Choosing the best video editing software is important, because non-linear video editing programs can be complex beasts. They can ingest all the video footage you’ve shot for a project, throw much of it away, and turn the rest into a polished presentation full of transitions, effects, title cards, and clever editing tricks. These software packages and apps can preview 4K video at lower resolutions, render everything you’ve edited together, and output a video file at the end, often directly to online video sharing sites.
The best video editing software programs have a lot to handle, then, and it’s no surprise these are large, complicated apps with multiple modes, screens, palettes, windows, and toolbars. They tend to weigh in heavily on disk space too, occupying up to several gigabytes and taking a while to download. Many will chew up system resources on your PC too, so you need something fairly powerful to run them. Learn to use video editing apps, though, and they can be enormously rewarding, producing movies you can be proud of.
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Choosing the best video editing software for your needs is a tricky decision. They all have much to recommend them. Do you opt for a free app, and have to wade through potentially questionable online documentation and YouTube videos to learn how to use it, or choose something paid-for, with a complete suite of tutorials, which may be built into the software itself? One of the free apps we recommend is open source, and has an enormous and engaged community built around it. The other exists mainly as a way to sell you expensive keyboards (and editing feature films), but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of its developers’ generous nature.
1. Adobe Premiere Elements: Best video editing software overall
The best video editor overall, combining ease of use with a wide range of tools
Format: PC and Mac | 4K editing?: Yes | User level: Beginner to Expert
Coming from Adobe, the company behind the Premiere Pro application widely used within the video production industry, Premiere Elements should be good... and it is. Split into three modes to take into account different skill levels and needs, Premiere Elements is all you need to splice together any number of video projects, from quick showreels to music videos and more.
The app actively teaches you to edit, by bundling its tutorials into the program itself rather than keeping them on YouTube or some other corner of the web. As a paid-for app, this is where much of Elements’ value lies, you can pick up this app knowing nothing and have a competent knowledge of video editing’s basics within a few days.
Elsewhere, you’ll find the powerful Expert mode, which leaves you alone to get on with things, and plenty of bundled transitions and graphics. There’s no 8K or 350-degree support though.
- Read our Adobe Premiere Elements review
2. DaVinci Resolve: Best free video editor
A powerful, free editor, used by profeessionals
Format: PC and Mac | 4K editing?: Yes | User level: Expert
The software used in the production of feature films such as The Last Jedi and Deadpool 2 is given away completely free by its developer, which also happens to be one of the biggest names in digital movie cameras and editing suite hardware. A cynic might say this is to bait you into springing $995 for the Editor Keyboard or $31,000 for the Advanced Panel... but Resolve works perfectly well with the keyboard on your laptop.
Giving this software away for free is the most astonishing bargain. Combined with the beginner’s guides and hours of video tutorials on YouTube and the Blackmagic Design website, a lot of people are going to learn how to edit video with this software, and if only a few of those make it as a professional editor, then they’re going to buy that Advanced Panel - maybe five of them - and Blackmagic has justified the low cost of entry.
For the rest of us, this is a chance to see how the big boys do it, and learn from them. New features in version 16 make Resolve quicker and easier to use for the novice or those on a budget, but sitting down cold with a professional tool such as this will always be intimidating. Get past this, however, and there’s a lot of depth in this application.
- Read our DaVinci Resolve review
3. VideoPad: Best for beginners
A great place to start if you're starting out in video editing
Format: PC and Mac | 4K editing?: Yes | User level: Intermediate
An app in need of an update - which it’s getting this year if our sources are correct - Videopad is nonetheless a fully equipped editing app that’s nice and friendly for beginners. Power users will appreciate the depth of the video tools on offer, but not that audio editing is handled by a separate application.
Free for non-commercial use - and if you do decide to pay you get a lifetime license, which is a rarity in these days of software subscription - Videopad has been around long enough to prove itself a dependable tool for those who have outgrown the likes of Windows’ in-built tools (found rather confusingly in the Photos app).
And while we hope to see great things in the upcoming redesign and update, the app as it stands now is no slouch. The developer’s website is home to all kinds of tutorials, from a very basic introduction to video editing, to advanced techniques such as green-screening and animation. Videopad aims to be a tool anyone can pick up and use, and succeeds in this.
- Read our VideoPad review
4. Corel VideoStudio Ultimate 2020: Great for all video types
Supports all types of video, and is very easy to use
Format: PC and Mac | 4K editing?: Yes | User level: Beginner to Expert
Confusingly sold in two different versions, Pro and Ultimate, with no clear reason why anyone would want the Pro version, VideoStudio is one of the few editing apps to support 360-degree video at the time of writing.
VideoStudio is easy to use, and comes with a website and forum full of advice and tutorials. Its developer Corel has been a big player in the creative software market for a long time with its Draw and Painter apps, and this shows in VideoStudio with the ability to paint onto the video timeline, recording your brush strokes to build up a picture over time or importing a still image to paint over.
Other advanced features include multicam editing for up to six cameras, 3D titles, enhanced color grading, and improved video stabilization. Its main drawback is that it doesn’t support tagging and organization of your clips library beyond a basic level, something included in other apps. Beyond this, however, it’s a great choice for the novice video editor.
5. CyberLink PowerDirector 18 Ultra: An decent all-rounder
An excellent all-rounder, if you're editing on PC
Format: PC | 4K editing?: Yes | User level: Beginner to Expert
If you're looking at video editing as a long term project, and you want to go from novice to expert, then CyberLink PowerDirector is a good choice for you. It has three different methods for video creation, ranging from a full-feature mode to a simple 'auto video' creator, which does much of the hard work for you. What we like is that no matter which mode you choose to use, you can always tinker with the final video using any of the tools available, so you really can get as involved as you like with the editing process.
CyberLink PowerDirector 18 Ultra supports just about every video type and export option you can think of, and will do 4K video, 360 footage, and more with ease. It's a complete package, and even has optimization to prevent it using too much of your computer's CPU power. One of the few downsides is that there's no Mac version, so you're limited to just PCs, and that it's more expensive than most of the other video editors on this list.
6. Shotcut: An open-source, free video editor
It's free, and constantly evolving, but harder to use
Format: PC and Mac | 4K editing?: Yes | User level: Beginner to Intermediate
Cross-platform and codec-independent, Shotcut is an open-source project maintained entirely by its community. For this reason, it can at times lack the polish of a fully professional piece of software, but there’s nothing stopping anyone from getting stuck right in and learning how it all works. The enthusiastic community means there’s a wealth of tutorials and help out there, from step-by-step lessons to YouTube videos showing how everything works.
And while it may look a little sparse when you first start it up, there’s no lack of functionality in Shotcut. Its use of pop-out windows and palettes to do specific jobs, rather than having everything on-screen at once, means the app is better suited to smaller screens than others, and Shotcut backs this up by needing less powerful PC specs overall. If your PC is a little behind in the CPU race, then this is an app you can use without needing to worry about overheating.
- Read our Shotcut Video Editor review
How we found the best video editing software
We used each program to create a test project, using identical elements for each one. We evaluated each program’s interface and workflow to see how intuitive they are. We also looked for and evaluated a list of basic and advanced tools to get a baseline of their usefulness. Export and production options were also considered. We also noted each program’s unique features that make them stand out from the crowd.
How much does the best video editing software cost?
You can expect to pay anywhere from $35 to $100 on consumer-level video editing software. But keep in mind that you don’t always get the best product for the highest price. Additionally, several of the programs we looked at have lower- and higher-priced versions, so you can get what you need and not pay for what you don’t. Some video editors are free, but there's usually some kind of catch or disadvantage to these programs.
Free vs paid video editing software
There are some free video editing solutions out there. Programs such as DaVinci Resolve and Shotcut are free downloads, and iMovie comes preloaded on every new Mac computer. While these products may be good for small projects and advanced users, they're not ideal for beginners and they often lack features.
Before you go the freeware route, we suggest downloading the free trials of the programs we’ve reviewed to see if they’re worth paying for. Nearly every program we tested has a free trial that lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 days. You’ll have some limitations, but you’ll probably come away with the information you need to know if you want to shell out the cash for a more versatile program.
Best video editing software for iPhone and iPad
Every new iPhone comes with the iMovie app preinstalled. This is a great option for most Apple users because it complements the software's desktop version very well. The workflow is almost identical, and it allows you to sync your projects via iCloud, meaning you can start a project on your computer and continue it on your phone later with all your changes intact. The iMovie app is the best for those who live entirely within the Apple ecosystem.
Outside of iMovie, there are a few other video editors you can download from the Apple App Store. Options include the mobile version of Adobe Premiere Rush, which has many of the same advantages as iMovie but with the benefit of being compatible Windows computers and Android devices.
You can also download VideoPad for iPad, which works a treat. We have reviewed VideoPad above, and while it's currently a little dated, we do think it's simple to use and is a very powerful tool overall.
Advice from the pros
We also reached out to professionals who use video editing software on a regular basis and asked what aspects are most important to look for in consumer-level programs. Drew Tyler, instructor of digital media at Weber State University, told us there are two primary questions to answer: “Does it fit your ecosystem?” and “How much do you want to grow into the software?”
Tyler explained that the software you buy should complement the hardware you use, as well as the type of project you’re working on. “You want to have software that will work well with your phone, digital camera, action cam or whatever you’re shooting on. If you plan on shooting on a lot of different devices, you want a program that’s compatible with a lot of different formats.”
He went on to say that your end goal should also play a big part in your decision, advising that if you’ll edit video infrequently, you should get simpler software. “If it’s a one-off project, the fewer whistles the better,” Tyler said. He called out Adobe Premiere Elements as a good choice because it has easy-to-understand workflows for non-editors.
The best video editing software must be easy to use
We also spoke with Richard Dutcher, an independent filmmaker and director of eight feature films including Brigham City, Falling, God's Army, and Evil Angel. He told us that the time you spend learning a new program is at a premium. “I like things that are intuitive and with the fastest learning curve. The less time spent becoming familiar and proficient the better. The sooner I can get to work and putting the film together – that’s the most important thing to me.”
After making his first two feature films, Dutcher started editing his projects himself rather than hiring a trained editor. And he recommends that independent directors do the same. “When I’m shooting a film, the reason I choose particular shots and what to do with the camera is because the film is already taking shape in my head.” Dutcher continued, “No editor will see the film exactly as you see it. And some editors don’t understand what’s a good a performance and what isn’t, and they don’t understand what’s a good shot and what’s a good edit. That’s just the simple truth of it.”
When asked if he had any advice for newbie editors learning the software, he recommended third-party resources. “Classes are great if they’re available and affordable,” Dutcher said. He also advised new video editors to “buy the manuals that are not published by the software companies, such as 'Final Cut Pro for Dummies,' because they’re written by actual users, and written in language that’s more accessible.”
Multi-cam editing features
Additionally, we spoke with Greg Andersen of South Weber, Utah. He has been working in the video media industry for 20 years. In that time, he’s produced and edited video for projects ranging from television shows to video reviews, a daily tech news show, independent films, commercials and freelance projects.
We asked him what new developments in video editing software he finds to be useful in his work. He emphasized the rise of multi-cam editing features, which save a lot of time with freelance projects. “The thing with any video production standpoint, like any business, time is money,” Andersen said.
“Specifically, with weddings when you’re filming a bride and a groom giving their vows, the last thing they want to see is a video camera guy running to the left and right,” explained Andersen.
Andersen continued to express the importance of saving time by using multi-cam editing features. “You can dump multiple files at the same time, and through sound matching they can pull those together and layer them right on top of each other and have them ready to go for you. So, you don’t have to try to sync things yourself. And that’s invaluable,” said Andersen.
We also reached out to Brandon Young, video producer for Harmons Grocery. He currently produces much of the company’s video content as well as its photography. He’s also worked for various corporations producing video content.
When we asked what the most important factors are in choosing a video editing program, Young said, “The biggest thing as far as software is concerned is what type of plug-in support is there. If there are no plugins, what type of effects and things can you do in the program?” He cited effects, color correction and multi-cam functionality as particularly helpful.
We also asked Young what he thinks newbies should do to grow their video editing skills. “Outside of the software stuff is watch content and watch how it’s done. That’s the biggest thing. As far as software is concerned, experiment, mess around with it. It may turn out to be garbage, but just get the basics figured out,” Young said.