FCP 7: Scopes in Final Cut

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the November, 2007, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Biagio Messina began this discussion by writing:

My wife and I produce reality television. One issue we ran into in the past with FCP’s software scopes is that they didn’t register “super black” (I think) so that a couple eps we color corrected right in FCP using only software scopes had to be redone with hardware scopes….do you feel this would be the same problem with Color? Or do you feel the scopes in Color are more accurate and we could count on them? I know there’s probably no substitute for a hardware scope, but we’re a young company and just want to explore all our options.

Larry replies: I know that the video scopes (Tools > Video Scopes) in Final Cut Pro improved significantly with the release of Final Cut Pro 5.1.2. However, I am not an expert with Color, so I contacted Alexis van Hurkman. Not only has Alexis been writing an outstanding series of articles on Color for Edit Well, he is also the author of the Color User Manual for Apple.

Alexis replies:

First, the FCP scopes at this point do show super-black (although it’s true that they didn’t used to). You have to crank up the scope graph intensity to see more detail (click the little button at the upper left of the window and drag the slider to the left), since the default graph intensity is a little faint, but all the detail will be there.


Second, super-black levels in FCP usually get clipped as soon as you add a Color Corrector or Broadcast Safe filter to them (at least in version 5, I can’t imagine they changed this in version 6). For more explanation, I discuss this in my “Encyclopedia of Color Correction.”


Third, the Color scopes show super-black as well, down to –20 percent, and the default Broadcast Safe settings clip these levels by default so long as they’re activated. However, whereas the FCP scopes now analyze every single line of the image (so long as the playhead is paused), the Color scopes analyze the image by scaling the image down internally and analyzing a reduced frame version of the image (there are more details in the scopes chapter of the User Manual). Because of the math involved, every pixel of the scaled image does contribute to Color’s final analysis (unlike FCP’s old method of skipping lines completely), and as a result the Color scopes very closely approximate hardware scopes.


However, I generally say that while the Color software scopes are great for making creative decisions, for true QC work, you really should have a dedicated video scope that’s monitoring the output of your broadcast video output card. The reason for this is that even though Color’s legalizer (in 1.0.1 and now 1.0.2) is very good and the Color scopes are very clear, depending on the particular combination of elements in any given image, various mathematically complex things can happen to the video signal when it goes through the encoding hardware of your video card, and the results can sometimes unexpectedly produce transient levels above where they’re supposed to be. If you’re not looking at the output of your video card, you’re not seeing the whole story (for QC purposes).


Lastly, I happen to have a training DVD-ROM if you’re interested, done for Magnet Media. I’m very happy with how it came out, and I’ve been getting very positive feedback from folks who’ve picked it up.


Click here to learn more about Alexis’ Color training.

Larry adds: Thanks, Alexis, for answering this!

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