Monday, 27 June 2011

Final Cut Pro X = iMovie Pro?

Final Cut Pro X

I've had a couple of hours to play with FCPX and I am amazed, both at the performance improvements and at the missing features.

Firstly let me state that I was not a big fan of FCP 7. I found the UI to be old fashioned and needlessly complicated, hanging on to the editing methodology first used by Avid. Having come from a Lightworks background I was comfortable in a more flexible environment, which is one of the reasons I use Sony Vegas.

I bought Final Cut Studio a few years ago and learnt how to use FCP, just to see if the grass really was greener on the other side, but I was never very comfortable working with it. Having said that I understand how for many editors FCP allowed them to break free from the limitations of Avid and at a far lower cost. Like all Apple products FCP commands a fierce loyalty from it's users.

There had been rumours that FCP was being dropped by Apple, but then we were told to expect "something awesome". The sneak peek at NAB created quite a storm and raised more questions than it answered, but now we have the chance to see for ourselves (provided you've got $299 to spare)

My first impression of FCPX was "WOW!" This is no clunky Avid clone, this is a genuinely new product, written from scratch with the aim of making the editors job as easy as possible. I found the responsiveness of the UI when "skimming" clips to be amazing, and previewing effects was a dream. But I ran into some issues that I think anyone could have trouble with, even if they don't have an FCP background.

Firstly, I found FCPX to be very picky about media. I have a collection of different media formats that I used to test media import and I was disappointed in the results. FCPX would not import any flavour of mpeg2 files. Not .mpg, .m2v or .mts. It would also not import AVCHD files. Worse than that, some of the files it did import just showed up as red tiles with a yellow exclamation mark, with no explanation of what went wrong. Some others just showed a solid green tile, again with no explanation.

Secondly, Editing in the "magnetic timeline" was interesting but frustrating, how do I stop things rippling if I don't want them to? (disclaimer: I have not RTFM) I also spent far too long trying to get a picture on one layer to fade in over a picture on another layer, without success. If I tried to drag a transition to the start of the clip, FCPX insisted on putting it on the nearest transition on the layer below. (yes I know, there are no "layers")

I found the lack of "save as" unnerving. I always work on projects incrementally and sometimes end up with dozens of versions. The only way I could see to do this in FCPX was to keep duplicating my project.

The preset effects and transitions are good, but of course the preset is never quite what you want. Getting under the hood seemed tricky. I wanted to add a drop shadow to a text effect, only to find it was already being used to create the reflection.

Of course the biggest issue from an FCP users point of view is the lack of options to collaborate with others. The only import option is from iMovie. There is no XML, OMF or AAF import. Not even an EDL. Likewise there is no way to export your project to another system like ProTools or smoke.

iMovie 11 - Look Familiar?

I'm not quite sure what happened at Apple. This was obviously developed by the same team that did iMovie 11 but it has a lot more power than iMovie. So should it have been iMovie Pro? It certainly isn't FCP 8, it is a completely different animal and expecting FCP users to adopt this in their existing workflows is a non starter.

I'll keep playing with it to see if it grows on me, but I understand the pain of all the FCP editors who were promised something awesome only to have their hopes cruelly dashed.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Vegas for the home user

Sony have just released the latest version of Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11 (Hereafter called VMS11 ;-) which has lots of new features and brings 3D editing within reach of the home user.
Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11
Sony's Studio line of products are cut down versions of the Pro applications with a few of the more complex features taken out to make them more accessible for the home or semi-pro user. Having played with the latest version of VMS11 I have to say that I could do 90% of my projects on this software and there are even a couple of features that I want to see in the next version of Vegas Pro!

The new version of VMS features support for Standard and High Definition video with colour correction, stabilisation and chroma keying. Projects can be put on DVD or Blu-Ray discs or even uploaded directly to YouTube.

The Vegas Movie Studio interface
The user interface is very similar to Vegas Pro and is very clear and simple. There are even built in tutorials which teach you all the different features of the program.

The new version features the ability to edit 3D footage from the new generation of 3D camcorders such as the HXR-NX3D1 or the HDR-TD10 which I mentioned in earlier blogs. Together with these cameras VMS11 provides a low cost solution for editing your own 3D material and then delivering either a 3D Blu-Ray disc or uploading your masterpiece directly to YouTube (which now supports 3D formats.)

There is a very cool new text tool with some fun animation templates and there is a new "Make Movie" wizard which takes a lot of the guesswork out of choosing a rendering format. All the technical information can be found on Sony's website.

There are also two suites of software which include VMS11: The Platinum Production Suite which includes VMS11, DVD Studio 5, Sound Forge Audio Studio 10 and Vocal Eraser software and Imagination Studio 3 which also includes Acid Music Studio, Photo-Go photo editing software and 360 music tracks for your productions. A complete production package in a box!

Sony have some special pricing until the end of the month. VMS11 starts at just $49.95 and even the imagination studio is only $124.95! That's incredible value for money and would make a great gift for Fathers day!

Thanks for reading, any questions or comments gratefully received.


Thursday, 2 June 2011

Sony's new 3D baby!

One of the products on the Sony stand at Dimension3 which drew a lot of attention was the HXR-NX3D1 mini 3D camcorder. I had a chance to play with it and was very impressed with the functionality and quality of the output from such a small package.
Sony HXR-NX3D1 Camcorder
It basically consists of two HD camcorders in a single housing, with separate lenses, sensors and processors.
The distance between the lenses (Inter-Ocular Distance) is fixed at 31mm but the convergence can be adjusted manually or automatically to vary the convergence plane and hence the 3D effect.

The Camcorder has 96GB of onboard flash memory, which is enough for about 7.5 hours of 3D material, but there is also a slot for Memory Stick or SD cards to expand the capacity. It is also possible to connect an external hard drive and copy media direct to that without a computer.

The handle on top of the Camcorder has a professional audio interface with two XLR connectors for line or mic level inputs, it even has support for phantom power. The mini shotgun mic is also part of the kit.
The whole handle and audio section can easily be removed from the Camcorder to reduce size and weight as can the lens hood.
Handle and Audio interface
The whole thing weighs just over a kilo with mic and battery attached and is very comfortable to hold, although it was a little right heavy when held by the handle. I would love to get it on my little Steadicam rig!

Talking of Steadicam the Camera has active stabilisation which does a very good job of smoothing out bumps when shooting handheld or walking. The Camera can sense when it is moving and adjusts the stabilisation accordingly.

The 3.5" touch screen screen display allows access to all of the features of the Camcorder with the ability to select automatic or manual control for many of the settings.
The screen is also Auto-Stereoscopic so you can see your 3D shots when you are shooting or when you play them back later without the need for 3D glasses. The screen can also be switched to show Left only, Right only or a combination of Left and Right images which is very useful when setting convergence. There is also a mini-HDMI output so you can play your 3D footage back on a domestic 3D television.

Material is recorded as Full-HD AVCHD at 28mbits per second in a file format called "MVC" (Multi-View Coding) which carries both streams of HD video. This can be loaded directly into Vegas Pro 10d and is recognised as 3D footage. I did have some problems with this at Dimension3 but I believe that was because we had a pre-production unit. Sony are also working with Cineform to make the format compatible with their Neo3D format.

The HXR-NX3D1 is expected to be released this summer with a street price of around $3000 which I think is amazing for the capabilities of this camera. This will open up 3D production for anyone who would like to get into 3D but who cannot justify the cost of a full sized 3D rig.

There is more (preliminary) information from Sony here.