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Apple Final Cut Pro X review

Apple Final Cut Pro X is a feature-packed video editor that will develop your non-linear editing skills

Apple Final Cut Pro X review
(Image: © George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

Our Verdict

Apple Final Cut Pro X lets you build on the foundation of video editing skills that you’ve acquired using iMovie. As its interface is similar to iMovie you can hit the ground running and then gradually explore its more advanced set of post-production tools to fix problems more effectively, produce better looking composites and gain more control in the look of your graded clips.

For

  • Customizable effect filters
  • Powerful compositing tools
  • Grade specific colors and tones
  • Works with .PSD files

Against

  • No Windows version
  • No lens profiles to correct distortions

Final Cut Pro X is made by Apple for use on Apple computers, so it is the obvious serious video editing tool for Mac users. If you’re a Mac user then you can enjoy using Apple’s free iMovie app to hone your raw video footage into short and snappy sequences complete with titles and transitions.  However you’ll eventually get to the stage where your editing skills and ambitions will have outgrown iMovie’s limited toolset. You’ll then need to splash your cash on a more sophisticated and powerful non-linear editing package - like Final Cut Pro X. 

But, should you stick with Apple and buy Final Cut Pro X  or go for the comparable Adobe Premiere Pro CC?  Both apps have their own pros and cons when it comes to making a choice. If you already subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud All Apps Plan then you’ll have access to Adobe Premiere Pro, though you’ll need to continue paying every month to keep using that app.  Final Cut Pro X is available via a one-off purchase and then it’s free to upgrade when Apple release updated versions featuring new tools. 

See: Best video editing software in 2021

Sadly not only is there no Windows version, given the processing power of the latest iPads and iPhones it’s a shame that there’s no iOS version of Final Cut Pro X either.

Final Cut Pro X Interface

Sync footage from multiple cameras automatically then cut between the angles by clicking a thumbnail in the Angle viewer (Image credit: George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

One compelling reason for a Mac-based editor to choose Final Cut Pro X over Premiere Pro is the interface. If you’re familiar with iMovie’s white text labels on neutral black and grey panels then you’ll find that Final Cut Pro X looks re-assuringly similar. As with iMovie, Final Cut Pro X’s raw footage is stored in a column of Events on the left, with preview thumbnails displayed in an adjacent panel and a timeline at the bottom. The edited results appear in a viewer. This almost identical workspace should enable iMovie users to hit the ground running when it comes to importing, arranging and trimming clips in the timeline. The less familiar looking Premiere Pro workspace means that you’ll have a bigger learning curve to climb before you even start performing basic edits. 

Key features

Use tools such as a vectorscope, waveform or histogram to make more precise and effective tonal and color tweaks (Image credit: George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

After preforming the basic tasks of importing and editing clips you can explore the extra ‘bells and whistles’ that Final Cut Pro X has to offer thanks to its extensive set of high-end tools and features. To ensure that a clip is correctly exposed you can summon tools such as a Histogram Scope.  This undulating graph enables you to tweak exposure in the Color Inspector to create a healthy spread of tonal detail. The Color inspector also enables you to selectively tweak Saturation in the shadows, midtones and highlights or produce shifts in color hue for a more creative look. For even more color control you can apply a Hue/Saturation color effect that enables you to use curves to selectively adjust a specific color's hue, saturation and lightness.  This enables you to perform creative color grades.

iMovie offers a collection of 34 drag and drop filters that quickly produce a range creative looks. Final Cut Pro X boasts a more comprehensive collection of 168 filter effects. Unlike iMovie you can modify filter properties in Final Cut Pro X’s Video Inspector to customize the filtered look. Some filter effects are particularly creative. For example the SLR filter makes footage look like it’s being viewed through an SLR camera’s lens. You can use key frames to change the camera’s focus and even trigger a shutter animation to make it take a snap. These animatable filter effects enable you to add texture and variety to your footage and help you tell a story in a more creative way. 

Drag and drop presets offer a springboard to adjusting color and tone. You can fine-tune effect properties in the Inspector. (Image credit: George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

Advanced tools enable you to use key-framable masks to combine split-screen effects with composited green screen layers.  (Image credit: George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

As well as enabling you to grade clips and add creative effects,  Final Cut Pro X takes the chore out of common tasks such as syncing multiple clips. For example you may have filmed an event such as an interview using two or three cameras to capture a range of shot sizes and angles. Final Cut Pro X can use the audio in these simultaneous recordings to automatically sync them all together into a multi-cam clip.  You can then pop the multi-cam clip into the timeline, play the clip and tap a number key to cut between each camera as if you were using a vision mixer.  You can choose the best quality sound track from one camera while viewing footage from another.

Social media sites such as YouTube can generate automatic subtitles based on a program’s audio track. These tend to produce very hit and miss results, with words such as ‘Hermit’ being translated as ‘Hermes’ for example! Final Cut Pro X’s Caption tool enables you to manually type captions into the timeline and then export these accurate captions in .srt format. You can then embed a caption file into your video program on Vimeo or YouTube that viewers can manually turn on and off using the Closed Caption (CC) menu option.  

Apple Final Cut Pro X review

Combine titles, footage, masks and effect filters to creatively combine clips and captions (Image credit: George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

Create components in layered Photoshop documents and then animate the layers in Final Cut Pro X to create unique title sequences (Image credit: George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

You may need to re-frame your edited 16:9 widescreen projects to suit the requirements of various social media platforms. For example in a Twitter feed a square-shaped video clip fills more screen space (and gets more attention) than a narrower widescreen clip. Cropping an edited horizontal project to a square or vertical shape can cause important details at the edge of the frame to become hidden. Fortunately the new Smart Conform feature can analyze every clip in a project’s timeline and re-position them individually to include key details such as a subject’s face.

Quality of results

The new HDR tool enables you to adjust a high dynamic range (HDR) clip to suit a standard dynamic range (SDR) project’s colors and tones (Image credit: George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

iMovie offers the ability to composite clips using green screen keying, but you have limited control when it comes to solving problems such as shadows on the background causing an uneven key.   Final Cut Pro X has a more comprehensive collection of keying tools that enable you to produce more effective composite sequences. You can use the Keyer panel’s sliders to fill holes in the background and reduce the presence of green light spilling onto your subject for a cleaner key. You can also use Matte tools to soften a hard edge key around your subject and expand or contract it for a more effective composite. In addition you can combine footage from different layers using hand drawn masks with animatable control points. This enables you to quickly produce creative split-screen effects such as turning one person into twins or even triplets!

As you’d expect, Final Cut Pro X can handle a range of professional video formats including 10-bit DolbyVision HDR clips sourced from an iPhone 12 Pro Max. HDR clips on a non-HDR display look overexposed and have garish colors. To help your Mac display the colors and tones from an HDR clip you can drag the new HDR tool effect onto the timeline’s footage. This restores detail to the highlights and produces a more natural range of colors that you can export to any device or social media platform.

Final Cut Pro X: Verdict

Add closed captions to a project that you can then embed on YouTube and Vimeo (Image credit: George Cairns/Digital Camera World)

If you’re an iMovie user then Final Cut Pro X will give you a familiar looking workspace to adapt to, so the learning curve will be easier to climb as you master a new non-linear editing package.  Final Cut Pro X has a much wider selection of preset titles than iMovie and it  boasts many more drag and drop effects layers that you can customize to create unique looks. You also have more control over grading, the ability to reduce artifacts such as picture noise and access to more effective compositing tools.  The ability to auto-sync separate audio and video clips is a huge time-saver compared to trying to align them manually in iMovie. iMovie will get your video projects off the ground but you need Final Cut Pro X’s advanced toolset for them to truly take flight.

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