Thoughts on Final Cut Pro vs iMovie

Ok, so I’ve started on video project that I think will be much longer than any of the ones I’ve done so far – or at least I have waaaay more footage for it. I ended up switching to Final Cut Pro X (FCPx), for two reasons. First, I’m working on a macbook, with limited storage, and managing the storage with iMovie was getting problematic. Also, I really want to be able to attach tags to various clips, to make finding them later easier.

So, after working with iMovie for over a year, and now FCPx for over a month, here’s what I like about each.

Advantage FCPx:

  • Configurable storage. You can choose where backups go (even different drive – just stores the edits, not the clips themselves). You can choose whether to import the media into the project, or keep it external to the project, and do your own backups, etc. Similarly, you can choose for FCPx to create optimized (potentially larger files, but easier for FCPx to deal with) or proxy media (1/4 resolution for quicker response when editing) – or not. Also, you can easily delete the optimized and proxy media. iMovie has none of these options, and no easy way to delete the extra media it generates.
  • Meta-data: FCPx has some of the best meta data support of any editor I’ve researched. Who knows, maybe this will change in the next year or two.
    • You can label markers in the timeline and later search for them. Dave Dougdale and Chris Fenwick did a great video on editing interviews, that covers this topic.
    • Keyword support. Before you even insert clips into the timeline, you can add keywords to all or just a portion of a clip, which makes it easier to find the stuff later. I haven’t played with this enough to figure out how to best make use of this feature. For now, I’m using these categories/tags: slow-mo, time-lapse, good audio (ie somebody said something funny), and a few others. I don’t know yet, if I’ll label each person in a scene, wide vs closeup shots, etc.
  • Timeline organization
    • Compound clips. So, let’s say you’ve got some audio you recorded separately from the video, that also has (poor) audio. You can group them into a compound clip, and voila you can split (blade) the clip into pieces, and keep all the audio synced. You can also do this with the multi-camera feature (see below). I use it because I’m a cheapskate, and I because I don’t want to pay for any of the wonderful audio cleanup plugins available, I often use Audacity (free and open source) to clean up my audio. This process involves opening the clip in Audacity (which will read video files), messing with it, exporting to an audio file, importing the audio back into FCPx/iMovie, syncing the audio to the original clip (usually manually, but it is easy with audio the exact same size as the clip), and then in the case of FCPx locking it with the clip by creating a compound clip.
    • Roles. At first I didn’t think much about this feature, but after watching a video from Ripple Training, I have fallen in love with it. Basically, I usually strive to get the audio mix pretty close, in a single-ish pass through all the camera audio. Then, after I have a rough idea of what I want for mood music, I go find some, and it almost always is way off from the voice tracks. Ripple’s tip about using roles make it possible to adjust all the music as one, and more importantly, all the ‘voice’ audio from the clips as a single audio track. Way easier than going back and adjusting each individual voice audio clip’s volume. Plus, each clip is limited to +12dB of gain. Once it is grouped into a compound clip (with Ripple’s tip), you get another +12dB to play with. Nice.
  • More flexible titles. So iMovie has some nice titles, and FCPx basically has the same ones, but it lets you change many more of the parameters: locations, fonts, colors, etc. However, Apple wants more money for something called motion (a separate application) for more advanced control of your titles (and other simple overlay with motion graphics).
  • Re-attach Audio. This is a little bit of a nit pick, but you can re-attach audio to a clip after you’ve detached it. This caused me a major headache once in iMovie, and after that I was much more careful about detaching audio. With FCPx, its no longer something I have to be careful about. Just one less thing to worry about.
  • Multi camera support. Super slick, but most major editors out there have similar features. Basically, you can make something like a compound clip (above), but it makes it easier to switch between cameras (“angles” in FCPx lingo).
  • Configure-able exports. So iMovie lets you export to Facebook, Youtube, etc. But with iMovie you can change all the default settings, or save the configuration to a new export style. Nice.
  • Plugins: FCPx has lots of plugins. You can probably spend months researching them. However, from what I’ve seen so far, the only decent ones are not only not free, but typically pricey. By the time I would have bought all the ones that I thought would provide new features to FCPx, and ones that I would actually use, I’d almost double the cost of buying FCPx! So, I haven’t bought any yet.
  • Import iMove Projects. However, I haven’t really tried this one.
  • More online support. Let’s face it, for the most part the Apple documentation and help pages kinda suck. There are way more FCPx tutorials than there are iMovie tutorials. But maybe that’s because FCPx is so much trickier to drive.
  • 1º Rotations. In iMovie you can only rotate in increments of 90º, so you can’t fix slightly rotated horizon lines. FCPx has 1º increments. However, doing 90º is a bit of a pain in FCPx. Hey Apple, add some damn 90º rotation buttons to FCPx!
  • Auditions. Basically, this is a way to try out different versions of a timeline, and be able to switch back and forth. I don’t really use it much, but I can see how it could be useful.

Advantage iMovie:

  • Rotation Button. (the other side of the coin of the 1º rotations in FCPx, above) In iMovie you can easily rotate things by 90º, which is mostly what I do with video – either because phone video was started in portrait, and moved to landscape (so the majority of the video is rotated by 90º), or because I recorded with an action cam upside, and I din’t have time at the time of filming to do it in the camera’s settings.
  • Basic luminance adjustments: brightness, contrast, useful shadow adjustments. iMovie has them. They’re not quite as good as you might expect from a photo editor, but they work fairly well. FCPx, WTF?! Only 3 bands of luminance? That’s like buying an equalizer with only 2 sliders! Total BS out of a “pro” level editor. Completely unexceptable. The biggest pain is trying to brighten shadows. Basically, you can’t do it without making the black stuff look not black. Yuck!
  • Simpler Interface. FCPx and iMovie have a lot of UI elements in common, but I think the iMovie interface is just way easier to use. Although I’ve had some people claim its the other way around. In general, the ideas of having an “inspector” (think properties) pane and the plugins interface, while flexible, make it harder to find some of the basic settings that have nearly always visible menu buttons in iMovie. Basic things like color/brightness , volume, rotation settings are easy to find in iMovie, but buried in FCPx.
  • iOS. iMovie has an iOS verson (although I haven’t really tried this one – if someone sends me an iPad Pro, maybe I’ll give it a try. But how do I get the video from my SLR onto the iPad?).

In short, if iMovie had some form of compound clips, better meta-data support and maybe some better storage options, I’d never spend the money on FCPx. That said, iMovie does not have these features, and for me, these couple of features have made FCPx worth the money.

A couple of other points:

  • Yes, FCPx still ties you to MacOs, and I was hoping to get something cross platform.
  • But, FCPx is considerably cheaper for the features you get, than most other cross platform editors.
  • The most notable exception is the free version of Black Magic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, which really is a pro level editor and free! But, it has a pretty steep learning curve. Ok, it’s not vi, but it’s still more than I wanted to learn (for now). However, Black Magic seems to be putting a lot of work into Resolve the last few years, so I actually have high hopes for it in the near future.