Exporting Videos With Final Cut Express

New to Final Cut Express

I’ve been teaching Photoshop to photography students for about 12 years.  When a recent student asked for training videos to supplement the instruction, I decided it was time to make some.  Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I went out and got a copy of Final Cut Express 4.0.  And so the fun begins.

Final Cut Blurries

After reading a few sections of the manual that comes with FCE, I was able to assemble a few mp4 video clips into a sequence.  However, when I tried to export the sequence to get a final video result (also an mp4), I hit a roadblock.  The resulting video was quite blurry and in a dynamic way.   That is, text in the video would sometimes be crisp and sometimes become a blur.  It was as if someone was pouring water over freshly painted watercolor. The blurriness would flow around the image.   I assumed that this was some kind of compression artifact, so I tried using different parameter settings during the export to fix the problem. No luck.  I finally concluded that there must be a bug in FCE’s processing of mp4 files.  So, I tried a different output format.  When I chose the Quicktime Movie format (an mov file), things started to work much better.  With the right settings, I was able to get clean, crisp output.  In this post, I’ll take you through the settings that I found to work, so you can get high quality exports without a fuss.

Click-by-click Solution

My clips were shot with a 720p camera (Nikon D300s) at 24 frames per second.  My goal was to have 720p output that looked as crisp as the original clips.  Certainly no worse.  Here’s the steps that got me output that looked even better than the input.

  • Step 1. Click anywhere on the canvas.  This tells FCE which sequence you want to export.
  • Step 2. Click on File–>Export–>Using Quicktime Conversion. This will give you a dialog labelled ‘Save‘.

    Step 2: Go to File --> Export --> Using Quicktime Conversion

    Step 2: Go to File --> Export --> Using Quicktime Conversion

  • Step 3. On the ‘Save‘ dialog, type in the name for your movie in the box provided, and select a destination folder.

    Step 3: Enter a filename in the 'Save As' box.

    Step 3: Enter a filename in the 'Save As' box.

  • Step 4. Toward the bottom of the ‘Save‘ dialog, there is an item labelled ‘Format:‘.  Choose Format: Quick Time Movie.
    Step 4: Select 'Quick Time Movie' format.

    Step 4: Select 'Quick Time Movie' format.

  • Step 5. Also on the ‘Save‘ dialog toward the bottom, click the ‘Options‘ button, which will pop up a menu with different categories of settings.  This pop up menu will be labelled ‘Movie Settings‘.
  • Step 6. In the ‘Movie Settings‘ dialog, you’ll want to make sure that the ‘Settings‘, ‘Filter’ and ‘Size‘ menus are set up correctly.  We’ll walk through each of these in turn.

    Step 6. The 'Movie Settings' menu leads to several categories of settings.

    Step 6. The 'Movie Settings' menu leads to several submenus of settings.

  • Step 7. From the ‘Movie Settings‘ dialog, click on ‘Settings‘ to get the ‘Standard Video Compression Settings’ menu. Here’s what I found to work for generally high quality output.
    • Compression Type:   H.264
    • Frame Rate:                Current
    • Key Frames:               Every 24 frames
    • Frame Reordering:   Checked
    • Compressor Quality: Best
    • Encoding:                   Best quality (Multi-pass)
    • Data Rate:                  Automatic
    • Optimized for:           Download

    Click ‘OK‘ when done.

    Step 7.  Set the compression parameters here.

    Step 7. Set the compression parameters here.

  • Step 8. Also from the ‘Movie Settings‘ dialog, click on ‘Filter…’ for any special effects you’d like.  It’s best to experiment with a small clip, since you can’t see the effects of, say, brightening the image until after the movie is generated.  I prefer only to sharpen at this stage of processing.Sharpen: Amount of sharpening 3
    Click ‘OK‘ when done.

    Step 8. Set the amount of sharpening.

    Step 8. Set the amount of sharpening.

  • Step 9. Also from the ‘Movie Settings‘ dialog, click on ‘Size‘ to set your pixel dimensions.  Since I shot my material at 1280 x 720p,  I set accordingly.
    • Dimensions:                           1280 x 720 HD
    • Preserve Aspect Ratio:         Unchecked
    • Deinterlace Source Video:   Unchecked

    Click ‘OK‘ when done.

    Step 9. Set the desired pixels dimensions and leave boxes unchecked.

    Step 9. Set the desired pixels dimensions and leave boxes unchecked.

  • Step 10. With respect to the ‘Movie Settings‘ dialog, I kept the default ‘Sound‘ settings, but you may want to take a peek at this menu to see whether the defaults make sense for you.
  • Step 11. Finally, on the ‘Movie Settings‘ dialog, I have set the following.
    Prepare for Internet Streaming: Checked and ‘Fast start‘ selected.
  • Step 12. Hit ‘OK‘ when done with the ‘Movie Settings‘.
  • Step 13. Click ‘Save‘ on the ‘Save‘ page and prepare to wait while the .mov file is generated.

That’s it. I hope these settings work as well for you as they did for me.

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