B&H First Look: Final Cut Pro 7
It's been almost 10 years since Apple brought its first version of Final Cut Pro to market. In that time, the professional, nonlinear video application has seen many improvements and features added. With each subsequent release the software has offered greater stability, reliability, and productivity in the ever-changing moving image space. These updates have always been informed by the latest innovations in both Apple hardware and OS software deployment. Final Cut 7 is no exception.
If you've used previous versions of Final Cut Pro or even Final Cut Express, you'll be pleased to find the workspace of the latest version much the same. The Browser, Viewer, Canvas, and Timeline are virtually identical to those found in Final Cut 6. An all-new, resizable Timecode window makes logging notes and going over edits with colleagues much easier. This simple addition is one of several new features that allow for greater collaboration.
The addition of color-coded markers allows editors a simple means of locating and adding comments to content on the Timeline. Different colored markers can be used to identify everything from needed special effects composites to ADR and Foley sound requirements. Notes and custom data are easily appended to clips as they play. Tagging a dialogue transcription to a clip makes finding key scenes or important lines easy. All notes are searchable using "Find" (Command+F). Tags can later be exported as a spreadsheet. Going over notes with your producer, special effects designer, and sound mixer is now as simple as choosing a color. Markers even ripple automatically with changes in the Timeline—giving the first cut and the final cut equal search-ability.
New colored tabs keep versions and alternate takes in plain sight. Consider producing a series of spots for a feature film. A two-minute trailer can easily be tabbed in blue and 60 and 30-second spots in orange and red. It may seem like such a small thing, but these new color-coded representations of markers and tabs provide powerful content organization and allow for clear and focused communication of specific edits with colleagues and collaborators.
iChat Theater integration takes this a step further by connecting the editor with anyone over a live video chat. Review dailies, edits, and timecode with your director or client for instant input, feedback, or approval.
Taking a nod from iLife '09, Final Cut 7 adopts an easy export Share option (File -> Share). Using a highly intuitive interface, editors can export directly to iTunes with device-specific support for the iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV. Sharing to the web is equally easy with MobileMe and YouTube support. Simply enter your account information and uploading automatically begins after compression. There's even an option to burn directly to DVD or Blu-ray. While standard DVD authoring can be customized through DVD Studio Pro, burning to Blu-ray is rather limited. Currently, Apple requires a 3rd party Blu-ray burner. The LaCie d2 Blu-ray Drive is a reliable option at a good price. Pre-set menus and lack of customization make the Blu-ray burning more ideal for reviewing HD content and less attractive for final distribution.
Exporting through Share is simple and convenient, requiring only a single click. In bypassing the old "Export to Compressor" method, Final Cut 7 simplifies the sharing experience—saving you time and shortening the file format learning curve.
When Final Cut first came to market, target users were primarily independent filmmakers and moving image artists. Fast-forward a decade and the software has been used to edit countless feature films, broadcast news stories, commercial spots, and music videos. When Apple released Final Cut 6 several years ago, they created the ProRes 422 and 422 HQ codecs for professional quality finishing. With Final Cut 7, Apple expands the ProRes family with three powerful new options.
Built from the ground up for the highest quality possible, ProRes 4444 is ideal for effects-heavy productions and feature films. Boasting 4:4:4 color sampling and a 330 megabits/sec bitrate, this will likely become the codec of choice for RED and other high end formats. Special Effects editors have cause to celebrate: The fourth "4" in 4444 refers to alpha channel. The codec is nearly lossless and offers incredible quality at the expense of a somewhat cumbersome file size.
ProRes 422 LT offers the same benefits of the original ProRes 422 with a reduced bandwidth. 4:2:2 color sampling is now available in a broadcast friendly 100 megabits/sec. This should be a welcome option for news producers and early adopters of the AVC-Intra format. 100 megabits/sec hits the sweet spot for most broadcast workflows and saves significant file size without compromising quality.
Off-line editors with tight deadlines and limited hard disk space will appreciate ProRes 422 Proxy. At just 45 megabits/sec, this is a great option for field editing on a MacBook or MacBook Pro. While this won't win you any bragging rights for image quality, fast turnaround more than balances the equation. In the current culture of "as it happens" reportage, the slimmed down codec is a welcome addition to the editor's tool kit.
The updated feature set in Final Cut Pro 7 increases an editor's ability to organize, collaborate, and efficiently share content.The simple addition of a dedicated Timecode window and color-coded markers and tabs are reason enough for any discerning editor to upgrade. Easy export sharing saves time and simplifies content distribution. Blu-ray disc burning, however limited, is a welcome addition. Updated speed change tools and alpha transition options make it easier than ever to add splash and polish.
The latest iteration of Final Cut Pro is a worthy upgrade. While the improved features are subtle, they are none-the-less powerful and can save you hours, if not days of post-production time. From indie shorts to studio features, Final Cut Pro 7 affords editors a precision workflow to meet deadlines, stay on budget, and unlock the creative collaboration that every project deserves.
Final Cut Pro 7 is part of the Final Cut Studio Suite and ships with Motion 4, Soundtrack Pro 3, Color 1.5, Compressor 3.5, and DVD Studio Pro 4. Final Cut Studio is available as a stand-alone box set or as an upgrade from previous versions of Final Cut Studio. The software is for Macs with Intel processors only. Older G4 and G5 workstations are incompatible. Though Apple requires at least 1GB of RAM to run the app, 4GB is preferred—especially when working with HD content or utilizing higher end editing and export options.
David Flores is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York City. He is a member of the B&H Web Content Team.