This week we’re finally capping off our ‘In Defense of Final Cut Pro X’ blog series. And oh, what a blog series it's been.
You've laughed, you've cried, and maybe – just maybe – you've learned a little something about what it means to be human. Specifically, a human who edits video using Final Cut Pro X, a fine piece of software from Apple's Pro suite.
That's not to say we won't continue to talk about Final Cut and its functions in future posts. However, our main goal with this series was to convince skeptics of Final Cut that there's plenty of reasons to give the current version a chance. We still have countless useful features we could cover, but at a certain point, the best way to know if you'll like it is to try it.
We feel that we've already made a solid case for Final Cut (Check out Part 1 and Part 2 and see if you agree), but there's one under-the-hood aspect of the software that we'd be remiss not to address – especially in light of Apple's new announcements from WWDC 2017 this past week.
COMPRESSION – WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
In concept, compression basically does what the word implies. When packing for a trip, what do most people do when their clothes won't quite fit in their luggage? They push down on the contents until it does fit. That's essentially what compression does – it sits on your files, compacting them for easier storage / travel.
File compression happens on your digital devices all the time without you knowing it. When you capture media – on an iPhone camera, an audio recorder, or even these vexing new Spectacles by Snap – the data that's being recorded is also being compressed. This saves considerable storage space, and makes it far easier and faster to stream or upload to the internet. Compression on mobile devices is almost always handled automatically, meaning most consumers will never have to worry about it, or even know what it is. For video content creators like us, however, compression factors into our lives constantly.
For starters, there is no unified system for file compression. It differs depending on a plethora of variables such as resolution, desired file size, and the software and hardware that's being used to capture, read, or edit the content. This means that footage from a pro-grade IMAX camera edited on a Mac Pro in Final Cut will undergo a completely different process of compression than, say, footage from a Galaxy S8 edited on a Microsoft Surface. Or footage from Snapchat glasses, edited on ... I don't know. A Nintendo Switch? An Etch-A-Sketch? I still haven't figured out how these damn things work.
The point is, there are more standards for compression (aka 'codecs') than there are Pokémon. And because compression has to keep up with a constant outflowing of new displays, camera technologies, and media players, new codecs are popping up all the time. It's a constant problem that needs constant solving, because media is constantly evolving.
UNDER THE HOOD: COMPRESSION IN FINAL CUT
I won't lie to you, reader. As a video editor, dealing with compression is boring. If video editing were like being a musician on tour, video compression would be the equivalent of loading and unloading instruments and sound equipment from your tour van – a necessary but tedious part of the process. However, that doesn't mean it has to be frustrating. Over the last several years, Apple has made Final Cut compression increasingly easier, faster, and better.
Many major tech companies actually have proprietary video codecs of their own, for various reasons. Microsoft has one, Google has theirs, and Apple has one called ProRes that's used within Final Cut to improve performance while video editing. Anyone who's edited high-def footage on a lower-performance Mac since 2007 has benefitted from the ProRes codec. However, FCP X compression goes well beyond a single editing codec.
Compression is baked directly into Final Cut's exporting tools. Once a draft of your project is done, exporting it to the file type you need is easy. The one catch is that while a project is exporting, you can't scrub through footage in Final Cut without temporarily halting the export. Once you stop scrubbing, the export automatically resumes, so it doesn't effect your file. But if you need to compress / export while you work, Apple offers a separate program called Compressor. You can send multiple export tasks to Compressor straight from Final Cut, and continue working.
Years ago, Final Cut Pro 7 used to be very particular about codecs. In many cases, unless you spent time (and hard drive space) converting your footage to Apple's ProRes codec, you would have to render your project just to see the results of your edits. This would take time, as you would be waiting for your computer to process the video one frame at a time. Not only that, you'd have to understand a plethora of methods just to reduce wait time.
Final Cut Pro X proves it's more capable because it takes care of rendering for you! It natively supports more codecs than its predecessor. FCP X is well traveled, and knows how to speak far more video languages than 7 did. As a result, there's no need to wait for Final Cut to transform the video into something it can handle. In addition, the app's rendering engine is designed to create live previews of even the most elaborate video effect sequences without requiring a render. It may be a little choppy if your hardware can't handle all the elaborate math required to display the video, but at least you won't have to wait around for your software. It waits for you. And, if you desire, Final Cut Pro X can render items in the background.
So what does all this compression functionality do for us here at Flight Creative Media? It means we can create exciting documentaries in record time and powerful advertisements when your company needs them most.
To cap off this FCP X trilogy of ours, I'll direct you to a great blog post from Larry Jordan, a professional filmmaker in Los Angeles. He summarizes FCP X's capability, and why we continue to gravitate toward it today:
"Apple started by asking, 'What does editing look like in an all-digital world?' Then followed by asking, 'What do editors who grew up in the world of computers and digital media expect?' Final Cut Pro X grew out of exploring the answers to those questions. Media management has become more robust, more flexible and supports far more devices than FCP 7. Apple has continued to refine this as FCP X continues to evolve."