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This chapter is from the book

Importing Media

Importing is the process of making Final Cut Pro X aware that media files exist. Sometimes, this process involves converting the files from a camera format into something that FCP X can read. Other times, you just need to point to a file to let Final Cut Pro know that it is there. Additionally, FCP X can optimize (convert) files into a format that renders and exports faster, or it can create proxy files to allow you to reduce the file size of your media so you can edit it on smaller systems.

In all cases, FCP X is not actually importing anything. It is just creating a pointer, a path, that tells it where the media file it should use for editing is located. No media files are actually copied into your Project.

One of the good things about FCP X is that when Apple created it, it made much of the import process run in the background. “Background” means that you can be doing one thing while Final Cut Pro is importing, analyzing, and processing all your files. This means you don’t have to wait for FCP to finish importing before you can start editing. In fact, you can start viewing and editing files almost immediately, even though they are still importing.

What’s even cooler is you can monitor all this background activity—I’m a big fan of blinking lights and charts and graphs. I’ll show you how to monitor your background tasks shortly, when you actually have some imported media to monitor.

Even better, Apple has added a bunch of options that are handled during import that can save you time later. Those options are controlled from Final Cut Pro’s preferences. Let me start the discussion of importing by looking at these preference settings. Then, I’ll show you how to import a wide variety of media.

Set Import Preferences in the Import Window

My goals for this section are to explain how Final Cut Pro decides where to store media, to describe the settings in the Import Preferences window, and to provide recommended settings for your importing. Final Cut Pro X also makes it easy to change, or verify, import preferences before importing media.

There are three preference windows in Final Cut Pro: Editing, Playback, and Import. For this chapter, you’ll look at the Import preferences. I’ll discuss the other two in Chapter 6.

There are two ways to open Final Cut Pro’s preference window:

  • Press Command+[comma].
  • Choose Final Cut Pro > Preferences.

The preference window opens (Figure 4.4). Click the Import icon. (In this example, the checkboxes also indicate my recommended import preferences.)

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 This screen sets preferences for importing media.

The Import window has four sections: Organizing, Transcoding, Video, and Audio. (Transcoding is a technical term that simply means converting. Transcoding a file means converting a file from one format to another.) Let’s take a look at what each of these settings means.


The Organizing section of the Import window contains the following:

  • Copy files. If “Copy files to Final Cut Events folder” is checked, FCP will copy your media file from wherever it is into the Events folder. This is the best way to consolidate all your media files into one location. The downside is that, because you are duplicating files, your storage needs will increase. Checking this option does not move the original file.

    If you are someone who is very organized and knows where all your files are, you can uncheck this box. If, on the other hand, you have better things to do than organize and track all your files, then check this box. There is no impact on performance regardless of how you check this box. All file copying happens in the background. (More on that later.)

  • Import folders. Keywords are one of the powerful tools that Final Cut uses to help you find files. Depending upon how you select your files, when this option is checked, FCP will assign the name of the folder that contains the source media as a keyword for each of the imported clips.

In my case, I generally have both of these checked.


Apple makes a big deal out of the fact that FCP X edits files in the camera’s native format. This is, in general, a good thing. However, some video formats, because of their complexity, take longer to calculate effects and export than others. Also, some video formats are better for color correction than others.

To solve this problem, Apple provides the option of transcoding (converting) media from one format into another; specifically, ProRes 422. While this is an excellent codec, if you wanted to change to a different format, you can’t.

You can transcode files in two ways:

  • Optimize media: Some files are compressed using long-GOP formats such as MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 files. While FCP can edit these formats natively, it works better when they are “optimized.” Optimizing converts these files into ProRes 422. Optimized files provide faster renders, potentially higher image quality for effects, and faster exports. The downside is larger file sizes—generally about four times bigger than the native camera files. Optimizing simply means that FCP is creating a high-quality ProRes 422 file from your source camera media.
  • Proxy media: Creating proxy media creates another copy of your media using ProRes Proxy. This version of ProRes is optimized for small file sizes. Proxy files are about the same file size as the camera native files.

If both Optimize and Proxy are checked, then you’ll end up with three versions of your files: the camera master, the optimized file, and the proxy file. If Copy Files is also checked, you’ll end up with a fourth version, which is a copy of your camera source file stored in the Events folder. (Like I said earlier, storage is cheap; be sure you have lots.)

What happens if you don’t create either optimized or proxy media during import? No problem; FCP will edit the video in its native format; plus, you can transcode it later, if you so choose.

Select the Event you want to optimize or create proxies for. Then, choose File > Transcode media. Check the appropriate checkboxes, and click OK. Final Cut Pro will create all necessary files in the background and store them in the Event folder.


The Video section analyzes your video for problems and suggests possible repairs. The nice thing about this feature is that while it suggests ways to repair your media, you can accept, reject, or modify the suggestions. The only downside to this analysis is that it can take a loooonngg time. Yes, it runs in the background, but background processing means you need to leave both your computer and FCP running while FCP processes your files.

Here are your choices:

  • Analyze for stabilization and rolling shutter: This option looks at handheld footage for shaky camera moves or DSLR footage for rolling shutter problems (see Chapter 12). This process can take a long time and generate very large render files. My suggestion is to leave this off and manually analyze the clips you need to correct later.
  • Analyze for balance color: This looks at your images to see whether there is a color cast (the shot is blue or orange). If there is, FCP can automatically fix it. The automatic correction actually does a pretty good job. Again, however, the analysis takes a long time. I recommend manually analyzing clips that need color correction to save time. Chapter 16 explains how color correction works.
  • Find people: This analyzes your shot to see how many people are in the frame. This is not facial recognition, at least not yet. Instead, the program determines whether there are one, two, three, or more people in the frame. And, it determines whether the shot is a close-up, medium shot, or wide shot.

In theory, this is a neat trick. In practice, I’ve found it to be inaccurate and time-consuming. For now, I don’t use it. If you experience problems using this feature, Apple is interested. Upload samples of footage that return inaccurate results and report them to


Audio analysis, unlike video analysis, is very fast. I generally like what FCP is suggesting for audio repairs, and when I don’t, I can override its suggestions. For this reason, I recommend leaving all three of these settings on.

  • Analyze and fix audio problems: This examines a clip for hum, distortion, and noise. If it finds any, it applies filters to remove it. I’ll show you how this works in the Chapter 9.
  • Separate mono and group stereo audio: Many people mistakenly think that because they want their ultimate mix to be stereo they need to record everything in stereo. For music and sound effects, this is a good idea. For interviews, it is not. Interviews should be recorded where each voice is on its own channel and the audio is imported as dual-channel mono. This option is here to make sure audio imports properly. Again, I recommend you check this.
  • Remove silent channels: Sometimes, audio gets exported with too many channels, for example when a stereo pair is exported as a six-channel surround clip. This option prevents importing audio channels that are silent.

Again, I suggest checking all three of these options. When you are done setting your preferences, simply close the window, and FCP saves them automatically.

Importing 101

There are two types of files you need to import:

  • Files from a camera that need to be converted into something Final Cut Pro can play
  • Files already playable that are stored somewhere on a hard disk

There’s a third option, which is importing files from an iMovie project, but that is simply a special case of the second option.

So, how do you decide whether you need to import from a camera or a file? Easy. Try it. If it works, you guessed right. If not, try the other option. If that’s a bit too laissez-faire for you, think of it this way. If you can open the file in QuickTime, you import the file. If you can’t, you import the camera.

You import from camera when you are importing directly from a camera card, from a camera card transferred to your hard disk, or from videotape. The rest of the time, you import from a file. Here are some specific examples.

Importing from a File-Based Camera

There are two main types of cameras: those that record to videotape and those that record tapeless. However, videotape is no longer the wave of the future; tapeless media is. So, we will start by looking at importing tapeless media.

Tapeless media has two main categories: cameras that record to memory cards (of which there is a large variety) and those that record to hard disks. However, hard disks generally record video files that don’t need conversion; they can be played straight from the hard disk. This section talks about media recorded to memory cards.

The Basic Steps

  1. If this is the first time you’ve started Final Cut Pro X, you’ll see the screen in Figure 4.11. However, after you create your first event, you’ll never see this screen again.

    Figure 4.11

    Figure 4.11 There are a variety of ways to create a new Event—however, these three icons show up only the very first time you run FCP X.

  2. As you have come to expect, there are multiple ways to import from a camera:
    • Choose File > Import from Camera.
    • Press Command+I.
    • Click the Camera icon on the extreme left edge of the toolbar (Figure 4.12).
    Figure 4.12

    Figure 4.12 To import files from a camera or a memory card, click this Import from Camera icon.

    Whichever you select, the Camera Import window opens (Figure 4.13). In the top-left corner is a list of all the drives attached to your system. If you have connected your camera or plugged in your memory card to the computer, it will show up here.

    Figure 4.13

    Figure 4.13 This is the Camera Import window—with no files loaded.

  3. If, on the other hand, you copied your media to your hard disk before importing it, as I recommend, then you’ll need to do one extra step. To import files from a card you’ve copied to your hard drive, you will need to open an archive.

Opening an Archive

Remember that camera archive we talked about earlier? Well, to Apple, an archive is a collection of media still in its camera-native format (as opposed to a folder of QuickTime files). If you copied your media files into a folder on your hard disk, you open that folder by opening an archive. You can also create archives from either a memory card or a tape-based camera, which I’ll talk about in a few pages.

If the memory card is plugged into your computer, it will show up at the top of your list of drives in the top-left corner. In Figure 4.14, the memory card NO NAME is displayed, and the files it contains are displayed in the large window to the right.

Figure 4.14

Figure 4.14 If a memory card is plugged into your computer, it will show up in this list—for example, the card NO NAME.

If you copied the files to your hard disk first, click Open Archive in the lower-left corner. A standard file picker window shows up. Navigate to where you stored the media you copied from the camera and select the folder. You don’t need to select the files in it. Once you select the folder and click OK, the images from this archive are displayed in the large window to the right.

Whichever option you choose, all the files in the selected device or folder are now displayed on the right side of the window (Figure 4.15).

Figure 4.15

Figure 4.15 This is what an opened camera archive looks like.

The purpose of this window is to allow you to review all your clips and to decide which ones you want to import into FCP so you can edit them. The large image at the top right allows you to preview a clip. The small images at the lower right allow you to quickly scroll through all the clips in that archive or device.

As you would expect, this portion of the Camera Import window allows you to play a clip. The buttons across the bottom, from left to right, allow you to do the following:

  • Move left one frame at a time
  • Move right one frame at a time
  • Play from the beginning to the end of a clip (or from the start to the finish; more on that in a minute)
  • Play, or stop, a clip
  • Jump to the beginning, or start, of a clip (these are not the same thing)
  • Jump to the end of a clip (and end has two different meanings)

Oh, and that small twisty thing on the far right? Click it, and when you play something, it will repeat, over and over and over...until you stop playback.

The small pictures, also called thumbnails, show all the clips stored in that archive. Click the Switch in the lower-right corner to adjust the size of these thumbnails and to turn the display of audio waveforms (a picture of the sound of your audio) on or off (Figure 4.16). I generally tend to work with small thumbnails, but this is absolutely a matter of personal preference, because Final Cut doesn’t care what the thumbnail size is.

Figure 4.16

Figure 4.16 The Switch allows adjusting the height of the thumbnails and whether the audio waveforms will be displayed.

Selecting and Marking Clips

To select a single clip to import, click it. The yellow box around the clip indicates the portion of the clip that is selected (Figure 4.17).

Figure 4.17

Figure 4.17 Click a clip to select it—notice the yellow border indicating the portion of the clip that’s selected.

To select a group of clips, select the first clip you want to import; then, while holding down the Shift key, select the last one. All the clips in between are selected as well.

To select any arbitrary group of clips, hold the Command key down while clicking. Whatever you click will be selected, but the clips around it will not (Figure 4.18).

Figure 4.18

Figure 4.18 You can select a portion of one clip or multiple clips using either the Shift or Command key. One clip with a range and three other whole clips are selected here.

While you might think that being able to select just the clips you want is pretty darn neat, the real magic happens when you realize you can select just a portion of a clip. This is called marking a clip or setting a clip range. This is a real power tool, because you don’t want to clutter up your Event Browser with clips you’ll never use or waste time skipping over portions of clips you don’t need.

There are several ways to mark the Start and End (or In and Out) of a clip:

  • Click with the skimmer where you want the shot to start and drag until you reach the end of the portion you want. The yellow box indicates the Start and End of your clip.
  • Click the skimmer before the portion you want and press the spacebar to play the playhead in the clip. When you reach the spot you want to start, press I. Continue playing until you reach the spot where you want the clip to end and press O.
  • Hover the skimmer over the frame (that is what an individual image within a clip is called) that you want to mark as the Start and press I. Hover over the end of the portion you want to import and press O.
  • Click the playhead where you want the shot to start and choose Mark > Set Selection Start. Go to the end of the shot and choose Mark > Set Selection End.
  • To select an entire clip, click it; or, if you’ve already set marks (the Start or End), press X.

In other words, there are lots of options. And, for the power user, all these marks can be set in real time, during playback, or by precisely positioning the skimmer or playhead. Your choice. They all work.

There is one problem with all of this, and it is so obvious that I’m expecting it to get fixed in the next update to the software. If you set an In and an Out for a clip and then click another clip to select it, when you go back to the first clip, it’s forgotten the In and the Out.

In every other editing system on the planet, clips remember their In and Out until you change them. I expect that will happen with clips in Final Cut Pro X as well. It just hasn’t happened yet. A corollary to this “not remembering the In and Out” problem is that you can import only one clip with a range at a time, though you can easily import as many whole clips as you want.

Importing a Clip

Let’s try a specific example. Figure 4.19 shows two clips—one with a selected range and one where the entire clip is selected. I’ve decided I want to import these two clips so I can use them for my edit.

  1. When all the clips you want to import are selected, click Import Selected in the lower-right corner. You can import as many times and as many clips as you want. You can even return later and import more. No rush.

    Final Cut instantly displays the import dialog (Figure 4.20). The settings in this dialog are based upon the preference settings you created at the beginning of this chapter. Displaying this window now allows you to change your settings, should you want to.

  2. Look at the top of the dialog. For the purpose of this example, I created an existing Event called JPutch. I could import this train footage into that Event—except John has given me some excellent dramatic footage that you’ll see in the editing section, so these train clips should be put somewhere else.

    Instead, I created a new Event, in this window, during import. This just goes to show, again, that there are multiple ways to do the same thing. In the previous chapter, I talked about creating new Events first. Now, you discover that you can create a new Event during import. However, to do it, you must create an Event to store media. My new Event is called More Trains and is stored on the second drive. (Remember, try really, really hard not to store media on your boot drive, especially if you are going to optimize it.) I discussed these import settings earlier in this chapter, except for “Remove pulldown.” This feature is used for 24-frames-per-second film transferred to videotape.

  3. Once you are happy with your import settings, click Import, and FCP leaps into action and imports your clips.

    The Camera Import window stays open, but notice at the bottom of each clip, or portion of a clip, that you imported, a pale salmon-colored line (some would call this orange) appears (Figure 4.21). That indicates the portion of the clip that was imported. This is a great visual aid to remind you which shots were imported and which weren’t.

  4. When you are done importing, click Close (it’s next to Import Selected), and you’ll discover your clips are already loaded into the Event Browser for that Event, ready for editing.
Figure 4.19

Figure 4.19 Both an entire clip and a range within a single clip are selected.

Figure 4.20

Figure 4.20 Every time you import, you are able to change your import settings. The Import preferences determine the default settings, but you can change these at any time.

Figure 4.21

Figure 4.21 The orange bar, at the bottom, indicates the portion of the clip that was imported.

Monitoring and Changing Background Tasks

However, while the process of importing clips is both fast and easy, behind the scenes there’s still a lot of work being done. And this shows the power of Final Cut Pro X, because in the past, you would need to wait until all the finding, transcoding, and importing tasks were complete. Not so today. Today, Final Cut Pro X processes all that in the background.

One of the neat features in FCP X—mainly because I’m a fan of blinking lights and charts and graphs—is the Background Tasks window. To open the Background Tasks window, click inside the “clock face” on the left side of the Dashboard in the middle toolbar of Final Cut Pro X. (You can also display this task window by pressing Command+9 or choosing Window > Background Tasks.) This opens the Background Tasks window, which displays the status of all actively running tasks (Figure 4.22). In this case, it shows that FCP is 47 percent done importing the media clips selected earlier.

Figure 4.22

Figure 4.22 The Background Tasks window displays all the activities FCP is running behind the scenes.

This Background Tasks window can be very useful when running Final Cut Pro. You can reference it to check the status of importing, analyzing clips, transcoding from one format to another, rendering transitions and effects, and exporting.

Importing from a Tape-Based Camera

Wow! That included a lot of steps. The good news is that once you understand how importing works—and you spent a lot of time going over all the steps in the previous section—these other options are just slight variations on the same theme.

Let’s turn our attention to capturing from videotape. Here, Final Cut Pro X has some significant limitations. It can capture only from videotape cameras or decks that are attached via FireWire. Companies such as AJA, Blackmagic Design, and Matrox are working on ways to capture using other videotape protocols. New products are expected about the same time this book is published, so visit these companies to see what their latest gear can do.

However, assuming you do have a FireWire deck or camera, here’s what you need to know to capture clips from it.

  1. Connect your FireWire camera or deck to the computer. Turn it on and load a tape. (You can also use this process for capturing from a live camera, but this example assumes you are using tape.)
  2. Open Final Cut Pro, select an Event you want to use to store the media, and click the Import from Camera icon (or press Command+I) (Figure 4.23).
    Figure 4.23

    Figure 4.23 Here’s an example of a DV videotape deck (Sony DSR-11) attached to the computer via FireWire.

    In the top-left corner of the Camera Import window, the name of the camera or deck will be listed.

  3. In the Camera Import window, you’ll see an image from your tape, along with the word Pause, indicating the tape is not running (Figure 4.24). Unlike earlier versions of Final Cut Pro, you cannot set Ins or Outs when capturing from tape. (In FCP 7 terms, FCP X uses Capture Now when importing from tape.) So, to capture a shot or an entire tape, rewind the tape using either the controls on the camera or deck or the controls at the bottom of the Preview window to rewind the tape until it is a few seconds before the start of the shot you want.
    Figure 4.24

    Figure 4.24 This is the Camera Import window. Notice the text displays at the top.

  4. Click the Import button at the bottom.

    Just as you saw in Figure 4.20, when importing tapeless media, the Import dialog appears, allowing you to configure how you want the clips imported. “Create optimized media” is grayed out because this video format (DV) is already optimized and does not need conversion to ProRes.

  5. When you are happy with the settings, click Import.

    If the tape does not start playing, push the Play button on your camera or deck. Final Cut Pro will start capturing the images directly to your hard disk, storing them in the Event you selected before opening this window (Figure 4.25).

    Figure 4.25

    Figure 4.25 Notice the monitoring display at the top of the screen during tape playback.

  6. The import status at the top displays the shot being captured, the amount of time currently captured to disk (top left), and the timecode on the tape at that moment during playback (top right). When you want to stop the capture, either click the Stop Import button at the bottom or simply stop the camera or deck.

    Although the Camera Import window remains open, the captured clip is instantly displayed in the Event Browser for the selected Event.

  7. Repeat this process until all the shots you need are captured from tape.

Creating a Camera Archive

Camera archives, which were mentioned earlier in this chapter, are also a way to easily digitize entire videotapes so you can store them on your hard disk until you are ready to use them. The benefit of this process is that videotape only has a shelf life of 20 to 25 years. FCP X makes it easy to digitize your historical tapes before they get too old to capture.

What Final Cut Pro does is transfer all the clips from your tape into a single master file stored on your hard disk. This is basically a straight-through transfer. Final Cut Pro is not recompressing these files; it is simply bundling them into a single package to make them easier to label, store, and move around.

Archiving is not importing. Archiving copies the media from a videotape to a file on your computer. The images are not imported into Final Cut Pro. All files are stored on the hard disk you specify, in a Final Cut Camera Archives folder.

Here’s how this works:

  1. As you did in the previous section, connect your camera or deck and turn it on. Load a tape and start Final Cut Pro X.
  2. Click the Import from Camera icon, or press Command+I.
  3. In the Camera Import window, select your camera or deck from the list at the top left (refer back to Figure 4.24).
  4. Click the Create Archive button in the lower-left corner of the Camera import window (Figure 4.26).
    Figure 4.26

    Figure 4.26 Click Create Archive to create a new camera archive.

  5. Name the archive. Since this is a collection of all the shots on the tape, you are not naming individual shots; rather, you are naming the entire collection. Since I number all my tapes, I make a point to include the tape number as part of the filename.
  6. Choose the hard drive where you want the archive stored, and click OK.

    FCP automatically rewinds the tape to the beginning and shifts into capture mode. As the tape plays from beginning to end, FCP stores all the media from the tape into the archive and displays the status of this transfer process at the top of the image (Figure 4.27).

    Figure 4.27

    Figure 4.27 During the archive process, Final Cut Pro displays a constantly updated status.

  7. Just like importing from tapeless media, Final Cut Pro captures your media from tape in the background as well. If you need to stop the transfer at any time, click the Stop button in the lower right or simply stop the tape. FCP asks whether you want to keep what has already been captured or discard everything. When the end of the tape is reached, FCP closes the transfer and saves the file.
  8. You can see this archive by opening the hard disk that you specified as the location and opening the Final Cut Camera Archives folder. Additional archives can also be stored in this folder; there’s no limit—aside from storage space—to the number of archives you can create and store.

    You can now handle this archive as another other file. Move it, back it up, copy it, or archive to disc or tape—all using the Finder (Figure 4.28).

    Figure 4.28

    Figure 4.28 Archives can be mounted at any time, providing “near-line” access to your media.

  9. Once an archive is created, you can review it at any time and import clips from it. Simply highlight the archive from the list of drives in the top-left window. All the shots from the archive are displayed on the right, the same as for a memory card.
  10. Select what you want to import: a portion of a shot, an entire shot, or a collection of shots; this is identical to what you did in the section on importing tapeless media.
  11. To close an archive, click the eject icon on the right side of the archive name. This does not affect the file on your hard disk; it just closes the images so they are not displayed in the Camera Import window.

Camera archives are a great way to preserve video assets on tape before time runs out and the tape dies.

Importing Files

After the complexity of importing tapeless files from memory cards or importing from videotape, the process of importing QuickTime movies, or other computer-based media files, is very easy. Importing files is the way you generally import audio files and still images, as well as existing QuickTime movies.

  1. Select the Event where you want the imported media stored. (Or, create a new Event. The key is you need to select the Event before importing the media.)
  2. Then, do one of the following:
    • Right-click the Event and select Import Files (Figure 4.29).
      Figure 4.29

      Figure 4.29 A fast way to import files is to right-click the Event you want to import into.

    • Press Shift+Command+I.
    • Choose File > Import > Files.
    • Click the Import Files icon, if this is your first time running FCP X.
  3. The standard Import Files dialog appears. By now, you should know to select the files you want to import, set the preference settings the way you want, and click Import. Even when you select an Event as the destination of an import, you can change the Event in the Import Files dialog or even create a new Event for the files. Changing your mind at the last minute is absolutely OK.

As usual, Final Cut Pro charges into action, importing your files and doing any necessary file management in the background. What is especially cool about this process is that, even though FCP is importing the media, you can start viewing and editing that same media into your Timeline!

Apple has done a great job of making the file import process fast and efficient.

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