Four years after Apple pulled the plug, Final Cut Pro 7 still plays an important role in the industry. But, with rumours that it will not run on the forthcoming El Capitan OS growing, how long can editors keep relying on it? By Andrew Johnstone.
[Update: At least one reader says that it does run under El Captitan - so far. Please let us know if you have had this sucessfully running under the new Mac OS!]
As I type, Adobe Prelude is whirring away in the background, ingesting and transcoding rushes from my latest shoot into a new project file for my next film.
My Prelude workflow has been set up (very painlessly, I might add) to conform all my project material, frequently shot in a range of Apple ProRes, to mimic the workflow that has been established by one of my clients. This was done so that all the source material thrown at the system is conformed into a standard codec for ease of use in the edit. So, it is no secret then that the client in question is still, at the time of writing, using Apple's Final Cut Pro 7 as one of its main NLEs.
Now, as many of you will know, Final Cut Pro 7 was officially pensioned off in 2011 upon Apple's release of FCPX, but many organisations were reluctant to 'manage that change', including many broadcasters. The main reason for this reluctance was that, for broadcasters, this kind of change is more than just about buying a new edit system and trying it out. Armies of editors need to be retrained, new data backup systems need to be designed, workflows adapted, operating systems may need either updated or swapped, budgets scrutinised, heads scratched, coffee drunk and so on.
Of course, smaller production offices are able to be more fleet of foot than large organisations. When the demise of FCP7 was announced, I chose to carry on using FCP7 for some time. My business had made a pretty significant investment in that editing platform and all our previous projects had been cut on it. Simply ditching the system for something new was not an option. However, the very last rites for FCP7 may now be upon us as rumours circulate that the venerable editing package does not run on Mac's new El Capitan operating system. The rumours seem to be based on beta-tests of the new OS, but given that an update for the image management app Aperture was only belatedly released to ensure compatibility with Apple's OSX Yosemite, you have to wonder how much longer FCP7 can keep its head above the waters of change.
The inevitable change to a new NLE
Despite my 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' approach, in 2013, I began to search for a viable, long-term alternative NLE solution. My initial research told me that FCPX was best avoided. "It's a whole new editing environment," the critics shouted and, indeed, it was. The familiar NLE window layout had changed in FCPX and, when it was launched, a lot of functionality required by professional editors was missing. Despite being independent, footloose and fancy free, the truth is that choosing my next NLE is largely based on which way the industry wind is blowing. When I am working on projects that are rough-cut on my system and then finished with the client or in a third party studio, I need to buy into an NLE platform that is widely used. As with my choice of camera, I can't really afford the luxury of multiple software packages.
Despite considering Avid Media Composer and Lightworks, a colleague advised me to look seriously at Adobe Premiere Pro and this very quickly became my NLE of choice. As I'm sure you're already know, Adobe package is now a subscription based service (another change that I confess I am struggling to manage, though I know others love it), but the main theoretical advantage of Adobe environment is that you can zip seamlessly between various applications (Photoshop, Audition, Speedgrade etc), making your project easier to manage.
Help from the old reliable
Yet despite all this promise, the Adobe environment is not without its flaws and on my recent film, Fractured Earth, I hit the buffers. The main edit went without a hitch, but when I came to grade the project, I ran into choppy water. I have long known that my current edit system (based around an i7 chipped iMac) was not powerful enough to run Adobe's Speed Grade. Since I am mostly producing documentary, I do not need heavy grading on my timelines, so a quick tweak here and there with the colour corrector in Premiere Pro usually suffices.
However, on Fractured Earth, I had a crucial sequence that needed some attention as the captured images were marred by dark grey strobes lines. I needed to 'fix the problem in post'. I found a plugin that remedied the problem (after an excruciatingly slow render). But, afterwards, my timeline was suddenly beset with errors, like blocky images and unintended freeze frames.
In my frustration, I decided that the only guaranteed fix was to fire up the old jalopy and finish my film in Final Cut Pro7. I exported an XML file from Premiere Pro and, within a couple of hours, my entire edit had been reconstructed in the familiar FCP7 timeline.
In the process of recreating my edit, I started to wonder if my version of Premiere Pro (CS6) had become corrupted. Then, I uninstalled the plugin I had bought and suddenly all my issues evaporated. Why I did not think of doing this earlier? I don't know, but there you go.
The silver lining in all this, at least for the moment, is that I can still rely on FCP7 to deliver if my other NLE fails. I am still wedded to this old system for my next few films for some clients, but how much longer will this continue? Reading between the lines, Apple clearly bowed to pressure to release an upgrade for Aperture to ensure that it ran on Yosemite, but I cannot see the same concession being made for FCP7. How much longer will I have the option to use FCP7 as my backup edit software of choice and how soon will I have to look at other options?