Secret Tips and Tricks for Final Cut Pro X

Commentary2.jpgMost of the time, one of my articles goes into depth on a single subject; however, not this time. Instead, this article has tons of small tips to make using FCP X easier. And, hopefully, you can add a tip or two of your own in the comments.

Think of this as a collection of mostly unrelated thoughts.


Media and libraries can be stored anywhere; provided its fast enough to support video editing.

USB 2 and FireWire 400 are not fast enough.

Because I like keeping media and libraries separate from the operating system, I recommend storing media and libraries on a separate drive from the internal boot drive.

Generally, the more a codec compresses a file, the more color information is lost. If you plan on doing lots of color effects or color correction, use a codec that compresses media the least.

For simplicity, import media into a library. This makes creating backups a lot easier.

For flexibility, store media separately from a library. This makes it easier to share media between libraries and/or editors.

Proxy files are 1/4 the resolution of camera native or optimized media. They are designed for slower systems, limited disk space, or multicam editing.

Final Cut Pro X prefers still images that are smaller than 10,000 pixels on a side. I recommend images no larger than 3x your project frame size.

Optimizing media does not make it look better, it just helps it edit more efficiently and export faster.

You can import media from your iPhone to your computer using a Lightning cable and Preview.

How big is an uncompressed 4K video frame? About 230 MB at 10-bit depth. (That’s a SINGLE frame!)


More RAM is better than a faster CPU. A faster GPU is better than a faster CPU.

A hard disk is either empty or full. I don’t know why, it just happens.

Always keep at least 10% of free space on any drive you use for anything; 20% is even better.

RAIDs are better than single drives because they are faster, hold more, and protect your data in the event a drive inside it dies. As you get serious about editing, budget for a RAID to add to your system.

SSD drives are far faster than spinning media (the new name for a traditional hard disk). But they cost more and don’t hold as much. If you can afford them, buy them. If not, a RAID 5 containing at least 4 spinning media drives allows you to edit virtually every format except 4K uncompressed.

As frame sizes increase, file sizes increase geometrically:

UHD is 24 TIMES bigger than standard definition video!


If you edit as a hobby, keyboard shortcuts are helpful, but not mandatory. If you edit because someone else is paying you, using keyboard shortcuts will allow you to get home to your family at reasonable hours.

My Top 5 Keyboard Shortcuts:

Some of the coolest keyboard shortcuts are not assigned. Explore the Keyboard Commands screen to create your own shortcuts.


Don’t trash FCP preference files unless something is not working properly. Trashing prefs should only be used for repair, not preventative maintenance.

If FCP is acting sluggish, check:


Final Cut prefers fewer than 3,000 clips be stored in a library.

Put whatever you don’t want to shift in time into the Primary Storyline. For dramas, put principle dialog; for interviews, put talking heads; for music videos, put the audio track.

Don’t believe the audio levels you hear in a compound clip.

In fact, use compound clips sparingly.

There’s no limit to the number of stacked layers you can create in the timeline, though you may need to render them to play them successfully.

Render file settings can be changed at any time using Project Properties.

Frame size can be changed at any time, however, frame rate should only be changed when no clips are in the Timeline.

Changing the frame rate will mess up all your edits.

Multicam editing does not allow audio mixing between tracks, nor combining images from different angles. It is simply a high-speed cutting utility.

The position tool is your best friend. It allows you to move clips without them snapping back together.


Audio levels should never exceed 0 dB when exporting the final project.

Separating a stereo clip into two mono clips changes the audio level by 3 dB in each channel.

If you need to do audio repair or serious mixing, send your project to ProTools or Adobe Audition.

Final Cut calculates audio levels and effects at 24-bit. (Your camera records it at 16-bit.)

Sample rate determines frequency response. A 48k sample rate exceeds normal human hearing.


Fast cutting with hand-held cameras tells me that either the editor has no story to tell or the people on camera have no talent.

Buy plug-ins. Support smaller developers who are committed to the Final Cut Pro X platform.

To see two or more images on screen at the same time, they must be stacked; unless you are using drop-zones.

Always use video scopes when color correcting anything. Its amazing what they can tell you if you pay attention.

Want to reduce video noise, or skin blemishes, in a close-up? Blur the blue channel.

Equal amounts of red, green and blue equal gray. More importantly, if something is supposed to be gray, then it must contain equal amounts of red, green and blue.

A good story with characters you care about is worth about the same as a $100 million effects budget.


Final Cut always exports at the highest quality, UNLESS you have Proxy files checked in the Viewer menu. In which case, it exports proxy files.

Compressor is an essential tool for Final Cut. Motion isn’t essential, but it is really helpful.

If you sit more than 5 feet away from a 50″ 4K TV set, you won’t see the additional resolution provided by 4K media. It will look the same as 1080p. 4K still sounds sexy, though.


Final Cut Pro 7 is a great editing tool. But one day, after an OS X upgrade, it will totally stop working. Time to say good bye; or stop upgrading.

Creativity doesn’t come from the tools you use, but the user of the tools.

Anyone can be creative. But to be creative on deadline, under budget and with people looking at you, THAT takes a pro.

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18 Responses to Secret Tips and Tricks for Final Cut Pro X

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  1. B says:

    Hi do you know if it’s at all possible for me to replace writing on a wall in a shot and on a van?

    • Larry says:


      Um, well, not easily. You would either need a clean shot of the wall or van onto which to put new text, or, manually, frame by frame, remove the old text and add new using something like a clone tool. This can be done, but it is neither fast nor cheap and you’d need to use other software then FCP X.


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