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Apple Final Cut Express  (6/2003)

    by Douglas Dixon

Editing Interface
Input / Capturing Video
Editing Tools
Transitions, Filters and Effects
Editing Express

Digital media is hot, and both Apple and Microsoft have been working diligently to develop and enhance the Macintosh and Windows platforms for digital media entertainment and production. Each platform now includes broad support for video and audio and imaging, through interfacing to hardware devices and processing with a variety of editing and authoring applications. As usual, the Windows platform offers a wide and sometimes confusing variety of choices, while Apple has been working diligently to provide an integrated collection of both built-in consumer applications and higher-end professional tools.

To get started with digital media, Apple provides the iLife suite of applications bundled with OS X, including the iTunes music player, iPhoto photo album, iMovie video editor, and iDVD authoring tool. Then for professionals, Apple has developed higher-end tools, including Final Cut Pro for movie editing and DVD Studio Pro for DVD authoring. These offer significantly advanced capabilities, but still with accessible drag and drop interfaces. Until recently, however, these two tiers of applications left a big gap between the free bundled iLife tools for beginners and the large step up to the separate Pro tools at $999.

Apple's introduction of Final Cut Express at Macworld in January now offers a more accessible and affordable alternative: the same interface and workflow as the Emmy-winning Final Cut Pro, but now available for DV editing at only $299 ( This opens up a new alternative for creating professional-looking productions to users such as video enthusiasts, event videographers, corporate producers, and educators.

This article explores the Final Cut Express workflow and user interface, and highlights some of its special features for digital video editing and differences from Final Cut Pro.

Final Cut Express

Final Cut Express is positioned as a robust and feature-rich DV editing tool. Since it is derived from Final Cut Pro, it includes high-quality professional compositing, titling and real-time effects capabilities. You can open and edit multiple projects at the same time, each containing multiple sequences, and even nest sequences within sequences to simplify editing large projects.

Final Cut Express also is integrated with the other Macintosh digital media tools. You can import video clips from QuickTime files and iDVD, and images including layered Photoshop files. You can export to DV, QuickTime, and to iDVD and DVD Studio Pro with chapter markers. Plus, it is compatible with Final Cut Pro for sharing files or to upgrade later.

Editing Interface

The Final Cut Express interface is built around four main windows, similar to other editing tools.

- Use the Browser window to organize the source material in your project, including video and audio clips. As with other editors, you can organize your assets in Bins (folders) and then edit them in the other windows. The Browser window also includes an Effects tab to select from the available video and audio transitions and filters. Final Cut Express provides tabs throughout the interface to reduce clutter, instead of using additional windows or palettes.


- Use the Viewer window as a source monitor to view and edit individual clips, whether opened from the Browser or the Timeline. The Viewer window contains tabs to access the Video and Audio components of a clip, and Filters and Motion tabs to set the controls for filters and effects. Use the Video tab to mark In and Out points, and the Audio (or stereo Channel) tabs to set the volume and stereo pan.

- Use the Timeline window to create your production by laying out your clips into a linear sequence. You can composite up to 99 video and 99 audio tracks in the timeline.

- Use the Canvas window as the record monitor to view and edit the sequence as edited together on the Timeline.

The Final Cut Express interface also includes two other small windows.

- Use the Tool Palette to access selection, viewing, and editing tools for editing items in the Timeline.

- Use the Audio Meters to monitor the output audio levels when playing through clips.

Final Cut Express provides built-in Window / Arrange options to position the windows in standard layouts, or you can resize and position the windows as you prefer and then save the layout. You can drag tab entries out from within a window to create a separate window to provide more convenient access to its content.

This is particularly useful because Final Cut Express supports editing multiple projects at the same time, and multiple sequences within a project. The Browser window is like a Project window in other editors, except that you can have multiple projects open at a time, each accessible as a separate tab in the window. Similarly, each project can contain multiple Sequences, each like the timeline in other editors. The Browser window lists all the sequences in a project, and each open sequence also appears as a tab in the Timeline. You can edit a portion of a production as a separate sequence on its own timeline, and then nest sequences by including them as source clips within other sequences.

Input / Capturing Video

The first step in working with video is to capture the input clips. Final Cut Express interfaces to DV camcorders connected through the FireWire / IEEE 1394 interface. It has plug-and-play support for most DV camcorders and decks, including consumer MiniDV and professional DVCAM (NTSC or PAL) devices.

Final Cut Express is specifically designed to work with DV devices and format. It does not include the support in Final Cut Pro for third-party capture cards. It can work with DV devices that do not provide device control to permit the computer to directly control the camcorder.

Final Cut Express provides a separate Capture window to preview, annotate, and capture your input clips. The Preview area displays the video from your camcorder, and provides transport controls for playing through the tape and marking In and Out points. You then can use the Clip Description area to log information about your clips to help you organize and manage them in your projects.


Then use the Capture Now option to manually capture a clip from the current tape position. Or mark a segment on the tape and use Capture Clip to capture an individual clip from the In and Out points. The new clip will then be listed in the Browser window. The Batch capture and export features in Final Cut Pro are not supported.

Since Final Cut Express keeps a reference to the original source media files on disk, it is possible for files to not be available, for example if they are renamed, deleted, or are stored on an offline device. This is fine with Final Cut Express, giving you the flexibility to more files around to save disk space, or move a project to a new machine. You then can recapture a clip and use the Reconnect Media command to reestablish the reference to the file, or use Capture Project to recapture all the clips in a project.

With DV material, Final Cut Express also can use the start and stop time information recorded with the clip to automatically divide the clip into individual segments. Use Mark / DV Start/Stop Detection to add markers to a clip at each point the camera was started and stopped. Then use Modify / Make Clip to create separate subclips from each marked segment so you can rename and edit them individually.

Editing Tools

Final Cut Express provides an accelerated drag-and-drop interface for editing together your clips. You can drag clips from the Browser and Viewer to lay them out in the Timeline. However, while adding clips to the end of the timeline and inserting new clips between existing clips is relatively straightforward with a drag and drop interface, things get more complicated with more complex insertion edits.

Final Cut Express provides a drag-and-drop solution for these insertion edits as well. To insert a new clip at the current playback position in the Timeline, as displayed in the Canvas window, drag a clip from the Browser or the Viewer to the Canvas window. Final Cut Express displays an edit overlay with the options for inserting the new clip over the existing clip at the current playback position. Just drop the clip over the corresponding overlay to Insert or Overwrite (optionally with transition), Replace, Fit to fill, or Superimpose.

You then can fine-tune the clips in the Timeline by using the precision tools in the Tool Palette. These include options to select ranges and tracks, roll and ripple edit, slip and slide edit, razor blade cut, crop and distort, and pen keyframe positions. Final Cut Express displays a Trim Edit Window with the adjacent frames at the edit point between two clips for these precision edits.

In the Timeline, you can use multi-point edits to efficiently specify insertion points, and set track options to specify individual or multiple tracks to be changed by an edit. Final Cut Express also provides sync detection and correction to compensate for audio and video tracks that slip out of sync. It provides a wide variety of options for adjusting, scrolling, and zooming the Timeline display, but does not include the range of customization provided by Final Cut Pro.

Transitions, Filters and Effects

Final Cut Express includes a bundled library of over 200 transitions, filters and effects. These are listed in bins under the Effects tab of the Browser window. You can simply drag and drop individual effects onto clips in the timeline, and display and edit their properties in the Viewer window. Final Cut Express does not include the full support for keyframing effects in Final Cut Pro. Only keyframes for transparency and audio volume can be edited directly in the timeline.

Some effects can be previewed in real time on G4 systems. These are displayed in bold in the Browser, including Cross-Dissolve, Iris, and Wipe video transitions and Crop, Scale, and Opacity Motion effects. You still need to render other video and audio effects in order to preview them, and before exporting your final production.

Final Cut Express also includes the basic color corrector filter from Final Cut Pro. You can adjust levels, change hue and balance, or use the Broadcast Safe filter to adjust the color range for television display.


Final Cut Express provides both a basic titling tool, and Generators from Final Cut Pro that provide built-in motion effects. With the basic title tool, you can create a title element in the Viewer window to overlay on your production. You can position the text, adjust the font, color, and layout, and, of course, apply video filters and effects.

For more dynamic titles, use the scrolling text generators to create titles that crawl, scroll, or appear in the lower third of the screen. Final Cut Express also includes 2D and 3D tools with the bundled Boris Calligraphy.


Final Cut Express provides rich support for composting multiple layers of video and graphics, with motion animation.

Use the video tracks to layer video clips and graphics files, including multilayered Adobe Photoshop files. Then animate with motion effects to scale, rotate, crop, distort, and blend overlay images. For higher-quality results, Final Cut Express includes ease in/ease out motion paths, Bezier curves, time effects for slow motion, and frame blending.


Final Cut Express provides up to 99 total audio tracks, with up to 8 tracks of audio playback in real time. Enhance the audio with 15 audio filters and effects to add cross fades, reverb, EQ, and echo. Improve the quality with the three-band and parameter equalizer, compressor/limiter, hum remover, and noise gate.

Final Cut Express provides precise editing control with subframe audio editing to 1/100th of a frame, and stereo audio level meters and pan control. It also includes a VoiceOver tool to record narration directly into an audio track on the timeline while the video is playing.


When you create your production with composted video and audio tracks and various effects, Final Cut Express needs to render the complex areas of the timeline in order to combine all the edits and create a new cached version that can be played smoothly. As you edit, and then before you export, you can render all or portions of your production in order to see it play back in the final form.

Final Cut Express provides two file export options. Use Export Final Cut Express to export back to DV format, or Export QuickTime to export to any available QuickTime format, especially for making highly compressed files for Web downloading and streaming, including MPEG-4.

For DVD authoring, you can export your productions in DV format directly to iDVD or DVD Studio Pro. Or, if you have installed DVD Studio Pro, you can then export using the QuickTime MPEG-2 exporter in DVD-ready format. Final Cut Express also can export chapter makers that be imported by DVD Studio Pro to be automatically used for navigation. They also are available in the QuickTime Player.

To export to video, you can record to your connected video equipment by playing directly from the timeline, after rendering your sequences. Or use Print To Video for more control, including adding color bars and a tone, a countdown, or a black trailer, as well as looping the footage to record multiple copies. You can record an entire sequence or clip, or select only a marked section of a timeline.

Editing Express

Final Cut Express runs under OS X and on Macintosh computers with a 300-MHz or faster PowerPC G3 or G4 processor and built-in FireWire. A faster G4 is required for real-time effects.

With Final Cut Express, Apple has preserved the look and workflow of Final Cut Pro while focusing on DV-based editing. Those who are familiar with Final Cut Pro will bump against the "missing" features, especially for customization, keying, and batch processing. But Final Cut Express is an exciting and powerful tool that clearly fills an important niche at the $299 price point, and still offers the option to upgrade later to the Pro version.

Apple also has extended further into professional editing with Cinema Tools for Final Cut Pro (also $999), allowing editors can work offline and online at 24 frames per second, with all major formats like OfflineRT, DV, SD and HD, and finish on film. These tools are particularly interesting to use on a PowerBook, providing high-end editing on a portable platform.

While not appropriate for full-time professional editors, Final Cut Express provides the same powerful interface adapted for DV editing projects, with extensive creative control for editing, compositing, and effects. In particular, Final Cut Express offers important workflow advantages, with the ability to open multiple projects and organize your work work across several sequence timelines, along with advanced features such as color correction.


Apple - Final Cut Express

Apple - Final Cut Pro