I highly commend the web page 'Nine top tips for Media students'. From the people behind theory.org.uk, its worth a read!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Macbook buying guide

At some stage when doing Media Studies you may be tempted to get yourself a Mac, which would be a great idea to boost your ability to edit not just main productions, but also vodcasts and Evaluation question videos too (and other non-school work/projects!).

As the school has asked me to put together a briefing on possibly purchasing two Macbooks, I'll gather some of the main resources I've used to research this here; if you are looking at doing this these might help.

a few quick general points, then the resources/notes will be below the 'read more' line...

  1. Final Cut Pro X - still only £230 (you may not think so, but that really is a bargain), seems to be a pay-once deal with free upgrades for 'life'. The upgrades since its launch have almost made it into a new programme by now. You can read Apple's guide here.
  2. Its recommended by Apple that you also purchase Motion 5 (for customised titles and FX) and Compressor 4 (for advanced encoding options) too; both also linked here (scroll to the bottom).
  3. Students (and educators) can get a significant discount on Apple computers, and some software but only at the time you purchase the computer. Visit their UK education page.
  4. Macs are extremely expensive to upgrade after purchase; you should give serious consideration to the hard drive and RAM in particular. Look carefully at the minimum system requirements for using FCPX; few things push a computer as hard as video editing.
  5. You have options: the Mac-Mini (provide your own monitor); Mac Pro; iMac (with varying screen sizes); Macbook Pro and Air. You can use Apple's comparison table to review your options.
  6. Apple have been phasing out DVD drives, so you may need to consider buying a USB DVD drive.
  7. You will definitely need a large-capacity external hard drive for back up. You have multiple format options (USB3, Thunderbolt etc). I'd suggest a minimum of 1TB (= 1000GB); you can get portable 1TB USB drives from around £40.
  8. Unless you're going second-hand, which can be a smart move - there are many bargain older but very capable Macs on eBay etc - then you really should ...
  9. Visit an Apple shop/retailer, get hands on, and speak to experts. I bought mine from KCRS in Leeds, who have been great as regards service; there is also a new Apple store in the new Trinity Centre.
FCPX will be very slow with anything less than this!!!
Minimum system requirements: crucially, 4GB of RAM, though even that will still cause slow performance.
Compressor 4 (formatting export video files) and Motion 5 (customised FX and titles) are recommended companion packages.
Education prices are discounted.
Buy FCPX (£230) (Macworld review of FCPX 10.2, May 2015; )
Is FCPX the best choice of video editor? (yes, according to this comparison, except for the need to use a recent Mac)
Free online FCPX tutorials - you have a lot of options (there are paid-for programmes too, and you can take professional qualifications as well!). Here's a free course on Vimeo.
MacWorld's guide to which Mac to get for video editing - from October 2014, this predates the most recent (May 2015) Macbook updates, but the advice is good
MacProVideo's guide to which Mac to get for video editing - as above, this is from March 2014; the graphics of the benchmarks are very useful.
If buying second hand, check this Apple list for models whose graphic cards can't cope with FCPX.
Rent a Macbook? An unlikely option, but there are companies who do this specifically targeting video editors (here's one).
The 17" Macbook Pro was last issued in 2011, despite much online complaining from professionals who saw this as simply key kit. You could buy one 2nd hand and upgrade it to make it FCPX-compatible, as this user did.

I've edited a 96-minute film on a 13" Macbook Pro with FCE4, and a 91-minute film with a 15" Macbook Pro on FCPX. Video (and image) editing with a 13" screen is hard going. With a 15" you'll still need to constantly zoom in and out to see what you're doing, and you'll be scrolling and CMD-tabbing a lot!

The new (May 2015) 15" Macbook Pro looks overpriced, and you need to be aware of the awkward new system: the traditional 'Magsafe' power adaptor, and USB slots, are gone, replaced by a single new slot - you need to buy an adaptor to be able to plug in USB, power, monitor output etc. Apple have also phased out DVD drives, which can be a pain.

A 17" Macbook Pro would be a good option IF you can upgrade it (the last new models were released in 2011) to make it FCPX compatible, but the extra screen size brings more weight, less portability, and these models won't run FCPX unless you do upgrade.

The cylinder-style Mac Pro is a simply awe-inspiring piece of hardware - but you need around £3k to get one! If portability isn't a requirement, the iMac range presents the best value, and you can find lots of upgraded slightly older models on eBay and the rest - Apple also sell refurbed (usually upgraded) models.

Do speak to an expert in an Apple retailer no matter what you're thinking of buying!!!

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