Final Cut X – powerfully confusing simplicity

This week I finally pulled the trigger and purchased Final Cut X and Motion. I’ve been using Final Cut Express 4 since 2008, it was WAY past time to upgrade. To be honest, while I knew it was a needed move 1, I was a little leery. Final Cut X got trashed when it first came out and, while the reviews have slowly become more positive, I’ve been a little put off myself by Apple’s recent software “upgrades.” Still, I took the step moved ahead.

First impressions?

I can absolutely understand why professionals cried out against the “iMovie-ifacation” of Final Cut. The interface feels almost exactly like iMovie, complete with an integrated library (which I hate), and the power features hidden from sight. I’m by no means a video expert, but this really took me by surprise – neither videos nor screenshots prepared me for the intensely different experience of using this software.

The problem is, it’s almost too simple, so much so that it ceases to be intuitive. The features are there, but the interface is completely alien because I’ve been working in a different workflow for so long. The simplicity trips me up, even if it works better than what I’m used to.

Adding tracks, for instance, is mind-numbingly simple, and yet utterly confusing to first tackle. In Final Cut Express, and just about every other video editor I’ve ever used, if I wanted add a track to a timeline, I had to go into the interface and specifically add a track. I could always go back in to the interface and add more later, and often did, but this was what I was used to. In Final Cut X that dialog is gone. Instead, I just drag a clip into the timeline and, if I want it to be placed in a different track I just drag it into place. Is this better? I think so. Is it intuitive for someone who’s done it the other way for as long as I have? Not in the slightest. At least, not at first.

This is Apple’s particular pathology. If they think they have improved upon the way to do something, they implement it and tell the complainers to use it and tell them the are wrong. In the past, Apple took great pride in telling the nay-sayers how misguided they were 2. The problem is, their software quality has been slipping the last few years, and people who rely on their tools are find themselves working on older software packages 3 or looking at pretty interfaces they find they can’t use. After repeating this process for nearly all their major software packages people’s patience is finally getting tried.

Do I like Final Cut X? I’ve used it for all of a second so I can’t judge the software at present. The little I’ve done makes it seem like a very capable editor, created a paradigm I think I could like, eventually, but is so alien to me right now it’s hard to know for sure.

  1. I can’t afford to add a subscription to get video editing in Creative Cloud, I’m already gagging on having to pay for the photography suite. 
  2. Remember when people said what a mistake it was to ship the iMac without a floppy drive
  3. I’m still using Pages 4.3 for long ABCNJ documents. The newer version is a nightmare. 

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