Please, Apple! Usability Tweaks for Final Cut Pro X

Apple has updated Final Cut Pro X twenty-eight times since its initial release in June, 2011. Some of those updates have been significant, others less so.

When it comes to features, Apple is in a class by itself in making complex technology accessible. But, when it comes to usability and the interface, no one has a better idea of what’s missing than the folks that use the application for untold hours each day.

NOTE: In this regard, I’m reminded of Oliver Twist, going back to Mr. Bumble, bowl in hand and asking: “Please, sir, I want some more.” There’s no harm in asking.

So, with the release of FCP X version 10.4.4, I thought it would be worthwhile for both users and Apple to revisit interface suggestions that are still needed – in the hope that Apple can find a way to add them in future upgrades.

Features are important, but the interface is what makes an application fun to use – or stands in the way of getting productive work done.

BACKGROUND

Back in June, 2009, when Apple was still attending trade shows and conducting interviews on the record, I was interviewing Richard Townhill, Director of Video Application Marketing for Apple, a product portfolio that included Final Cut Studio, Aperture and Logic Studio. Final Cut Studio 3 had just been released.

Richard and I talked mostly about the features in the latest releases; for example, this marked the launch of Final Cut Pro 7. But at one point I asked him about making changes to the interface. His reply was something I’ve remembered vividly ever since: “You change the interface at your peril.”

Those risks were illustrated dramatically two years later with the release of Final Cut Pro X – and the resounding controversy it caused over an entirely new interface for video editing.

These were visible, again but with less force, with the interface redesign in the FCP X 10.3 upgrade.

But, interface changes don’t need to be dramatic to be useful. Maybe, instead of talking about “interface changes,” we should talk about “usability changes.” Small tweaks that would make the program more useable.

In January, 2018, I polled my readers asking for simple suggestions for both Adobe and Apple. I collected those suggestions and not only published them to my website, but sent the Adobe suggestions to Adobe and the Apple suggestions to Apple.

NOTE: Here’s a link to the original article with suggestions from more than 53 editors.

LARRY’S “BIG ITEM” SUGGESTIONS

Before we get into the details, I want to take a minute to emphasize two big areas where I feel that Final Cut is still weak:

Avid has supported team collaboration for years, while Adobe added small group collaboration with shared and team projects about 18 months ago. Final Cut requires a cumbersome transfer library even to share edits between users. There is still no way for two or more editors to work on the same project at the same time; not even as editor and assistant.

NOTE: With the new release of Workspace Extensions and the integration of the Frame.io review process, Apple has moved to solve problems with collaborative reviews. But, as someone who works with editing teams in the classroom as well as the need for editors to collaborate when deadline-driven projects to the web, Final Cut still does not support editorial collaboration in any meaningful sense.

I don’t think there’s a media teacher on the planet that wouldn’t benefit from collaborative editing tools in Final Cut to enable their students to work together on class projects. And, as I talk with clients, there is also a strong need in today’s deadline-focused media environment for collaboration between professional editors.

The other big kludge is audio mixing. Virtually every video program needs audio sweetening, yet the audio mixing tools in FCP X are primitive; great effects, poor mixing. Why Apple makes it so difficult to round-trip a project from FCP X to ProTools or Adobe Audition is beyond me. There is no denying ProTools dominant role in our industry for mixing audio to picture, while Audition increasingly is focused on providing a very flexible, very powerful mix-to-pix capability.

It has reached the point where if I have a project that requires extensive audio work, I’ll edit it in Premiere because it is so easy to move it into Audition for audio post.

Logic is a music-creation tool, not a mixing tool; it can’t touch the mixing power in either Audition or ProTools. But, even for simple scoring, we can’t send a project to Logic to score, then send just the music mix back into Final Cut.

This is a big lack.

TWEAKS FOR USEABILITY

In January, I made six suggestions to Apple:

Of these six, the floating timecode display appeared in FCP X 10.4.4. Adjustment layers can be created in Motion for use in Final Cut, but it would be easier if they existed directly in Final Cut itself.

I, like many editors, use two computer monitors for editing and I’ve found myself relying more and more on the Timeline Index (which is a GREAT idea, by the way!) during the edit. The problem is that the Index is too small. I really need to move it to the second monitor so I have more room for editing in the Timeline, then make the Index larger so I can easily read it.

Worse, the fact that the timeline doesn’t scroll just drives me NUTS!!! I want to stay zoomed in on my edit, and watch the clips go past. Sigh… no can do.

So my Usability Request List for next year contains ten items:

What are your suggestions? Add them to the comments and I’ll forward them to Apple.

NOTE: And, for your reference, here’s my older article.

Thanks!


10 Responses to Please, Apple! Usability Tweaks for Final Cut Pro X

  1. Terry Holland says:

    Hi Larry, Perhaps our friends at Apple would some day be willing to grace us with an integrated motion tracking capability in FCPX. That would be truly helpful to so many folks!
    Thanks for all the good work.
    Terry

  2. Christopher Fryman says:

    I would like to see a thumbnail bin that would allow shots to be easily arranged visually. Like in the old EMC2 system.

  3. Mike Vogel says:

    Hey Larry –

    I was just as excited to learn of the new Timecode window as I was disappointed to discover that it only references items in the timeline.

    As someone who is often given a “script” consisting of timecodes and 3-4 words that begin a soundbite, I was looking forward to having a transparent window which I could easily relocate and reference while searching my sometimes massive libraries for specific parts of clips.

    Maybe I was hoping for too much, but it seems they really missed the mark on this one.

  4. 1) Timeline index that references clips that have stabilization and effects.

    2) The current update 10.4.4 does not fully render the timeline unless background render is turned on. When selecting “render all” only a few clips are rendered and then stops.

  5. Bill Rabkin says:

    Ability to

    1) Close open projects.

    2) Precisely retime an audio-only track by specifying duration and/or duration increment/decrement, so that audio recorded separately can be sync’d with camera video.

    3) Use all Apple standard keyboard shortcuts in the Text tab of Inspector. For example, Command+LeftArrow to move text cursor to beginning of current line, or End to move to the end of the current line. (End currently scrolls the Timeline to its last frame.) When input focus is within the Text box on the Text tab of Inspector, keystrokes should never affect anything outside of that Text box, except for text appearing in the Viewer window as it is entered or modified.
    =====================
    4) When restarted, FCPX should restore window appearance as it was when last quit, including such things as (1) Redisplay Title/Action Safe Zones in Viewer window (FCP 7 did this); (2) Width of Effects and Transitions browsers, and width of the Name column in these browsers, if one of these was displayed at Quit.

  6. Philip Snyder says:

    Hi Larry,

    Here are my suggestions:

    1) When adding a layer to go below a clip on the timeline if you are creating a green screen and you want to edit in the background scene, you hit Q. Then it places the scene ON TOP. It’s very cumbersome to have to drag that scene below the timeline while pushing around other clips. There should be a keystroke that places the background scene below the timeline as needed.
    I mentioned this in a question after your webinar a couple of weeks ago.

    2) This is a bug fix: periodically my events containing Select Takes revert to the Default Setting of Camera Name, Camera Angle, Video Roles, etc.
    I have to reset it to my specific settings such as Codecs, Frame Rate, Audio Sample Rate, etc. This is both annoying and time consuming.
    I have addressed this issue in FCP Feedback but so far no results in any updates.

    3) I would love it if FCP had a mask tracking feature similar to the one in Adobe Premiere Pro. Keyframing and shifting the mask frame by frame as in the old days of rotoscoping is doable but I would think that FCP would want to be competitive with Adobe in this important area. 



    4) Here’s a new one re: 10.4.4’s Comparison Viewer: it would be nice if the still frames saved in the Frame Browser could be dragged around as in being re-ordered.

    Thanks,
    Philip

  7. Greg Nobleman says:

    Bring back the media manager, something similar to Final Cut Pro 7. Dealing with archiving projects is rough the way it is and it is only going to get worse. Someone Please help us!

  8. Avtar says:

    It would be great to be able to extend the HEAD of stacked titles/graphics/clips/etc backwards towards the head of a sequence, to the playhead position in one click after selecting the front edge of each by lassoing. (Having a compound clip of the stack, or dragging the whole stack backwards isn’t always convenient for me). Doing this for the tails would be just as useful.

    It is easy enough to extend the END of one clip in the stack and then get the other clips to match using Ctrl-D and entering the required length, but this method only extends the tails of the clips, so being able to extend the heads (and tails) in one go would save time.

  9. Brian Galford says:

    I want to see a search function, by title, of the track when importing music from iTunes in FCPX. Right now you have to know which folder your music is in. Often, royalty free music goes into one of several “Unknown Artist” folders, and the possibly a subfolder. As I know the title, I would like to be able to search for it directly.

  10. I (and my students) would like built in motion tracking. Much like the way masks can be applied to any effect – each effect (or text layer) should also have the ability to be motion tracked.

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