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Is your Final Cut Pro sequence too dark or washed out?

This seems to be a common question. Sometimes people will create a sequence in Shake (or similar) and export to Final Cut, only to find that the image is much darker in FCP. Others have a different problem - it displays fine in FCP but appears washed out when you export it.

Final Cut Pro tends to make assumptions when it comes to gamma. If you create YUV (e.g. DV PAL, NTSC) footage, it will assume that it was created with a gamma of 2.2, which it would have been if it had been shot in a camera. Final Cut therefore lowers the gamma in order to mimic what it would look like on a broadcast monitor, resulting in a darkening of the image.

Note that the image is only dark in Final Cut Pro and if you export it, it will export with the correct gamma. However, the mistake that some people make is to brighten the image in Final Cut, leading to it being too bright upon exporting.

Applications like Shake do not make any modifications to the display of the gamma so if it looks fine in Shake, it will look fine upon exporting, no matter what Final Cut Pro is showing on the screen. This is assuming your monitor is correctly calibrated, of course.

When you import RGB elements (such as the Apple Animation codec or still images) into a YUV sequence, the opposite problem occurs. Final Cut Pro will assume they were created with a gamma of 1.8. Final Cut will then increase the gamma to 2.2 (the gamma value that FCP assumes all YUV media is created at) to compensate for this.

The image is now considered YUV, so when it plays back, Final Cut will lower the gamma again to compensate, as it does with all YUV footage. The RGB elements will be displayed on the screen at their correct gamma but when you export the sequence, the boosted gamma will be used and the exported sequence will be too bright.

The solution is to convert the files to YUV before adding them to your Final Cut Pro project. For footage, convert to Uncompressed 8-bit 4:2:2 or Uncompressed 10-bit 4:2:2 to ensure that no data will be lost in the conversion process. If the file sizes for this are too large, try a high quality lossy codec such as Apple ProRes.

For images, the easiest method is to convert them to a single-frame QuickTime file with a YUV codec such as DV NTSC. It is better to perform this task with Compressor rather than QuickTime.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Jan 12 2008 to Video Editing, Final Cut Studio