I recently started cutting a project in Final Cut Express, on the grounds that the folks I was working with had just bought it for their 24″ iMac and they wanted to watch what I did. Fair enough.

It’s a terrific package, with basically all the timeline joy of Final Cut Pro, and you can’t argue with the price. A few things niggled, however, which I enumerate here, for reference:

  1. The two-way colour corrector. Now that the Studio package includes Color, is there really any need to deny Express users the three-way tools?

  2. Not having Soundtrack Pro is more of a bind than I expected, given that we wanted to EQ the voice track. Final Cut’s EQ tools are rubbish; Soundtrack has been a crashy mess most of the times I’ve tried to use it, but when it works it’s terrific. I’m not sure what Express users are supposed to do here. GarageBand? Struggle with per-clip multiband EQ filters? Not care?

  3. No Compressor? Really? Umm… so outputting timelines for the web is done entirely through the Quicktime dialog, or iMovie (best way to get to YouTube)? That’s… well, OK, Express is cheap, but sheesh…

  4. I wasn’t really expecting EDL import, but it’s worth noting that it’s not there. You can open Express projects directly in Pro, but I’m not sure how you go the other way. I didn’t try.

  5. Titling. Mind you, this is a common flaw with Final Cut: Boris is clunky, but the built-in tools won’t even let you choose which weight you want from an OpenType font. Typography in Final Cut is plain poor, and Express is no exception. In most cases, comp the text in Photoshop and drop the .psd on the timeline. Bleurgh.

  6. I don’t often miss multicamera support, and I certainly don’t expect it at this price. Working with DV it’s straightforward to stack the video clips in the timeline, and punch through with the razor blade to make (adjustable) cuts. In a strange way I almost prefer working like this – it makes slipping shots to cover audio edits a matter of selecting and option-arrowing, which is neat.

Final Cut Express is a thoroughly sound package. Terrific for the price, and I actually prefer the log and capture window in Express (it’s quite similar to the Log & Transfer window in Pro). However, I look forward to:

  • Soundtrack and Logic merging in the Studio packages so Soundtrack can migrate to Express, or Garageband finding some FCE integration so it can be used for final mixing.

  • Better colour controls, once Color is properly integrated with Studio.

  • Compressor. It’s slow and I’ve never seen the network rendering actually work, but why leave it out?