Gone are the days of Windows Movie Maker and Final Cut. Although you may mourn the discontinuation of Final Cut Express, you're probably not weeping over Windows Movie Maker. Great video editing software usually comes with a steep price. That price tag typically includes professional tools and features you simply cannot find in free versions. How true is that, though?
Free video editing software may not have decades of development behind it, but the groundwork was laid by others, and now there are so many titles out there, it can be hard to pick one. Several free programs, whether you download them or use web-based apps, are worth your time.
First, you need to decide why you need video editing software. Are you splicing together shots of you trying to perform a kickflip and uploading it on YouTube? You're likely not going to need the full-featured software that's out there. Are you producing a music video, or a new food television show for your website? You'll need something more robust that's capable of handling several cuts, music, fades, special effects, and more.
This entry almost goes without saying. If you're a Mac user, you're probably already familiar with iMovie – even if you don't use Macs, you've at least heard of this famous software. Although professional editors turn their nose up at iMovie, it's an excellent free option for amateur filmmakers.
Although you won't find many feature films edited entirely in iMovie (a documentary titled Tarnation that premiered in 2004 at Sundance is an exception), you will find plenty of videos on YouTube, Vimeo and other websites.
The reason this is one of the best video editing options for Macs is that it's 100 percent free and comes bundled with your Mac. It's also easy to use with its intuitive interface and keyboard shortcuts. The obvious features are there, of course, like importing and exporting video, a timeline that shows you the video you want to edit, and the ability to move bits of your film here and there.
What's in the Toolbox?
- Enhance: Automatically enhance your video with a click of this magic wand that changes your video and audio slightly to make it a bit better (color correction, balance, etc.); you can make manual changes by heading over to Adjust.
- Adjust: This is where you'll find familiar editing features such as volume, noise reduction, equalizer, color correction, color balance, cropping, stabilization, video effects and sound effects.
- Slow Motion: You can find this option right in the timeline for easy access.
- Auto Upload to iCloud: This feature makes it quick and easy to get your clips hosted online, but you're limited to 15-minute videos.
- Multilayer Editing: Drag and drop a clip on top of another to quickly create a straightaway cut to the next clip, green or blue screen, split screen or create picture-in-picture edits.
- Speed Control: Slow clips down by 50 percent, or speed them up to 20 times their original speed; you can also create instant replays.
- Sharing: You can share directly via Facebook, YouTube, email, iMovie Theater or other options.
Whether you've heard of Lightworks or not shouldn't concern you. This video editing software has been developed over decades and has been used to edit feature-length films you've probably seen, unless you hate good movies like "Pulp Fiction," "Moulin Rouge" and "The King's Speech." To be fair, that was the pro version of Lightworks. However, there's a free version meant for home users that's, yes, limited, but still has powerful features.
Originally, Lightworks was only available for Windows users, but it's been made available for Mac and Linux users, too. The biggest downside of the free version of Lightworks is debatable. Some editors claim it's the lack of audio editing tools, while others complain about the lack of support. Either way, you should remind yourself that this is free software. It's safe to assume you get the basic editing tools of any video editing software.
What's in the Toolbox?
- Titling Effects: You get basic titling effects such as fade and typewriter effects for your video titles.
- All Imports: All of the supported formats in Pro are also supported in the free version, and there's a long list, including DVCAM, MPEG formats, Avid, XDCAM HD, Apple Pro Res.
- Exports: Exporting is more limited; you can export to MPEG4 with a max resolution of 1280 x 720, and you can upload directly to YouTube.
- Video Effects: Color correction, blurs, masks and others – you get more than 100 presets of effects you can apply to your video in real time.
- Autosaving: There's no need to hit Ctrl + S over and over — Lightworks autosaves your work often.
- Multicam Editing: You can easily sync edits from multicam footage and see everything in the viewer for flawless syncing.
- Mark & Park: You can apply a mark and play the clip, and when you stop playing, an end mark is automatically added wherever you left off.
- Multiple Keyboard Layouts: If you're coming from professional video editors such as Final Cut Pro or Avid, you can choose these keyboard shortcut layouts until you're ready to use Lightworks' style.
There's free, and then there's free. What we're talking about is open source software, and Avidemux is the super free version. This means you can use the free software on any operating system, including Windows, Mac and Linux. What this also means is that you can add your own code and modify the program, but let's focus on the editing functions of this program.
The developers constantly update Avidemux with bug fixes and new features, so if you choose this software for video editing, be sure to check for updates frequently. The biggest benefit of using this free software is that there is no paid version, so you aren't losing out on features you could have if you paid for a heftier version. Also, the developers take suggestions from users often, so you could see future features you're longing for. For all the features and tools, though, this is still free software and it lacks what many professional video editors offer.
What's in the Toolbox?
- Transform: Add a logo, rotate your clips, crop, fade in and out.
- Adjustment: Change brightness, contrast and color correctness, alter hue and saturation, eliminate "color ghosting."
- Sharpen/Blur: Just like in everyone's favorite photo editing software, you can sharpen, blur, add a Gaussian blur, adjust high frequency video noise.
- Subtitles: Add hardcoded subtitles to your video (they cannot be turned off) and choose the color, font, size and position.
This is another big name in the open source video editing software game. This software is touted as one of the best free video editing programs because it lends itself well to video, animation and even video game creation. Blender is one of the more robust free applications and allows for much more than just film editing.
Compare Blender's video editing tools to the other software out there and you'll see that it holds up. Although video editing isn't its focus, it doesn't seem to lack the features that others have. You can use Blender on a PC that's running Windows or Linux, or you can use it on a Mac. It's also worth mentioning that many filmmakers and animators have created original, full-length films and animated movies using Blender.
What's in the Toolbox?
- Masking: Remove parts of a video or replace those bits with another piece of video.
- Audio Mixing: Add the tracks you want, see their waveforms in the timeline with your video, and mix away.
- Adjustments: Change the saturation and hue, brightness and contrast, and more.
- Filters: Fade in/out, flip, cross and gamma cross, glow, transform, wipe.
- Speed Control: Change speed of video for slow motion, or speed it up for comedic effect.
BlackMagic DaVinci Resolve
Hollywood editors love BlackMagic DaVinci Resolve. Colorists used DaVinci Resolve to grade films like "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." Professionals likely snap up the paid version, but the free version is almost as feature-rich and powerful as the pro version. What's different about DaVinci Resolve is its developers' willingness to include features and tools from other video editing software, but with their own spin.
If you're editing a feature-length film, you're looking at many hours of editing, so any shortcuts to save you time are welcome, and DaVinci Resolve has them. The free version of DaVinci Resolve is packed with nearly the same number of features as the studio version that costs about $1,000 for a single license.
What's in the Toolbox?
- Audio Sync: You can add up to 16 audio tracks per clip, and DaVinci Resolve offers a feature to auto-sync audio with video.
- Color Grading: Desaturation, white balance, color correction, brightness, contrast, etc.; you can also save settings you like and apply them to other clips.
- Split View: Displays both clips when you're edit trimming.
- Auto Tool Selection: DaVinci Resolve predicts editing tools you need based on where you hover your cursor over a clip in your timeline.
- Simultaneous Multiple Edits: Select several clips and apply the same edit across the board.
When Free Just Won't Cut It
As powerful as these free video editing programs are, there are situations in which you need the bigger, more feature-filled, faster software that's available. When you're color grading and editing a full-length feature film, you may need collaborative workflow options, specific noise reduction or effects that you just can't get in the free versions.
Students: Read This First
If the free versions aren't enough, and you need access to tools and features to help you with your burgeoning film editing career, be sure to check for student prices. Many software companies offer deep discounts. For example, Avid offers students a single license for only $299, with annual upgrade option at only $99 – a fraction of the retail price.
The best video editing software that's trusted by the professionals who create music videos, Hollywood films, television programs and commercials include:
Avid: This is the gold standard. More pro editors than ever use this suite of software. It comes at a hefty price, though. An individual license (with a $299 upgrade plan every year) is $1,299.
Final Cut Pro: The film "Focus," starring Will Smith, was edited on Apple's film editing software. It includes powerful tools and features, and it's more affordable than you'd think. The cost for a single license is $299.
Adobe Premiere Pro: Indie studios can't afford what the major Hollywood studios can, so they typically opt for this popular video editing software. The big benefit to using this software is that you can integrate other Adobe software, such as After Effects, Photoshop, Story and Prelude. The cost isn't prohibitive either, but Adobe is pushing its cloud version, so you'll pay $19.99 per month for the single app or $49.99 per month for the whole suite.
Video editing software doesn't have to be expensive to be feature-filled and high quality. These programs we've highlighted are excellent options that can help you on your way to becoming a YouTube sensation, the favorite uncle at your next holiday gathering (video is just so much better than a photo slideshow) or the next It Editor in Hollywood.