The ultimate colour grading plugin for Final Cut Pro X: CoreMelt Chromatic

Turning Final Cut Pro X into a grading application a la Da Vinci Resolve is what Chromatic, CoreMelt’s latest plugin sets out to do. It succeeds pretty well by cramming a lot of functionality into this full-blown colour grading solution. It’s the only plugin that delivers the ability to select colour ranges right in the clip viewer, but to appreciate its power to the fullest, a lowly iMac such as mine won’t do.

When I first saw the Chromatic interface, I immediately thought of Color Finale, but as is often the case with CoreMelt’s plugins, it’s anything but a half-hearted attempt at creating something that resembles another powerful solution. In fact, the only thing CoreMelt’s solution doesn’t offer (yet) is the ability to control the interface with a Tangent Wave or other control panel.

Whereas other colour grading plugins depend on Final Cut Pro X functionality for masking, Chromatic integrates the Award-winning mocha tracking technology, which makes creating tracked masks much more powerful than anything else on the market. Roger Bolton’s solution also offers more ways to grade your footage in Final Cut Pro X, essentially giving you all the power that you’ll also find in Da Vinci Resolve’s colour room.

Not only do you get integrated mask tracking with the Academy Award winning mocha tracker, you’ll also get colour keying, full RGB, Lab and HSL curves, 3-way colour wheels, automatic white balance, exposure and colour temperature. Surprisingly, the abundance of features doesn’t come at the cost of simplicity or ease-of-use. And control over the lot is exemplary too. If you find the wheels or sliders are moving too fast, you can hold the Option key to make everything change in smaller increments.

I tried the plugin on a 30-minute timeline that had clips with bad lighting and found I only needed three of the many tools in Chromatic’s tool chest: the 3-way colour wheels, the Lift, Gamma and Gain sliders and the auto white balance tool. The plugin loads in all clips on the timeline if you select them all and double-click the plugin. To propagate your settings to the next clip, you have two options: you can save an adjustment within the effects stack as a preset or save the entire stack as a preset.

To use an adjustment preset, you’ll first have to add the adjustment to the stack and then select the Load option from the cog wheel menu. If you don’t want to save anything, you’re out of luck as you can’t use Final Cut Pro X’s “Paste Effects” or “Paste Attributes…” commands, which is a pity.

Options

Chromatic lets you grade ordinary footage differently from Log footage. For my video, I needed to double-click the Log footage “effect”. There are yet two other effects: Quick Denoise and Film Grain. I tried Quick Denoise.

As with every single denoise plugin I’ve ever used or tested, Quick Denoise too makes Final Cut Pro X slow at rendering the end-result, but truth be told it’s as good or bad at it as others. The only two noise-reduction algorithms I consistently find beating every other noise reduction effect are Photon Noise Reduction and Red Giant’s Denoiser III, but they too are excruciatingly slow to render.

With Chromatic loaded, I could open the control panel, which looks a lot like Color Finale’s but has more controls and more grading options to choose from. For starters, you’ll find three options to apply your grade living under one pop-up menu: overall grading, mask only and inverted mask only. The latter two require you to first track an area with the well-known mocha tracking controls. When the mask has been successfully created, you can apply your grade only to the inside or outside of the mask. But that’s not the end of it. In the same colour grading session — so, without ever closing the Chromatic panel — you can grade for overall effect and for inside/outside mask only. That is really a time saver and if you have a vision of a grade, it will allow you to finish the actual job while the plan is still fresh in your mind.

The colour correction tools

To correct the colour of your footage, you’ll usually start with corrections for camera and lighting flaws. Chromatic includes the tools for this job, starting with the ability to import a camera LUT for your camera if you have one.

The next thing you’ll want to do is correct for white balance. The plugin includes an Auto White Balance feature, which enables you to select a white object — preferably a colour reference chart’s white chip — and set the white balance automatically. Selecting the white patch is done by first ensuring the Chromatic plugin is selected in the Inspector and click the patch in the preview window. On my mid-2011 iMac i5, that took a while, but then again my footage was shot at 4K and honestly, I shouldn’t be processing that high a resolution footage with this machine anymore.

However, Auto White Balance can also work on full auto pilot. It then requires only one click on the “Estimate” button and it will analyse your scene and decide on the correct white balance. That worked really well, even when I tested it with a clip containing fluorescent lighting.

Next would be to set contrast, saturation and that sort of things. Here, Chromatic offers the same type of curves you’ll also find in Photoshop — although you’ll find these in Da Vinci Resolve as well. The way it works is easy: you click on the area of interest in the preview frame and the corresponding point on the curve will be created for you, after which you can manipulate it. This sounds easy and simple, but often you’ll find yourself holding down the Option key to manipulate the curve in smaller increments.

Once you’re ready with basic colour correction, it’s time to create a real grade.

Colour grading for the right mood

A full range of tools is available to the colour grading artist. It all starts — or it might start — with selecting a LUT that defines the look you want to give to your footage. Chromatic comes with a good deal of LUTs for a certain look already included. If you are familiar with CoreMelt’s LUTx product, you’ll know what to expect, including the LUT browser and the ability to buy Look LUTs from within the browser.

The LUTs are, of course, only the point of departure. To further create the mood for your movie, you’ll have a need for the Replace Color effect, which you can use to replace any colour, but which will serve you well if you want to change people’s skin tones. Color Balance/EV is another stack effect — in fact, every additional adjustment in Chromatic is added to its internal stack, which allows this plugin’s speed to be unaffected by Final Cut Pro X background tasks. With Color Balance you can further manipulate saturation, tint, exposure and colour temperature.

The verdict

It’s inevitable that we think of colour grading plugins such as Color Finale and Magic Bullet Suite when seeing Chromatic for the first time. Suspicious as we are (a professional hazard every journalist suffers from) it’s even inevitable to be wary of CoreMelt wanting to ride on the back of Color Finale’s success with Chromatic. However, it soon becomes clear that Chromatic is quite unique, offering exceptional support for filmmakers’ colour grading task. With some of CoreMelt’s plugins, it’s the mocha tracker that makes the plugin stand apart.

With Chromatic, the mocha tracker is just one piece of the puzzle. The plugin has every conceivable tool to colour correct and colour grade. Photoshop users will love the curves because that’s what they know best. Professional graders will love the flexibility of this plugin that — as far as I can tell — only finds its match in Da Vinci Resolve on the Mac platform.

Personally, I most like the Lift/Gamma/Gain sliders and the Lab and HSL curves in addition to the colour wheels and Replace Color discs. That set of tools allows me to get exactly the results that I want. Having said that, Chromatic isn’t a magical tool that suddenly will turn you into a successful colour grading artist. This job remains a difficult one to master — with Chromatic, though, it just became a little bit more intuitive.

Chromatic sells for $99.

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