Using the Touch Bar in Final Cut Pro X

logo-fcpx103When Apple released the 10.3 update to Final Cut Pro X, a line in the release notes caught my eye: “Deep integration with the Touch Bar in a MacBook Pro.”

The Touch Bar is brand-new, released with the new MacBook Pro. The Touch Bar is a context-sensitive update to traditional F-keys. What this means is that, unlike ordinary F-keys, the shortcuts represented by the different icons on the Touch Bar change as you do different things within a program or the operating system.

So, I decided to investigate what “deep integration” meant.

WHERE THE TOUCH BAR HELPS

When you are inside Final Cut Pro X, the Touch Bar displays settings:

It is important to note that the Touch Bar doesn’t replace anything. Every keyboard shortcut, mouse movement and control-click is exactly the same. This adds new functionality into the software, without removing anything. Essentially, what the Touch Bar is doing behind the scenes is accessing existing keyboard shortcuts.

So, if you don’t own a Touch Bar, or if you do but don’t like it, you don’t need to use it. However, as you’ll see here, if you do have one, it can make using Final Cut Pro X more fun and, potentially, faster.

Currently, the Touch Bar appears only in some of the new MacBook Pro laptops.

SPECIFIC EXAMPLES

Let me illustrate what this means in action.

When you first start the MacBook Pro continuing into opening Final Cut Pro X, the Touch Bar lights up with its default display. (The actual Touch Bar display is about 33% bigger than these screen shots.)

NOTE: The ESC key, which is important to cancelling a variety of tasks, is now in the Touch Bar. Most of the time I did not have a problem with this; however, in a few examples in FCP X, I did. None were serious.

Pressing the left-pointing arrow opened up the default screen and audio controls. I was very impressed with how easy it is to read and how smooth it is to scroll; for example, to change the screen brightness.

NOTE: Pressing the Play button on the Touch Bar did not play a project inside FCP X. It did play music inside iTunes.

Select an Event in the Library List and the Touch Bar displays this. Tap any one of these icons to import media, create a new event or create a new project.

This is EXACTLY the same as if these were traditional F-keys, and we tap them the same way, except their functions change depending upon what we are doing in FCP X.

Select a Project in the Browser and these appear. I especially like the ability to create a project snapshot (which is a better way to duplicate a project) as well as jump directly to the Project settings. This is the same as if we had typed Cmd +J.

This icon, which you’ll see in several displays, instantly toggles between thumbnail and list view in the Browser.

Select a clip in the Browser and these appear. Click the “i” button to jump to the Info tab of the Inspector.

Click the speaker icon to adjust the volume of a clip in the Browser or silence it completely.

Moving to the Timeline, selecting a clip displays the clip editing controls. These include, from left to right:

Press the Tools arrow icon on the far left, to display other Timeline editing tools.

The Timeline Overview is exceedingly cool. It displays an overview of the entire project in miniature. This miniature view also appears in the Touch Bar when watching your project fullscreen (shortcut: Shift + Cmd + F). This is helpful when you want to navigate your project without leaving fullscreen mode; for example, when screening with a producer standing over your shoulder.

This mini-view allows you to scroll horizontally in the timeline or drag one of the gray “thumbs” to zoom in or out of the project. This display also includes the location of the playhead and, if enabled, the skimmer (red line).

As a total keyboard shortcut junkie, I was not expecting to like this. However, the action is glossy smooth and instantly mirrors the movement of your finger in scrolling the project. Scrolling the Timeline Overview is really nice!

Select a transition, then tap the “clock” icon to change the duration of the selected transition frame-accurately.

Select a clip with audio – or a group of clips with audio – in the Timeline then tap the speaker icon on the left.

This displays the audio controls: silence, add fade at top, adjust level, add fade at end. The default audio fade durations are set in Final Cut Pro > Preferences, but can be adjusted manually in the Timeline. Adjusting levels changes the position of the “rubber band” in the clip, as well as the volume setting in the Inspector. Adding fades adds fade handles to the selected clip. This slider is faster and more precise than dragging the rubber band.

If you select a group of clips with audio set to different levels, the Touch Bar display accommodates that; note the “Reference Volume” text.

However, the Touch Bar really comes into its own when working with text. When you select text in the Viewer (but not in the Inspector), this screen appears.

Click the left-most “A” to display text format controls.

Click the pair of “A’s” to display text sizing controls.

Click the color globe to display text color controls.

Click the “shades of color” icon on the right to display a range of colors.

WHERE THE TOUCH BAR DOES NOT HELP

However, not every function in Final Cut has a custom Touch Bar associated with it. For example:

In all these areas, the Touch Bar simply displays the default Mac OS options.

I was also not able to find ways to customize the Touch Bar within Final Cut to add shortcuts that would be more useful to me in editing my projects.

SUMMARY

The Touch Bar is lovely to look at, clear and easy to read. I like its context-sensitive display. Its touch is as smooth, or smoother, than an iPhone and the navigation control it gives to projects, along with faster access to key trimming controls can benefit many editors.

After using it for a bit, I really like it for navigation. And I’m getting used to it for audio levels and text formatting. However, keyboard shortcuts are deeply ingrained in my nervous system so it will take a while for me to use this fully.

I wish that it could be customized similar to keyboard shortcuts, which is a feature I expect will be coming but not in this initial release. It also needs more documentation in the Apple Help files, which is one of the reasons I made this article as detailed as it is.

Still, the Touch Bar is brand-new technology and it will continue to evolve over time, as will how Final Cut supports it. It is fascinating to play with, and fun to use, even as I still cling to my favorite keyboard shortcuts.


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5 Responses to Using the Touch Bar in Final Cut Pro X

  1. Warren Nelson says:

    Outstanding! Thanks!

  2. Billy Walker says:

    Correct to assume the Touchbar will have functionality in software other than Final Cut Pro as time goes on?

    • Larry says:

      Billy:

      Correct.

      Almost all Apple applications have Touch Bar support and third-parties are adding it as quickly as they can. You’ll see lots more of this in the future. And, while I don’t know anything specific, I would not be surprised to see this technology expand well beyond the MacBook Pro laptop.

      Larry

  3. Tom says:

    in Sierra (or maybe just on the new MacBook Pro) if you go to keyboard settings you can remap the escape key to either Caps Lock, Command, Alt/Option, or Control. I never use Caps Lock anyway so that’s now my escape key and it really helps

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