Apple Final Cut Pro is generally said to be an 80/20 application, trading off some niche features for a lower price. More often than not, this descriptor is meant in the negative. Avid editors using FCP frequently lament about media management, render files and so on when comparing FCP with Media Composer. Yet, the fact that Apple targets the sweet middle, has left the field open for high-end systems on the Mac, like Avid Symphony, Autodesk Smoke and now, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve. This means advanced systems are available for the tiny market segment that wants them, without the need for Apple to develop a similar application itself.
I tend to view this 80/20 scenario as an opportunity for innovation. Avid, Autodesk, Quantel and others largely handle R&D internally. Although they embrace some openness in the interchange of media and file formats, their core features are typically closed to outside development, unless there’s an applicable SDK or API. Final Cut Pro incorporates a number of open and extensible technologies often available through the OS itself, like XML, QuickTime, Apple Events, Core Image and others. Granted, these are typically Apple-specific and not actual ratified standards, but they do provide a wide open development field for small and large entrepreneurs alike.
These technologies provide a relatively easy path for programmers to create a mix of plug-ins, utilities and applications that augment the native power of FCP. I’ll be the first to admit that I like to have everything inside the application, but the sheer diversity of options exceeds what’s available in the competing systems. For example, if you want Avid-style media management or control of project preferences, there are several different developers who have such solutions. The beauty of this for the user is more control and customization over your system – sort of the “shade tree mechanic” approach to media.
Here is a concise list of most of the companies building useful tools to enhance your Final Cut environment. Unlike effects plug-ins, these solutions are designed to improve productivity, reliability, efficiency and generally make your FCP experience better.
Update: With this post, the DigitalFilms blog passed 500,000 views, since its launch in March 2008. I’m glad many of you have found it helpful! Thanks.
©2010 Oliver Peters