Why iMovie ’08 isn’t Final Cut Express

December 27, 2007

Stuff like this has me rolling my eyes. Why? Because what it’s saying that iMovie ’08 fails to be a Final Cut wannabe when that’s not the point. A quote:

[In iMovie ’08] each clip is represented as a number of stills, and there’s a thin break between each clip. As you move the mouse over the clip bin, the clips play both audio and video—I found this very distracting and not at all useful. In addition, if you’re using the mouse like this to preview clips, you have to drag it from the rightmost edge of the frame back to the left in order to continue playing the clip when it spans more than one row. Overall, I just couldn’t adjust to this new paradigm, finding it imprecise, visually busy, and not at all intuitive.

It’s true that iMovie ’08 is a massive departure from just about every video editor out there, which take an approach similar to editing film or tape, splicing sections into place. But iMovie ’08 borrows the familiar concept, as Jobs said when introducing the product, of selecting text and dragging it around. I think this really works.

Normal People shriek in horror when first introduced to that traditional way of working. I have a great example of when my friend asked how he should edit his video. He showed me some clips, as imported from his DV camera. In one clip, he stood in a square in NYC and moved the camera around the various streets, zooming in and out, with various wobbly transitions in between. It’s what all raw footage from a handheld camera looks like.

What I would do with such a clip was cut it up, so you look down one street, then cut to another, or the guy in the shop doorway, and so on. Basically, remove the crappy bits and keep the good stuff. As this footage was from NYC, quicker cuts would be ideal.

In the old iMovie, the process would go something like this:

  • Locate the clip by its thumbnail, drag it into the timeline.
  • Scrub through the video to select the start and end points of the first bit you don’t want.
  • Delete the unwanted section, probably splitting the track into up to three pieces. The before and after sections will stay in the timeline while the other goes in iMovie’s Trash.
  • Repeat with each segment to discard.

Another approach I’ve used is to play and split tracks at the start and end points. This saves losing things in the Trash, but creates as much mess.

In iMovie ’08, the process makes much more sense:

  • Move the mouse over the clips to find the start point.
  • Click the start point and drag to the end.
  • Drag the selection into the timeline.
  • Repeat with each segment to keep.

So, for starters you don’t end up with severed clips everywhere. This is not only cleaner, but useful. Say you want to adjust the time of the clips. In the old version, you’re screwed, and either have to Undo or go to iMovie’s Trash and drag the deleted clips back into the timeline and edit again. In the new version, just drag the start or end points to make the clip longer or shorter.

As another example: reusing a portion of those clips (e.g. for a quick preview) would require duplicating the clips and editing them down. Horrific! In iMovie ’08, you can select and drag clips to the timeline as many times as you like. The other advantage is you can find the starting point much more quickly moving the mouse over the video than playing through it. I have lost countless clips through not having the patience or time to play it all way through, or by skipping bits as I scanned through it.

What really made me realise the approach was so much better for people who don’t edit video regularly was just explaining it: “select the bits you want and drag them into the timeline” is so much easier than telling someone how to split or delete clips. It’s the difference between working with the bits you want, rather than the bits you don’t want.

I even know a professional video editor who really likes iMovie ’08 because it allows him to create a rough cut very quickly. He then uses its export features to take the clips into Final Cut Pro and saves himself a ton of time in the process.

iMovie HD was really powerful, but that was becoming its downfall. It was like a not-quite version of Final Cut, brilliant in many ways but infuriating for its shortcomings. I can use iMovie ’08 put a movie together in 20 or 30 minutes that would have taken hours before.

iMovie ’08 can be annoying too, in that it doesn’t have as much control over things such as mixing different audio tracks, and is less precise. Admittedly, I couldn’t have achieved some of my more complicated videos with it, but that’s not what it’s for. That said, I reckon with a little creative thinking I could have got pretty close.

I think Apple is right to draw a line and say that if you don’t need all the power of Final Cut Pro, but need that sort of control, Final Cut Express is for you and the latest version is nicely priced for such semi-professionals. For everyone else, iMovie ’08 is something that anyone can master.


One Response to “Why iMovie ’08 isn’t Final Cut Express”

  1. Keith Smith Says:

    Thank you. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who was finding iMovie ’08 actually improve the workflow on the quick & dirty stuff like that. I applaud Apple for the redesign, and look forward to the next revision where some of the basic features (chaptering) from iMovie HD filter back in.

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