Where To From Final Cut Pro?

Apple’s launch of FCP X and the End of Life of the previous Final Cut Pro product line has created a situation where many people are unsure how to continue. If you were reliant on Final Cut Pro 7 or earlier for your work, where to now?

There’s no clear answer to this, so let’s work through the most obvious options.

Do I need to move?
As has been very widely echoed in discussion about the new version of Final Cut Pro, your current version has not stopped working. So do you need to move to something else at all?

Maybe not. It does still work, and it shouldn’t just stop working at any point in the near future, so you can obviously continue your current projects in FCP7. But the future is much less clear. What we do know is that FCP7 has been discontinued – there will be no FCP 7.5 or 8. What it is today is all it’s likely to be. If you’re having difficulty with workflows now they aren’t going to get better.

Also you effectively need to freeze your system where it is now. While Apple say that FCP7 will work in Lion, there’s no guarantees beyond that. OS updates in the past have often caused problems with Final Cut Pro, as the application is EOL it’s unlikely that updates will be released for OS compatibility. Also new Apple hardware tends to be unable to run any OS version earlier than they were shipped with, so it’s possible that future Macs will not be compatible with FCP7 at all.

Another concern is forward compatibility. Final Cut Pro X does not support old FCP project files. So any new FCP project you create now is effectively being created in the last application that will natively read or write that format. While there are methods to import those projects into other systems they are effectively EOL along with the application.

Can I Move to FCP X?
Very possibly. It will depend a lot on what you do and what you need from the application. It appears that Apple have designed FCP X to be suitable for what they believe are the most common requirements and workflows. Ultimately you are the only person who can determine if it will meet your needs.

Broadly speaking, if you’re work is heavily reliant on tape-based formats, interchange with other post-production tools or advanced features like Multicam and telecine tracking it’s unlikely that FCP X is going to be readily applicable. At this stage there is also no capacity for standard broadcast monitoring.

If FCP X will do what you need there are still a few considerations… It’s a whole new way of working – you need to factor in the learning curve and a fundamentally new way of thinking about some of the basic concepts. There is no backward compatibility with FCP7 project files – the work you’ve done before will not be able to be transitioned into the new application.

The Alternatives
Assuming you want to continue basically the same work with basically the same hardware there are effectively two options going forward – Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer.

Both applications are very capable video editing applications with a long history and both will probably run fine on your existing Mac hardware.

Best of all both have 30-day free trial versions available.

Avid Media Composer
Media Composer, often known simply as Avid, is the big boy of professional NLE applications. It is still the most widely used NLE in most broadcast TV and film (although FCP had been making a big impact on those markets).

As of today Media Composer is at version 5.5 (the version numbering was restarted in the early 2000′s) and is a very different application from that which many remember or have heard about. In recent years Avid has been very pro-active in adapting Media Composer to better suit modern file-based formats and workflows. Avid as a company has also evolved now, becoming much more attentive to user feedback and suggestions.

Another big change for Media Composer is the move away from proprietary hardware. At this stage Media Composer offers support (with various limitations) for the Matrox MXO2 Mini and AJA IOexpress hardware I/O devices. It is widely expected that the next version of Media Composer will feature hardware support for popular I/O hardware from AJA and Blackmagic.

Unfortunately there is no simple and native way to migrate FCP projects into Avid, but there are two effective tools available from third-party developers – Pro Export FCP from Automatic Duck and AAF Transfer from Boris.

Media Composer is still the most commonly used NLE in Hollywood and for network TV, if you’re aspiring to work in those fields then experience with Avid’s systems is invaluable.

Adobe Premiere Pro
Adobe’s NLE, Premiere, has been around for 20 years. It was among the first applications to bring video editing to the desktop of regular computers. In 2003 it was reinvented as Premiere Pro and updated to better meet the needs of professional editors, and to be more intuitive for editors who were familiar with FCP and Media Composer.

The application has made further leaps and bounds in the last few versions and now features some of the best real-time performance available thanks to it’s ability to leverage the power of NVidias graphics processors through the CUDA architecture. The most recent versions also include native support for Final Cut Pro XML allowing for easy project import.

Many editors have sung the praises of the new Premiere Pro, but overall the application still hasn’t gained a reputation as a truly professional tool, at least in the television and film world. It has support for things like EDL, AAF import and export, R3D, tape-based workflows and more. It’s a successful hybrid tool, with one foot in the ‘old school’ world of tapes and EDLs and SDI, and the other foot in the future world of files and metadata.

Premiere Pro also forms one part of the very well integrated Creative Suite group of products. It supports powerful and direct interchange with other Creative Suite productions such as After Effects (visual effects and motion graphics), Photoshop (photo editing), Illustrator (vector graphics and design), Encore (DVD and Blu-Ray authoring), Audition (sound mixing) and Flash (keyframe based animation and app development).

Adobe is in a strong position to take advantage of the change that’s been motivated by FCP X – many users already own the Adobe Creative Suite (for After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator) and it can also take advantage of most of the same popular I/O hardware in use commonly with FCP.

The Way Forward
There is probably not any rush. Ideally you should evaluate all the options. Unfortunately no trial version is available for FCP X, so to demo that you really need to shell out the purchase price. For Premiere Pro and Media Composer you can download the trial versions and evaluate them for your needs. There is plenty of training available for both products and large communities of existing users to provide more information.

Any change is going to require some retraining and some workflow adaptation, but both Adobe and Avid have publicly affirmed their commitment to the professionals who rely on their products, and both companies have been very proactive in their development over the last few years and show no sign of slowing down.

The current specials are great, and are currently available until the end of September 2011. If it’s practical it could be worth taking the opportunity to purchase both Avid Media Composer and Adobe’s Creative Suite Production Premium – VideoGuys are offering the Avid and Adobe offers together for US$1744.

Purchase links in this article are to VideoGuys.com – this is because they are experts in this field, offer a wide range of product, and sell internationally with no fuss. I have no financial relationship with them and am not receiving any affiliate income from my referrals.

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