August 26, 2011

Final Cut Pro X training reviewed

When Final Cut Pro X launched there was a lot of incorrect information about what it could and could not do. One experienced editor reviewer said FCP X couldn’t do overwrite edits and that you could only change a clip's speed by 25% and 50%. Both statements are untrue.

To really find out what it can do and get some hands-on experience it is useful to get some training. A classroom-based course is a good idea if you have the time and money, or you could, of course, read Apple’s online help – but like most manuals it is arm-gnawingly boring.

A more appealing alternative is to download some video training. A few months before launch, Apple previewed FCP X with a select few individuals. Two of this privileged group were FCP trainers Steve Martin of Ripple Training ( and Larry Jordan ( - pictured below speaking at the recent FCPUG London SuperMeet). Both had a busy time ahead of the FCP X launch and both delivered videos for download soon after. A few people I know bought the training before they bought the software to see whether FCP X was worth buying.

What you get

Steve Martin’s training comes as a 1.34GB zipped file. Once opened you get 38 QuickTime videos and two pdfs. One pdf tells you about Apple accreditation while the other shows how to download media files to practice on and follow Steve as he takes you through FCP X. The media is a further big download (1.24GB) and includes a group of American Civil War re-enactors shooting at one another and being interviewed.

I’d recommend downloading the media because it will enable you to follow those sections on fixing audio, synching audio and colour correction. Unless of course you already have video with mains hum, from a DSLR with dodgy white balance! The training videos add up to around five hours of training for $39.99.

Larry Jordan’s training comes as a 1.36GB zip file. It opened out, on my Mac, to one pdf (a contents page) and 79 QuickTime videos in 12 chapter folders. His website states there are 88 videos, but that might include the missing ones from chapter two, which Larry explained: “…is devoted to trouble-shooting. And, as of now, we don't know what troubles we need to shoot. So, there are no movies in this chapter yet.”

Larry expects you to provide your own footage, but that’s probably not a problem for most people. In the training he demonstrates using some GVs of a garden, a kitchen and an interview. If you have something similar you’ll easily be able to follow along. The videos amount to around 11 hours of training for $99.99.

If you are new to editing you’ll find all you need to ingest, edit and share (export) your project. Neither trainer assumes you have previous knowledge. That said, if you are upgrading from iMovie or are an experienced FCP 7 user you’ll be shown the similarities (many keystrokes have not changed) and the differences.

If you’re impatient you’ll probably prefer Steve’s approach, by lesson nine (about one hour in) you’ll be doing your first rough cut of the media provided. Larry, however, takes a bit longer to get to that stage. He spends the first three hours doing a good overview of the software and, most importantly, how to manage the media.

Database or editor, or both?

FCP X is a database of media events rather than a series of projects (as in FCP 7). It took me a while to get my head around how it stores and organises media – but this is important and I’d recommend you don’t skim through it. Occasionally I did wonder if I was ever going to edit anything, but with hindsight I think it is time well spent. There is no point jumping straight in trying to edit if you don’t understand how FCP X organises your video.

Both trainers take you through the basics of editing, trimming, transitions, effects and audio. FCP X does not do multi-cam editing (at the time of writing) but it is expected sometime soon. But it can sync one or more video clips with one or more audio clips by analysing the audio. Users of the PluralEyes plug-in will be used to this. And it is explained clearly by both trainers.

Which training?

It is difficult to recommend one set of training over the other. Both are very good. If you don’t have any video to practice with you should probably consider Steve Martin’s training as you get the full package and it is cheaper than Larry’s. You could easily go through it in a single day (if you turn your phone off). Although I suspect you’d be a bit googly eyed by the end of the day if you did. One small criticism is that Steve used a normal sized pointer, which I occasionally lost sight of as it whizzed across the screen. There were quite a few times I had to rewind the video to check exactly where he had clicked. But, that is the advantage of training like this, you can watch it as many times as you like. In comparison Larry had enlarged his pointer, which radiated a red circle when he clicked on anything, so was a lot easier to follow with tired eyes.

I have previously bought training webinars from Larry Jordan’s site and attended several seminars he gave at BVE a few years ago. I like his relaxed style and methodical approach. His training is more expensive but still great value for money. You get plenty of in-depth instruction.

Larry is a classic trainer – he outlines each chapter with an overview of what you’ll learn, demonstrates it, then concludes with a summary of what you should have learnt. Once I was about half way through I watched most of the short overview videos in fast forward leaving more time to concentrate on the training sections. I think you’d be crazy to try and get though all of Larry’s training in a day. It will take about 11 hours just to watch it and you’ll need time to practice on your own material after each section to consolidate what you have learnt.

If you’re not interested in editing, but do shoot stock footage, FCP X could easily become your new library as every shot can have keywords attached and even different sections of the same shot can be given different searchable keywords. In which case I’d recommend you buy Larry’s training as it goes into this aspect of organising the media in more detail.

Is this way of learning for you?

It looks like we have time to get up to speed with the software. There are quite a few things missing that professional editors have come to expect. Over the next few months updates will start to appear, and more plug-ins will emerge. So, for many users, there is no need to rush into a decision.

If you are easily distracted you probably should book yourself onto a classroom-based course. When I was totally new to editing I found classroom training worked best because you can ask the instructor questions. Most good training organisations will also offer telephone support for around 30 days afterwards. With luck some Skillset money (in the UK) may be available to reduce the costs.

If you have editing experience and need a conversion course, video training may be ideal. It will take you through the differences and show all the features in a logical and straightforward manner. In a group you can be slowed down by the technophobes, with this training you set your own pace. You can fast forward through anything that isn’t relevant to you now, but it will always be there when you need to apply a feature you rarely use.

A classroom-based course also requires time off to attend, while a video course allows you to choose the time and the place. It is very flexible, allowing you to do an hour a day if you’re busy or motor through all of it over a quiet weekend. But, to really make this training work for you – you have to set aside time to concentrate on watching, learning and most important of all practicing.

By Christina Fox

This review first appeared in the Autumn 2011 issue of Zerb, the magazine of the Guild of Television Cameramen.

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