The highly anticipated arrival of Final Cut Pro on the iPad brings with it a touch-friendly design and affordable pricing. However, if you’re accustomed to using Final Cut on the Mac, you may find yourself somewhat let down.
When it comes to photo editing, the iPad has always been a favored choice for me. The intuitive gesture of pinching the screen to zoom, the precision offered by the Apple Pencil for adjustments, and the continuous improvement of editing apps have made it a seamless experience. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to replicate that same level of satisfaction when it comes to video editing. LumaFusion didn’t quite meet my expectations, and despite the numerous YouTube videos recommending a switch to DaVinci Resolve, I haven’t taken that leap yet.
Final Cut Pro for iPad is a thoughtfully designed app that gets the fundamentals right. It successfully translates the desktop version’s functionality to the iPad, ensuring a familiar environment for existing Final Cut Pro users. The app takes full advantage of the touch-centric interface of the iPad and integrates well with accessories like the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil. Additionally, its affordable pricing structure, with a subscription option of $5 per month or $50 per year, makes it convenient to try out for a month or two before committing to it.
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However, if you’re expecting the iPad version to completely replace the Mac version of Final Cut Pro, you might be disappointed. Throughout my testing, I found several essential features missing in this version that I had grown accustomed to. Furthermore, if you’re someone who desires the flexibility of working on both the iPad and Mac, careful organization of projects and consideration of the device you start with will be necessary.
In this article, I had the opportunity to test a 12.9-inch iPad provided by Apple, which came with a 2TB drive, 16GB of RAM, the Magic Keyboard, and Apple Pencil. The total cost of this setup is $2,877 (or $2,399 without the accessories). It is worth noting that if you plan on using Final Cut Pro on the iPad, it’s advisable to opt for an iPad with larger storage capacity, as editing directly from external drives is not supported. Instead, all media files must reside within the iPad’s Files app. Although SSDs are now fast enough to handle this workload, the inability to edit from external drives remains a peculiar limitation among others that may arise.
Another limitation arises during the file import process. It is not possible to export folders as a whole; each folder must be opened separately, and individual clips need to be manually selected for import. This can be inconvenient for users accustomed to specific folder hierarchies and meticulous file management.
Furthermore, Final Cut Pro for iPad lacks the concept of events or Smart Collections (similar to “bins” in Premiere). Instead, all media is contained within the media window located in the top-right corner of the screen. Users have the ability to assign keywords, label media as “favorite” or “rejected,” and sort media based on these labels and media types.
Layout of the Workspace
When you open the app, you’ll immediately feel familiar with the interface. It closely resembles the desktop version of Final Cut Pro, albeit in a smaller and slightly more confined space. However, it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly cramped. You have the ability to resize windows and hide certain elements to create a cleaner workspace. Additionally, there’s a picture-in-picture view that allows for a closer examination of your media. The preview window, where you can play back your clips, remains in the top-left corner, and you can choose between quality and performance playback options. The editing timeline runs along the bottom edge, with a few new buttons positioned just below it, including inspect, volume, animate, and multicam. These buttons provide access to making adjustments to your clips.
The inspect button brings up the inspector sidebar from the left-hand side, and its appearance and placement are quite appealing. It is particularly convenient when editing while holding the iPad with both hands. With your right hand, you can select clips, while your left hand is already positioned to make adjustments in the sidebar.
Unfortunately, the stabilization and rolling shutter correction options are not available in this window. This omission can be frustrating, especially for those who frequently use a slider while filming and rely on stabilization features.
Keyframes and Animation
By tapping on the volume buttons, you can access audio metering and the gain slider located on each side of the timeline. There are also useful audio effects available, such as basic fade-ins, fade-outs, pans, as well as more advanced effects like EQ and Compressor. Additionally, the iPad version of Final Cut Pro includes some recently added audio effects found in the desktop version. These include Voice Isolation, loudness adjustment, and noise removal, all of which perform equally well on the iPad.
Live Drawings and Masking
However, Final Cut Pro on iPad introduces several exclusive features that have greatly improved my workflow. One standout feature is Live Drawing, which allows you to freely draw or write on your footage and then animate those drawings. This feature, particularly when used with an Apple Pencil, offers tremendous creative potential. I personally enjoyed adding animated text and sketches to my clips, although it may become repetitive over time. I do hope that Apple expands the available brush options in future updates to enhance the versatility of this feature.
Another new addition is the masking effect called Auto Scene Removal, equivalent to rotoscoping in After Effects terminology. This feature is designed to separate subjects, such as people or pets, from the background, enabling you to place text or other elements behind them. However, I experienced limited success with this feature. Apple’s demos showcase its effectiveness on static shots with clear subject-background separation, but my attempts at replicating those scenarios were largely unsuccessful. The titles would often flicker or get lost, falling short of my expectations. I had hoped for better performance in this aspect.
Apple has also included approximately 40 freely usable songs in Final Cut Pro. What’s impressive is that the software automatically adjusts the tempo of the selected song to match your timeline. Whether the song is 10 seconds or 10 minutes long, Final Cut Pro handles the retiming seamlessly. However, this functionality is limited to the provided library of 40 songs. Previously, I would perform similar retiming tasks in Audition, but Adobe has introduced this specific feature to Premiere, allowing users to work with any song of their choice.
Let’s discuss color adjustments. For those shooting in LOG profiles, I have some unfortunate news. There is no option to add custom LUTs (Look-Up Tables). However, there are some built-in LUTs available from popular camera manufacturers like Canon, Arri, Blackmagic, Sony, etc. Unfortunately, this means that footage from cameras like Fuji or DJI, as well as corresponding LUTs, cannot be used. Furthermore, third-party plug-ins cannot be added at the moment. Apple has indicated that these capabilities may be added in the future, but there is no specific timeline for when that might happen.
Despite the limitations with LUTs, there are still adjustments that can be made without them. When accessing the color adjustment effects, you are presented with sliders instead of the traditional curves, color boards, color wheels, or HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) curves found in the desktop version. While I personally wasn’t a fan of those traditional options, I would still prefer them over the basic sliders offered here. Although you can still make various adjustments using the provided interface, I wish the consistency of the color adjustment tools was improved. Additionally, there are scopes, vectorscopes, and histograms available for monitoring your coloring.
Some editors may prefer to transfer their projects to DaVinci for color grading. However, Final Cut Pro on the iPad does not allow for such transfers. Moreover, XML files, typically used to copy timelines into other applications, cannot be imported or exported in Final Cut Pro on the iPad. In fact, you can only transfer Final Cut Pro libraries from an iPad to a Mac, and not the other way around. This also means you need to make a decision regarding which device to use for starting and finishing the editing process and hope that you have made the right choice.
Keyboard Shortcuts and the Jog Wheel
Overall, I have a positive impression of the app’s user interface. It incorporates some pleasing changes from the desktop version that translate well to the iPad. Apple has made sure that Final Cut Pro can be operated solely with your hands, and they have introduced a new feature called the Jog Wheel to facilitate this.
If you’re familiar with Loupedeck or DaVinci Resolve’s physical wheel, the Jog Wheel is essentially a digital version of that. It allows you to move the playhead and nudge clips forward and backward in the timeline. However, it cannot be used for fine adjustments of sliders when working with color; its primary purpose is to control clips and the playhead within the timeline.
The Jog Wheel can be placed anywhere along the sides of the screen, which is advantageous for left-handed users and particularly useful, even necessary, if you prefer hands-on editing. Personally, I find it to be a fantastic addition.
Nonetheless, I still prefer editing with a keyboard, trackpad, or mouse. This preference stems mainly from my familiarity with keyboard shortcuts, which significantly enhance my editing speed and efficiency.
Fortunately, most of the standard keyboard shortcuts are functional, such as using “I” and “O” for in and out points, “J-K-L” for playback, fast-forward, rewind, zoom in, zoom out, and navigating the timeline, as well as adding cross dissolves. However, I was surprised to discover some omissions. Here’s a brief list of the desktop shortcuts that I commonly use but are unavailable on the iPad:
- “V” for enabling and disabling clips.
- “N” for toggling snapping on and off.
- “M” for markers, which are completely absent. I can manage without them.
- “Option-W” for adding blank space is missing.
- “Cmd-E” for exporting doesn’t have a shortcut.
- “Option-G” for compounding clips is gone, both the shortcut and the feature.
- The tilde (~) key, a powerful keyboard shortcut for overriding connecting points on a timeline, is no longer available here. I highly recommend using it if you haven’t already, but unfortunately, it’s not present in this context.
Battery longevity and operational efficiency
As expected, the performance of Final Cut Pro on the iPad is commendable with seamless and rapid operation. Even when handling extensive files, there were no disruptions or delays. Users have the choice to optimize playback previews for either performance or quality, and I opted for performance. However, I did observe a rapid decline in battery life. After approximately two hours of editing at a moderate screen brightness, my battery level dropped to 43%. It’s tempting to speculate whether the restriction of editing from external drives is driven by a desire to keep iPads connected to power sources.
On the flip side, I find myself engaged in the process of editing 4K ProRes video within Final Cut Pro on a tablet boasting an exceptional HDR-capable display. Utilizing an Apple Pencil, I can directly add animations onto my footage. The experience is undeniably impressive, and considering the cost of $5 per month, it is an accessible and powerful tool. However, when it came time to edit the video I created to test Final Cut, I reverted to using my Mac. While I could have completed the editing on the iPad, certain aspects of my slider B-roll would have been more unstable, leading to a subpar end result that would have left me frustrated.
For those just starting out, this app will prove incredibly intuitive and easy to use. However, as someone with an established workflow like myself, I find that it still lacks certain essential features.