Final Cut Pro for the iPad is finally here and, unfortunately, it contains one massive showstopper for yours truly.

That made yesterday both an exciting and pointlessly frustrating experience. I’ll get onto why in a moment, but let’s not overlook the significance of what we’re witnessing.

After many years of waiting, Apple is finally putting the incredibly capable internals of the iPad to use. Two of its professionally-focused apps, Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, are now fully touch enabled and have been redesigned for an entirely new computing paradigm.

It’s long overdue, but it’s hugely exciting. I don’t mind admitting that I encountered a sudden injection of nervous energy when downloading those two apps to my 12.9-inch M2 iPad Pro yesterday.

This was going to go one of two ways.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Final Cut Pro, it was just like meeting one of your heroes.

You kinda wish you hadn’t.

What people are saying

As soon as Final Cut Pro arrived on the App Store yesterday, Twitter erupted.

Apple has clearly been investing significant time with content creators and influencers, as demonstrated by the sudden emergence of detailed reviews and hands-on reports.

I wasn’t among that crowd, in case you’re wondering.

But those videos felt like demonstrations of Final Cut Pro. What I was far more interested in was the feeling ‘on the ground’. What initial opinions were beginning to form on behalf of regular users?

Here’s a selection of soundbites from some of my Twitter mates.

Depending on where you are coming from you’re gonna love it or hate it. MacOS FCP users will think there is way too much missing and it’s a watered-down version. While people who have been editing on iPad for years with iMovie and LumaFusion will think this is a great alternative.

Fernando Silva

Its been a weird experience so far. It looks like Final Cut but feels like an upgraded iMovie.

Trenton’s Tech

Dysfunctionally unintuitive and lacking features, for an Apple App, given the benefits they have from making the hardware and OS. That’s my take, at this point. The inconsistencies between it and other software is frustrating. The fact that usually it’s shift+click to select and with FCP for iPad Pro, it’s S+click. The controls for things aren’t obvious and the competition, at this point, makes it easier and feel more natural to use. Also, $19 to get the full video tutorials, to be able to figure out some of the basics, is almost offensive.

Michael Pepper Tech

I feel it’s cool but 3 years late. The line draw tool is the only really cool feature. Though, it’s a step in the right direction, and can become really something special. It’s not really for pro editors but for the next gen pro editors that will learn the fundamentals on their only power device.

Rafael Ludwig

A mixed bag, right? That’s to be expected. Apple’s version 1.0 is always going to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

I still wasn’t prepared for what happened next, though.

The first tentative steps

When you first open Final Cut Pro on the iPad, you’re treated to some rather lovely HDR footage (if your iPad Pro supports it) and an immediate reminder that you’ll need to subscribe if you want to use it long-term.

A free month trial is offered, but beyond that, you’ll have to cough up either £4.99 monthly or £49 annually. I maintain that this is an absolute bargain and strongly disagree with those who think it should be included with the Mac version.

Final Cut Pro iPad review

We’re eased into editing life on the iPad with the offer of a demo project with which to try out the new features. This is a lovely thing, but it also hints at what is clearly going to be a rather different experience to that of Final Cut Pro on the Mac.

I opted to start my own project instead. Fortuitously, I’d already shot some a-roll for a forthcoming YouTube video earlier that day and fancied diving straight in to see how easy it would be to edit. I wanted this to be a real test for the new app.

The good news for anyone coming from Final Cut Pro on the Mac is that the iPad version looks immediately familiar yet pleasingly fresh. The only slightly odd decision on Apple’s behalf is to swap the positions of the Inspect column and media bins. On the iPad, they reside on opposite sides to that of the Mac version and I have no idea why.

Final Cut Pro iPad review

Footage can be imported from your camera roll, the iPad file system, or shot directly on the iPad’s camera and shoved into the project. The latter is perhaps the most unique addition to this version of Final Cut Pro; we’ve never been able to shoot and insert footage as directly as this before and it will be a huge bonus for anyone who uses their iPad for filming duties.

So far, so weirdly new but equally exciting.

Editing on Final Cut Pro for iPad

As familiar as Final Cut Pro might look on the iPad, it’s a very different editing experience to that of the Mac. This isn’t just down to the user interface or the addition of touch input; anyone who’s serious about video editing will immediately realise something which has been completely glossed over in Apple’s marketing material.

You’re going to need a pair of headphones.

More specifically, you’re going to need a headphone jack.

This is where Apple’s decision to remove that particular port from the iPad rears its ugly head again and raises the question as to why it no longer resides on their pro-focused iPad.

As for the suggestion that we should be editing with Bluetooth-connected AirPods… erm, no thanks.

So, you’re going to want to add a headphone jack-equipped dongle to your new shopping list, too. On a similar note, although I immediately connected my Logitech MX Master 3, the iPad doesn’t allow you to customise its buttons, which means I can’t tune it for Final Cut Pro. On the Mac, the MX Master 3 has revolutionised video editing for me and is one of the main reasons I can edit my video so quickly.

Once I’d imported some of my footage into Final Cut Pro (more on that in a moment) I realised that, as expected, editing on the iPad feels completely alien. ‘Fiddly’ is probably the best word.

Final Cut Pro iPad review

The absence of customisation for my MX Master 3 meant I had no choice but to investigate this new way of editing with my finger and the Apple Pencil. The latter is highly responsive in Final Cut Pro, and the hover feature (where you can skim through footage without the tip touching the screen on the M2-equipped iPad Pro) is very cool.

Most keyboard shortcuts appear to have made their way to the iPad version, too, which means CMD+B is still on hand to make cuts. The problem is that everything feels a bit slower. I found myself fumbling for the start and end of clips on the timeline, and constantly having to reach out and select the clip I wanted to cut. There’s also a noticeable delay in clips being selected, which further slows your progress.

The jog wheel is a pretty cool addition, but I’m not convinced it supports my editing style. This new control enables precise relocation of the timeline cursor, but, again, slows down my a-roll chopping and deleting quite a bit (it would be great if there was a cut option on the jog wheel itself).

However, I’m willing to accept all of this stuff for now. The iPad version of Final Cut Pro isn’t supposed to be a direct port of the Mac app. It’s an entirely new way of editing videos and I need to give it time.

There’s just one thing I cannot accept, I’m afraid.

The showstopper

Once the initial excitement of Final Cut Pro arriving on the iPad had subsided, reports of one significant limitation began to surface.

It wouldn’t support the external storage of media.

For the those who aren’t aware, Final Cut Pro on the Mac provides two options for file management. You can either have your footage copied directly into the project file or leave it elsewhere (such as on an external SSD). The latter is the preferred option for anyone who values local storage space on their Mac; you simply connect an external drive, drag the footage into your Final Cut Pro project and allow the software to reference its location.

You can’t do this on the iPad. As soon as you import footage from your external SSD, it copies it directly into the Final Cut Pro project.

This is utterly daft.

If, like me, you opted for the 128GB version of the iPad Pro, it renders Final Cut Pro practically useless for 4K video editing. That space is going to disappear almost immediately.

The inability to leave media on your external drive makes even less sense the moment you start importing media into your Final Cut Pro iPad project. My immediate reaction was, “Why can’t it just leave the files where they are?”. I cannot think of a single legitimate technical reason for this being denied.

Final Cut Pro iPad review

Things got much worse for me, though. Try as I might, I could not import all of my footage into Final Cut Pro. Several files flat-out refused to copy across, resulting in an entirely unhelpful error message. Restarting the iPad made no difference and I know, categorically, that there’s nothing wrong with the SSD on which the footage resides. The iPad hadn’t run out of space either, in case you’re wondering.

I had to give up in the end – there was literally no way to get the offending files into my project.

This shouldn’t be a problem. DaVinci Resolve on the iPad offers external drive support right out of the box – it’s the default state, in fact. Final Cut Pro should do the same. I cannot fathom why Apple has made this decision; it is frustratingly user-hostile and ruined my first experience with the app yesterday.

Further frustrations

There are other issues with Final Cut Pro on the iPad which do make you wonder how much the team behind it actually uses the Mac version.

Some of it is debatable. For instance, you can’t import custom LUTs. This is a showstopper for me, because I rely on a specific LUT for my video production. Without it, I have no choice but to use Final Cut Pro on the Mac. That said, I appreciate that many people won’t even need a LUT in the first place and Apple does at least offer some defaults for most camera brands.

There’s no stabilisation option for footage, either, and you can’t inspect multiple clips, which means there’s no ability to adjust the volume or any other control en-masse.

Audio controls are extremely limited. Despite Logic Pro making its way in what looks like almost complete form to the iPad, Final Cut Pro only has access to a single band EQ and a simplified compressor. You can’t even change the audio from stereo to mono.

Final Cut Pro iPad review

As for colour, the controls are adequate for version 1.0 but the inability to paste your tweaks onto multiple clips (you have to do it one by one) is really silly.

Oh, and while I’m at it, why on earth can’t we turn off audio skimming on clips?

What I like about Final Cut Pro on iPad

It’s not all doom and gloom.

Final Cut Pro on the iPad looks great. Apple has done a stellar job when it comes to reducing the user interface without turning it into another version of iMovie.

Final Cut Pro iPad review

It’s super fast, too. I’m working with 10-bit 4K footage from a Sony FX3 and my base model M2 iPad Pro smashed through it without a hint of slowdown. The only time things did get a bit tetchy was after I’d applied a scene removal mask to a clip, but rendering the footage soon fixed that.

On that note, the ability to isolate subjects from the background without a green screen is very smart, and I love the addition of Live Drawing, where you can use the Apple Pencil to add layers containing your doodles (which can be animated, too). My only concern is the potential overuse we’re going to see of that in YouTube land (I’ll try not to get involved – promise).

Final Cut Pro iPad review

Multicam editing is also present and correct and feels practically identical to the Mac version.

As is so often the case with the first version of an Apple product, Final Cut Pro on the iPad is so close to greatness.

Next steps (for Apple and me)

As grumpy as I might sound in this initial first impressions review of Final Cut Pro for the iPad, I’m still excited about what might lie ahead. We just need some serious point updates from Apple, and soon.

Final Cut Pro iPad review

I should also note that this review is written with a deep love of Final Cut Pro. I want it to succeed on the iPad, but I’m hugely disappointed with some of the daft decisions made by Apple for this first version.

For this app to work for me long term, I need the following:

  • external drive support;
  • custom LUTs;
  • more audio controls and plug-ins;
  • support for the MX Master 3; and
  • multi clip Inspect changes and effects pasting.

I’ve accepted that Final Cut Pro on the iPad, unlike Logic Pro, isn’t ‘round-trippable’. I know that I’m going to have to start stuff on my iPad and finish it on the Mac. That’s fine, but the absence of the stuff above makes Final Cut Pro on the iPad a non-starter for me at the moment, I’m afraid.

Here’s hoping for a swift round of updates from Apple. I think, given the weight of feedback they’ve undoubtedly already received, that’s inevitable.

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