DSLR Filmmaking: Final Cut Pro sucks!
Final Cut Pro was the future of film editing, when I was in college. But that was year 2002 and we were the first batch to graduate to FCP from cut-to-cut and A-B roll machines. During my stint as a television producer with a leading broadcaster, FCP was the definitive editing machine but times change, don’t they?
Well, as an independent filmmaker, FCP turns out to be a nightmare with DSLR footage! Why? Read on.
Uncompressed full HD video requires around 1 GB for one minute of content. So an hour of footage will require roughly between 480-600 GB. But DSLRs such as Canon 7D, 5D or Nikon D7000 use an algorithm to compress the final video stored on your card. Such algorithm is called CODEC that stands for Compression/Decompression module.
The codec that these DSLRs use is called H.264. The magic that this codec performs is to make your video file size really small without compromising on quality. 4 GB of memory card can store anywhere between 12-20 minutes of DSLR footage depending on your camera.
The output that you get from DSLRs is in QuickTime (.MOV) format. Apple’s Final Cut Pro works on QuickTime platform, so I had no doubt that my film will shine with FCP.
But here FCP really proved to be a disaster. It has a tough time handling H.264 footage and it would often quit unexpectedly. Finally came a time, when it was impossible to even open the timeline in order to rescue our edit.
The workaround to edit DSLR footage on FCP is to convert it into another codec called ProRes 422. This is an Apple codec. Once converted, you can work smoothly with the footage on FCP and that’s what I had to do.
The file conversion comes with a price tag: first about a minute of H.264 clip could take between three to five minutes to convert to ProRes and the file size expands about ten times in the process. A one GB clip in H.264 would become approximately 10 GB in ProRes.
However, the irony is: when you move up the ladder and go for colour grading and making final print on a Digital Intermediate (DI) machine such as Scratch, you can work smoothly on the original H.264 footage. So, I ended up spending hours converting the footage only so that I could work on FCP!
Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS5 supports H.264. Premiere Pro costs about 20% less than Final Cut Pro and it operates on Windows platform that makes it even cheaper. So why go for FCP? Well, I don’t have any answers yet. If you have one, please do share.
In order to work with FCP, you need to convert your footage. So actually, a less expensive way would be to convert the footage into any low resolution format such as AVI and work on any home video editor that can generate an EDL (Edit Decision List).
DI machines don’t work on your edited clip. They re-assemble your original footage according to EDL and since they work on native file format (H.264), your low-resolution edit works just as reference.
So, don’t subscribe to the legend of Apple being the god! Save money, time and the native file format and if you’ve got no alternative to FCP, well, only ProRes can save your project.
(with inputs from my cinematographer Gaurav Singh)
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