Apple Final Cut Pro icon

Using Final Cut Pro X for the first time, years later…

I’ve been a Final Cut Pro user for a long time. It’s the only professional video editing software I’ve ever used. Even though it’s my tool of choice, I avoided upgrading to the new version for as long as I possibly could. Final Cut Pro X has been lingering in my subconscious ever since it was first introduced in 2011. I finally decided to jump in.

As I explained in my Has the Pro Finally Been Cut? post from July 2011, you cannot open projects that we made with earlier versions of FCP with the X version. I wasn’t ready to cut all of my ties with the past in order to use a new video editing program. Apparently, now I am.

This was not an easy decision to make. TechRadar ranked FCPX as the #1 most hated program of all time. That’s pretty bad! After using it for a few weeks, I can partially back that up. Using FCPX for the first time, even if you have years of experience with older versions of the program, is extremely frustrating.

Now, to be fair, using any advanced professional software for the first time is usually difficult. However, when a veteran FCP user tries out FCPX for the first time, they are in a completely alien landscape.

For starters, the simple act of creating a new project is terribly confusing. Instead of making a single new project, Apple has broken the system up into three parts: Projects, Events, and Libraries. What are the differences between these? I’m still not sure. I have not found a clear explanation of what these three different things are supposed to be.

Here’s another painful hangnail: there is no Save function in FCPX. So, when you want to start a new Project, you can’t save it. Yay! Simplicity! What’s that? You want to import footage and save it to an external drive? FCPX laughs at you.

You can call Apple support, but if the only time you get to edit is at night, the entire FCPX support team will be out of the office. They’ll be back tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. In the meantime, you can’t do anything. Your fleeting creative time was just completely wasted.

Since this program automatically saves things for you, it’s abundantly unclear where your stuff is actually being saved. So, if you need to import a bunch of footage — which you will certainly need to do — there isn’t a clear way to tell the program to save the footage to an external drive.

Like a 16GB iPhone, the internal SSD drive on my 13″ MacBook Pro Retina doesn’t have very much free space available. The first project I made with FCPX ended up maxing out the internal drive on my computer, long before I was anywhere near finished. The computer was hobbled, and I needed to erase a bunch of stuff just to get it operating properly again. Not a good start.

Try reading Apple’s instructions for how to start a Project (here’s the link). I’ve read this page several times. Call me dumb, but I find it to be incredibly unclear.

This extremely confusing workflow is extra upsetting because Apple had a start fresh with FCPX. They had the opportunity to build something really user-friendly. They blew it.

Weird stuff

For a program that’s four years old, there are still some really annoying quirks lingering in FCPX. Exporting a finished project is awkward. You need to select Share, and the completed file gets dumped into your iTunes library. Your frigging iTunes library! That’s the last place I would ever want my video files to go. With FCPX, you have no choice.

Speaking of the iLife suite, whenever you plug a memory card into your computer to import video footage, Apple Photos automatically opens. Talk about annoying. It’s Apple at its worst. You can stop this from happening by following the instructions on this site, but, you need to do this for every one of your memory cards. APPLE!!!

Adobe Premiere logos

Since FCPX was released, countless people have migrated over to Adobe Premiere. Others left for Sony Vegas. Few people liked FCPX, and the exorbitant prices of the new, trash-can-like Mac Pro computers were another turnoff. I considered leaving, too.

Should you buy FCPX?

With all of the trash talk I’m spitting out, you might assume that my advice would be to not buy FCPX. Well, it’s not that simple.

With all of its faults, there are some really good things about FCPX. It has the ability to automatically sync externally recorded audio files with video clips, much like the famous Plural Eyes plugin from Red Giant. This is an awesome feature. I’ve used it, and I love it. Adobe Premiere has this feature as well, but, FCPX won’t charge your credit card every single month.

I shot some footage where the ambient sunlight changed slightly between takes. The color shift between the clips was noticeable, distracting, and ugly. FCPX had a tool that made it simple to match the color between the takes. The results looked natural, and it was really easy to do. Awesome!

I’m pretty sure that the more I use FCPX, the more things I’ll find to like about it. Over the years, I’ve spoken to many video people who use it and love it. I’m sure I’ll find more bugs and annoying quibbles, too. But all in all, I’m glad that I don’t have to pay Adobe every month to edit my videos. $299 for FCPX is a great price. You just need to pull your hair out a lot.

Should you buy Adobe Premiere or Vegas?

Deciding to use Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas is attractive because you’re not forced to use Apple Macintosh computers. Both of those programs are compatible with the Microsoft Windows operating system (Sony Vegas is PC-only). For me, though, this wasn’t luring. I’ve been using Macs as my main computers for over a decade now, and I’m not interested in switching back to PCs. No thank you.

The main reason people walked away from Final Cut Pro is that it just didn’t seem like a professional tool any more. They said it felt like they were using iMovie Pro. I must say, even though this program is four years old now, it still feels like software made for amateurs.

If you’re a heavy Apple user, and you used Final Cut Pro a lot in the past, I think FCPX is still worth $299. Presently, I pay Adobe $11 a month for Photoshop CC. It’s a great program, and a great price, but, in the long term, it’s a financial burden that I want to get rid of. I will likely purchase Affinity Photo in the near future. If that does everything I need it to do, I will cancel my Photoshop subscription.

Final thoughts

Sigh. What a pain in the butt. Apple! What’s going on here? Why is your product so bad?

One of the worst things about FCPX is its uncertainty. Apple made a major change to the program in 2011. They took a big risk, and the risk didn’t pay off. They lost a great number of important customers. Now an air of uncertainty hangs over the product. Is Apple really behind it? Are they in it for the long haul?

It’s hard to say. Apple provides 24-hour phone support for iMovie, a free video editing program. They don’t do the same for their $299 video editing program. Why? Good question. This adds to the fog of uncertainty around the program.

Starting a project, saving a project, and managing a project is a confusing mess with FCPX. They had a chance to get this right in 2011, and they blew it. In 2014, Apple updated FCPX to version 10.1, which introduced switchable media libraries. I suppose this was an attempt to simplify, or, remedy its project management system. Well, I’m confused as hell. So, in my book, they blew it again. The fog grows thicker.

On the bright side, Apple did release a major update to Logic Pro this year. (Logic Pro is their professional audio production software). So, in my mind, that clears away some of the fog. Maybe Apple is in this fight for the long term. I hope they are.

Am I pleased with FCPX? No. Do I wish I paid Adobe every month for Premiere? No. Do I want a PC and Sony Vegas? Hell no. Am I going to continue using FCPX? Yes. Should you buy FCPX? Maybe. If you take the dive, just be warned that the water is freezing. I’m still shivering, but I think I’ll get used to it.

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Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

11 thoughts on “Using Final Cut Pro X for the first time, years later…”

  1. …While I’m not a Final Cut Pro X user ( I produce on Windows computers, though I spent more than a decade working on Macs before OS-X came out ), I know that there are solutions to your issues, and most of them will require that you change how you work. ( not a pleasant experience at first, but we all learn to quickly adapt )

    I know of several Final Cut Pro users that switched to the Adobe Production Pack soon after support for FCP 7 was announced, and while it does cost more, it does offer solutions to your issues.

    You could also run a Windows virtual machine on your Mac or use one of the dual-boot utilities to boot into Windows and run Windows natively on your Mac.

    I’ve been using Sony Vegas Pro for about 15 years now, back before Sony owned it and it was called Sonic Foundry Vegas. Vegas does a lot of things I like, but it has it’s own limitations which force me to work with other software packages to get my work done, which is just the reality of how things work today.

    I am slowly learning Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve for color correction and grading, which has a rudimentary video editor functionality that I expect to grow into a full-blown video editor over the next couple of versions. Who knows, I might end up switching entirely to a future version of DaVinci Resolve in a year or two. And if this happens, I’m ok with it. Being flexible is what we have to embrace, as the video world keeps changing faster and faster.

    – Guy

  2. CORRECTION: What I meant to write above is “I know several Final Cut Pro users that switched to the Adobe Production Pack once Apple announced the end of FCP 7 support.”

  3. Thanks for sharing, Guy. It would be cool if Blackmagic Design made DaVinci Resolve a full-featured NLE.

    …it has it’s own limitations which force me to work with other software packages to get my work done, which is just the reality of how things work today.

    I hear ya. It’s not just Final Cut Pro X. Good point…

  4. Hey Sam,

    if there wasn’t your blog, i would have considered this to be just a post, to scare people from Final Cut. A lot of your points are just wrong, but let me help you:
    The difference between Library, Event and Project is really easy. Library is the place, where all the stuff is saved to. Your create new events for every new project (the real projects, not the final cut ones), that you filmed. And a project contains the timeline, one project for every final clip you want to get out of your event.
    You can import media to external drives. Just either create a new Library on the external drive and import the footage on that Library, or import the footage to your main drive and than copy the Library or Event to your external drive.
    You can export your final clip to any place you want to. You got a few options on how to export your clip, but the destination is your complete free choice.
    Finaly, concerning your last argument, that it takes more space than necessary: I doubt that Premiere or Avid would take less then two Gigabytes of the space Final Cut used. There are two things, that i know of, that Final Cut does, while other NLSs might not do these: Saving color and stabilizing informations (But you can turn that easily of int the Import window) and the rendering of the current project in the background. Both of these things shouldn’t make that much of a difference.

    In my opinion Guy McLoughlin is right with his statement, that you need to change some habits, but that doesn’t mean its something bad. I like Final Cut a lot, i think it is indeed user-friendly, has a clean design and is one of the fastest NELs out there, concerning the work-flow.
    Please work over this text again, some parts are just wrong.

    I apologize for grammar or spell mistakes, english isn’t my native language.

  5. Thanks for your input, Johannes. I appreciate that you are trying to help clarify some of the things that confused me about using FCPX for the first time.

    It appears that there is indeed a language barrier here. My post is about the frustrations of a long-time Final Cut user who is trying FCPX for the first time. That being the case, the post cannot be “wrong,” as you put it. It’s an opinion piece. The article is about my user experience.

    Last night I started working on my fourth video project with FCPX, and the overall flow of the program started to feel more natural. At one point I got confused by something, and instead of searching the web or YouTube for a quick answer, I used FCPX’s Help section for the first time. My only complain there is that I needed to turn on my internet connection to access the Help section (I had intentionally turned it off to avoid distraction). Anyhow, I was able to figure out my problem fairly easily with the Help section.

    In regards to Libraries, Events, and Projects, again I appreciate you trying to help me understand it, but it still isn’t totally clear to me. Libraries do make more sense now. It seems I should think about Projects as Timelines. But, if that is the case, why didn’t Apple name them Timelines?

    Events are still confusing.

    I imagine if you were making a feature-length documentary film, a system with Events, Projects, and Libraries would make more sense. You are making one film that will house several years worth of clips, with many different interviews, etc. Okay.

    But is still isn’t crystal clear to me. In time, I think it’ll make more sense, and I’ll feel like an ass for venting about it. That’s how it goes sometimes.

    But, right now, it’s still confusing. I am liking the program overall, though. I can be a tough critic, and an ass, but I will also always point out things that I like. The moment I finish this comment I will start working on my next FCPX project, and I’m excited about it. That says something.

  6. I certainly believe that this is simply a matter of overthinking the difference in terminology. Just think of it this way:

    A Library is what was formerly known as a Project file, which contains all the media that needs to end up in your final product. It’s the top level of organization.

    An Event is like a Bin where you can organize your footage by more specific criteria of your choosing (a certain date, a certain scene or event). You can further organize by creating keywords.

    A Project is basically the old Sequences.

    So generally speaking:
    Library = old Project
    Event = old Bin
    Project = old Sequence

    If you prefer, you can always just organize by creating traditional folders, but the keywording is incredibly handy.

    As for sharing, it will only send it to wherever you tell it to. It doesn’t automatically send it to iTunes. In the same Share list, you have the option to export it to a variety of formats, including custom Compressor settings.

    Another thing to get used to is the idea that the Library is where everything lives, including autosaves, render files, etc. However, you most certainly can choose to import media and store autosaves to any location you wish. Just select the Library in the Browser and then open the Library Properties pane to select your preferred storage location. FCPX wants you to do everything through the program. You can certainly Show Package Contents of the Library to get at all the files yourself at the Finder level, but this is mostly unnecessary. I never have to bother with the file structure itself. Even deleting render files and other generated media is done through the FCPX interface.

    Generally speaking, you never want to store your media on your internal drive. Media and render files can be huge and every professional editor knows that it’s always best to work off of external drives for this and many other reasons.

    Starting a new Library, Event or Project is as easy as clicking on File>New (or using keyboard shortcuts).

    I’m not sure why you’d need to save before starting a new project if it is always saving all of your changes. Maybe this is a case of simply being in the habit of constantly saving. It automatically saves the state of things when you quit the program or close a Library or even if your system crashes.

    Once you get used to the new way of looking at things, it becomes very easy to edit with. It is so much faster, I get frustrated dealing with Premiere or Avid now. Simple things involve far more clicks than in FCPX. It’s silly to have to add an effect to a clip just to crop it. I hate having to worry about targeting tracks. When I use FCPX, things just glide along and the program stays out of my way.

  7. When I first got going in video, FCPX had just come out. I downloaded the trial version of everything. Before I retired, I was an IT consultant, and frequently installed software that I had never seen before. My number one criterion then and now was, “How easy is it to do the simplest operation, one that you do over and over?” By that standard, FCPX stands alone. Without exception, the other applications required consulting Help and online videos to do a simple cut.
    I understand how it might feel awkward to someone who has used traditional software for a long time. This is how I feel about using something really obtuse, such as MS Access. With FCPX, it is worth it to dive in with a full-bore commitment. There is a mind barrier that you have to cross. Once you do, you will never want to go back.

  8. i had the exact same issue, coming from FCP7. But I decided to go to Premiere and havnt regretted for one moment. Its completely instinctive and tge transition for any FCP user is very soft

  9. Take a look at Davinci BlackMagic. It sure seems a very good contender for Premiere, FCP X and Avid MediaComposer. Looks promising enough for me to make the switch. Easy of use and pro tools under the hood.

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