We haven't read a decent review yet of the new MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar and Final Cut Pro X. A lot of tyre kicking and speculation, but no details on exactly what features work with FCPX and this new tool. So we tasked Chris Roberts with the job of testing and documenting what you can, and cant do with the new Touch Bar and FCPX. We think he's got screengrabs of just about everything!
The new MacBook Pros from Apple have started shipping in the US, and over on the other side of the pond we’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on one of the new 15” laptops.
Apart from testing out the impressive specs of the machine, we were also interested to see how Final Cut Pro X worked with the new Touch Bar - especially having seen it demonstrated on stage at the recent Apple event that saw the announcement of these new computers and the launch of Final Cut Pro X 10.3. So, how might the Touch Bar enhance your video editing?
Available on most of the new 13” and 15” MacBook Pros, the Touch Bar promises to bring a brilliant new dimension of interactivity to your keyboard. Indeed, we were impressed by the demos of this successor to the row of “F keys” when it debuted during Apple’s recent announcements.
The Touch Bar is a Retina-resolution strip of glass with multi-touch capabilities. It has a 2170 x 60 pixel resolution and can display millions of colours. Looking at it sitting along the top edge of the keyboard, it’s a lovely thing to behold as it dynamically adapts to the application you are using.
Currently, it provides support only for a handful of applications. Unsurprisingly, these mostly consist of software from Apple, though some third-party software does either currently support it or is promising to support it in the near future. These include Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Safari, Finder and, most impressively, Photos where you can select and edit your pictures right from the Touch Bar itself.
A portion of the Touch Bar is reserved for the system controls such as volume, screen brightness, iTunes playback control - basically everything we’ve been using the F keys for over the last few years. They are stored in a collapsed menu that can be expanded to access the full length of the Touch Bar.
(The Touch Bar screen grabs are at full resolution- right click to get a larger view)
The far right of the Touch Bar is reserved for the power button and Touch ID sensor which can instantly allow you to switch users based on a fingerprint. Siri is also available in the Touch Bar too and, whilst the Touch Bar can be customised for some applications, these system buttons cannot be adjusted. In fact, even if you disable Siri on your Mac, or remove it from the menu bar, it still remains rooted to the Touch Bar.
However, in a limited number of applications, you can choose to customise the Touch Bar in a similar manner to how you would customise application tool bars.
If you do miss your good old F keys though (anyone still customising their FCP X shortcuts so F10 is an overwrite edit?), simply hold down the fn key to access them, though they will vanish when you lease the fn key, so you can’t permanently leave them up.
So what about its use for editing in Final Cut Pro X?
Well, for a start, you can’t customise the Touch Bar for Final Cut Pro X as you can for some applications like Finder and Safari. Hopefully this will change in the future, though there are a number of functions that you can currently access.
The Libraries Sidebar
Starting in the Libraries sidebar, the Touch Bar gives you options for Import, New Event and New Project. Handy if you don’t know what the keyboard shortcuts for those options are. However, there are no further options for other functions such as synchronising clips, adding new keyword or smart collections. But you know the shortcuts for these too, don’t you?
Moving our mouse pointer into the browser area dutifully updates the Touch Bar with some new commands.
These allow you to easily access the Info Inspector, adjust the audio level of a selected clip, go to the start and end of a clip (or the in and out points, if they’ve been set) and remove any selections. The button to the right that looks like a monitor on some books allows us to switch between the list and filmstrip views.
Selecting the option to adjust the audio of a selected clip gives us a nice slider we can drag with our finger. Or even instantly silence the clip.
You can also apply this adjustment to multiple clips at the same time. Unfortunately there’s no slider for this.
Again, there’s nothing here that can’t be achieved with a default keyboard shortcut. The only exception would seem to be being able to quickly jump to the Info Inspector. Normally, from my experience at least, the inspector defaults to the video tab, meaning an extra click to access the info tab.
(We really need a clip to load into the Touch Bar and the ability to set in & outs - Editor)
Moving the mouse to the timeline, updates the Touch Bar with some editing functions.
The first button opens the tools. Useful if you’re an editor who’s constantly using the mouse to access the different tools. However, if you’re used to selecting the tools with keyboard shortcuts, or even holding the key down to quickly toggle the tool for the duration you’re using it, then there’s nothing much to be gained here.
You can also access the audio adjustments for a selected clip or clips in the timeline. This has the added advantage of being able to instantly add or remove audio fades at the tops or tails of those clips. This is incredibly useful and though the functionality doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut assigned by default, one can be easily added through the Final Cut Pro X command editor.
We got very excited in the FCP.co office when we saw this feature as we thought it might be possible to use this slider to automate audio levels of a selected clip by using the keyboard shortcut to audio keyframes. Alas, we were disappointed. The slider in the Touch Bar will only adjust the level of the whole clip when playing back. But we did discover that using the slider to adjust the level of a clip that already has a keyframe does add another keyframe at the skimmer location, so we’re thinking this may be a useful alternative function to use instead of using the range tool for “ducking” levels.
Returning to the main Touch Bar display for the timeline, there are buttons for overriding clip connections (useful to move a clip without moving the connected clips), and basic trimming functions - trim to playhead, trim start, trim end and play around. Again, all standard commands that have their own default keyboard shortcut assignments. Though they are useful commands, and I use most of these options every time I edit, I’m more than happy to continue using the shortcuts I know by heart, especially as to, access the Touch Bar, my fingers actually travel across the keys used for the shortcuts!
The final button on this display changes things again.
In this view you get a global representation of the whole timeline of your entire project and it’s incredibly detailed showing the right colours for different roles and the structure of the clips, including transitions, and it demonstrates just how high a resolution the Touch Bar is. You can use the grey brackets around the timeline to adjust your zoom level and scroll up and down the timeline. The display also includes the position of your playhead (the white line) and skimmer (the red line) as you’re working.
If you play your project fullscreen the Touch Bar automatically updates further so you can now drag your playhead through your edit, to the right location.
I’ve seen similar representations of this over the years in different applications - mainly audio applications - and to be able to see and navigate an overview of the timeline in FCP X in this manner is incredibly useful. Unfortunately it doesn't appear you can “lock” this view as a default display. So, for example, if you select a new clip in the browser or switch to the color board to correct a shot, when you move back to the timeline the Touch Bar goes back to the default display for that window rather than returning to the timeline overview. To get the overview display back, you have to tap its button in the Touch Bar again. That gets tedious very quickly.
Other Touch Bar Displays
Other displays that the Touch Bar gives us are when you’re editing text.
Under the first button you can adjust the formatting of your text - including adding outlines, glows and drop shadows.
However, although you can turn on these options, you can’t actually adjust them from their defaults by using the Touch Bar. To do that you have to pick up your mouse or run your finger across your trackpad to the appropriate area of the inspector to adjust each parameter with a click.
Returning to the main text screen, you can also format the size of the text…
… and with a simple press of the 3D button, make your selected text 3D.
Again though, any further editing of the 3D text, such as its materials, lighting, etc., all have to be done by clicking and/or dragging in the appropriate parameter in inspector.
If you choose to leave your text in the regular 2D, then the colour wheel option in the Touch Bar allows you to change the hue, saturation and brightness of your text using a nice-looking set of sliders.
Bizarrely, these colour selectors take over the whole length of the Touch Bar, pushing the system controls out of the way. Seems strange it does that here, but nowhere else.
The final use for the Touch Bar that I found was for transitions.
Whenever you have a transition selected, and it doesn’t seem to matter which transition it is, you get to hit a button to type in the transition duration. This only seems to appear for transitions, so don’t get any ideas about changing clip, stills or title durations. For that, you’ll still need the default shortcut Control-D.
So, is the Touch Bar a game changer for editing in Final Cut Pro X?
Sadly, at this point, I think not. Whilst we can see how it adds great functionality to an application like Photos, it seems Touch Bar support for Final Cut Pro X is currently a little basic. Many of these functions I can access just as easily by using a standard keyboard shortcut.
So, in my case at least, the Touch Bar itself doesn’t add anything to my workflow. That said, the more I’ve been using the new MacBook Pro (for writing this article in Pages for instance), the more I find myself tapping the options that magically appear in the Touch Bar, so even now I find myself adapting to its potential.
To that end, maybe the Touch Bar is currently an ideal addition to the keyboard of someone newer to Final Cut Pro X, who might not be aware of all the intricacies of the shortcuts or the level to which you can customise the default command set. Whilst many “basic” functions are covered in the Touch Bar, other functionality like controls for the color board, clip appearance menus, favouriting and rejecting (to name just a few) are sadly missing in action.
There’s a fine line between enhancing existing workflows and simply replicating the functionality of keyboard shortcuts, but for the editor who might be primarily mouse-driven, it’s certainly a nice visual reminder that you can do lots of things in FCP X with your fingers.
Certainly the biggest limitation at the moment is not being able to customise the Touch Bar for Final Cut Pro X. If we could do this, it would become much more useful; where I might be tempted to change a shortcut, I would probably simply add a button to my Touch Bar. Alas, we will all have to wait and see if Apple adds this functionality in the future.
And who knows what other future developments we might see? Maybe we’ll get Touch Bar support for a range of features such as HSL sliders for Color Finale Pro, automation controls for audio mixing, or sliders for retiming sections that have been speed bladed? Right now we’re possibly only seeing the first iteration of Touch Bar support for Final Cut Pro X, but we think the potential is huge.
Chris Roberts is a freelance video producer, editor and trainer specialising in working with Final Cut Pro X and Premiere Pro CC. Apart from contributing to FCP.co, his greatest claim to fame is that he was at university with Matt Lucas.
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