Filling the gaps in FCPX grading
Note: It looks like the color wheels issue has been fixed in FCPX 10.4.1! Check out this video on YouTube to see it in action.
I was pretty excited to hear that Apple was going to add colour wheels to FCPX’s grading tools. I marked a todo item to check for FCPX updates in the month of November, and finally the day arrived. YES, real colour wheels, much like the beloved ones I had come to love in the ill-fated Apple Color.
Apple Color's colour wheels
Finally, I thought I could ditch using my own, home-built 3-way colour corrector and use something prettier.
But it was not to be. A few weeks of giddy celebration turned to a nagging feeling that was later confirmed by Simon Ubsell on YouTube. The color wheels don’t work, not according to a lift-gamma-gain, or shadows-mids-highlights model, at least not in REC 709 colour space(1). I had a few options at this point:
- suck it up and get used to the way it works,
- wait for Apple to fix it, which traditionally takes years (see iOS cut and paste), if they’re willing to do it, or
- go back to my own colour corrector.
I left the flow of working decide for me. I tried Apple’s wheels for a while and found that I wasn’t satisfied with my work. I spent too much time fiddling with a shot to get it right and the end results were… pretty sucky looking grades. But with my tool, I could nail it pretty much on the first go, because it works the way I expect it to, Lift, Gamma, Gain -- the way I was taught to work, the way I had been grading ever since Color.
Rethinking my relationship with these new tools, what really excited me was having curves again, and what we used to call the secondary room in Color, the hue, saturation and luma curves. Man, I loved those things. And, from what I can see, Apple’s new RGB Curves and HSL Curves work the way they should, in both Rec. 709 and Rec. 2020.
So with all that in mind, I’ve rebuilt my Colour grading suite, so I can use it in harmony with what works in Apple’s new tools. I’ve also done a bit of simplification, throwing out what hasn’t worked well for me. The bonus is, the tools take up less space in the inspector, so that you’ll spend less time scrolling up and down to go through your adjustments.
Rebel CC gets a makeover and a new name(2). I’ve ditched the expand bit depth, because, as good as the intentions were with it, it was pretty sucky. I didn’t do enough smoothing to really make a difference (clearing up posterization on an 8-bit image, for example). If you really want that kind of fix, I’d say invest in a good commercial noise reducer.
I had toyed with, and experimented with, adding in a contrast/pivot to simulate a curves effect, but I never released it(3). Now that we have a working curves effect from Apple, there’s no point. So fsorvin CC gets simple and to the point. You get shadows-mids-highlights colour wheels and levels, a global saturation and exposure. I grouped them together so that levels and wheels are in the same place. If you haven’t used this Motion-sourced colour balance tool before, click the grey colour swatch to get the OS color picker, and click on the colour wheel to get the, well, the colour wheel. It’s simple and it works.
If you want sliders, hit the disclosure triangle next to the swatch and reveal the RGB sliders.
It’s basic, compact and it all works like it should in Rec. 709.
Gone are Bit Depth (not good enough), Noise Suppression (didn’t make enough difference), Broadcast Safe (I never used it, and Apple’s effects are there if you need them), and Gradient (use fsorvin Relight’s brightness or gamma with a shape mask instead. You’ll have better control of placement because of the on-screen shape mask, and Relight won’t gamma down all of your image light the gradient did -- to my dismay).
Also gone are Camera Diffusion and Bloom. These were more looks anyway and the new theme of the new release is: simplify.
I kept Relight because it’s so dang useful for doing relight isolated adjustments. You could do the same thing with fsorvin CC or the color board, but the nice thing about Relight is that it’s only for brightness and gamma, and it tells you what it’s for in the name. So when you’re going back in to re-adjust the grade on a shot, and you’ve got a pile of layered effects stacked up, you know which effect is doing the relight, right?
I also kept HSV, because even though I’m mad about the new HSL curves, I still like the simplicity of my HSV adjuster. I guess I got used to using it. And, rotating a hue around in the vectorscope is not quite the same effect as pushing and pulling a HSL curve.
Vignette stayed too, because I love vignettes, especially vignettes with blurry edges. I use the heck out of this and the preset values suit my style.
Digital Foundation and Sharpen are stil there as well, because they are so damn good. Foundation is digital smoothing without losing edge sharpening, useful for adding foundation-like makeup looks to faces. I’m also experimenting with it for removing artifacting and moire. Try it out.
Sharpen is the sharpening effect, with the addition of the intensity slider. I like having it handy in the same block of grading effects.
How good are they? Here’s a comparison of my tools vs. Apple’s.
Not to say it's impossible to get a good grade with Apple's Color Wheels, but I struggle to make it work the way I want to work. Setting shadows on my tool sets the shadows and leaves it there while I adjust the highs and mids. Apple's Wheels keep me mucking about to keep the shadows where I set them, and so on, into making colour adjustments.
Download FCPX fsorvin Colour Grader, unzip and put into your (user home folder) ~/Movies/Motion Templates/Effects folder.
The effects will appear in your FCPX effects, under Video/fsorvin in a Colour Grading group.
If you’ve been using the previous version, and have working projects that are using the effects, you can add the new version alongside the old version.
I would love to hear any feedback you may have.
The Apple color wheels work in Rec 2020, but not in Rec 709. See Simon Ubsdell’s video on YouTube.
I’m ditching the whole “rebel” naming convention, because it’s really Stu’s thing and I don’t want to step on his footsteps. So, for lack of a better name, and to put the blame solely where it’s deserved, I’m naming it after myself.
Because I found a simple s-curve, bending the highlights and shadows with smoothing turned on and adjusting contrast, and even with a pivot to bend the curve, just didn’t have the control I needed and wanted from a real curves effect. See “Creating an S-Curve Using Contrast & Pivot” on Mixing Light at https://mixinglight.com/color-tutorial/creating-s-curve-using-contrast-pivot/ if you’re interested in how to do it. Or try the unreleased version here.
Published: March 6, 2018
Updated: May 8, 2018
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