Professional video editing software is extremely powerful and complex software that is used to make multimillion-dollar projects like feature films, TV shows, commercials, music videos and anything else with a potentially massive audience. These programs are where you transform ordinary video footage, sound clips, digital images and more into award-winning visual narratives. They provide the power to manipulate light, color and sound to tell your story as well as create dazzling effects that captivate a sold-out theater.
However, you don’t have to be making a movie for the silver screen or a hit TV show to use pro video editing software. You can also use it for smaller ventures like YouTube videos, amateur or independent films, home movies, work presentations or anything else that requires you to splice video clips together. These applications can make even the smallest project look and feel like an Oscar-worthy film.
But before you spend hundreds of dollars on an application and thousands of dollars for an editing rig and training, you should take some time to consider whether your projects need the same high-powered tools used to make Hollywood movies. In most cases, you can invest much less time and money in a prosumer-level program that can achieve high-quality results. If you need more information to help you make a decision, we've also written informative articles about professional video editing programs to help you decide which product is right for you and your project.
Best for Prosumers
A prosumer is the level of video editor between entry-level beginners and professionals who cut video for a living. This might include aspiring filmmakers, YouTubers, vloggers and anyone else who regularly puts out video content. These users want more than just the ability to trim footage and arrange it on a timeline, but don’t necessarily need all the hefty tools used to make Hollywood blockbusters.
Premiere Pro CC is the continually evolving professional video editing program from Adobe. It’s the sum of decades of design, feedback and refinement. Adobe does a stellar job of listening to its users and providing the tools and features they want. The result is a nonlinear editor that has the power, versatility and depth to create any video project you put to it, whether it be a full-length movie, music video, vlog post or instructional demonstration. This professional video editor is one of the few names in the business that earns the title “industry standard.”
Cyberlink Director Suite is more than just pro video editing software; it’s an entire creative suite that spans video, image, audio and color editing. It includes four programs: PowerDirector, PhotoDirector, AudioDirector and ColorDirector. Each one is specifically designed for every aspect of your project, whether you’re making a wedding video or a feature film. When used together, these programs provide a seamlessly comprehensive editing experience. They allow you to craft exactly what you want at a fraction of the price of comparable media suites.
Best Under $100
Most video projects won’t require you to shell out big bucks for a high-powered professional video editor or suite of programs. In fact, you can probably find a program that suits your needs for far less than even a prosumer-level application.
CyberLink PowerDirector comes in three versions: Deluxe, Ultra and Ultimate. Deluxe gets you the basics of video editing, such as the timeline and storyboard workflow, along with tools such as the chroma key (green screen) and a library of hundreds of effects, transitions and templates. If your project needs more than that, you can upgrade to Ultra or Ultimate and get content-aware editing, multi-cam editing, an action cam center, 360-degree video editing and many more tools. PowerDirector is a great choice because it lets you choose the level of tools that best fits your needs.
Best for Mac
Every new Macintosh computer comes with a free copy of iMovie, Apple’s entry-level video editing application. This program is excellent because it helps the novice user grasp the basics of video editing. It has the added advantage of working on the same basic engine that its professional-level program employs. So, once you’ve mastered iMovie, it should be a natural transition.
Final Cut Pro X is Apple's signature professional video editing software, continuing Apple's tradition of industry-standard applications. It is intuitive enough for new users to grasp while providing the expansive tool array demanded by veteran and pro video editors. If you're a Mac user and a video editor, Final Cut Pro X was made with you in mind and will fit almost any need you have.
Best for Special Effects
Creating a big explosion, time vortex, fireball and other digital effects can be a big part of telling your story. The best professional video editing software enables you to create a digital world of dazzling videos to enhance what you’ve caught on camera. Some programs make it easy to add these effects with preprogrammed libraries and presets while others are more complicated and require a lot of training to learn how to use correctly.
VEGAS Pro is one of the biggest names in professional video editing software. It’s been used for years to create movies, TV shows, music videos and more. It has a very intuitive user interface, especially if you’re upgrading from VEGAS Pro's consumer-level application VEGAS Movie Studio. It excels at creating visual special effects, 3D titling and compositing, and it even allows you to author DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Its ever-expanding tool set makes it a good choice for pro video editors who want the power and granular control needed to make the high-quality videos demanded by their audience.
Avid Media Composer is the most popular program used by professional Hollywood editors to create movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos and much more. But to use this software effectively, you must have months or even years of training. We don’t recommend this product for the amateur or prosumer; only the truly professional, properly trained should consider this software. It would simply be wasted money and effort for anyone else. Additionally, you need specialized hardware to use it to its fullest potential. If you want to use this powerful software, you should invest some time and money in learning how it works and possibly use another program to master the basics of editing video.
HitFilm Pro is professional video editing software that marries traditional non-linear editing tools with a high-level video effects compositor. It's a great choice for filmmakers, professional video editors and other visual content producers who want the ability to create those eye-popping graphics seen in Hollywood movies without switching between editing and compositing programs.
Professional Video Editors for Free
If you’re making a small or medium sized project, you may not have to shell out big bucks to buy editing software. Many of the programs on our lineup offer free trials or even have watered-down free versions that you can use without charge. For example, Adobe Premiere Pro offers a 30-day unrestricted trail period. This is plenty of time to finish post production on a moderate sized project, or at least get a rough cut done before you must pay for a subscription.
The same applies to Final Cut Pro X – it also has a 30-day free trial before you have to purchase the software outright. One of the great things about FCP X is the fact that you can import iMovie projects. This means you can take your time making a rough cut in iMovie, then activate the FCP X trial, import your project from iMovie and then use FCP X’s powerful tools to make all your fine-tuning for a month. This is a great strategy if you’re a Mac user and are working on a budget.
Other programs in our review have watered-down versions that you can download and use absolutely free. HitFilm Express and Lightworks Free are two examples of this. You may find that these programs have everything you need to complete your videos. In fact, these programs will likely suit your needs in most cases. Even if you’re editing a feature film that will be seen in front of large audiences, it would be advisable to see if these programs fit your needs before you spend the extra money for the paid versions of the software. Additionally, these free programs are an excellent place to learn the ins and outs of professional video editors that cost hundreds of dollars.
Other Considerations in Choosing Professional Video Editing Software
Will It Run on Your Computer?
Before you spend hundreds of dollars on professional video editing software, you should make sure that your computer is equipped to handle it. Start by checking your computer’s specifications. You can usually see this in the home screen of your control panel if you operate a Windows machine. If you’re on a Mac, you can simply select “About This Mac” from the Apple Menu in the top left corner of your screen. Then look up the system requirements of the application you’re considering. These can usually be found somewhere on their official webpage. If you have trouble finding them on your own, simply Google the program’s name and “system requirements.” Then compare what you find against what your computer has.
Programs like Avid Media Composer utilize a lot of resources. And even though your system may have the minimum requirements to run the program, you might still have trouble running it. Such programs are designed to work with specialized hardware with far more processing and rendering power than your average Windows or Mac machine. If you want to experience the full power of a professional video editing program, you may want to consider investing in a computer that is specifically designed for editing video and other highly intensive tasks.
Many professional video editing programs are becoming more and more accessible to the average user. But editing video is still a complicated and time-consuming task that takes months or years to become proficient in. Before you select your video editing software, you should take some time to research the training resources available on the internet. Luckily there are tons of free training videos on sites like YouTube made by professional video editors targeted toward users like you who want to learn. Some software publishers like Adobe partner with learning services like Lynda to provide in-depth training courses that show you how to use all the tools and features in their software. You’ll have to pay for courses like these, but it’s worth the investment if you’re serious about becoming a professional video editor.
Do You Need Professional-Grade Video Editing Software?
In many cases, you can save a lot of time and money by opting for a consumer or prosumer editing program instead of a full-fledged professional application. Think about your project and consider your editing skill level and how much time it will take to learn to use the software you choose. Chances are that if you’re new to editing or have limited experience, programs like PowerDirector, VideoStudio and Pinnacle Studio have enough tools and functionality to meet your needs. They cost much less, have many of the same tools found in their professional editing counterparts and can produce more-or-less the same results in many cases.
Professional video editing software is a major investment in time and money. It possesses all the tools you need to produce highly polished projects like motion pictures, television shows, music videos and more. But before you buy, you should consider whether consumer-level programs will fit your needs.