Importing videos and basic editing mechanics

8 min read

Importing from a tapeless video camera

Chances are, if you’ve bought a video camera in the last few years, it doesn’t record to tape; it records to some form of tapeless media. In most consumer and prosumer cameras, this is typically an SD card, but could also be an internal drive, other various solid-state memory cards, or the thankfully short-lived trend of recordable mini DVDs. In the professional world, examples include Compact Flash, P2 cards (usually found in Panasonic models), SxS cards (many Sony and JVC models, Arri Alexa), or some other form of internal flash storage.

How to do it…

  1. Plug your camera in to your Mac’s USB port, or if you’re using a higher-end setup with a capture box, plug the box into likely your FireWire or Thunderbolt box. If your camera uses an SD card as its storage medium, you can also simply stick the SD card into your Mac’s card reader or external reader. If you are plugging the camera directly in, turn it on, and set it to the device’s playback mode. If FCPX is running, it should automatically launch the Import from Camera window. If it does not, click on the Import from Camera icon in the left of the toolbar. You will see thumbnails of all of your camera’s clips. You can easily scrub through them simply by passing your mouse over each one.
  2. You can import clips one at a time by selecting a range and then clicking on Import Selected… or you can simply highlight them all and click on Import All… . To select a range, simply move your mouse over a clip until you find the point where you want to start and hit I on your keyboard. Then scrub ahead until you reach where you want the clip to end and hit O.
  3. Whether you chose to select one, a few, or all your clips, once you click on the Import button you will arrive at the Import options screen. Choose what event you want your clips to live in, choose if you want to transcode the clips, and select any analyses you want FCPX to perform on the clips as it imports them. Click on Import. FCPX begins the import process. You can close the window and begin editing immediately!

How it works…

The reason you can edit so quickly, even if you’re importing a massive amount of footage, is thanks to some clever programming on Apple’s part. While it might take a few minutes or even longer to import all the media off of your camera or memory card, FCPX will access the media directly on the original storage device, until it has finished its import process, and then switch over to the newly imported versions.

There’s more…

Creating a camera archive

Creating a camera archive is the simplest and best way to make a backup of your raw footage. Tapeless cameras often store their media in really weird-looking ways with complex folder structures. In many cases, FCPX needs that exact folder structure in order to easily import the media.

A camera archive essentially takes a snapshot or image of your camera’s currently stored media and saves it to one simple file that you can access in FCPX over and over again. This of course also frees you to delete the contents of the memory card or media drive and reuse it for another shoot.

In the Camera Import window, make sure your camera is selected in the left column and click on the Create Archive button in the bottom left corner. The resulting window will let you name the archive and pick a destination drive. Obviously, store your archive on an external drive if it’s for backup purposes. If you were to keep it on the same drive as your FCPX system and the drive fails, you’d lose your backup as well!

The process creates a proprietary disk image with the original file structure of the memory card. FCPX needs the original file structure (not just the video files) in order to properly capture from the card. By default, it stores the archive in a folder called Final Cut Camera Archives on whatever drive you selected.

Later when you need to reimport from a camera archive, simply open the Camera Import window again, and if you don’t see your needed archive under Camera Archives on the left, click on Open Archive… and find it in the resulting window.

To import all or not to import all

If you’ve got the time, there’s nothing to stop you from looking at each and every clip one at a time in the Import from Camera window, selecting a range, and then importing that one clip. However, that’s going to take you a while as you’ll have to deal with the settings window every time you click on the Import button. If you’ve got the storage space (and most of us do today), just import everything and worry about weeding out the trash later.

But what about XYZ format?

There are two web pages you should bookmark to keep up to date.

One is This web page lists most of the formats FCPX can work with. Expect this list to grow with future versions.

The second site is This web site lets you search camera models for compatibility with FCPX.

Just because a format isn’t listed on Apple’s specs page, doesn’t mean it’s impossible to work with. Many camera manufacturers release plugins which enhance a program’s capabilities. One great example is Canon (, who released a plugin for FCPX allowing users to import MXF files from a wide variety of their cameras.

Importing MTS, M2TS, and M2T files

If you’ve ever browsed the file structure of a memory card pulled from an AVCHD camera, you’ll have seen a somewhat complex system of files and folders and almost nothing resembling a normal video file. Deep inside you’re likely to find files with the extension .mts, .m2ts, or .m2t (on some HDV cameras). By themselves, these files are sitting ducks, unable to be read by most basic video playback software or imported directly by FCPX. But somehow, once you open up the Import from Camera window in FCPX, FCPX is able to translate all that apparent gobbledygook from the memory card into movie files. FCPX needs that gobbledygook to import the footage. But what if someone has given you a hard drive full of nothing but these standalone files? You’ll need to convert or rewrap (explained in the following section) the clips before heading in to FCPX.

Getting ready

There are a number of programs out there that can tackle this task, but a highly recommended one is ClipWrap ( There is a trial, but you’ll probably want to go ahead and buy the full version.

How to do it…

  1. Open ClipWrap. Drag-and-drop your video files (ending in .mts, .m2ts, or .m2t) into the main interface.
  2. Set a destination for your new files under Movie Destination.
  3. Click on the drop-down menu titled Output Format. You can choose to convert the files to a number of formats including ProRes 422 (the same format that is created when you select the Create optimized media option in FCPX). A faster, space-saving option, however, is to leave the default setting, Rewrap (don’t alter video samples):
  4. Click on Convert. When the process is done, you will have new video files that end in .mov and can be directly imported into FCPX via File | Import | Files.

How it works…

In the previous exercise, we chose not to transcode/convert the video files into another format. What we did was take the video and audio stream out of one container (.mts, .m2ts, or .m2t) and put it into another (QuickTime, seen as .mov). It may sound crazy at first, but we basically took the birthday present (the video and audio) out of an ugly gift box that FCPX won’t even open and put it into a prettier one that FCPX likes.

There’s more…

Other alternatives

ClipWrap is far from the only solution out there, but it is definitely one of the best. The appendix of this book covers the basics of Compressor, Apple’s compression software which can’t convert raw AVCHD files in most cases, but can convert just about any file that QuickTime can play. The software company, iSkySoft, ( makes a large number of video conversion tools for a reasonable price. If you’re looking for a fully featured video encoding software package, look no further than Telestream Episode (www.telestream. net) or Sorenson Squeeze ( These two applications are expensive, but can take just about any video file format out there and transcode it to almost anything else, with a wide variety of customizable settings.

Rewrapping or transcoding

As mentioned in step 3 in the previous section, we could have chosen to transcode to ProRes 422 instead of rewrapping. This is a totally fine option, just know the differences: transcoding, takes much longer, it takes up much more file space, but on the plus side, it is Final Cut Pro X’s favorite format (because it’s native to FCPX, made by Apple for Apple) and you may save time in the actual editing process by working with a faster more efficient codec once inside FCPX. If you chose to rewrap, you still have the option to transcode when you import into FCPX.


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