last updated 8 Aug 2005
Final Cut Pro for newcomers go to... 

An intro to Apple's Final Cut Pro editing software

A very basic introduction to Apple's video editing software,
from a long time Avid editor, who now has equal 'flying hours' on FCP

If you are an Avid editor who now needs to work on FCP or just curious about what everyone's so excited about,
I have an Avid v/s FCP kind of page here ... FCP for an Avid editor


What's the big deal ?

Final Cut Pro is a video editing software made by Apple. It was introduced around 1998 and is now in version 5HD. Previous versions were 1.0, 1.2, 1.2.1, and 1.2.5, 2.0 and 2.0.2, 3.0, 3.0.2, 3.0.4, 4.0, 4.0.1, 4.0.2, 4.1, 4.1.1, and 4.5 HD
Final Cut Pro is also called FCP. All that I've discussed pertains to any version from 1.2.5 till 5.

Please remember Final Cut Pro or FCP is just a software, it's not a system. So you can have an Avid or a Mercedes, but you can't have an FCP. Just like you can't have an MS-Office. Instead you can have a computer running MS-Office.

  FCP only runs on Apple computers, not on PCs.
Apple computers are also called Mac - short for Macintosh, which is what early Apples were called. The name stuck.
So how does FCP work, meaning what does one do with it ?

First the interface.
When you start FCP, you see 4 "windows". They fill up the screen. They're called viewer, canvas, browser, timeline. There's also a little toolbar in the corner.

It looks like this ...

  If, when you start FCP you see only the viewer and browser, don't panic. You need to open a sequence to be able to see the canvas and timeline. 
You can also run FCP with 2 monitors. You can then arrange these windows any which way you want. 

A screen shot of the FCP interface


  The blue, yellow, purple, red, and green outlines have been made by me and are not part of the interface.

At the left is the browser (purple in the picture) and at the bottom is the timeline (red in the picture).
browser shows you all your bins which are like folders that you can expand to see the clips in them. There are also sequences (your edits), and other objects like PhotoShop files, tracks from Audio CD and other files that you import. The browser shows each open project in a separate tab. Yes you can open more than one project at a time.

The browser also has separate tab called "Effects". This contains video effects and filters that you can apply to clips and sequences.

When you capture video from your camcorder or VCR, it appears in the browser. If you import a PhotoShop file or a CD audio track they too appear in the browser.
In short, the browser shows all items related to the project you're working on.

If you double-click on a clip in the browser, it will "open" in the viewer (which I've described below). 

  The browser is like seeing folders and subfolders in a Finder window in a Mac. The way all this works is that in FCP there are "Projects". Each project would be a different film that you make. In the project there are "bins" which are containers that hold individual shots or "rushes". FCP calls them "clips".
You take these clips and edit them together into a "sequence". You could put sequences into a bin of their own. You could also have many sequences. For instance if you're making many versions of the same film.

You could also import graphics from PhotoShop or audio from CD. These can be put into a bin of their own.


The viewer (blue in the picture) and canvas (yellow in the picture) are "monitors" to see your shots or edits. If you see closely there are tabs in the viewer called Video, Audio, Filters, and Motion. 
The Video tab shows you the picture. Here you view the clip forwards, backwards whatever. And you mark the portion of the clip you want to edit.
The Audio tab shows you the audio waveforms for the audio part of the clip. You can adjust the levels and pan for that clip here.
Motion let's you alter basic parameters like size, rotation, opacity, crop, border etc.
Filters lets you add effects filters to the clip and adjust their various parameters.



The timeline is a graphical representation of your edit. Tracks run horizontally and "play" from left to right. There is a vertical blue line that shows where you are in the timeline. Wherever the blue line is "parked", that frame plays in the Canvas.

Each clip that you put into your edit is joined to another and this is your edit, or a "sequence" as FCP calls it. There can be one or more video tracks and one or more audio tracks in a sequence.You can increase and decrease track height with a button, see a rubber-bandable line showing levels if you wish.
There's also a small
toolbar (green in the picture) showing various editing tools. These tools let you move shots around, trim, slip and slid them and do other editing functions.

For each of these filters, you can control different parameters via different sets of keyframes. Meaning you can change the properties of that effect over time. Like make the clip go from small postage-stamp size to full screen, rotate it, make it fly from one side to the other, whatever. This works almost exactly like in After Effects.   Also, in FCP you can add an effect to a clip in the viewer or in the canvas. That is, to the source clip, or to the clip appearing in a sequence. If you add a filter to an effect in the viewer, then that clip will always have that effect every time you use it. If you add the filter in a sequence, that filter applies only to that instance.
What's the big deal about FCP ?

What makes FCP so revolutionary is not just the software itself or it's features. FCP brought with it a new technology called DV or Firewire. Firewire comes standard in most Apple computers after about 1998. It provides a direct digital link between FCP and most DV camcorders. So one can directly capture from, and output to, most digital camcorders with no loss of quality to and from camcorder and the FCP system.

Before FCP, and Firewire, and DV, one had to equip one's computer with a capture card. Then connect to a video source like a camcorder or VCR and capture video to disk. The video had to be compressed before storing on hard disk. This made the quality anything from just about tolerable to abysmal. I'm talking about "normal" computers and "normal" hard disks. High-end systems like Avid and Media 100 managed good quality because they used high quality video cards that cost many millions. And they also used SCSI hard disks with SCSI controllers. And you had to be a geek to keep all this running.

FCP, on the other hand runs on almost any Apple computer - even an iMac, iBook, G4, G5, Powerbook, even iBook. It can also be made to run on older G4s. But it doesn't run on a PC - or on Windows.

Digital video or DV from the Firewire connector (one video and 2 tracks of digital 48 kHz sampled audio) has a data rate of 3.6 MB per sec. Meaning you can store this on "normal" IDE disks. You don't need costly and complicated SCSI hard disks and their controllers. Each GB gives you 5 mins of DV quality video (and audio) Means, you pop in one 120 GB hard disk (costing about Rs. 3000) and you can store 8 hrs of tape on your disk.
And these new Apple computers use "normal" IDE disks - the ones that go in PCs.

So I'd say the big deal about FCP is that it allows you shoot on a digital camcorder with amazing video quality and then to edit films with the same amazing video quality, "right out of the box" on a standard, Apple Mac computer. Sort of like a "People's Editing System"

Firewire also called 1394 or DV was introduced in desktop systems by Apple with it's G3 range of computers. It's a little jack at the back of an Apple computer than connects with a camcorder equipped with DV out - like a digital camcorder. 
In these camcorders, picture is compressed at about 1:5 and recorded to tape digitally. The quality is amazing and comes close to Betacam, or high-end broadcast video. 

When you connect a DV camcorder to an Apple Computer and capture video, you are copying digitally, so there is no loss like in analog transfers. And the same Firewire cable carries audio and tape control signals as well. So the software knows where each part of your video is stored on tape.

You can capture to tape, edit, add effects and then dump to tape with no loss of quality. And even if you delete all the video and audio off your hard disk, you can recapture all the stuff back automatically.
Of course all this DV and "people's editing system" doesn't mean FCP is a toy DV-only edit system. If you add the appropriate hardware, an FCP system is capable of doing full "online" edits all the way to uncompressed, 8-bit or 10-bit, and even beyond - HD 720p, HD 1080p. All in real time. Just add the right hardware, of course. Like I said at the top, FCP is only a software.

See also...
What kind of system is needed, or, will my Mac work
What other video equipment do I really need ?


I'm always working on this page and keep adding stuff on FCP for complete newcomers. If there's something that you didn't quite understand, or if you'd like to see something on this page, or if you want to be informed when this page changes, or even if you want to just say thanks to me, do mail me.
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