apple dispelled any suspicion it was losing interest in the pro video market Tuesday night at NAB in Las Vegas, introducing a completely redesigned application. Final Cut Pro X is positioned as a standalone editing program above and far advanced beyond Final Cut Express, with many of the pro color correction and audio features trickling down from (and in many cases superior to) the Final Cut Studio Suite, at a fraction of the latter’s price.

This new offering simplifies and streamlines the video editing process with advanced automation features and improved speed. With this version, Apple has promised as radical a change as since the software’s introduction at NAB 12 years ago. The program has been completely rebuilt from the ground up in Cocoa using the latest development tools, allowing 64-bit processing, Core Animation, Grand Central Dispatch (allowing multiple simultaneous processes like background rendering), and Open CL, and the result looks like a supersvelte editing animal heretofore unseen at this price point.

The new version, coming in June to the App Store at $299, adds a lot of new “smart” automation features during importing (a couple of which have trickled up from it’s consumer offerings), such as people detection, audio cleanup, shot type recognition (e.g. medium, long, close-up), non-destructive color balance correction and background image stabilization and – finally for longsuffering DSLR shooters – rolling shutter correction.

There are some elegant touches to speed up the workflow. You can start editing immediately, as your files are still being imported. During editing, rendering is performed in the background, consigning the ‘render coffee break’ to the wastebasket of history. You can now ‘tag’ keywords to specific sections of clips (one of those ‘how come we never thought of that before’ headslappers), offering some of the organizational efficiency that photographers have long enjoyed. A chronological ‘timeline index’ menu allows you to quickly search clip tags. There’s no more transcoding (the conversion of one digital format to another), with everything natively supported, presumably including AVC files. There’s a color-matching feature, which automagically matches footage from two different kinds of cameras for a consistent look.

There is some nice idiot-proofing features to protect against the inevitable human error you get during those all-night editing sessions. Pretty much everything is now non-destructive. Audio and video are synced together as one clip, so there is no way to accidentally bump it out of sync (no more V1, A1/A2 tracks). With the ‘magnetic timeline,’ audio moves to another track to avoid collision with an existing clip.

Aesthetically, the Final Cut family has long felt a little dated, especially considering it’s coming from a company renowned for it’s focus on pretty UI. The redesigned, darker skin borrows heavily from Adobe’s latest suite and feels more sophisticated and modern. The UX is (by default, at least) simpler and more direct.

While the fate of its other video offerings remains unclear, it could be that rather than a simple upgrade from Final Cut Express or downgrade from Final Cut Studio, Apple has recognized another market segment altogether, one that has exploded with the DSLR revolution: the independent professional filmmaker. These are the filmmakers and videographers who don’t require the same sophistication of movies budgeted in the millions, but still need advanced color grading and audio editing tools. Final Cut Pro X could be to editing what the 5D or AF100 is to independent filmmakers, a category lower than the RED or F3, but still far above any consumer offerings. One thing is certain: NAB is the biggest pro video event in the world, so this is not a consumer product.

Or perhaps this signals a change to a modular pricing model, where users can buy the auxiliary packages of the Suite, like Color, Soundtrack and Motion separately, as needed (these other programs were unmentioned). Or perhaps Apple is rethinking the pricing completely to make a push for volume, offering a featureset comparable with its pro competitors at a fraction of the price, leveraging it’s enormous cashflow to subsidize its offering for the sake of market share, much as it did with it’s latest operating system.

Whatever the case, FCP X is an exciting ‘rush and a push’ forward in the evolution of video editing.


Nathan Lee Bush is a photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his blog, site and Vimeo.

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  1. […] of the new Redrock Micro Follow Focus; the I discuss the new pro editing offering from Apple, Final Cut Pro X, a completely redesigned program, which focuses on speed and automation, and I speculate on […]

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