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DSLR Filmmaking: Final Cut Pro sucks!

By Bikas Mishra • Published on May 31, 2011

[F]inal 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)

If you’re an independent filmmaker and want to share your experience of working on alternative technologies, please do send us your idea at editor@dearcinema.com

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40 Responses to “DSLR Filmmaking: Final Cut Pro sucks!”

  1. Rychyk says:

    Hi,
    being a media student (St.Xaviers, Calcutta) I have been shooting all my college projects and semester films with the Canon DSLR’s for the last few months.
    Yes, as anyone else would agree converting the footage to ProRes can be a pain in the buttock but one has to understand that FCP is hardly to blame for that, H.264 is an exhibition format and in now circumstances should be directly edited out. Converting might be a hassle, but after that the work in FCP becomes extremely smooth and as for storage, you can always delete the converted files after editing and archive the H.264 footage.

    p.s- The new version of FCP, apparently will have greater support of these DSLR’s, so the days of converting footage might be coming to an end :-)

    • Bikas Mishra says:

      Rychyk, but why wait for new FCP when a less expensive product is already there in the market? And if exhibition can handle H.264 why to convert it only for the sake of editing on FCP?

      • Tom Wolsky says:

        Because the new product will be substantially less expensive than Premiere. Why convert? Because H.264 is based on encoding with a GOP structure. Premiere support of H.264 by the way sucks. It is a complete pig to edit with, because it has to transcode the GOP structure on the fly to make actual frames for edit points. The Windows platform is cheaper is a myth. For H.264 you need a completely tricked out box to make it run problem. You can’t edit it on a laptop for instance. You can edit ProRes or ProRes LT on a laptop easily. You don’t need to go back to the original for DI; you can work directly on ProRes from ingest through finish and have a high resolution master that does not get compromised going through multiple generations.

        • Bikas Mishra says:

          Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. Can you elaborate a little more on how Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 sucks!! I’m yet to try it and your comment shatters my hope!

          • Tom Wolsky says:

            The problem is not with Premiere, but with the format and codec. H.264 is awful to edit because of the problem britmic explained. It’s hard to scrub, because the video tends to skip as you scrub. It’s slow to respond. Press the spacebar and wait. It often skips at edit points, which makes it very frustrating to see how an edit looks. It works very well with standard, professional codecs. I use ProRes with it, and it behaves very well. I confess I don’t use Premiere except for testing.

        • Gus E says:

          I edit 5D/7D footage on PPro CS5 on my 2-yr old $800 HP dual-core win7 laptop just fine. No lags.
          Beats working with Canon footage on our 16core FCP7 machines at work. So we just open up PPro on the Macs too.

      • Colin says:

        Wow…way to be completely misinformed and poorly researched. How are you possibly qualified to even write about this when you have so little awareness of the product?

        Fact: FCP 7 does suck for DSLR editing. But FCP 7 was released two years ago, just as the DSLR shooting fad was starting. And FCP 7 was a minor revision to FCP 6 (FCP 7 really should have been called FCP 6.5). So, you’re really working with a four year old editor. Is it right or cool of Apple that they are a year behind Adobe and Avid? No. Does you column even mention that — in addition to Final Cut Pro sucking — a new one is imminent? No. Because you’re either dishonest or poorly informed

        Face: Apple announced FCP X 49 days ago. Is that enough time for the news to make it into your far corner of the world? I mean, this Internet thing only moves news *instantly*. Apparently, that’s not fast enough for you. You just bash away blindly at the old product. Want to see the new product? Go to fcpx.tv which includes comprehensive coverage and even links to videos of Apple’s sneak preview from almost 2 months ago. Go ahead…I dare you to be well informed.

        Expectation: FCP X will work awesomely with DSLR footage. Nobody knows for sure because anyone who has actually touched it is bound by an NDA. However, we do know that the product background renders without you having to command it to and uses every CPU and GPU core to do so. It will also use as much RAM as you can feed it. So, 264 footage doesn’t stay hard to preview for very long. FCP X uses Apple’s Grand Central Dispatch architecture to “chew away” quickly at 264 and switch it out for something that’s easy to scrub and preview. FCP X will also automatically sync primary audio with reference audio, showing that they have specific intent to support the DSLR fad.

        Fact: FCP will not be more expensive than Premiere. The announcement (which, again, you missed in your uninformed uninformedness) said that FCP X will be available for $299 US.

        • Bikas Mishra says:

          Colin,

          Thanks for your comment and endorsing my post by stating the fact that “FCP 7 does suck for DSLR editing.”. Yes, this post is about FCP 7 because that’s the latest version as of now available.

          You seem to have tested FCP X already. Why don’t you share your experience here?

  2. Rychyk says:

    Point. I guess it all depends on what you are more comfortable with, I personally find working on Premiere a little awkward (though its been a while, haven’t tried Premiere since CS3) and am willing to take a slight detour in order to achieve the comfort/reliability and most importantly the familiarity of working on FCP.

  3. britmic says:

    i always run into one problem or another when attempting to edit IBP-frame encoded footage, no matter what the platform.

    i’ve always transcoded to an I-frame codec for smoother editing of feature length projects.

    transcoding is easy, can be built into the production workflow, and can save time later in the process by providing a more stable environment for intensive long-form projects.

  4. Shashank Walia says:

    Well I second tom on the fact the Prores 422 or higher can be used for DI work and is actually more useful than the native format as it has more information to handle additional color information. As far as premiere is concerned its a gem of a software work’s easily with any format and has much more robust engine than FCP whose platform is quite old (the new version is in pipeline, looks more of a home video editing software than a professional one). Additionally third part intermediatary codecs can be used with Premiere Pro to get a 422 color space formar for grading at later stage. Another important feature that FCS has is COLOR which the whole CS5 bundle lacks. Color is one fine grading tool using less resources and giving much more control over the footage than other softwares. The choice is yours.

  5. Manjeet says:

    Premiere Pro CS 5 and CS 5.5 are actually as good as the FCP n Avids, or may be better…They are 64 bit, which go with windows 7…I am editing the footage straight out of my Panasonic GH2, without any problems, with 8GB ram and intel duo 2 core processors! The magic bullet color correction system works well with CS5.5…Even the built in color corrections tools are more than sufficient.

  6. Thomas says:

    Final Cut and Avid are both out of date. Premiere is first out the gate with a new core.

    But, in less than a month the new Final Cut will be released. As it’s not released yet it’s impossible to say in what ways it’s better or worse than the new Premiere… but all of your problems with the current Final Cut have be addressed. And the new Final Cut will be way cheaper than Premier.

    Also, I don’t think any serious work should be done on inter-frame compressed footage.

  7. Matt says:

    You cannot edit H.264 footage successfully in ANY application because of the unique properties of the codec. If you took time to read the manuals for FCP, or Adobe Premier, or AVID, or Sony Vegas you’d know that they ALL advise you to convert your footage to another format.

    Act like a professional and educate yourself before you go spewing that “this sucks” and “that sucks” because you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

    • Bikas Mishra says:

      Hi Matt,

      I don’t think it holds true “you cannot edit H.264 footage successfully in ANY application”.

      Well, Matt, I’m sorry if this post hurts you but it’s meant to be an account of what I went through while editing my film. If you’ve ever made a film, you could probably relate to how it feels when after hours of edit, you can’t access your timeline. Thanks for your comment nevertheless.

  8. Shashank Walia says:

    Hello Matt,

    Yes H.264 is an acquisition format rather than editing format but I guess you are missing the point Bikas actually raised. His problem is not with the software but the time you sped in converting the footage to Pro-Res. Now everybody doesn’t understand the mumbo-jumbo involved with the technical aspect of the format and hence it could be much easier for a person to directly take footage to timeline and edit than converting it into another format first and before that research on what is better prores/prores HQ/prores 4444. To understand that they will have to understand the color space model of video and i believe not everybody understands these aspects related to formats so easily. I know FCP has been a game changer in video editing industry and there is a huge fan base but then if I am not wrong regardless of all Avid still remains the market leader.

    P.S. One must edit on whatever platform he/she likes as it not the software that makes you an editor but your head.

  9. Tom Wolsky says:

    Transcoding in log and transfer is not onerous at all. It gives you an opportunity to view and log your material while you ingest. It’s way faster than real time and has to be done. Have we all forgotten the importance of logging and actually looking at our material? What’s so horrible about log and transfer that it sucks?

    “Avid still remains the market leader” The market leader of what? Not the number of users worldwide. Not on this planet.

  10. Sunny Joseph says:

    Hi All, I Started editing with my 8mm/16mm footage during 1974-75. All that I had was a hand-winder, a splicer and a watch repairer’s lens. How simple it was!! Well, today I have a Sony NEX-5 camera, which I sincerely judge as better than all Canons and how do i edit the footage, for my simple day to day needs?? There are a few free programs available!! All I need is to do a cut and at the most a dissolve… And Being a cinematographer, I do the colour correction on shoot.. not on post!! Editing is not about software… Editing is all about discoveries. For that you need to travel… along your footage… See your footage many times over, try out many versions etc.. It is a sad thing that industry thinks of quality in terms of speed. Long live Cinema.

  11. Tom Wolsky says:

    How do you like holding and working with a DSLR compared to a camcorder, and that DSL in particular, leaving aside the image quality?

  12. Sunny Joseph says:

    Hi Tom, Is your question addressed to me? I am kind of cool with holding the NEX-5 and shooting it steady or with walking movements. Well I have 25 years of practice with handheld cameras!!

  13. Mattheww says:

    Premiere 5.5 is the first edition to allow merged external audio with your video, so apple is really only a month or so behind adobe in terms of real-world DSLR editing.

    And yet, my timetable on a project dictated that I could not wait for apple, so I am using 5.5.

    My review is that it’s akin to using a cable company dvr after using a TiVo. There’s a slight kludginess here and there, no question. And yet, how many features do you really need when recording tv or editing film? In both cases there are really just a handful of functions that are even useful, and we are at a point where all the major options contain all of them.

    I also like that adobe is predictable. You know your old plug ins will work in the next version, after at most a manufacturer update. You trust they won’t lose interest in the entire field for years at a stretch. And this is what they do as their main event, so there are many areas where the suite truly shines.

    Apple is not a company to underestimate, so maybe X will be amazing in ways that are hard to anticipate. But I wonder how much there really is to add to video editors at this stage of the game. In other words, get either. Six of one, most likely.

  14. Mattheww says:

    As to the price, the CS5.5 suite is competitive with FCP X if you get it at the student price, available at creationengine or adobe itself with any student I.D. And if you can’t figure out how to get it at the student price then you have bigger problems than which suite to buy.

  15. Daniel says:

    Dude… 1Gb = 1 min translates to 60 Gb for 60 min – NOT 480 to 600 Gb.

    Check your math.

  16. Richard says:

    What I do not understand is … if people like FCP7 so much …why do they want to jump ship to Premiere? Why not keep using FCP7 ???

    Then, when FCP-X matures, make the move.

    All these people complaining about FCP-X seem like a bunch of winners … I can tell you this … it renders real time even on a Mac Mini I own … and that is just unbelievable.

    • Daniel says:

      What you “don’t understand” is that people feel BETRAYED. People lost YEARS hanging on to FCP while Apple dangled the 64bit carrot for all to see. FCP7 is an astounding NLE, but it does show its age. Adobe Premiere, while leagues behind FCP7 in more ways then I can count offers 64bit timelines, no pre-render required for most (non-filtered) edits, true/native h264 handling and a lot more still. Apple was supposed to UPGRADE the friggin product, not scrap it for this shit.

      • Richard says:

        Nevertheless, if you look closely, FCP-X is the foundation of something that will be WAY BETTER than any straight FCP7upgrade would have ever been.

        Perhaps Apple released it too prematurely … I can agree with that. But that does not mean that FCP-X is a piece of junk …it is actually pure genius !!

        Just using it for a few days I can feel the speed gain .. not only by the faster rendering but also by the way the software flows. It is way much easier to use … everything is there right at your fingertips.

        Adobe Premiere is NO match whatsoever … and once they include Multicam, I believe this will be a killer product.

        I believe that people making radical platform changes at this point will regret it in the near future. Acting on emotion is never good.

  17. Daniel says:

    You want to sell a microwave in place of an oven, that’s fine. But don’t CALL IT an oven and expect that a mature, seasoned professionals will just gobble down your hype like a hoard of fanboys hanging on every new iCrap widget. People USE THIS TO MAKE A LIVING. Do you get it now? This isn’t some beta-test! You don’t “revolutionize” a product by making it UNUSABLE by the very people who have faithfully supported its rise. Nevermind MC, what about the fact that you CANNOT OPEN ANY PREVIOUS FCP PROJECT with FCPx?? How do you white-wash that with your “free spirited vision” for the future? More like a bad acid trip if you ask me.. Anyways: Apple BLEW IT. Just look at the near-unanimous disapproval that iMoviePro has received (aka: Final Cut Pro X). Numbers don’t lie. People don’t lie. This is not the emancipation proclamation and Apple is no Abe Lincoln. There is no “pioneering vision” here. This is just a good, old fashioned, 16bit analog fuck up.

    • Richard says:

      Daniel .. keep using FCP-7 and make a living with it while a suitable replacement comes along.

      Nobody is telling you to stop using FCP-7 at this point. When FCP-X matures into a suitable replacement … then use it. Otherwise don’t.

      Actually … What professionals do is to WAIT for new releases to settle down. Is like when a new car model comes along … NEVER BUY THE FIRST YEAR … this is NO different.

  18. Daniel says:

    Richard, FCP is NOT some Dodge Neon in 1993. Its a VERY mature product and the argument against “early adoption” just does not apply. Waiting for Final Cut 8 and tolerating Apple’s dragging their feet on the issue, and NOT jumping ship for Avid *constitutes* a mature, professional approach. Apple is at fault here, squarely and exclusively, NOT the thousands of professionals that feel cheated, misled and betrayed and you can’t just expect people to “suck it up”.

    Actions have consequences:

    Apple categorically dismembered its connection with a full third of its professional consumers, and that’s just my guess right off the bat. The fallout will continue as more people throw in the towel and adopt competing NLE’s. It will be a lengthy and painful transition, but I’ve no doubt that the developer community will jump on the opportunity to create automated migration tools for FCP project file formats to any host of alternative (competing) NLE formats. Furthermore you will begin to see third-party plugin developers drop support for FinalCrapPro as more professionals complete their migrations.

    This is not some minor hiccup in the evolution of a digital platform. This is “irreparable harm”; the death of Apple’s (classic) standing as developer of the “Pro’s NLE”. I think the entire business development team for FCP should be fired, outright. When something goes THIS FAR south, no amount of “there there” will cut it.

  19. Richard says:

    Daniel .. then … if you think that way .. you should move to Avid or Adobe Premiere.

    I, on the other hand, believe that Apple understands that they screwed up and they will fix it in an incremental release within a couple of months … adding the missing features.

  20. bidkar says:

    using fcp is like using winblows movie maker,it sad when “creatives” don’t know diddly squat about the technical aspects of digital/computer technology. PPro gets the job done plus after effects makes for a great marriage.
    p.s I’m a Linux user.The OS of pro’s like wetadigital and others use.

  21. MiKe says:

    Use Media Composer or Adobe Premiere.

  22. Ankit says:

    I had used FCP for my 48hour music video project and lucky i did not got any problem and the cam i used Canon 550d for my shoot, the really nice thing about FCP i like is Fast Reder with really good resolution and less file size….
    Adobe Prempro is also good
    i am not saying the FCP is good then Prem but i think it depends on use what software we like to use.
    I really dont know how to use Prem so i am using FCP but really i want to learn how to use Prem so i can work without crying in my project

  23. Atul Kachare says:

    thanku for information.

  24. Ariel Sergio Wollinger Martins says:

    Sorry , final cut was never the future of video editing. It sucks ass. A software that cannot render speed variations in interlaced mode cannot be called an editor. PERIOD.

  25. Will Ganas says:

    just download some kind of conversion software. it will take less time to convert than doing it through fcpx.

  26. Gerry Loew says:

    FCPX handles H.264 just fine.

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