This series explains how you can set up Final Cut Pro X, organize your media and import them for editing. We will also look at how to import each codec or file format.

This part will cover the basics of Final Cut Pro X (henceforth FCP-X) and project settings.

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Does FCP-X support native editing?

NLEs like Adobe Premiere Pro or Sony Vegas Pro support what is known as ‘native editing‘. They take pride in their ability to accept any kind of codec without the need for transcoding or plugins.

FCP-X, in its original state, only handles Quicktime movies (.MOV) natively. You can find a list of supported cameras here (it isn’t up to date). The Help Manual lists supported codecs, but fails to mention or warn the reader that these need additional plug-ins to work. To me, this is plain misleading and unprofessional. It is for good reason that I don’t use FCP for professional work.

We will look at how FCP-X deals with third-party codecs later. You can decide for yourself whether it deserves the tag of being a ‘native’ editor, or whether it’s worth worrying about at all.

Lastly, it is important to draw a distinction about whether FCP-X is a professional-grade editing application or NLE. It is, make no mistake. According to Apple:

Final Cut Pro X is a revolutionary application for creating, editing, and producing the highest-quality video. Final Cut Pro combines high-performance digital editing and native support for virtually any video format with easy-to-use and time-saving features that let you focus on storytelling.

It has everything a basic editing session might need. One must not misinterpret its simplicity as weakness.

Why do people complain about it then? Simply this: it changes the way you organize clips and edit them, if you’re coming from FCP 7. Many editors don’t want to waste time learning new software (except for the name everything else is new) when a client is on their back, but that’s a complaint for any new software. I like the interface and design of FCP-X, and it reminds me of what Sony Vegas was in 2008.

If you’re starting out in editing, take the time to study FCP-X carefully. It has the potential to bring back the glory days of FCP.

Where to find help

To access the FCP-X help manual, fire up FCP-X and go to Help > Final Cut Pro X Help.

To access the supported cameras page, go to Help > Supported Cameras.

To participate in discussions, learn or help, visit the Apple support page here.

I strongly urge you to read the manual because it explains basic concepts quite clearly. In this regard it is heads and shoulders above manuals from other NLEs. It makes no assumptions as to your expertise.

Project Settings

FCP-X doesn’t have a lot of project settings to choose from. Before we get into that, you need to do two very important things:

  • Make sure your FCP-X version is the latest. At the time of this writing, the latest is v10.0.8, while the manual stops at 10.0.6. When should you update? Only if you need the extra features. If you’re happy with what you have, don’t update.
  • Go to your Mac icon (apple logo, top left) > Software Update... and ensure you have Pro Apps QuickTime codecs installed.

To access your project settings, go to Final Cut Pro > Preferences…. You’ll get a popup as follows:

Leave the Editing settings as is.

Playback Settings

Keep the ‘Use Original or Optimized Media’ box ticked (by default). Playback quality should be ‘Better Performance’ by default. If you have a fast hard disk system that can sustain the data rate of your footage, then you could try ‘High Quality’.

Keep the ‘Warn when frames are dropped due to Hard drive performance’ box checked. This will tell you if you can sustain ‘High Quality’ playback. I would advise ‘Better Performance’ in any case, because its quality is good enough for editing – but not monitoring.

If you have an external monitor connected, you will see it under A/V Output (drop down).

Import Settings

This is the image above. I suggest you leave the default (as shown) settings on for Organizing. If you want to transcode media for proxies you could tick the ‘Create proxy media’ box.

Leave the video and audio options alone, and unchecked. The mark of a professional application is the freedom it gives you to control each property in your workflow. You can manipulate your footage later, so there is no need to commit to anything at this point. All these options can be added later, so you’re not missing out on anything.

Leave the Destinations settings as is.

How to import video into Final Cut Pro X

Click the Import Icon which you’ll find under the Event Library as shown:

Once you click that, you will get this popup box:

The browser is fairly straightforward – find the files you want, select them and hit Import Selected…. You’ll get this:

You’ll find this familiar to the Import Settings options, which it is; except for the part where it asks you which Event you want to add your footage into. That’s what we’ll look at next.

In Part Two we’ll look at events, clips and metadata. We’ll learn how to organize your media, and how to analyze them for best quality.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free cheatsheet (with examples) of the most used focal lengths in film (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).