Book Review - Final Cut Pro - DV Editing

August 5, 2002

Focal Press
ISBN: 0-240-80499-6
List price: $ 49.99 U.S.
429 pages

   Joshua D. Wachs
   Boston, Massachusetts, USA
   2002 Joshua Wachs and All rights reserved.


Article Focus:
Joshua Wachs takes a look at Final Cut Pro 2 for FireWire™ DV Editing written by Charles Roberts and published by Focal Press and determines that this is still a valuable addition to your resource book shelf.

When I was 16 years old, I was driving with my father trying to learn not only how to drive a car, but drive a car with a manual transmission. I was, as my family affectionately called it, quite good at lurching. Lurching was the act of popping the clutch in too quickly and therefore making the car, I believe an orange 1978 VW Rabbit, literally lurch forward. Once lurched, the car would sometimes allow me to apply gas and continue driving, or more likely, stall. After what seemed like 100s of stalls, my father explained to me how a clutch worked. He said that it’s not an all or nothing choice, as in engaged or not engaged. He told me to think of it as two dinner plates stacked together but that are separated when you step on the clutch and are brought together as you release it. He continued that if you release the clutch slowly and depress the gas at a similar rate, thee plates begin to engage and start moving the car way before you’ve fully let go of the clutch. And with that the light bulb turned on! Once I understood the mechanics of what was going on underneath the hood, literally and figuratively, my lurching practically vanished.

OK, you say, that’s an interesting story but wasn’t this supposed to be a review of Charles Roberts’ book Final Cut Pro 2 for FireWire™ DV Editing. Yes, it is - keep reading. What occurred to me after just one chapter of (and continued throughout) his book, is that so much of what I was stumbling on with Final Cut Pro, and really editing and as a whole, was because of not “getting” what was going on underneath the hood. The first chapter alone covers issues such the how video works, analog vs. digital (both video and audio), time code, device control, DV formats, and purchasing equipment. It’s all explained in detail to provide the necessary foundation that anyone getting into DV editing and production should know. In fact, even if you’re never going to use a Macintosh or Final Cut Pro and you were looking to get into DV, I’d still recommend reading the first chapter. I knew nothing about luma versus chroma, sampling ratios, DVCam versus MiniDV, and how DV is compressed, just to touch on a few of the topics covered. While this may seem overly technical, the author writes in a completely accessible way and has certainly given me an excellent base to work from for many years to come.

In the second chapter, the author takes us through a tour of the Macintosh, both in regards to hardware in software. The hardware section is excellent, and although I was pretty well versed in Mac hardware, it was a nice refresher and certainly expansive in its coverage. The software section, specifically about the operating system, is one section where the bound copy of the book feels a bit dated. It’s not that anything in there is incorrect, is just focuses very heavily on System 9, and of this writing I’m using OS X exclusively and loving it. Now that being said, let me make a few key points. First of all a lot of people still use System 9 on their Macintosh with FCP 2 and FCP 3. Secondly, the detail that Charles goes into in this chapter is excellent and if you’re going to use System 9 it’s a very solid read. Thirdly, Charles has published an addendum web site (see link below) and while the site doesn’t go into the general overview of OS X like he does for System 9, he does address the topic of using Final Cut Pro with OS X quite handily. Make sure that when you go to the site you check out all the links – there’s some great stuff in there.

In chapter three, the book focuses on the initial setup and optimization of the Final Cut Pro and operating system - in the printed book’s case, System 9. Additionally, the book doesn’t some of the new setup issues with FCP 3. Fret not. As before, Charles addresses all OS X and FCP 3 setup and optimization topics on his addendum page. It's good reading for anyone, whether you own the book or not. There are 38 steps of setup and configuration details outlined in chapter three, spanning over 50 pages, and there's not a bit of fluff here. While certainly not a quick read, I found it extremely helpful to review all the settings available as it was clear that having even one of them out of whack could create hours of frustration trying to solve the problem. Most of the items here are set once and change rarely so I'd recommend investing the time and read this chapter from start to end. It's also probably a good refresher to come back to if you're feeling a bit rusting on all the setup options.

As chapter three is all about setting the Mac and Final Cut Pro in general, chapter is setting up your project, as the book says: “right the first time and every time.” Charles starts off with the setting necessary preferences for audio and video and showing the reader how create a new project and save it correctly. He then dives into how to back up and archive your project. At this point, one might think “Why do I have to back up my project? I haven’t done anything to it yet.” One would be clearly mistaken. What Charles tries to hammer home in this chapter and in the book as a whole is that you need to develop healthy habits, for a lack of a better phrase. These habits include correct setup so that you’re not pulling out your hair because of a simple setting you overlooked and making regular, efficient backups of your files so when you experience a disaster of some sort, you are able to quickly pick up from where you left off. While chapter is by no means a quick read (it’s almost 70 detailed pages and 66 ‘steps’ of set up), it’s one that’s clearly worth the investment you put into it. Ok, enough about the wonders of backups. Chapter four continues by reviewing all the main windows you’ll experience in FCP, how to move clips around the windows, a discussion of different types of media and how to get the media into Final Cut Pro, and an extended section on logging and capturing media. Charles covers not only the three basic methods of capturing media but goes into intricate detail of all the settings, windows, and commands related to this process. If you’re beginning to see a theme in this book of “no stone is unturned,” then I’m getting my point across. The chapter ends with a few pages on importing two additional media types: audio from CDs (information on doing this with OS X on his web site) and PhotoShop image files – both of which can create distortion (audio and video respectively) if not done correctly.

Chapter five is when the fun begins, otherwise known as editing, which is presumably why you might be interested in this book in the first place. This chapter, appropriately entitled "What is editing?" reviews all the windows and controls that FCP has to offer and then explains how to use them. From a detailed overview of the Viewer window to basic edits and transitions, this is when you actually doing real edits. As much as the previous 178 pages are really useful, it's not until this chapter where you start playing with your content. After learning about In and Out points, and the other various controls and aspects of the viewer window, you perform your first edit with a drag-and-drop to the Sequence window. Then you do the same thing with a transition between two cuts. Charles explains these steps in detail with a lot of screen shots to back up the text. For the most part these screen shots are very helpful but there are a couple of minor areas where either the text or graphic are a bit confusing. When discussing transitions, the book covers not just how to do one, but also how to make sure your clips can support it.

For someone just starting in FCP, this is a crucial point and can be confusing if you've never done non-linear editing before. The book then covers other methods of doing transitions, other transitions that are available, and creating customized favorites of your transitions. These tips can be very helpful when doing a lot of the same types of transitions throughout a project. The next part of the chapter discusses how to trim your edits, in other words, how to make them tight, clean, and professional. A great overview of the Trim Edit Window is presented to the reader. Parts of this description I feel could have been left for an advanced section on this feature but it is informative nonetheless. For example, there's a lengthy description of the Track Drop-Down Bar and its use in the Trim Edit Window and although completely informative and accurate, I didn't find it necessary for a beginning editor. The rest of the details about the Trim Edit Window are well written and good coverage is given to all the subtleties. The Timeline and the Toolbar are discussed next with a great overview of how they work together. This chapter also talks about linking and unlinking clips from their related sound tracks and what pitfalls the reader should avoid and how to correct problems you may encounter. As the Toolbar is reviewed, the various tools and their benefits are shown in good detail with examples when necessary. Other topics covered in this chapter include storyboard rough-cut editing, monitoring the Slip and Slide tools in the Canvas Window, and a Master clips and Subclips. By the time you've finished this chapter, you will have a great grasp of all the tools and what they have to offer now and in your editing future.

The second to last chapter is all about compositing and special effects. It covers issues such as the definition of compositing itself, mattes, masks, and deep dive into what alpha channel is all about. A lot of what is discussed her can be applied to other graphic programs such as Adobe's Photoshop. The next section covers just about every motion effect in FCP. (Since I entered the FCP arena within months of when FCP3 was announced, I am not sure if there are additional motion effects that aren't covered.) The reader first learns the basics on the interface and how to change any individual attributes and then the details on areas such Pan and Scan, Rotation, Distort, and Motion Blurs. After getting the introduction to each effect, you go through an exercise from start to finish on applying a motion blur. You get to really understand all the intricacies of applying motion effects (you use about six in this exercise) and a great discussion on using keyframes. There's a quick section on Speed and Duration which I found fun to apply to a clip on myself wiping out on a snow board and imagining the narration "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." The chapter rounds out with an exercise on using a Garbage Matte and the power of Nesting which lets you apply effects to a series of clips at the same time.

Our book finishes with Chapter 7, entitled Getting Your Project of out Final Cut Pro. While the title of the chapter is clearly self explanatory, the concept is not without pitfalls as well and Charles dedicates almost a solid 50 pages to it. You get two sections on "Out to Firewire" which includes Print to Video and Edit to Tape, a section on Exporting including a discussion on the file formats and compression types available.

I really expected to breeze through this book since I had already done a number of tutorials and read a couple of books but I found ended up learning a lot more than I expected.

If you're new to Final Cut Pro and Digital Video, buy this book.

I give it 4 COWS.

I hope my lack of brevity hasn't scared you off this book – or from finishing my review of it. If I haven't made it clear, let me re-iterate… this is a great book. Nothing is left to guess work and although reading it won't make you a Final Cut Pro expert when you finish, it will certainly get you on your way. Ways to improve the book you ask? Well clearly it would be great if it was written with FCP3 and OS X in mind but as I noted above, Charles online articles and presence more than makes up for that issue. I wish some of the overall design was, for a lack of a better phrase, sexier. Some use of color and better labeled diagrams would really add a nicer feel to this book. I would have to say that my biggest issue with the book is that I think it could benefit in areas from separating beginner topics from the advanced. I like that fact that all of the relevant information is there in the same chapter but it would be a great improvement to have a section within each chapter (or section) focused on the advanced concepts that was clearly delineated with a "You don't need to read this now to continue but you should come back to it soon." Charles' professorial roots show throughout this book and it's clear that he not only teaches but he really enjoys teaching the reader. I really expected to breeze through this book since I had already done a number of tutorials and read a couple of books but I found ended up learning a lot more than I expected. If you're new to Final Cut Pro and Digital Video, buy this book.

For information about the recent release of Final Cut Pro 3, please ease over to the addenda page to find out what is included in the FCP 3 upgrade, why this book is still completely relevant and what that means for you, the new (or new to FCP) user.
See also, Final Cut Pro 3, Final Cut Pro 2 and You -- an excerpt from the book, and additional information.

©2002 by Joshua Wachs, Ron Lindeboom, and All rights are reserved.

You can purchase 'Final Cut Pro 2 for FireWire DV Editing' from the lafcpug store.

  This article first appeared on and is reprinted here with permission.


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