Apple Final Cut Express 4

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Apple Final Cut Express 4
  • Apple Final Cut Express 4
  • Apple Final Cut Express 4
  • Apple Final Cut Express 4
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • AVCHD compatible, ability to edit different formats in the same timeline, huge array of useful options

Cons

  • Interface may intimidate novice users

Bottom Line

With iMovie becoming a dumbed-down shadow of its former self, Final Cut Express is now the Mac's best video editing option for amateur enthusiasts. Enthusiastically recommended.

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Until very recently, Final Cut Express has always felt like a superfluous addition to Apple's video editing family. With Final Cut Pro taking care of the upper echelon of the market and iMovie catering to everyone else, there seemed to be little reason for the 'bridging' upgrade's existence. Simply put, if you wanted semi-professional results at a reasonable price, iMovie could get the job done with flying colours.

However, in a move that can only be described as 'a bit sneaky', Apple has substantially stripped down iMovie 08 in an attempt to make Final Cut Express more appealing to mid-level users. In other words, if you want to use advanced editing techniques without shilling out for the full professional suite, Final Cut Express 4 is now the only option you've got. (...Poor iMovie -- we hardly knew ye'.)

For those unaccustomed to digital video, Final Cut is the premiere non-linear editing application for Macintosh computers. Since its inception in 1998, the software has swiftly grown in popularity in both the professional and consumer markets, until its sales now rival established suites such as Avid and Premiere Pro. The user interface follows the usual template; comprising of a timeline (where separate clips are assembled), viewing window (for previewing footage) and media bin (for storing data), as well as a 'canvas' where edits in the timeline can be viewed.

Unlike the full 'Pro' version, Final Cut Express does not offer certain features designed for professional filmmakers, such as film database or time code options, but otherwise the interface remains the same. Being Mac-only, it is naturally only suitable for Apple users, which says a lot for its phenomenal success -- no doubt if it were available on PC, its sales would be even greater.

Being more or less identical to previous versions, we found the interface to be incredibly intuitive to use. Clips can either be dragged straight into the timeline, or dropped into the canvas to perform edit overlays. Adding real-time effects (which can be instantly previewed at the click of a button) and animated titles is a relatively pain-free process that most people will grasp in short order. While not quite as user-friendly as other editing applications we've looked at -- including the aforementioned iMovie HD -- your experience should remain fairly cruisy and textbook-free.

So what does this fourth iteration offer over its seemingly identical forbearers? In addition to its vastly expanded range of editing options, including 50 brand new filters, Final Cut Express 4 also supports the latest range of video formats and codecs, including AVCHD. This is basically essential in today's digital world, particularly for those who own non-tape-based cameras; such as HDD or DVD. Without getting too technical, the memory demands made by high-definition video means that data needs to be highly compressed. Unfortunately, a lot of editing software cannot read or capture these compressed files.

Thankfully, Final Cut Express 4 gets around this by converting AVCHD to a more manageable format. Selecting which data to capture off your camera couldn't be simpler; with a Log and Transfer window supplying a list of available clips. Each clip can then be previewed and assigned an In and Out point to ensure you only capture the footage you need. (Handily, you can continue to search through clips during data transfers.)

By now, high-definition compatibility is old news, with Final Cut Express being HD compliant since 2003, but this is the first version to allow different formats to seamlessly co-exist in the same project. It is therefore possible to edit AVCHD, HDV and MiniDV all in one timelime, which is a boon for people who own more than one camera. Otherwise, this remains the same well-crafted product it was in the past -- and thanks to the demise of iMovie, we now have a better reason to buy it.

Final Cut Express 4 retails for $268, but existing Final Cut Express owners can upgrade for $129.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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