First Steps with Final Cut Express 4.0

The day is finally here, on Thursday I received FCE 4.0 in the mail from Amazon, it was $10 cheaper than directly from Apple. Unfortunately not all went as smoothly as expected.

On my iMac I installed it from my user account, and every time I started it up it “Unexpectedly Quit” after loading all the plug-ins. Since I didn’t feel like dealing with this problem, I instead installed FCE on my PowerBook, but this time in the admin account, and it worked fine. After testing in the admin account, I tested it in the user account on the PowerBook, also without a hitch.

Back on the iMac, I deleted everything, and reinstalled from the admin account, and while it worked fine as an admin, in the user account it still crashed. After calling Apple support it turned out that when re-installing I must have missed the plist file in my user account. After deleting it, FCE started up fine.

Bottom line: Install FCE 4.0 from the admin account. Also, first start it up from the admin account, at least that’s what tech support told me.

Another hint from Apple Support: Each user has to have his/her own scratch disk, they cannot be shared.

When first starting up FCE, it complains if no camcorder is connected. The first time I thought that was required so I hooked it up, only to be frustrated at a later point in time, that no audio was being played back with my movie.

Turns out that by default audio is routed to the firewire device if connected. To remedy the situation, go to View->Video out->Canvas Playback. This is far from intuitive and upset me a bit, also because I had a hard time finding it in the user manual. Google was more helpful.

To avoid this problem, it’s easier not to connect a camcorder when being asked. FCE then defaults to Canvas Playback, the more intuitive thing in my opinion. It would be nice if the FCE installation CD came with a quick start guide that would also point out common pitfalls a beginner might encounter.

So far I a few days to play with it, and browse through the user manual. I also reviewed Apple’s online tutorials. The more I get to know about Final Cut Express, the more excited I am about finally having it.

My original intent of upgrading was that it would allow me more creative freedom in editing my movies, and while it certainly will do that, it also enhances the user interface, and the ways to work with the movie in so many ways that I cannot summarize here.

Recommendation: Do make sure to read the provided user manual.

With 1152 pages it certainly is no quick read, but the 135 pages I read so far were well worth it. While there is an apple recommended training handbook, I do not plan to purchase it. I reviewed the table of contents, and in comparison to the free user manual it does not seem to cover nearly as much. That, of course, would be difficult, given that it is half the size.

Once I have had a little bit more time with FCE I will post my favorite features from the perspective of switching from iMovie. One of them I can tell already right now (explained in Chapter 3 of the manual):

Movie clips and sequences (i.e., timeline of your movie) are independent from your media files contrary to iMovie. Therefore, an FCE project file is very small. You can have multiple revsions of your movie, without chewing up dozens of gigabytes on your hard disk. That would have been nice to have when I was working on my own wedding movie last year. I have three versions of it in iMovie, each some 10 gigs. Because of all the edits, there is no easy way to incoporate them into FCE to save some space.

And that brings me to the big, albeit not previously unknown, frustration with Final Cut: It’s iMovie import functions are very limited. Only your cross-dissolve transitions will import as such. All other transitions, video FX, or titles will import as clips, such that these edits cannot be changed any more. In other words, if you want to import a previous iMovie project into FCE and keep your options open to change it, you have to delete all edits other than cross-dissolve.

Basically, this means, I will use the program only for new projects. The future lies bright ahead.

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