FCPX 10.0.7 Quick Review

FCPX-icon

I came from Premiere Pro ages ago when Final Cut was the industry standard. When Apple decided to overhaul everything in FCPX, i jumped on board. It seems as though everyone went to CS6. The monthly membership to Adobe’s Cloud sounded supremely enticing but Final Cut Pro X worked well enough for me. I’m glad I stuck with it because whoa did 10.0.7 (apparently this happened with 10.0.6 but I was late to update) supercharge everything. Now I still have some issues with exporting FCPXML into DaVinci Resolve and it’s still NOT easy to go between Motion and Final Cut, but this truly feels like a pro editing piece of software now. Toss those “glorified iMovie” references out the window.

I’m somewhat distinguished for my speedy delivery. A huge reason is FCPX. Clip and audio syncing (no more Plural Eyes), magnetic timeline, and robust Color Board with Paste Attributes all help me deliver projects quickly. The Retina support also means I don’t have to rely on my Thunderbolt Display. Full HD in a small window with video scopes on. Wow!

I also use Western Digital’s 2 tb passport. With USB 3.0 on FCPX 10.0.4 things were choppy and sluggish. I would import everything onto the limited SSD in my Macbook and duplicate everything when the project was done. Rendering and transfering time is now cut in half because somehow after the upgrade, I can edit directly from the external harddrive. Of course when I stack 4-5 adjustment layers, I’ll see hiccups and the occasional spinning beach ball from color hell but it’s worth it and I remain extremely mobile.

Give it FCPX a shot!

Pico Dolly Quick Review

The Pico Dolly is pretty awesome . Sure you can probably DIY yourself something that functions similarly but I find tremendous value in the included flexible arm and universal shoe-to-tripod mount. The case is also convenient to have. The flexible arm does support the weight of a DSLR such as the a77 with 16-50 SSM lens but it does not inspire confidence and requires experimenting positions to get it to balance. Adjusting the wheels is fast and build quality is high.

In order to mount standard tripod heads a 1/4″ to 3/8″ adapter is required. You can find that here.

 

The dolly requires an extremely flat surface. In the following test you can see how some wooden tabletops create a less than smooth shot. This thing allows you you to be creative with your shots and gives you options beyond a standard slider.

Test:

Nothing to gain from AGC

After many tests I accepted the fact I have to capture audio on a seperate device.

I’ve had to make affiliations for the better part of my life. I went with Sega when my cousins had Nintendo as their console of choice. I stuck with the now software-only video game company as they released the Master System, Genesis, Sega CD and 32x. Yes I had all of those systems. No, I don’t regret it. Really. I had yet another choice when the Saturn was to launch against a heavily hyped upstart in Sony’s PlayStation brand. I went out and dropped $599 on Sega’s 32-bit Saturn, wrote an article for the school paper and convinced a handful of people to hop on the Sega Bandwagon. We were a lonely bunch. Yes, I regret that. I was a Warrior fan when they traded Chris Weber for Tom Gugliotta and stuck with them through the Sprewell choke and Mookie playing hooky. Let me use that HD DVD as a frisbee because I’m popping in a BluRay. Give me WCW not the “Hitman” headlined WWF. I will supply you with charts and graphs if you tell me a PC is better than an Apple. And if I could take a picture of your face right now, it won’t be with a Canon or Nikon.

I’ve made my affiliation, for better or worse, with the Sony line of cameras. I’m loyal to them. Which is too bad, because they frustrate the hell outta me. That proprietary hot shoe is a nuisance causing me to seek obscure adapters through eBay in order to mount a simple microphone. Speaking of which, an external microphone on a Sony Alpha Camera or Nex Camcorder is a moot point because of AGC. Auto Gain Control (AGC) is the only option you have when recording audio on a Sony Camera. It means that it determines for you how sensitive the mic is. So in a noisy environment, it’ll crank the levels down so you don’t pop any speakers on playback. In a quiet environment it will push the levels up as it searches for some kind of audio to record. That’s when the real problems occur as it’ll pick up and amplify the lens motor noise and just render the audio useless. AGC will also introduce a faint humming in the background that screams amateur which is not what you want if you plop $2,000 on the a77 or Nex-VG20. It doesn’t matter if you mount an external microphone, all those unwanted noises will be picked up and recorded on the audio track.

You would think Sony’s algorithm when designing this SLT specific external microphone would cancel out lens noise. It helps but not enough to make usable audio. I personally could not tell the difference from the onboard mic when sound was placed directly in front of the camera.

Unfortunately, Canon saw this as a problem and have fixed their line of cameras through firmware updates. 3rd parties introduced Magic Lantern that gave Canon DSLR users full audio control. Nearly two years ago! The a57, a37 and a77 came out months ago and Sony chose not to address these issues. You can bypass picking up lens noise by focusing manually of course but then you can’t utilize the major selling point of the Sony’s SLT line with their blazingly fast phase detection auto focusing. I’ve tried the Rode Video Mic Pro and Sony’s own ECM-ALST1. They both suck on my a57 because they not only pick up but amplify lens motor noise.

Now most pros will record audio separately anyways. This gives them a second audio track, which is handy to have so one can serve as a back up, and the ability to control/monitor audio feeds. Something like the Zoom H2, which I use, can record audio and be synced to match the video later in post. It adds a wrench to workflow but the results are usually better than recording off a shotgun plugged into a camera, manual gain or not. But in ENG or run-n-gun type situations this won’t be an option and it’s no wonder paid work is usually done on a Canon or Nikon if shot with a DSLR. On the bright side, Sony’s xx7 line of cameras have a pretty good onboard stereo mic that makes syncing in post easier.

Rode is a standard for prosumer audio mics. This shotgun has -10db, 0 and +20db settings and they all stink on the Sony because AGC will crank up until it finds something. Usually, you guessed it – lens noise. Maybe silent films is the way to go. “The Artist” did well this year, yes?

If Sony’s history says anything then Alpha/Nex users cannot look forward to a firmware update to resolve this issue. Sony does pay attention but they usually address them in the form of a new product. It’s a shame. Audio is important, it’s 50% of the experience. You can usually take a shitty video track and with good audio, make it usable. It doesn’t work the other way around. Delving into video production has given me this unnecessary headache but I’ve made my affiliation. Hey, Sega turned out alright, right?

Macbook Pro Retina Review – Should you buy?

There is only one Macbook Pro to consider getting this season and it’s the Retina Version. The question is if you need to. I’ve had enough time to exploit some real flaws of Apple’s new water cooler hit but make no mistake that I do believe that this is the best Mac ever. Now, let’s see if you need it.

The Macbook Pro Retina (MBPr) is a powerful machine loaded with the best combination of power and mobility. The base 2.3 ghz Ivy Bridge CPU is a beast capable of netting a Geekbench 64-bit score of 12,061 in my test and for some perspective there is not a desktop iMac on the list that scores higher. The Kepler nVidia GT 650m is clocked higher and has more memory than the new non-retina models that help it display that 5 megapixel or 2880 x 1900 screen. It’s also capable of driving 4 external monitors via 2 thunderbolt, 1 hdmi (a first for Apple) and it’s own. Newer games can run at the full resolution though expect frame rates to hover around 20fps at medium settings. I’ve loaded up Modern Warfare and Borderlands and this machine barely breaks a sweat at my old Macbook Pro’s resolution of 1440 x 900. It uses ram that’s twice as fast as previous models and the Samsung SSD (with probably to best/most stable controller for a Macbook) is also twice as fast as the Toshiba SSD Apple installed on my last Macbook Pro. The bottom line is this one of the most powerful computers period, consumer desktops included.

Do you need that power? To be honest, up until I started editing video in Final Cut, my last Macbook Pro was more computer than I needed. Any Macbook with a Core Series Intel chip and 4gb of ram will easily handle word processing, Photoshop, Aperture, and 1080p streaming. If the Macbook has a solid state drive like my old MBP then the system as a whole will feel lightening quick and iPad like with instant wake from sleep and a sub 18 second boot time. My move was going to be, and the one I would recommend if you have a similar workload, getting a Core Series Macbook Air.

Do you need to render HD videos longer that 5 minutes or pixel rich RAW images? When I began doing just that my 2010 Core i7 Macbook Pro would take nearly an hour to export a 10 minute video clip and the machine got hot as it was also pushing a 27 inch Cinema Display. It lagged even more if I wanted to stream Netflix while I waited for the video to finish. My machine was a first generation i7 with a dual core chip. All Macbook Airs at this point have dual core cpus, so expect similar export times and the eventual need for a Pro model. You can also eliminate the 13 inch version of the Macbook Pro as that’s a dual core as well. Ultimately, if you edit videos you’re looking at the 15 inch Macbook Pro that sport quad-core cpus.

Click here for my Macbook Showdown Video.

Did you know that the Macbook Pro Retina is the cheapest 15 inch Macbook Pro you can buy new? Let’s give this a walk through with the base models. SSD’s are the future of all computer storage so now or later you’ll have one. Besides that it’s the single greatest upgrade you can do for your computer. Plus 4gb ram is pushing it and becomes a bottle neck if you edit videos and large file photos. So a conservative 256gb SSD and 8gb ram upgrade from Apple will cost you $450 added to the $1799 base price, which come standard on the base model Retina version. So for $2399 you get a machine that’s slower (MBPr nVidia GPU is clocked 275 ghz higher with 512 mb more memory) and doesn’t have the Retina Display. Suddenly, that $2199 price tag for the Macbook Pro Retina looks more than reasonable, it looks good. Now you do lose the superdrive, gigabit ethernet, firewire 800 and future expandability/repairability (iFixit rates it 7/10 MBP and 1/10 MBPr, higher the better) but you do gain a sleeker design that runs significantly cooler. You can also buy an external super drive for $79 and a thunderbolt-to-ethernet adapter for $29, still putting you below a similar specced non-Retina MBP.

Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell, and beyond. Sandy was a tick. a huge step forward for mobile computing basically doubling what was capable before as the first quad-core CPU to fit inside a Mac 15 inches or larger. Ivy is a tock, which takes Sandy and gives it a die shrink making it more power efficient. Intel has mapped out this tick tock sequence well into the future so we know a few things. We know the ticks are the major updates, the one that changes the game. We know Haswell is the next tick. We know Apple and Steve Jobs had been pushing Intel to get Intel into mobile GPUs, even threatening to run it’s own ARM processor at the Macbook Level. The Ivy Bridge CPU and it’s integrated GPU are still joined as two separate islands on one board. Haswell looks to have significantly increase internal graphics performance while residing on the same “island” as the CPU. This leaves extra space for a larger battery. Speaking of, battery life is the significant leap that makes Haswell the next “tick.” We’re talking 24 hour battery life, 10 days connected standby time, and general iPad-like charging is an after thought. Intel’s recent demo showed the Haswell chip running of the illumination from a single light bulb. It dispenses more power than what’s needed for it to run. If you have anything prior to Sandy Bridge, then upgrade away, this Ivy Bridge Macbook Pro Retina is going to be an unbelievably powerful machine to you. If you do have a Sandy Bridge then you might as well wait for the next release as they get more powerful, run for much longer without a charge and run without all the quirks of this year’s model.

On one hand, I’m indecisive; but on the other, I’m not.  Rehab is for quitters. The best Mac ever made has a lot of problems. The Retina display is the much ballyhooed feature of the this “next generation” Macbook. Why does Apple give it this nick name? Why aren’t they available across the board of Macbook Products? Well, Apple new it was going to be costly and they knew the IPS panels themselves are hard to make. It’s also the major culprit of performance issues. There are numerous reports of consumers seeing image ghosting where the residual outline of say Safari will remain on the screen upwards of 5 minutes. My personal performance experience was more pleasant with my older Macbook for everything but Video encoding. The current hardware is supremely powerful by today’s standards but those bars didn’t factor in driving a 2880 x 1800 display. This results in laggy web browsing as it has to load and then redraw pages. You get barely playable frame rates at full resolution with games like Diablo 3 and you want to because 2880 x 1800 is just stunning. There just aren’t enough things that take advantage of it as Developers are making a miserable turn scrambling to find scaling algorithms that make sense when factoring in a Retina Display. Apple’s own iWork Suite lacks Retina support and looks fugly upon close inspection. Scrolling and zooming on a web page now becomes CPU intensive and results in a less than smooth experience. I’ve also seen the spinning beach ball more times in the past week than I did in the year and a half I owned my last Macbook. Final Cut Pro X crashed twice on me. The screen is also dim. I used to be able to work with brightness set to half  and now I have no choice but to go full brightness during the day on my MBPr. So though the Ivy Bridge CPU is more power efficient than last years model, the fact that more of it, along with the the GPU, is being stressed to push a display that needs to be set at full brightness results in 5 hour battery life under a diet of youtube, word processing and light photo editing. You can get over 7 hours in a non-retina version and the Macbook Airs. Mountain Lion will address many of these issues on the software side utilizing more of the GPU and Haswell should clear up any hardware throttles, so it seems Apple had a purpose in designating it the “next generation” Macbook as it’s not really ready to exist now.

So it’s the best Mac ever made? It is. The design, while subtle, harbors enough changes that makes working with it for a full day a significantly better experience than the old model. It’s thinner yes, but it feel more solid, with the old one’s feeling like I had lots of empty space between my hands. The screen is gorgeous with apps that utilize it. It’s a glimpse at resolution independence. If everything was displayed at the full 2880 x 1800 icons would look tiny and text would be illegible. So everything looks like the standard 1400 x 900 setup but all the extra pixels are used to give insanely crisp images. I almost don’t want to use my Cinema Display because it’s just not as good. The real key is when an app like Final Cut Pro X gives you a user interface that gives you the standard layout in super sharp fashion and then processes the video footage as separate entity. Let me explain, in a standard Final Cut Pro X UI the video window is down-scaled to fit the pixels in that window. In the MBPr, there’s no need to down-scale, that little window can display a full 1080p resolution. The same goes for Aperture which is Retina ready. So instead of the entire app rescaling images to make them fit the available pixel space, a Retina Display can scale the UI elements to make them fit while other parts can be viewed without altering. In practice, it means I spend less time time going into full screen mode to see how a shot or a photo looks and more time editing scenes. Workflow is greatly reduced as I weed out good photos from bad ones because the thumbnails pack so much detail.

It is the little things that count. Things like the asymmetrically spaced fan blades that I can report indeed have a quieter effect, if they even get a chance to spin. The MBPr definitely runs cooler. Exporting a 1080p video yielded 100 degree celsius temperatures on the old model and I clocked the Retina version at 49 degrees rendering the same clip. The glare on the screen is reduced but the gloss still give colors that “pop.” The speakers sound fuller and slightly louder than before. HDMI was a surprise feature but the two USB 3.0 ports were sorely needed and appreciated. The SDXC card slot is reliable now and fuss-free, not the case in older ones. Importing 40 photos literally took half a second. At first glance, it doesn’t look all that much different but its after daily use that you truly start to appreciate its svelte physique. The amount of thought put into this machine is obviously high and the more I use it, the more grateful I am of it.

You should consider buying:
-video editing more than 5 minute clips
-photo editing large RAW files
-increase productivity via screen real estate otions

You should consider waiting for Haswell version:
-have a Sandy bridge version
-want the 13 inch version of a quad core chip

You should consider the new Macbook Air:
-if you don’t fit any of the above

I bought mine here and didn’t have to pay tax. Saved me $219 which I used to buy a $187 2tb external USB 3.0 drive here.

UPDATE 7/4/12: Base model Macbook Pro w/ Retina is $2,089.99 in stores at Best Buy and $2,089.99 at Amazon for preorder.

Need more tech info on the Macbook Pro Retina? Here.

Sony A57 Sample Images

RAW images were all shot during the daytime with ample light. JPEG images were taken in fairly lowlight conditions.Lens used was an old Minolta 50mm prime.

JPEG ISO 400 50mm f15.6 1/8
JPEG ISO 400 50mm f1.7 1/100
JPEG ISO 400 50mm f1.7 1/80
RAW ISO 100 50mm f6.3 1/500
RAW ISO 100 50mm f5.6 1/200
RAW ISO 100 50mm f4.5 1/8
RAW ISO 100 50mm f3.2 1/320
RAW ISO 100 50mm f1.7 1/250
JPEG 2X CLEAR ZOOM ISO 100 50mm f1.7 1/250