Stay AWAY from iMovie/FCE

This is a public service notice: do not use iMovie and Final Cut Express if you respect yourself, and your footage. For the following two (and a half) reasons:

1. All HDV/AVCHD footage is imported using the ANCIENT, LOSSY, UGLY, DESATURATED, TERRIBLE “Apple Intermediate Codec” codec (AIC). Apple, on purpose, won’t edit the native streams of these files, and won’t use their much better, and newer technologically, intermediate codec “ProRES” that their FCP editor does. In other words, you are losing heaps of quality from the GET GO. Before you even start editing. And if that’s not enough, these editors won’t allow you to just drag’n’drop .m2t/.m2ts files on their editors, they have to be “captured” directly from the camera, otherwise Apple is treating them like pirated files or something, and refuses to import them! Apple 1, User Trust 0.

2. iMovie uses by default the UGLY, GHOSTLY “blend fields” algorithm to de-interlace interlaced footage when exporting for the web. So on top of the original loss of quality, here’s some added ghosting for you! I am not sure if FCE has a filter for “interpolation” support like FCP has, but it also uses “blend fields” by default. Personally, I never, ever, ever, export with “blend fields” because I want crystal clear, ghost-free footage even at the expense of some resolution. Of course, “blend fields” *is* a legitimate option and it has its uses, but it must be an OPTION, and not forcefully shoved down our throats.

[2.5: Despite FCE’s $200 price point, it still doesn’t support native 24p editing (for those who need it) even if a number of consumer cameras now shoot native 24p (e.g. the HV40 and some Panasonic ones). And of course, iMovie doesn’t support native 24p either.]

So, Apple, shame on you! People spend $1000 to get an HD camera, and you fuck their footage up for them just for segmentation purposes. Oh, yeah, you can talk all day about “it’s faster to edit AIC files”, or that “most people won’t even notice”, but I DO notice. Each time I see such a video on vimeo, the first thought I have in mind is this: “Huh, here’s another iMovie export for ya!“. I don’t even have to look at metadata or ask the author if he used iMovie or not. I KNOW he did. I can SEE it. The ‘iMovie/FCE effect’ is that visible!

My suggestion to consumers who respect themselves: either buy FCP or Premiere CS4 ($1200+) for your Mac, or even cheaper, buy a $500 DELL desktop PC with 3 GBs of RAM and Vegas Platinum 9 ($80). Keep your Mac alright, but get a PC specifically for video editing. Vegas Platinum is able to edit the native files, lets you select a de-interlacing algorithm, and it is the only consumer editor that supports native 24p editing. But this is not about Vegas. And no, this is not a Mac vs PC thing either. It’s a real suggestion, that makes both financial and technical sense. Go figure.

iMovie result. Notice the ghosting and de-saturation over the native file.

Vegas result. Interpolation and native editing creates a clearer, higher quality result.

Oh, and why the hell we can’t deinterlace with Quicktime when exporting with the .mp4 container and not in .mov? And don’t let me start about their 1.5 years old bug where de-interlacing in .mov sometimes won’t work, even if the “deinterlace” checkbox is checked! Or the QT gamma h.264 playback problem that is biting everyone, including professionals. Bug reports are already in place (I personally made sure of that), Apple hasn’t fixed any of that.


Peter wrote on April 11th, 2009 at 7:50 PM PST:

Erm… I respect myself, and I’m quite happy with iMovie. It came FREE with my computer! I can respect myself independently of the product choices that I make.

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Eugenia wrote on April 11th, 2009 at 8:20 PM PST:

>It came FREE

The first joint or cocaine drop is usually free too. Doesn’t make it any better than it really is though. Many video editors on Linux are also free, but they are universally sucky, much more than iMovie is. Being “free”, doesn’t mean JACK if you are after results.

>I can respect myself independently

Not really. When for example you have a new baby (a point in time that many people are buying a new camera), and you shell all that cash for that extra quality, and then it’s the software that’s holding you back from delivering that quality, it is unrespectful to yourself, your wife who you convinced to buy that new camera, and your child, 18 years down the road when he/she will be watching at that exported video in the TV or computer of the future.

You owe it to them to make the best choices.

Besides, it’s completely moronic to shell $1000 for an HD camera, and not buy a video editor that you know it works properly. It’s the *wrong culture* to think that the only thing you need is good hardware and not the right software to manipulate the said hardware. People underestimate the importance of software, and this is just sad.

VonRieslin wrote on April 11th, 2009 at 8:56 PM PST:

Good rant and a real eye opener. Thanks for doing the sluething. I have both FCE and iMovie and am dealing with AVCHD files from an HF100. I noticed an AVCHD import feature in the newest Toast. But at some point I have to convert to something editable in an OS X app.

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Eugenia wrote on April 11th, 2009 at 9:20 PM PST:

I am afraid, the only workable solution to export via Toast ($100) and Apple’s codecs on your FCP-less Mac will be the dreaded AIC codec mentioned above. So I suggest you download and install Avid’s DNxHD codec instead. It’s much better than AIC, and as good as ProRES. Of course, prepare for long wait times and huge filesizes. But at least you will be able to import these files on your FCE (hopefully).

At the end, if you deinterlace, check FCE’s plugins for interpolation support. Don’t let it deinterlace via its default ‘blend fields’ algorithm. If there is no such support, then you will have to export again in Avid’s codec, bring your footage in the freeware JES de-interlacer, that supports interpolated de-interlacing.

So basically, there are a lot of hoops you will have to go through to get it right, just because Apple’s tools don’t want to do the right thing. If your time is money, you might want to consider FCP.

Dominique wrote on April 11th, 2009 at 11:28 PM PST:

I will gladly drive you to Cupertino to see you ass-whoop some Apple product marketeers.

Thomas wrote on April 12th, 2009 at 12:33 AM PST:

Thanks for a really interesting post. Gave me somethings to consider.

Charlie wrote on April 12th, 2009 at 1:55 AM PST:

Good rant but the swearing in the title wasn’t necessary. It appears on the osnews frontpage y’know.

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Eugenia wrote on April 12th, 2009 at 2:00 AM PST:

Maybe you are right, I changed the title (osnews will update it within the hour). But rest assured, this is exactly how I feel about the matter.

Brandon wrote on April 12th, 2009 at 8:54 PM PST:

Woaaaaah I’ve been saving up for an HV40 just to have the Native 24P because unfortunately I only have FCE. I’m only 16 and the job I have isn’t getting me enough. You mean all this saving up for nothing? NAtive 24P still doesn’t help with the pulldown issues in FCE?

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Eugenia wrote on April 12th, 2009 at 9:18 PM PST:

The problem is that FCE does not support native 24p editing. It ADDS pulldown to a native 24p stream to make it PF24. So if you are going to stay with FCE, then no, don’t buy the HV40. Just stay with an HV20/30, and either only edit in PF24 mode (which is 60i and not native 24p), or only shoot and edit in 60i & forget 24p altogether. Maybe in the next life.

Peter wrote on April 13th, 2009 at 1:29 AM PST:

“Besides, it’s completely moronic to shell $1000 for an HD camera, ”

I would agree with you there.

Casey wrote on April 13th, 2009 at 2:07 PM PST:

I’ve been using FCE constantly and it doesn’t seem to really degrade my footage in bad ways. The color is definitely retained and the image is very sharp. (Shooting everything with a Canon HV20 + 35mm adapter at times) Sure, 24p is absent, but that’s the catch when using consumer-level software that’s only $200. The footage still looks and flows great though.

I was around in the days of Adobe Premiere 3 and 24p wasn’t even a thought. In fact, there was no real-time preview. (Can you believe that?) People had to render out their footage at 320×240 just to see simple transitions. Regardless, I still saw awesome footage being made by fellow college students. People have access to so much more nowadays and don’t even know how good they have it in terms of film-making. Just think, consumer-level HD editing software like this was never around a few years ago. I agree, any “serious” video filmmaker buying a $1,000 video camcorder who happens to be on a Mac should purchase FCP for $600 (academic price). It gives the entire pro-level toolset for the entire production process. Also, on Windows, the Vegas suite is quite commended by many (especially for it’s native 24p support). Something to keep in mind… Mac users, if you’re daring enough, get Vegas and run it in Parallels. It should run fine on an iMac or faster desktop model with a dedicated graphics card.

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Eugenia wrote on April 13th, 2009 at 2:28 PM PST:

>The color is definitely retained

No, FCE uses the lossy AIC codec, like iMovie does. You will have to capture the native m2t streams to compare.

> and the image is very sharp.

Nope, the default is blend fields in de-interlacing, just like on iMovie.

You probably don’t realize the problem because you never seen your own footage edited the right way.

Brandon wrote on April 13th, 2009 at 7:38 PM PST:

Let’s say I did get the HV40. It would sharpen the image a little right? I mean it won’t murder the image, i have an old Canon ZR 600 and the HV40 will definitely have a better look. I plan on getting a program that will have no trouble with the 24P stuff. So would it be worth it?

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Eugenia wrote on April 13th, 2009 at 7:57 PM PST:

If you want to shoot 24p, and you get an editor that can handle it, then yes, go for it. But if you are not interested in 24p, then stay with FCE and get an HV30 instead.

Jordan wrote on April 15th, 2009 at 4:35 AM PST:


I have a question. I tried out Vegas and did LOVE the quality of the output. My problem is that even though I was using a very new computer with decent specs, it would only preview the video at 4-5 FPS.

I simply can’t edit video like that. The question is, does it display at a reasonable framerate on ANY speed computer? I would be willing to upgrade to a rather expensive one if I could get the right results.

Thanks for your article!

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Eugenia wrote on April 15th, 2009 at 10:41 AM PST:

Please read my Vegas hints & tips blog post to learn how to speed up output. And it’s true that native editing is a bit slower than AIC one. But that’s to be expected.

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