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Film, Geekology

5 Reasons Why You Should Not Use Final Cut Pro

I am not anti-Apple and in fact own both a Mac and a PC, and like them both.  My opinion of Final Cut Pro has been shaped since I got my tapeless AVCHD camera.  Before then I was editor agnostic.  Having come from a video background, its non-sensical way of handling things, and hours and hours of frustration trying to get it to work (eventually succeeded), and getting it to produce high quality footage (which I never got it to do) just made me give up on it completely.  Here are the reasons why:

1) It forces a transcode to quicktime. This is the only editing software that forces a transcode before you even start editing.  Let’s start with some fundamentals of integer math.  All codec and display formats are integer.  There do exist floating point image formats that are used for intermediate work spaces to achieve high dynamic range images and to reduce computational error.

Let’s do an average of two numbers, lets say the number 1 and the number 6.  In floating point your result would be 3.5, but in integer number space there are no fractions, so the result would either be 3 or 4, depending on your rounding convention.  The convention itself doesn’t matter as the precision remains the same whether you truncate or round up.  The normal convention is truncation, so we will say that the integer result is 3 ±½.  That half bit error by itself is not much cause for concern, except let’s say we take our result and do some more integer math on it.  With each successive pass of integer math, we accumulate the error, so if we did another average on that result, our error would be ±1, and so on an so forth.  If you do lots of math, you would expect the effect on your image to be a gradual drift of the accuracy of your pixels, and this is exactly what happens.  This can be manifested as posterization of colour gradients, and loss of detail in your shadows and highlights.

Next, let’s talk about codec lossiness.  Almost all compression codecs are lossy, which means when you encode you incur some loss of information.  It doesn’t matter if what you are encoding to is a high quality format or not, every encode will make you lose information.  The degree of lossiness depends on the codec and the degree of compression.  The only non-lossy encoders are the ones that render to lossless bitmaps.  For IDCT based codecs (jpeg, mpeg, h.264, etc.), this lossiness is manifested as macroblocking or mosquitoing.  For wavelet based codecs (RedCode), lossiness is exhibited as blurriness.

The data flow of the ideal editor should be something like this:

i) Decode the picture

ii) Convert the picture to floating point

iii) Apply your effects in floating point

iv) Render to your final encoder (incur integer and encode errors here)

Unfortunately, the data flow of Final Cut Pro is something like this:

i) Decode your picture

ii) Encode to quicktime (incur both integer and encode errors here)

iii) Apply your effects in integer space (incur integer errors here)

iv) Render to your final encoder (incur both integer and encode errors here)

And indeed, we can observe these errors in any footage produced by FCP where the original source footage is high quality.

Why do they do this?  Apple owns quicktime.  Apple collects royalties on quicktime.  Apple also owns FCP.  Figure it out.

2) It makes you marry the camera and editing computer while it transfers. If you have non-quicktime footage, you can’t simple give the footage to your editor on a disk.  You have to physically connect your camera to the editing machine and do a “log and transfer”, which means copy and transcode to quicktime.  Depending on the speed of the editing machine, this can be as fast as half realtime to as slow as twice realtime.  Let’s say its in the middle and will transfer at realtime speeds, and you’ve just finished a 30 day shoot where you’ve accumulated 2 hours of raw footage a day.  That means you are paying your editor to sit on his ass for 60 hours while the log and transfer is occurring.  Not to mention the time that your camera is also out of commission.  There is absolutely no reason to do this.  Tapeless cameras behave like removable drives when you plug them into your computer, it is actually extra work to detect whether a particular drive is a physical camera or not.  The decoder already exists on your machine to do the log and transfer, why can’t it do an offline transcode, why does the camera have to be there?  No other editing software has this requirement, and it is an absolute waste of time.  The normal workflow of other editors is: copy the data to the editing machine (which is far faster than a transcode), open a clip with the editor, start editing.

Note: the last time I tried a log and transfer, it refused to recognize that there was a camera attached.  I had previously transferred footage with the same machine and the same camera.  The hypothesis is that there has been a Mac OS update or an FCP update which has completely broken log and transfer.

3) Apple ProRes. ProRes is a 10 bit 4:2:2 integer format with intrafame compression but no interframe compression.  It’s integer.  It’s a little bit lossy.  It’s huge.  For a short film I did, FCP turned 17GB of high quality raw footage into 192GB of lesser quality ProRes footage (because it had to transcode).  If I had RED footage (12 bit), ProRes is absolutely not an option.  ProRes is just an Apple scam to sell you more drive space, and since Macs are not user upgradeable, you have to go to an Apple store to do it and they will try to upsell you a new computer instead of doing the upgrade.  If you have an AVCHD camera, ProRes is what comes out the other end after you do the log and transfer.

4) It interlaces all your footage. Turning my nice high quality progressive footage to interlaced is inexcusable.  Progressive and interlace are most definitely not interchangeable.  P30 footage has a complete frame every 1/30th of a second, and p24 footage has a complete frame every 1/24th of a second.  When interpreted as interlaced, it is converted to show a field (half frame) every 1/60th of a second.  So p30 footage will now have half its frame moved in time by 1/60th of second, and p24 footage is telecined with a 3:2 pattern and will have an uneven judder.  If you were to watch the footage on an interlaced display, the point is moot, but if you are watching on a progressive display (like every computer monitor and most flat panel TV’s), then you are subject to the whims of the deinterlace algorithms used by your playback device.  Deinterlacing is a programmatic way to convert fields into frames, and since each field only contains half your frame information, various techniques are used to guess what information is missing and fill it in.  And this won’t fix your telecine judder unless your display device has inverse 3:2 pulldown detection (of which algorithms have their own flaws too).  Deinterlacing most definitely does NOT get you back to your original quality.  The only way that I have figured out to undo this disaster is to use Adobe Premiere CS4 and use the “interpret footage” command to make it progressive again.

5) It point samples when it scales your image. Let’s say all your source material is high def and you want to cut a standard def  DVD.  Then you have to scale it down to DVD resolution with some sort of resampling algorithm.  The absolute worst algorithm to do this is point sampling, which is of course what FCP uses.  In signal processing, the effect you get is called aliasing, where your signal is repeated at higher frequencies.  This is manifested as jaggy edges along sharply defined objects, such as the rim of peoples glasses, venetian blinds, brick building, or moire patterns.  As a single still image, the effect is not that noticeable, but when the image moves, the jaggies move too and pop out at you.  It looks horrible.  There are many good resampling algorithms out there, why use the worst one?

So there you have it.  If there are any good reasons to use FCP, I don’t know them, so please enlighten me.  It may be easy to use, it may have useful features, but if I can’t get high quality footage out of it, then it is of no use to me.  Do yourself a favour and use Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas instead.



4 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why You Should Not Use Final Cut Pro

  1. Good analysis dude. I’m pretty sold on Sony Vegas now, but always liked FCE.

    Posted by Brian | April 1, 2010, 12:20 am
  2. Wow! You don’t have a clue what you are talking about?! Whole text full of beautiful jargon and no sense in to it. Or you are joking…

    1. You want to edit AVCHD h264/AVC transport stream without intermediate codec?! Madness..

    2. Just copy the whole AVCHD directory stucture to HDD, log and transfer that. This is important as directory structure and files in it makes the AVCHD wrapper.

    3. Apple ProRes is beautiful codec. There is also ProRes 4:4:4:4 variation available.

    “Not only does ProRes 422 preserve image quality in a superior way after one generation of encoding, it can withstand many generations of successive decoding and reencoding with almost no further degradation in quality. The StEM sequence from the previous chart was decoded and then reencoded with ProRes 422 HQ, and this cycle was repeated multiple times. The average PSNR after each generation is plotted on the chart below.”


    4. Some AVCHD cameras record progressive material as pseudoprogressive, that is in interlaced format. FCP is not interlacing anything, your camera is. If you are shooting 24p material (witch you in NO circumstances should not do with hight shutterspeed video camera) your camera also repeats frames to achieve standard AVCHD framerates ie. 25 or 30.

    The method is non standard and you should blame your camera manufacturer for breaking standards or stop shooting at 24p as there is no reason to do so in first place.

    This comment is so idiotic that I am going to burst!

    And at the subject of interlaced material, the is NO information missing in it. You simply have the opinion to shoot at full temporal resolution ie 50/60i fps but with halve vertical spatial resolution, or with halve temporal resolution ie 25/30p fps and full vertical spatial resolution.

    FCP handles interlaced material beautifully.

    5. This comment is the only one that has any validity in it. FCP scales HD material to SD DVD horribly. There is however a method to do it right. Its called The Bonsai Method: http://www3.telus.net/bonsai/Step-by-Step.html

    6. I have no clue why i even answered to this. The reason may be, that in case you are writing this seriously…

    7. And if you are such a Connoisseur why are you even shooting with AVCHD camera..

    8. And no english is not my native language

    Posted by Arazo | April 27, 2010, 7:51 pm
    • 1) Every other editor can do this without an intermediate codec, why is it madness? Or have you not even used any other editor?

      2) Yes I have done that. Log and transfer for AVCHD means transcode to ProRes. The transcode itself is what I am objecting to.

      3) Correct, ProRes is a low lossy codec. But it is still a lossy codec. Given a choice of no transcode and lossless and not using any extra disk space, — OR — a transcode with lossiness and consuming many many extra gigabytes, what would any sensible person choose?

      4) Wrong! I am shooting true progressive. FCP is plain doing the wrong thing. Yes all the information is still there, but playback interpretation is different. When a progressive frame is interpreted as interlaced, half your frame is supposed to be displayed at a different time than in progressive. That means you are subject to however good or bad your deinterlace algorithm on your playback device is. And all deinterlace algorithms try to make a good guess to fill in the missing information when the field is displayed. For instance, I record some 30p material. FCP changes it to 60i, which leaves the same frame information, but one field within that frame is displaced by 1/60th of a second. On playback, your playback device takes each field and deinterlaces it to make a complete frame, using one of many algorithms to fill in the missing information. So the resulting playback is at 60 frames/sec instead of 30 frames/sec, with half of the information filled in as a guess. This is very different from my original 30 frames/sec progressive material. The only reason that you don’t notice a difference is because Apple doesn’t properly deinterlace on playback, it WEAVES (which will have feathering artifacts on truly interlaced footage), or drops a field entirely. So my progressive footage interpreted as interlaced will look correct playing back on an Apple computer, but it will be incorrect for any other playback device. Conversely, other truly interlaced material will play back incorrectly on Apple devices, and play back correctly on other devices.

      5) Using a blur filter to get rid of aliasing effects works, but you are left with a fuzzy image! There are good polyphase and supersampling algorithms which will scale with minimal aliasing while maintaining sharpness. This is not one of them.

      6) You obviously are a true believer and will not listen to reasonable argument no matter what I say. My arguments are mathematical, which is ultimately objective. Your arguments are emotional, not well reasoned, and somewhat ignorant.

      7) AVCHD is the most popular codec out there for consumer HD video cameras. If other editors can properly handle it, and FCP can’t, isn’t it logical that I shouldn’t use FCP? Criticizing the camera and codec is just your way of deflecting the blame. You have invested too much time and effort with FCP and it is difficult for you to accept that it is crap. FCP really is the only editor that has difficulty with this codec.

      8) Your english is excellent.

      Posted by slumbuddy | April 28, 2010, 3:37 am


  1. Pingback: I will never buy another Apple product again (or how I was a PC, then a Mac, then back to a PC) « The Dragon Well - August 6, 2011

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