Video editing on Final Cut Pro for the iPad is incredibly sleek, but comes with limitations
One of my favorite ways to edit photos is on an iPad — pinching the screen to zoom feels natural, the Apple Pencil is the perfect way to brush in adjustments, and even the apps are getting better over time. But I have not been able to replicate that setup for video editing. LumaFusion never did it for me, and despite my YouTube recommendations being filled with “I switched to DaVinci Resolve. Here’s why” videos, I haven’t made that switch yet.
Here at The Verge, we’re all mostly Adobe users, but for my personal work, I like to play around with Final Cut Pro, so the news that it’s coming to the iPad was exciting for me. Except that I own a 2018 iPad Pro — the one with an A12X Bionic chip. Final Cut Pro won’t work on those. You’ll need an M1- or M2-powered iPad. So Apple sent me a loaner to test out the new Final Cut Pro.
Final Cut Pro for iPad is a carefully designed app that gets a lot of the basics right. It’s a great adaptation of its desktop app, and FCP users will feel right at home. It also takes advantage of the iPad’s touch-first interface and utilizes accessories like the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil as well. It’s also priced accessibly — Apple is selling it as a subscription at $5 per month or $50 per year, which makes it easy to use for a month or two to see if it’s something you want to stick with.
But if you’re hoping that it’s a complete drop-in replacement for the Mac version of Final Cut Pro, you’ll likely come away disappointed. There are still many features omitted from this version that I missed throughout my testing of it. And if you’re the type of editor who wants to work on both the iPad and the Mac, you’re going to need to be careful with how you organize your projects and which device you start out with.
The 12.9-inch iPad that Apple loaned me for this piece came with a 2TB drive and 16GB of RAM paired with the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil. The total cost of this setup is $2,877. ($2,399 if you ditch the accessories.) And you’ll want an iPad with more storage because one of the first limitations of Final Cut Pro on the iPad is that you can’t edit off of external drives. All of your media files will have to live on your iPad inside the Files app. I do think we’re at the point where SSDs are fast enough to handle this workload, so it’s an odd limitation. There will be more of those as we go on.
Another small limitation comes when importing files. You can’t export folders as a whole; you’ll have to open up each folder and manually select the clips you want to import. So if you’re serious about your file management and are used to a specific folder hierarchy, you won’t be able to replicate that here.
This also means that there are no events or Smart Collections (or “bins” for Premiere users) inside the library. It all lives in the media window on the top-right corner of the screen. You can add keywords and add “favorite” or “rejected” labels. And you can sort media by said labels and media type.
As soon as you launch the app, you’ll feel right at home. The setup looks fairly similar to what you’d see on a desktop Final Cut Pro, just a bit smaller and a bit cramped — but not quite claustrophobic. You can resize each window and hide some for a cleaner setup. There’s also a picture-in-picture view in case you need a better look at your media. Preview window, where you play back your clips, is still in the top-left corner, and you can choose between quality or performance playback. The editing timeline runs along the bottom edge, and just below it are a few new buttons — inspect, volume, animate, and multicam. This is where you’ll go to start making adjustments to your clips.
The inspector button brings up the inspector sidebar over from the left-hand side, and I actually really like how that looks. It also makes a lot of sense if you’re editing while holding your iPad in both hands. You can select clips with your right hand, and your left hand is already in place to start making adjustments in that sidebar.
In this window is where you’d also hope to find stabilization and rolling shutter correction options, but neither of those options is available. As someone who films a lot on a slider, losing stability is frustrating.
Keyframes and animation
Tapping on the animal button brings up this keyframe editing graph. It’s where you’ll add keyframes and animate movement of your clips or coloring adjustments. While I think the user experience could be better (for example, tapping on the keyframe itself doesn’t select it), the bigger issue I have is that all of the keyframed transitions you do in FCP on an iPad are linear by default and can ‘t be changed. There is no way to “ease out” or “ease in” movements.
Tapping on the volume buttons reveals audio metering and the gain slider on each side of the timeline. And there are some useful audio effects you can use — including basic fade-ins, fade-outs, pans, and more ambitious effects like EQ and Compressor. The iPad version of Final Cut Pro also has a few audio effects that were recently added to FCP on desktop. Voice isolation, loudness, and noise removal are all here and work just as well.
Live drawing and masking
But there are a few new features exclusive to the FCP on iPad, including one that made my life a lot easier. If you have an Apple Pencil, you can freely draw or write on top of your footage and then animate it. It’s called Live Drawing, and it’s fantastic. I think more creative people than myself can really take advantage of it, but I was able to get some nice text and sketches animated onto my clips. But it’s also one of those things that might get too repetitive soon. I hope Apple adds some more brush options in the future.
There’s also a new masking effect called Auto Scene Removal, which, in After Effects terms, is called rotoscoping. It’s what you’d do to separate your subject, like a person or pet, from the background in order to place text behind them. It, unfortunately, hasn’t worked well for me at all. Apple’s demos show it working only on static shots with very clear separation between the two, but even when I tried to replicate them, I had very little success, with the title flickering between the subject and background or generally just getting lost. I was expecting a lot more there.
Apple also added about 40 songs that you can freely use. What’s cool about those is that FCP will automatically retime the song so it fits your timeline. Any of these songs can be 10 seconds or 10 minutes long. But this only works with those 40 songs. This is something I used to do in Audition, but Adobe added this specific feature to Premiere, and it works with any song you want.
Let’s talk about color. For folks filming in LOG profiles, I have some bad news. There’s no way to add custom LUTs, but not all hope is lost. FCP offers you some widely used built-in LUTs from Canon, Arri, Blackmagic, Sony, etc. For me, that means I can’t use my Fuji footage or DJI LUTs. You also can’t add third-party plug-ins, but Apple says those are coming, so maybe LUTs will be part of that in the future, though there’s no timeline on when that will happen.
But there are some things you can get done without LUTs. When opening up the color adjustment effects, all you get are sliders. There aren’t traditional curves, color board, color wheels, or HSL curves like on the desktop version. I was never a fan of those, but I still prefer that over basic sliders like the ones you see here. You can still make a lot of adjustments here, but I wish this interface were more consistent. And lastly, there are scopes, vectorscopes, and histograms where you can monitor your coloring.
Some editors will want to send this project to DaVinci because they prefer coloring there. But that’s not possible. FCP also can’t export or import XML files that you usually use to copy your timelines into other apps. In fact, you can only transfer FCP libraries from an iPad to a Mac and not the other way around. Which also means you have to make a decision on which machine you’d use to start and finish the edit and hope you made the right bet.
Keyboard shortcuts and the Jog Wheel
In general, I do like the user interface across the app. There are some nice changes from the desktop version that fit very well on an iPad. Apple made sure you can use FCP with just your hands, and to make things easier, there’s a little new feature called Jog Wheel.
If you’ve seen or used a Loupedeck or DaVinci Resolve’s physical wheel, it’s basically that but digital. You can use it in your timeline to move your playhead or nudge the clip backwards and forwards. You can’t use it to fine-tune your slider when adjusting color, just to control your clips and playhead in the timeline.
You can place it anywhere along the sides of the screen, which is helpful if you’re left-handed and particularly helpful, maybe even mandatory, if you’re using your hands to edit. I love it.
But I still prefer editing with the keyboard and a trackpad or mouse — mostly because I’m so used to using keyboard shortcuts, and I’m a much faster editor that way.
Almost all of the usual keyboard shortcuts work — things like I and O for in and out points, JKL for playback, fast-forward, rewind, zoom in, zoom out, jumping around the timeline, adding cross dissolves, etc. But I’m surprised to see which ones are omitted. Here’s a short list of the ones that I normally use on the desktop that aren’t available on the iPad:
- V for enabling and disabling the clip.
- N for turning snapping on and off.
- M for markers. Those are just fully gone. I can live without those.
- Option-W for adding blank space is gone.
- Cmd-E — no export shortcut
- Option-G for compounding clips is gone — both the shortcut and the feature.
- Tilde (~), which is sort of this magical pro tier keyboard shortcut that helps you override connecting points on a timeline. You should totally use it if you already don’t… but not on here because it’s gone.
Battery life and performance
Unsurprisingly, there’s little to complain about when it comes to performance in Final Cut Pro on the iPad. Everything runs smoothly and quickly. Even adding super long files didn’t cause any hiccups. There’s an option to set playback previews to prioritize performance or quality, and I went with performance. But I did notice the battery life depleting quickly. I was down to 43 percent after about two hours of editing with the screen at a comfortable brightness. The conspiracy brain in me makes me wonder if the main reason why we can’t edit off external drives is because we’ll need to keep our iPad plugged in instead.
Overall, there are a lot of things I liked about editing with Final Cut Pro on the iPad. But I’m surprised at how many of the features are missing — the coloring options are lacking, some very common features like the blade tool or ability to enable and disable clips are gone, you can’t import LUTs, the stabilization is missing… I could go on. I wouldn’t even say these are necessarily “professional” level tools. And I already talked about the whole file management side of things. It baffles me!
On the other hand, I’m editing 4K ProRes video in Final Cut Pro on a tablet with one of the best HDR-enabled screens ever made. I’m using an Apple Pencil to draw animations directly onto my footage. The experience itself is remarkably good, and for $5 a month, it’s a very accessible, powerful tool. But ultimately, when it was time to edit the video I created to test out Final Cut, I went back to the Mac. I could have done it on the iPad, sure. But some of my slider B-roll would’ve been a lot shaker, and I would have been frustrated with the end result.
If you’re starting out, this will be an incredibly intuitive and easy app to get going. But for someone with an established workflow like myself, it’s still missing some crucial features.
Photography by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge