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Hands-on review: Final Cut Pro X 10.3 - creativity abound

As Apple’s design increasingly flattens out across all software, Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) 10.3 deepens the interface changes users have experienced over the past five years.

Built to place greater attention onto your video content itself - rather than cluttering up the workspace with tools and buttons - the new interface offers perhaps the cleanest view FCPX has ever had. With the same rich customisation options that have always been present in the software, with a little tweaking video editors will easily be able to lay out their space in the manner that best suits them.

Building on that customisation is the newly designed Workspaces feature. Rather than having a single view that users adjust as required through different parts of the editing process - displaying sound tools for audio manipulation, grading tools for colours etc - it’s now possible to customise separate Workspaces that can be switched in and out depending on the task at hand. FCPX features a handful of built-in templates, but power users will enjoy the ability to create their own layouts to suit their workflow.

The backbone of FCPX has also been updated in 10.3, offering a Timeline with a number of incremental improvements. The real star of this latest update, however, are the improved audio tools.

It’s no secret that audio editing has been something of a challenge with previous iterations of FCPX, but 10.3 expands the Roles functionality - separating dialogue, music and effects, for example - with the new audio lanes.

Developed to clean up the previously cluttered Timeline with a large number of audio sources, lanes make it much easier to focus on specific elements of sound without interfering with others. When adjusting dialogue levels, say, 10.3 allows users to turn lanes for music or ambient noise off altogether. Isolation of lanes presents a much clearer perspective when working with multiple sound elements, and while it’s a complicated system for occasional FCPX users like myself, once professionals wrap their minds around it the efficiency and ease of use will pay dividends.

FCPX 10.3 has arrived at a time where many are questioning Apple’s hardware choices, particularly with the freshly updated MacBook Pro. The standout feature of the company’s new flagship laptops is the Touch Bar, an OLED strip replacing the function buttons above the keyboard.

Whether the Touch Bar comes into its own as the killer feature to swing people back towards the MBP will largely depend on its application in software, and Apple is using FCPX as a showcase for how the new innovation will work.

Unfortunately testing the Touch Bar requires having a 2016 MBP that has one, not the ageing 2012 MBP I have for review purposes. Official word from the company is that the customisable Touch Bar allows them to rapidly switch between editing tools at the press of a button, while using the bar as a slider will make adjusting levels selecting segments for trimming intuitive and responsive. Anyone who has used iMovie on an iPhone may be able to get a basic idea of how touch functionality could be of use in FCPX.

The frustration with having change forced on users isn’t new - indeed, several of my friends who regularly use Final Cut Pro are stubbornly clinging to version 7 - but whether the Touch Bar offers enough in 10.3 to send people out to buy a new Mac or not remains to be seen.

That said, even on my first generation, over four years old retina MBP, Final Cut Pro X is running better than ever.

Coming alongside the updating of Final Cut Pro itself are some welcome changes for Motion and Compressor, two of the most valuable supplemental tools. Both applications have been blessed with the new, flatter interface to align them with their larger sibling, but less visible changes take a little digging.

Compressor has been updated to version 4.3, carrying all of the familiar exporting options - creation of video and audio content for Apple devices, blu-ray and DVD, and a host of online publishing services. Performance tweaks exist here and there, as well as support for the Touch Bar on new gen MacBook Pros and a more streamlined means of delivery and compliance for submissions to the iTunes Store.

Similarly, the update to version 5.3 of Motion brings incremental improvements rather than sweeping ones, with enhanced 3D text tools promising greater realism, new behaviours that make it easier to align multiple animations and - of course - Touch Bar functionality.

It’s difficult to address the full suite of upgrade to FCPX, Motion and Compressor without hands-on time with a MacBook featuring the Touch Bar, but at its core it’s the same, robust set of tools video editors have relied on for years. As is always the case when Apple evolves software, there will be vocal opponents, but by taking the time to digest the new interface and customise it as you see fit, you might be surprised at how intuitive it has become.

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