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Final Cut Pro For iPad is Smooth But Limited

One of my favorite ways to edit photos is on an iPad - pinching the screen to zoom feels natural, the Apple Pencil is the perfect way to brush the settings, and even apps improve over time. But I could not reproduce this configuration for the video editing. LumaFusion has never done it for me, and although my recommendations on YouTube are filled with I switched to DaVinci Resolve. Here’s why”, I haven’t made that change yet.

Here at The Verge, we’re all mostly Adobe users, but for my personal work, I like to play with Final Cut Pro, so the news that it’s coming on the iPad was exciting for me. Except I have an iPad Pro 2018 - the one with an A12X Bionic chip. Final Cut Pro will not work on these. You will need an iPad M1- or M2. Apple sent me a loan to test the new Final Cut Pro.

The high-end 12.9-inch iPad Pro with an M2 processor will set you back $2,399. The high-end 12.9-inch iPad Pro with an M2 processor will set you back $2,399. Final Cut Pro for iPad is a carefully designed app that gets a lot of the right base. It’s a great adaptation of its desktop app, and FCP users will feel right at home.

It also takes advantage of the iPad’s touch interface and uses accessories like the magic keyboard and Apple Pencil well. It’s also affordable - Apple sells it as a subscription for $5 a month or $50 a year, making it easy to use for a month or two to see if it’s something you want to stick with.

But if you’re hoping it’s a complete replacement for the Mac version of Final Cut Pro, you’ll probably be disappointed. There are still many features omitted from this version that I missed throughout my test of it. And if you’re the kind of editor who wants to work on both the iPad and the Mac, you’re going to have to be careful with how you organize your projects and what device you start with.

The 12.9-inch iPad that Apple lent me for this piece comes with a 2 TB drive and 16 GB of RAM paired with the magic keyboard and Apple Pencil. The total cost of this installation is $2,877. ($2,399 if you drop the accessories.)

And you’ll want an iPad with more storage because one of the first limitations of Final Cut Pro on the iPad is that you can’t edit external drives. All your media files will have to live on your iPad inside the Files application. I think we’re at the point where the SSDs are fast enough to handle that workload, so that’s a strange limit, and there will be more as we go.

Another small limitation comes when importing files. You cannot export folders as a whole; you will need to open each folder and manually select the clips to import. So if you’re serious about managing your files and you’re used to a specific folder hierarchy, you won’t be able to replicate that here.

It also means there are no smart events or collections (or “bins” for Premiere users) in the library. Everything is in the media window at the top right of the screen. You can add keywords and “favorites” or “rejected” labels. And you can sort the media by these labels and the type of media.

As soon as you launch the app, you’ll feel right at home. The setup looks pretty much like what you would see on a Final Cut Pro desktop, just a little smaller and a little cramped - but not quite claustrophobic. You can resize each window and hide it for a cleaner configuration. There is also a frame by frame view in case you need a better look at your media.

The preview window, where you play your clips, is always in the top left corner, and you can choose between quality or performance playback. The editing timeline runs along the bottom edge, and just below it are a few new buttons - inspect, volume, animated, and multicam. This is where you will start making adjustments to your clips.

The inspection button brings up the inspector’s sidebar on the left side, and I really like what it looks like. It is also very logical if you are editing while holding your iPad in both hands. You can select clips with your right hand, and your left hand is already in place to start making adjustments in this sidebar.

In this window you also hope to find options for stabilizing and correcting roller shutters, but none of these options are available. Like someone who films a lot on a cursor, losing stabilization is frustrating.

Press the animation button to display this key image editing graph. This is where you will add keyframes and animate the movement of your clips or color settings. Although I think the user experience could be better (for example, pressing the keyframe itself doesn’t select it), the biggest problem I have is that all key frame transitions you make in FCP on an iPad are linear by default and cannot be edited.

There is no way to “facilitate” movement. Pressing the volume buttons reveals the audio measurement and gain slider on each side of the timeline.

And there are some useful audio effects you can use - including basic fade-ins, fade-outs, pots and pans, and more ambitious effects like EQ and Compressor. The iPad version of Final Cut Pro also has some audio effects that were recently added to FCP on the desktop. Voice isolation, volume and noise suppression are all there and work as well.

But there are some new features exclusive to the FCP on iPad, one of which has made my life much easier. If you have an Apple Pencil, you can freely draw or write on your images and animate them. It’s called Live Drawing, and it’s fantastic.

I think more creative people than myself can really enjoy it, but I was able to get beautiful lyrics and sketch animating my clips. But it’s also one of those things that could get too repetitive soon. I hope Apple adds some brush options in the future.

Living drawings can be really fun, and I’m glad to see how people are starting to use it. Here are two clips I was happy with. There is also a new masking effect called Auto Scene Removal, which, in terms of After Effects, is called rotoscoping. This is what you would do to separate your subject, like a person or pet, from the background in order to place the text behind them.

Unfortunately, that did not work for me at all. The Apple demos show it working only on static planes with a very clear separation between the two, but even when I tried to reproduce them, I had very little success, with the title oscillating between subject and background or usually getting lost. I expected much more.

The Auto Scene Removal masking effect has rarely worked for me. Apple recommends using static images with high contrast areas, but even then, my results were far from perfect. Apple also added about 40 songs that you can use freely. What’s cool is that FCP will automatically resize the song to match your timeline.

Any of those songs can be 10 seconds or 10 minutes long. But it only works with those 40 songs. This is something I was doing in Audition, but Adobe has added this feature specific to Premiere, and it works with any song you want.

Let’s talk about color. For the people filming in the LOG profiles, I have bad news. There is no way to add custom LUTs, but not all hope is lost. FCP offers integrated LUTs from Canon, Arri, Blackmagic, Sony, etc.

For me, this means that I cannot use my Fuji or DJI LUTs images. You can’t add third-party plug-ins either, but Apple says they’re coming, so maybe LUTs will be part of that in the future, although there’s no timeline on when that will happen.

But there are some things you can do without LUTs. When opening the color adjustment effects, all you get are sliders. There are no traditional curves, color chart, color wheels or HSL curves as on the desktop version.

I’ve never been a fan of these, but I still prefer the basic sliders like the ones you see here. You can still make a lot of adjustments here, but I would like this interface to be more consistent. And finally, there are telescopes, vectorscopes and histograms where you can monitor your coloring.

The color wheels are completely replaced by sliders. You can also monitor your color and exposure using histograms, vectorscopes and waveforms. The color wheels are completely replaced by sliders. You can also monitor your color and exposure using histograms, vectorscopes and waveforms.

Some publishers will want to send this project to DaVinci because they prefer to color there. But this is not possible. Nor can FCP export or import XML files that you typically use to copy your schedules to other applications. In fact, you can only transfer FCP libraries from an iPad to a Mac and not the other way around.

This also means that you have to make a decision on which machine you would use to start and finish editing and hope that you have made the right bet. In general, I like the user interface through the application. There are some nice changes to the desktop version that fit very well on an iPad. Apple made sure that you can use FCP with just your hands, and to make it easier, there’s a new little feature called Jog Wheel.

If you have seen or used a physical wheel of Loupedeck or DaVinci Resolve, it is essentially that, but digital. You can use it in your timeline to move your playhead or push the clip backwards and forwards. You can’t use it to refine your slider when adjusting color, just to control your clips and playhead in the timeline.

You can place it anywhere on the sides of the screen, which is useful if you are left-handed and particularly useful, perhaps even mandatory, if you use your hands to edit. I love it. Digital Jog Wheel is a great way to rub through the timeline, especially when using the portable iPad.

Digital Jog Wheel is a great way to review the timeline, especially when using the portable iPad. But I still prefer to edit with the keyboard and a trackpad or mouse - mainly because I’m so used to using keyboard shortcuts, and I’m a much faster editor that way.

Almost all the usual keyboard shortcuts work - things like I and O for entry and exit points, J-K-L for playback, fast forward, backward, zoom in, zoom out, jump around the timeline, add cross dissolves, etc. But I’m surprised to see which ones are left out.

Cmd-E - no export shortcut, Option-G to compose clips disappeared - both shortcut and feature. Tilde (~), which is sort of this magic professional keyboard shortcut that helps you override connection points on a timeline. You should definitely use it if you don’t already...but not here because he’s gone.

Battery Life and Performance Not surprisingly, there’s not much to complain about in terms of performance in Final Cut Pro on iPad. Everything runs smoothly and quickly. Even the addition of superlong files did not cause any problems. There is an option to set reading previews to prioritize performance or quality, and I went with performance. But I noticed that the battery runs out quickly.

I was down to 43 percent after about two hours of editing with the screen at a comfortable brightness. The conspiracy brain in me makes me wonder if the main reason we can’t delete external drives is because we’ll need to keep our iPad plugged in instead.

Overall, there are a lot of things that I liked about editing with Final Cut Pro on the iPad. But I’m surprised by the number of missing features: the coloring options are missing, some very common features like the blade tool or the ability to enable and disable clips have disappeared, you can no longer import LUTs, stabilization is missing… I could go on. I wouldn’t even say that they are necessarily “professional” tools.

And I’ve already talked about the whole issue of case management. I’m baffled. Rubbing the timeline by hovering over the screen with an Apple Pencil was one of my favorite features. On the other hand, I am editing 4K ProRes video in Final Cut Pro on a tablet with one of the best HDR compatible screens ever made.

I use an Apple Pencil to draw animations directly on my images. The experience itself is remarkably good, and for $5 a month, it’s a very accessible and powerful tool. But finally, when it came time to edit the video I created to test Final Cut, I went back to Mac. I could have done it on iPad, of course.

But some of my B-roll slider would have been much more agitated, and I would have been frustrated by the final result. If you start, it will be an incredibly intuitive and easy to start application. But for someone with an established workflow like me, it still lacks some crucial features.