How to output 2.35:1 cropped video using only Final Cut Pro X

More and more 4K cameras are appearing on the market at affordable prices, and with them come a number of intriguing compositional possibilities, for cropping images without any loss in quality (reframing and panning and zooming in post), or presenting them in different aspect ratios. Even shooting in boring old 1080p 16:9 gives you some “scope” (pun intended!) for changing the composition in post, by cropping to a wider/ narrower aspect ratio in post, such as 2.35:1.

Given that Vimeo and other video services have native support for a number of different aspect ratios rather than just vanilla 16:9, wouldn’t it be good if you could output your videos in native 2.35:1, rather than having them in 16:9 with black bars at the top and bottom?

OK, so perhaps this seems like a very minor thing to achieve. If the user hits the fullscreen playback button, then it isn’t going to make a difference whether the black bars are part of the video stream or not. But for playback when the video is embedded as part of a site, doesn’t this:

Native 2.35:1 video!
Native 2.35:1 video!

Look better than this?:

Letterboxed 2.35:1 video
Letterboxed 2.35:1 video

I was looking for a way to do this, but all the tutorials I could find online used Compressor. Now, Compressor is a very fine onlining suite, and it’s only $50, but if your onlining needs are not more involved than uploading to Vimeo, then that is $50 that you could spend elsewhere.

OK, without further ado. There are 3 steps here.

  1. Apply the Letterbox effect to each clip in the timeline. In theory, this step isn’t really necessary. It just adds the black bars at the top and bottom of the image that we are going to crop away in the next 2 steps anyway. So why do it? Firstly, because with the “offset” control it adds an easy, keyframe-able way to pan vertically within the image (without overshooting the edge of the cropped area). Secondly, if you do ever have to output to a format that does not have native support for 2.35:1 (such as a DVD), then you can simply switch off steps 2 and 3 and have consistent-looking video regardless of what aspect ratios are supported by the delivery format.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 00.46.45

  2. Change the aspect ratio of the project. Bring up the project properties by hitting Command-J, or selecting the project and clicking the info tab in the inspector. Hit Modify Settings. Under Video Properties, Format, select Custom. OK, now some maths is necessary. Maintaining a horizontal width of 1920, an aspect ration of 2.35:1 would produce a vertical height of 817.02127659574468. Initially I assumed going for an even 818 might be best, but this leaves a tiny trace of black line at the top and bottom of the image at the end of the process, so 1920 x 817 it is.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 00.45.51
    However, this alone does not produce the desired output, as the 16:9 aspect ratio video, with the black bars, is resized so that it fits in the new narrower frame in its entirety, producing this effect:
    Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 00.47.03
    I wonder whether there is some setting somewhere to say “fit to one dimension”, rather than defaulting to having the entire image visible? In the absence of this setting, we will have to…

  3. Crop the entire project. Right, time to crop away the black bars we created in step 1 in order to have a truly 2.35:1 video. As this has to be applied uniformly across the timeline, I apply an RT Adjustment Layer to the entire time line:
    Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 00.45.30
    Then place the Crop effect inside the adjustment layer. Make sure “type” is set to crop. trim just replicates the black bars of the Letterbox effect, rather than actually resizing the image.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 00.47.56
    OK, time for some more maths. How much do we need to crop from the top and bottom of the image? It turns out the answer is 100 pixels from each side. If you’re not bothered about how I arrived at this figure then you can skip the rest of this paragraph. Why 100 pixels? We have a 1080 high image, that we want to crop to 817 pixels high. That’s a difference of 263 pixels, so I initially thought I’d have to lose 131.5 from the top and the bottom. But, this 1080p image is already being compressed into an 817 high video frame, a squeeze factor of 1.322. So those 131.5 pixels are also being squeezed by that factor, which comes out as 99.47.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 00.44.50

The finished effect:

If you think my calculations are off, or you know an easier way of doing this, then write a comment below.


12 thoughts on “How to output 2.35:1 cropped video using only Final Cut Pro X

    1. If you have Motion, you can create your own adjustment layer. Here’s Larry Jordan’s tutorial on doing this:

      If you don’t have Motion, a number of people have followed these steps and made their efforts available to download. Here’s an example:

      Let me know if that doesn’t work, and I’ll see if I can host my adjustment layer plugin somewhere.

  1. I found that to make my aspect ratio the same as the letterbox 2.35:1 I had to crop 154,0px top and bottom. You are saying it should be 100.0px where am I going wrong?

    1. Hi Paul. Sorry, I have no idea! If it’s a 1920 x 1080 image, then 2.35:1, maintaining 1920 width, would be 1920 x 817. So that’s 131.5 pixels either side. As the FCPX video format option is applied at the beginning of this process however, these figures are already being squeezed by 1.322, which is why 131.5 becomes 100. Is the video you’re using 1920 x 1080? Are you using FCPX?

      1. Thanks for coming back. Yes I am using FCPX and 1920 c1080. When I followed your instructions I found that when exporting the clip and then opening in QT I had black bars on the left and right. I then went back to the timeline and compared it to another clip with the FCPX letterbox effect applied. I made some crop adjustments to match which was 154px. I then exported the clip again and opened it in QT and the image now had no black bars with the image filling the QT frame. I will try again today and see if I can work out what is happening.

  2. Huge help. Thanks so much! I would note that in order to accomplish this, I had to crop at 263px from top and bottom (0 from right and left) instead of halfing it like you suggested. Maybe it has to do with this being a retina Macbook or something strange. Doesn’t make any sense to me!

  3. How do you export a 1920×817 clip and have Vimeo recognizes it as a HD video so that you can choose to default the video to HD? I see your video defaults to HD… thanks!

  4. I tried testing your method and the calculations work but I see a noticeable reduction in image quality. The video is really soft compared to rendering using a custom Compressor setting with the panavision crop applied. I think your method is stretching out the video to fill the frame so I wouldn’t use it.

    Best method that works for me is to put a png with the 2.35 aspect ratio letterbox so I can see where the edge is and adjust the video position if needed and once I’m ready for export I disable the letterbox png layer, then export with my custom Compressor setting (frame size set to 1920×818 and cropping set to panavision 2.35:1. Project in FCPX stays at 1920×1080). Hope this helps!

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