Professional colour grading in FCPX with Color Finale Pro

Not every colourist wants to use a separate application to quickly but professionally colour grade his footage. Why should they if you can colour grade right from within Final Cut Pro X? With Color Finale semi-pros could already grade their footage to high standards. With Color Finale Pro, the standards are higher and the level of professionalism competes with dedicated colour grading software like Da Vinci Resolve.

Color Finale 1.6 by Color Grading Central’s Denver Riddle is available in two versions — the basic plug-in and a more expensive and capable Pro option. Color Finale 1.6 has gained presets, a LUT Gallery that shows your footage, and the ability to easily use an X-Rite ColorChecker Video for colour balancing. The Pro version also comes with the ability to use any Tangent Wave control surface, the ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) colour management system and more.

color finale pro

Color Finale is a Final Cut Pro X effect. The most interesting new features are ACES grading and the Tangent Wave support. ACES is a colour management system that has been developed by the organisation that hands out the Academy Awards. It helps colourists achieve consistent colour across multiple camera brands and types. It uses a target display profile to show you what the end-result will look like. ACES also supports the creation of digital cinema and HDR footage.

The Color Finale implementation of ACES includes half a dozen cameras, with others having been promised to be added soon. The plug-in has output profiles for RGB monitors, Rec.709 monitors, Rec.2020 displays and DCI-P3 monitors. As with any colour management system, you best calibrate your monitor to the output profile you choose. X-Rite’s i1 Profiler software lets you calibrate a computer monitor for Rec.2020.

I was hoping to get a Tangent Ripple to try Color Finale Pro with, but Tangent Wave had no demo units available for me to play with. I found a couple of resources that refer to experiences with a Ripple and which show how easy it is to set up and use with Color Finale. (https://mixinglight.com/portfolio/color-finale-pro-tangent-ripple/ and a video at http://www.provideocoalition.com/grading-tangent-ripple-final-cut-pro-x/). I also hope the developers of Ctrl+Console, the iOS app that lets you control Premiere Pro, Lightroom and Final Cut Pro X from an iPad, will make an effort and develop a new module for Color Finale.

Colour accuracy with Color Finale Pro

I had SLog3 and Protune footage to test with. My monitor is calibrated to a Rec.709 space, so I chose a Rec.709 output profile. By the way, the profile differed only slightly from a regular RGB display profile.

With the SLog3 footage from a Sony A7S II, the ACES “correction” looked quite dark and contrasty. Next to the settings where you select your camera and output device are three controls: exposure, temperature and tint. I could compensate for these three parameters with a real-time visual feedback in the clip viewer.

With Protune, the ACES system doesn’t work well. You can try with one of the supported cameras, but as the HERO4 isn’t explicitly supported, you’ll never get it 100% right. Footage always came out with extreme contrast, while the exposure, temperature and tint sliders don’t work at all.

Regardless of the camera you use, I found that it is not very wise to just rely on ACES by itself. The best results come from combining it with a calibration using the X-Rite ColorChecker Video chart. I do hope other charts, such as those by DSC Labs, will be supported as well in the future. Even if you use a ColorChecker, you’ll still end up with footage that has too much contrast, in my opinion.

A very useful feature — and one that can save a shot even if you didn’t have a ColorChecker Video chart with you — is Color Finale’s white balance feature. It works by using the familiar eyedropper technique. With Color Fiale Pro, you’ll get three eyedroppers to set white balance, one for each tonal range. It did require clicking the eyedropper repeatedly before the RGB magnified pixels readout matrix appeared, but once it did, it worked like a charm. It’s much easier to set white balance this way than trying to synchronise the waveforms!

LUTs and other time-savers

Both Color Finale and Color Finale Pro come with a LUT Gallery. It empowers the plug-in’s built-in LUT capabilities considerably, but on my system it crashed Final Cut Pro X at random times. Still, when it works, it previews the different LUTs in your ‘cube store’ applied to your footage and overlaid in the viewer panel. You can scroll through the LUTs and see how your timeline will look with each LUT applied. Best of all, the Gallery doesn’t just show a static frame. If you scrub the Timeline, all visible LUT-footage will follow!

Color Finale Pro is not just better and more powerful than the ordinary version because of the ACES system. The Pro version also comes with a group and preset functionality. Groups allow you to collect grade settings that you want to keep in sync across multiple clips. It works like this: you save a collection of grade settings to a group and then apply that group to different clips. Now, if you change any of the settings for one of the clips, all the others will be affected too.

Presets are different. They allow you to more quickly apply the same grade to multiple clips, regardless of where they are on the timeline. The Presets menu lets you first set a project name and then add the actual preset under a customisable name. If you want to use some defined settings on a clip, you will click the Presets button in the Color Finale Inspector panel, select the Project from the drop-down and the actual preset you want to use.

But it goes further than this. Let’s now say you want to change some of its settings. That will leave you with three options:

  • You leave the Preset unchanged
  • You change your mind, select the Preset again and choose “Apply Preset” from the cog menu
  • You update the Preset with your latest changes
  • You are so happy with the results that you decide to make this Preset the Default.

Practical improvements over the first version

Color Finale 1.6 / Pro has a better integration with Final Cut Pro X than its predecessor. It allows you to open the control panel, keep that to the fore and play your clip using the keyboard’s spacebar or even using the mouse. You can also jump to the previous and next clip using the Up/Down keys.

In the previous version you couldn’t easily undo or revert your changes. With the new versions it’s easy as pie. Command-Z works while you’re in the Color Finale panel the way you would probably want it to: it undoes your latest Color Finale action, while the interface is now abundantly filled with reset buttons.

To round up this review: Color Finale Pro is more than just a useful tool for grading within Final Cut Pro X. It really does turn Apple’s editor into a full-blown colour grading tool for professionals. It’s not too expensive either at approx. €139 ($149). An upgrade to Pro costs about €45 ($49).

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