Using Final Cut Pro X for Quick Color Correction

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Yesterday I had a really hard time getting a project in to Black Magic’s DaVinci Resolve (lots of mixed media, QTDecoder bug which I still haven’t figured out, but I think it has to do with H.264 media from a Canon 5DMKIII). I don’t have the time to troubleshoot right now, so I decided to brave the FCPX color correction avenue (because that’s what the project was cut in). It’s not as robust as DaVinci, but you can still do a lot—Much more than I initially thought. Unsurprisingly, Apple’s take on color correction is just as distant from the norm as FCPX is for editing.


Color correction "classic"
Color Correction “classic” (DaVinci Resolve)


It's like the original iMac's silly one-click mouse...sleek, shiny, and frustrating.
Apple’s new color correction method—It’s like the original iMac’s silly one-click mouse…sleek, shiny, and frustrating. (FCPX)



First thing to know: You’ll be moving pucks around. A lot. And it’s still not fun (when doing your primary correction). If you’ve ever opened FCPX up, you’ve probably seen them. One for highlights, mid tones, shadows, and global. I prefer the 3-color wheels, as is common throughout post production applications. This is possible with some third-party plugins (FilmConvert being one of them), but I’d rather just be in DaVinci (when it works).


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These color correction wheels are a little difficult to work with…but still a good effort.


As for the pucks in FCPX, they do actually become a pleasant surprise to use when adjusting specific hue v hue/hue v luma/hue v saturation scenarios. As you can see in the examples below (check out that sweet .gif I finally figured out how to make!), changing specific hue properties in DaVinci Resolve is a powerful and easy process. The best way I’ve found to mimic this usage in FCPX is to apply color masks, which can be a surprisingly powerful tool. It’s easy to add or subtract a range from a color mask select (by holding shift or option while you have the droplet tool selected on a new color correction level).


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Oops, I’m getting too much of the shorts along with the green trees…that’s what you get for shooting 8bit 4:2:0 and color correcting in an editing application!


If you have a decent GPU, it’s not a problem to keep stacking these color corrections. It does start to get disorganized very quickly though. In DaVinci you can create many ‘nodes,’ and arrange them graphically in a flow chart representation. But FCPX is limited to a simplified version. You also don’t need to create a new instance or node every time you want to adjust a hue in DaVinci, so you can see where FCPX is really for just a few minor touch ups—it’s not great for organization, creating ‘looks,’ or dealing with any higher-end color correction abilities (nodes interacting, and other complex stuff that’s way over my head).


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This is how you adjust hue specifics in DaVinci…pretty simple.


When it comes to hotkeys, I’ve found that FCPX is what you make of it. You can assign a toggle for color correction (hidden deep within the keyboard prefs, option+command+k) which is pretty essential. I set it to Command+D to emulate DaVinci’s disable feature (though it overwrote something, but I’m not really an editor, so I was throwing caution to the wind—stuff gets crazy in post-production). Command+7 will get you your video scopes (which are actually pretty nice), Command+6 brings up the color correction palette, and control+tab will toggle color/sat/luma tabs. They’re pretty handy shortcuts (you can see the workflow in the gif below).




You could write a really rather lengthy book on DaVinci Resolve, but when it comes to FCPX’s color correction abilities, you’d be looking at more of a pamphlet at best. I still get caught up on small things that shouldn’t be an issue—like when you make a shape mask, you have to go to the very bottom of the color correction pane to toggle “inside” and “outside”…you’ll definitely miss that the first few times. Still, it’s more powerful than you think. It’s no Color (the color correction application that used to be bundled with Final Cut Studio), but for a really quick turn around, it should get you most of the way there—just don’t expect to be using power windows on this bad boy.


Look at all that sweet, sweet real estate!
Look at all that sweet, sweet real estate!


Free and Easy Way to Import a Client’s Photo List

While I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, I tend to have a photography gig every now and then. When dealing with a client regarding photography, I use It’s a (relatively) simple set up that allows me to share photos with a client so that they can choose which photos I’ll process and eventually hand over to them. The first step is to upload a big batch of semi-uncorrected material. I use the word “semi” because any photographer knows you don’t share everything—we cull through the first batch before any other eyes ever see it, to weed out anything that is unnecessary (i.e. spray and prays, bad focus, forgotten lens cap…).

The next step is for a client to make selects. Zenfolio has an amazing feature where all you have to do as a client is hit the ‘f’ key and it will favorite the photo. Then you can send out the favorited list to the photographer (some clients still just write down the number for me…not as fluid, but still not so time consuming). The photographer then gets an email about the list, and we’re able to see what was selected.

Here’s where things get tricky. You could pay for a premium account on Zenfolio to get a list imported, which is a plugin that works with Lightroom. If you’re a photographer by trade, and this is how you make the bulk of your income, it’s probably a wise decision to go ahead and upgrade. I work primarily as a cinematographer/camera operator, so still photography isn’t where I put all of my funds. I have a basic account, so I had to get thrifty.

If you’re like me and you need to save a few dollars, there’s still a pretty easy way of taking a bulk list of client selects and getting them into a Smart Collection in your Lightroom library.

Step One: Download the files.

1 Favorite

2 Download_All

3 Download

It sounds counter intuitive. Download pictures that I already uploaded…Well, as far as I can tell, it’s still the easiest way to proceed. If you’re reading this and you have a simpler method of attaining all the file names, please let me know!

Step Two: Copy the list

4 Select All Copy

In Mac OS X, it’s very simple to get a filename list copied to plain text. Simply Command+a (Edit > Select All) the files in the unzipped folder from Zenfolio, then Command+c (Edit > Copy). Now paste into any text editor (Command+p). I use BBedit. This is where it might get a little tricky…


Step Three: Sort and Process the text

5 Paste List

Now we’ve got a big list of filenames! But, they have extensions and carriage returns which don’t play very well with this Lightroom work around. If you know grep or any other such search and replace tool, this should be a breeze. It’s really a simply process—we’re telling our computer to search for the carriage returns (next line) and the “.jpg” in the filename (known as the file extension), and replacing them with a space. If you’re adventurous enough to learn a simple find and replace technique, here is my (very very rudimentary) processes in BBedit.

6 Search and Replace

Hit command+f to bring up the Find dialog box in BBedit. Type “.jpg\r” in the find text field, and make sure to type one space in the replace field (for techies out there, the typical grep language for a space—”\s”—didn’t seem to work for me, but I haven’t done this in a long time).

7 Get all replace

Also note that with my find and replace above, there will be one last dangling file extension (as seen highlighted above) that I was able to quickly delete.

Now that we’ve got our file list fixed, select all and copy.

Step Four: Make a Smart Collection

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Open up Lightroom, and make a new smart collection. Make a new rule using “Filename,” and make sure the next drop down (parameters?) is set to “contains.” Simply paste the copied list of files (from the previous step) in to the next text field. And you should be good to go! Lightroom seems to allow spaces as an ‘or’ which allows this to work pretty well.

9 Start Editing

That’s it—Now start processing!

My FS100 Build

One great thing to come from modern camera technology is the versatility of their modular designs. Camera operators and cinematographers have an extensive set of tools to make their camera builds completely unique and effective for whatever the shoot requires (RED for high res, DSLRs for quick/small set ups, GoPros for crash cams, etc). No longer do you have to have a cat on your shoulders, you can have any configuration that may or may not resemble an animal (the Alexa M would be like an alien giraffe maybe? How’s that for some sweet SEO writing?). But with great power, comes great responsibility…and a lot of time to figure out that power-sibility. It’s taken me many months, and many shoots, but I’ve nailed down a configuration for my FS100 that works great for me.

I tend to do a lot of documentary live shoots, and I absolutely love it (it’s almost 100% pure creativity, because continuity is seldom an issue). When I’m on location doing a live shoot, I’m usually by myself, or with one other person (be it a producer/director type, or an assistant). Because it’s typically a run-and-gun scenario, I need to move quickly and power through a long day. What I need for a live shoot is a light setup, a steady rig, and the ability to critically check the image. What I’ve come up with is this:

So this is my ‘basic’ setup (all photos taken on the same day at Dartmouth, as you’ll see). I can quickly change it into a handheld rig by throwing a Redrock shoulder pad on the rail system and handles in the front. I can also deck it out in a big studio set up with a matte box and follow focus. For my live shoot work, the key is having a small core rig that can be functional on its own, adding to it only when I need to. I’ll cover how each of these elements are set up.

1. Mount and Rail System

You need rails for a lot of camera accessories. I have the FS100 mounted on a quick release plate that is connected to a riser, which is connected to the Redrock rail system—it’s really just a cheeseplate with two rod mounts, and the riser. This is the core of all the add-ons: Mattebox, follow focus, lens support, and more. I swap between 8″ rails for smaller work (usually just for a lens support, or a follow focus if needed), and bigger 18″ rails for narrative work (all those add-ons add-up!).

2. ShotGrip Handle

I’ve gushed about this in my other post about using specific gear when I shot Wander My Friends. It’s a well-made wooden handle that screws right into the FS100 (utilizing the top mounting point, and the hot-shoe for added stability). There are other, more robust solutions (SolidCamera’s and Berkey System’s), but this is a small all-in-one solution that works great for me (and is the cheapest). While I still hold the bottom of the camera in tandem with the top grip when carrying the whole rig, I feel confident enough in the design to hold everything just by the ShotGrip handle in lightweight situations. The ShotGrip also has mounting points, but I find that using the rail on the handle (by sliding the wooden handle back, giving some slack on one end) works out best. That’s where the MicroMount comes in.


3. RedRock MicroMount

These guys work pretty well. They slide on to one 15mm rail, tighten, and then give you another rail or mounting point (with the microspud, which gives you a 1/4″ 20 male/female mount). You can connect just about anything to your rig with one of these. I use this for my microphone offset (connected to the base of the ShotGrip), and my SmallHD monitor.

4. SmallHD DP4 (with EVF)

SmallHD’s DP4 monitor and EVF have been an extremely invaluable addition to my kit. Again, I’ve gushed about this product plenty, so I’ll just explain how it plays into my basic build. Being configured to mount on a microspud on the shotgrip rail helps keep it close to the camera body, and helps keep the rig more compact.

The EVF is extremely helpful for exterior live shoots. Most of the time, the sun is way too harsh, so using the EVF (with a chammy) helps me actually see the frame. My only use for the on-board LCD is for 4x and 8x punch-ins, to get critical focus. That’s why this set up looks so strange—I have to use the Sony monitor because the punch-in doesn’t feed out to any external source (my biggest issues with the FS100 user interface). I also use the 1:1 pixel mapping (addressed to one of the hotkey buttons on the DP4) whenever I need to quickly check something while using the EVF.

To make firmware lemons into GUI lemonade, I’d say that this set up has actually really come in handy. I can look at a nice clean image in the SmallHD monitor, and whenever I want to check focus (or any indicators), I can glance over to the other monitor without having to touch a button, which could potentially shake the camera. This technique works best for documentary shoots (interviews and live footage), but I have used it for narrative work (it’s a little difficult to be handheld and try this).

5. Noga CineArm

The Noga CineArm is a simple articulating arm, but it’s been in my kit since the beginning (it’s really beaten up by now). I’ve had it break on my once (supposedly a faulty part), but 16×9 (Noga’s North American retailer) fixed it free of charge! The only problem I have with it’s design is how large the knob is (though you can lift the knob and reposition without loosening, so that’s pretty smart). I use this for the DP4, but I’d like to someday find a solution for adjusting my EVF with one hand. SolidCamera has a solution, but it’s too expensive for me.

6. Microphone

As I mentioned earlier, I use the microphone offset (that came with the FS100) with a Redrock MicroMount. I keep the Sony-supplied reference mic (well, that’s what I use it for) at all times. I’ve been burned a couple of times thinking I absolutely did not need to pack an audio solution, only to find that having it would have made everyone’s lives easier. This is a lesson in preparing, but also a lesson in realizing that the FS100 does not have a built-in microphone, which actually can be a problem. Now I keep this thing permanently fixed to the ShotGrip. Reference audio can come in handy during a live shoot (speaking information into the microphone about the location, etc), or a narrative project (being reference to sync the actual sound files). I have a shot in my demo reel where literally hundreds of geese come over a set of trees. When I was shooting that, I remember the noise…it was horrifying! I wish I could have shared that with people, but the file is video-only. I didn’t pack my microphone because the Sony mount is really cumbersome, and I shot it in the dead of winter, in a snowstorm.

NOTE: I typically make sure I have rails and a lens support when using my bigger lenses. This was a special case where I had to run and get a shot quickly.

So that’s my basic set up. There’s a lot more that goes into it, but after working with your own set up, you’ll come find what you do or do not need on your camera build. Find a good middle-ground between functionality and speed.

Using Dropbox for Client Access

I’ve briefly chatted about Dropbox before (and mentioned how to increase your storage size for free), but within the past few months I’ve found myself using the service more than ever. Dropbox is a file sharing site that simplifies the process of passing files around to clients (or friends and family).

The first feature that makes me happy is their desktop integration. To upload a file, all you have to do (after quickly installing the application) is drop your files into the designated folder—the Dropbox application then auto-uploads to your online storage. I’ve found web-based uploaders to timeout for me quite often, especially when I’m uploading multiple gigabytes, so this in-the-background uploader has been a huge step forward for me to actually utilize the service.

From there, you can right-click and get a secure link that can be passed on to your clients. The files can only be viewed by that link, so there’s some security, though I wouldn’t trust it for any extremely sensitive data (finance documents, passwords, your super secret diary, etc), but it’s fine for just about everything else. So you ship off the link to the clients, sounds pretty straight forward, right? The great thing is on the client-end, when they click on that link.

Dropbox has a great interface for both videos and photos. And the exciting thing for me, as an FS100 shooter, is that it can create playable previews of raw .mts files (AVCHD)! Dropbox will do this with just about every video format I’ve thrown at it (.mov and basic codecs are obviously welcome), but AVCHD is still notorious for it’s lack of support, so I was quite amazed at Dropbox’s effort.

Anyway, the client clicks on the link and can see two different views. One being the thumbnail view:

The other view is more straightforward, but you still get a smaller thumbnail, which is great for reference:

Playback is as simple as clicking on the thumbnail/linked text, and viewing the media in their simple playback function. Before the player loads, you can see a large thumbnail, a download link, and some other basic functionality.

The actual video player has limited functionality, but I couldn’t see anyone needing advanced controls in a situation like this, where it’s more of a reference, rather than a final state of playback.

And obviously, the client can download the folder heirarchy that they’ve been given access to. In this example, I’ll pass off the “private” folder that holds the root directory of media, found on AVCHD-based cameras. The only issue I’ve found is that some of the color/gamma interpretations seem to be off a little bit, but if the client can acknowledge this playback as a sort of quick reference, then I can’t see why this would be too detrimental. The video playback is certainly much more lower resolution than the actual video (the source is a 28mbps 1080P file, but this looks more like a quickly-compressed 320×240 file to me, but don’t quote me on that).

So, this is all great, but what’s the catch? Well, it’s not free. The introductory service for Dropbox is free, but even with all the free upgrades I mentioned earlier, you’re still well under the lowest tiered pricing plan’s data cap. For $10 a month, you get 100GB of data. They have other tiers, but this works best for me when passing off footage from a day or two of shooting (compressed footage, if you’re shooting raw or high-bitrate, just use a shipped drive). I know that some tech savvy individuals with their own web hosting might ask, “Why use this rather than an FTP or similar self-hosted file sharing utility?” Well, as someone who has over 300GB of storage available on their own hosting service, I would much rather send a link to a client with this friendly interface, than try to explain how FTPs work (which I’ve done in the past—it was painful).

So in conclusion: Dropbox is great. If someone hasn’t convinced you to use it yet, I hope I have.