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Best video editing software 2019: anyone can be a movie-maker

Video editing software
(Image credit: Asus)

The best video editing software will not only produce a high quality video, but should let you chop, change and mix up all kinds of video into a single film. Whether you are working on a 80's style video montage for your personal YouTube channel or working on a sophisticated advertisement campaign to connect to a new audience through Facebook - video editing software will help you with your project. 

Best for value: VideoPad

If you need a basic program for basic projects, this application might suit your needs. It has some great tools for a much lower price.

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But unless you have experience editing videos or have worked on films previously, it is very hard to know what features to look for in a video editing software. We break down the basics any decent video editing  should provide and talk about how these features can help you while you produce your project. 

At Top Ten Reviews we’ve researched and tested the best video editing software for 16 years. Each year, we spend dozens of hours evaluating, comparing and rating each product.  

At the end of our most recent analysis, we chose CyberLink PowerDirector as the best overall program. Its full array of tools will satisfy both the novice user and the veteran editor. 

It’s packed with many of the same tools found in professional video editing software. And its 99-track timeline gives you the flexibility to complete complex projects. 

Cyberlink PowerDirector

PowerDirector has consistently topped our video editing charts for more than a decade

Easy to learn, regardless of skill level
Has every video editing tool we look for
Outstanding exported video quality
Cannot export into the MOV file format
Requires time to learn how to use
No Mac version of the software

Cyberlink is often the first to roll out new and innovative tools and features. For example, it pioneered multi-cam functionality for consumer-level software. That technology was previously only found in professional programs like Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. Cyberlink’s basics are also top-notch. This program has a 99-track timeline, which gives nearly unlimited versatility. You can make simple videos quickly but also delve deeply into complex projects. You may never edit a feature film with this software, but it is more than capable of that task. In our ease-of-use evaluation, PowerDirector earned an A. The interface is intuitive, the tools are accessible, and even the most advanced features are simple to learn. You can unlock the fullest potential of the program easily if you learn how to use the tools properly.

Cyberlink PowerDirector 17 Ultra review

2. VideoPad: best value

VideoPad

VideoPad

If you want a functional video editing program at a fraction of the price, consider VideoPad

Unlimited video/audio editing tracks
Compatible with the ultra-high-definition 4K video resolution
Price-to-feature ratio best of all the applications we reviewed
Lacks advanced features like multi-cam and action-cam modules
Exported videos sometimes have imperfections like pixelation and motion blur
No automatic video creator

You’ll find the familiar timeline/storyboard workflow, along with other basic tools such as titles and credits, effects and transitions, and a chroma-key (green screen). It also has some, but not all, of the advanced tools you need to make an outstanding video. You’ll get a video stabilizer to smooth out shaky footage, 4K compatibility for footage from the newest cameras, 3D editing, motion tracking and more. But there are some significant trade-offs. For example, there are no themes or templates. So, you’ll need to build every project from scratch – not very appealing for beginners. It also lacks an automatic video creator and slideshow creator, which are also great for novices. This program lacks multi-cam and 360-degree editing features that you would find on more expensive programs. If you want the newest, greatest effects and tools, this is not the program for you.

VideoPad review

3. Wondershare Filmora: best for beginners

Wondershare Filmora

Wondershare Filmora

Filmora makes video editing simple enough for everyone

Geared specifically for beginners and non-editors
All tools and features can be accessed from the main window
Available for both PC and Mac
No 3-D or 360-degree video editing
No storyboard mode
No action cam module

The whole experience is geared around making it as easy as possible to turn your project into reality. However, it’s simplified to the core. All the tools are accessible from the main window of the interface and there’s no guesswork as to what a tool does or how to use it. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the process. This program provides access to tools from basic trimming and cropping to advanced features like picture-in-picture editing, audio mixer, chroma-key, split screen, video stabilization and much more. Filmora excels at teaching people to use these tools, and anyone with the patience to learn will find it useful. Filmora also has some of the best sharing options of the programs we reviewed. When you’re done with your project, you can export it to a file, upload it to YouTube (or other video-sharing site) or even burn a DVD.

Wondershare Filmora review

4. Adobe Premiere Elements: best for quick videos

Adobe Premiere Elements

Adobe Premiere Elements

Adobe Premiere Elements was the best when you want to edit quickly

It offers multiple ways to learn how to edit video
Not many sharing options compared to rivals

The program’s quick mode is one of three editing modules within the program, and it offers two video creation options. The first is a simple trimming feature; simply load the video you want to cut and select the video’s focus (action or people). The program then uses its smart trim technology to highlight the best parts of your video and cuts out the rest. The second option allows multiple videos to be selected and arranged on what Adobe calls the “Scene Line.” This is a version of a traditional storyboard editing workflow and allows you to easily arrange clips and add other basic elements like music, text and transitions.

Adobe Premiere Elements review

5. MAGIX Movie Edit Pro Plus: most dynamic timeline

MAGIX Movie Edit Pro

MAGIX Movie Edit Pro Plus

Timeline lets you to put any type of media on any of its 200 editing tracks

You can put any type of media on any editing track
Downloading and installing the entire effects library takes a long time

One of the most unique features we encountered in our review of the best video editing programs is MAGIX’s timeline. MAGIX calls this “object-based editing.” It allows you to put any type of media on any of its 200 editing tracks.

Other video editing applications have dedicated tracks for video, audio, images, effects, etc. Object based editing makes the program more dynamic and easier to manage tracks.

This program also employs proxy editing, in which the program creates lower-resolution copies of videos to use during the editing process. This cuts down on the time it takes to import, render and preview projects before you export them. When you’re done, it uses the original source files to export the final project.

MAGIX Movie Edit Pro Plus review

Why trust us?

We have been reviewing video editing software since Top Ten Reviews launched in 2003. We have watched these programs grow from simple timeline editing to include tools that were only dreamed about for programs at the consumer level. Every year, we gather all the best software and use each program to create dozens of videos. The reviewers who evaluate video editing software all have a background in media production, particularly video.

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.

Ease of use grade

We considered things like how easily you can important and organize the elements of your project like video, audio and images. We also looked at how easy it is to perform basic tasks like placing elements on the timeline, splitting clips and arranging media. We also considered how easily editing tools are accessed and used. If a tool is difficult to find, awkwardly implemented or counterintuitive, it can slow down your edits. We quickly discovered that the more accessible everything is, the better the editing experience will be. We gave each program an A to F grade based on this evaluation.

Quality grade

We created, exported and reviewed all of the results. We watched every video we made, looking for imperfections in the video and audio. Flaws such as pixelation, compression artifact, motion blur and more were present in most of the videos we examined, but they varied greatly depending on which program we used. Each program was given an A to F quality grade based on this evaluation.

Robust video tool sets

The best video editing applications are simple to use and offer robust video tool sets. As you search for the right software for your projects, think about the basic and advanced tools each program offers, its export and production options, and the help and support the company provides.

Basic tools

All the video editing programs we reviewed can help you blend your footage, audio clips and images to create new and unique videos. They also all offer basic nonlinear video editing tools. Timelines, storyboards, transitions, titles and audio editing are all common fare for the products we reviewed. These applications also have video effect libraries. The number of available effects varies from program to program; however, a library with more than 500 effects is usually sufficient for any non-professional project.

The truth is, you’ll get roughly the same results from all the programs we reviewed when you just use their basic tools to edit your footage. As such, it’s most important to focus on usability.

Simple video editor programs have an easy or basic mode for beginners. This is distinct from the familiar timeline and storyboard modes and often reduces editing to its most basic concepts and tools. Some applications make the process even easier by scanning your media and creating a video with it automatically. The best video editing programs let you manipulate the automatically generated video after it has been compiled.

Easy-to-use applications also come with basic themes and templates you can use for both simple and advanced projects. You can add your footage to these templates and customize them with themes that are appropriate for a child's birthday party, a vacation highlight reel or even a mock movie trailer starring you, your family and your friends.

Advanced tools

Once you’ve cut your teeth with the basic video editing tools, you can move on to using the more powerful ones. The best editing software is compatible with all the latest video and audio technology on the market today. For example, they can import, edit and export at ultra-high-definition 4K resolution. This makes your videos crisp, clear and enjoyable on today’s large ultra-HD televisions.

Another advanced tool worth noting is a multi-cam editor, which combines videos of the same event taken at multiple angles on different cameras. It even automatically syncs them so you can smoothly switch angles.

The best video editing applications have tools that allow you to capture, edit and produce videos recorded by action cams like GoPros and Drift Innovation’s Ghost-S. These tools are generally as good as or better than the ones in the software that comes bundled with the cameras themselves. You can use them to stabilize shaky video, correct fish-eye distortion, enhance color, and pan and zoom around your footage. They can even slow down and reverse the video.

Even though 360-degree video is in its infancy, there are a few consumer-level cameras that can capture video in this advanced format. The best video editing software helps you build a compelling story out of your 360-degree footage that makes your audience feel like they are standing in the middle of it all.

Export & production

The best video editing programs for Windows make it easy to export your film as popular file formats such as MP4, MOV, AVI and WMV. Normally, the software has presets for each format. Some programs we reviewed allow you to export into less common formats. While this is useful in some cases, the most popular formats will usually meet your needs.

In addition, all the video creation software we tested can optimize your videos to share on sites like YouTube and Facebook. However, the best applications let you upload your finished videos to social media directly from their export menus.

Since people now watch, store and share videos on tablets and smartphones, it's important for video editing programs to be able to export to these devices. Nearly all the products we reviewed can do so to some degree, but the best ones have companion mobile apps you can sync with their desktop counterparts, which makes transferring faster and more secure.

Disc authoring tools are another essential feature to consider if you intend to distribute DVDs or Blu-ray discs of your videos. Authoring options can be quite extensive; for example, you may be able to insert chapter markers, build disc menus and include extra features, just like in Hollywood-produced movies. The best video editor programs have a lot of authoring tools.

Help & support

Even though these programs make the task much easier, video editing is difficult and time consuming. There may be times when you need help, especially if you have limited experience. This help can come in the form contacting the software developer by online chat, reading FAQs and knowledgebase articles on its website, or watching free tutorials.

The most useful tool a manufacturer can provide is a community dedicated to video editing. These are places where editors can share, learn and collaborate. The value of these online communities is significant, especially for editors refining their skills.

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.

Free vs paid video editing software

There are some free video editing solutions out there. Programs such as Windows Movie Maker and VSDC are free downloads, and iMovie comes preloaded on every new Macintosh computer. While these products may be good for small projects, you don’t get the advanced tools necessary to really make your projects shine.

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

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 a handy app called Splice. This program includes the familiar array of features, including those for trimming, cropping and adding simple effects. However, it also has some unique features – for example, it can sync a video to a musical beat automatically. In addition, unlike Adobe Rush and iMovie, it has a more traditional timeline that allows you to work with multiple tracks, making it a bit more versatile.

Best video editing software for Chromebook

Our top choice for Windows video editing software, PowerDirector, has an Chromebook-compatible app. It’s a watered-down version of the main program, but it has much of the same functionality and works well. Probably the biggest hurdle is adjusting to using a mobile app on a laptop. The app is free to download and use, so there are ads and in-app purchase offers.

The app's multitrack timeline is done well, considering it is meant to be used on a smartphone or tablet. The program also includes more than 50 effects and transitions and customizable titles as well as tools that adjust picture values like contrast, saturation and brightness. As an added convenience, you can post your videos to YouTube and Facebook directly from within the app.

If you allow the program to connect to your Google account, you can automatically use media you’ve stored in the cloud. So, if you take a lot of video with your phone that syncs to the cloud, it will be ready to go on your Chromebook without having to manually import it – a huge convenience.

Best video editing software for GoPros

If you have a GoPro or another action cam, you know that it takes special software to handle the large, highly detailed footage they capture. Action cam creators usually have their own software, like Quick, which is made by GoPro. These are fine programs that allow you to import, edit and enhance your action cam footage. However, they don’t have many of the advanced features you find in the video editing software we reviewed.

Our top choice for this category, PowerDirector, has an integrated action cam module. It allows you to import footage from your action cam, apply lens correction, stabilize footage and adjust white balance and color. There are also some action cam effects like timeshift and freeze frame which are very useful. And because it’s integrated directly into PowerDirector, you don’t have to use multiple programs to incorporate action cam footage into your project.

Other video editing software developers offer programs exclusively devoted to action cams. For example, Magix, which makes Movie Edit Pro Plus, also makes Fastcut. This allows you to streamline projects made primarily with action cam footage. Fastcut has some great features, like templates for quick projects and a beat detector to help you line up your footage with audio to help enhance your action cam project.

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?”

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

Drew Tyler

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 and Wondershare Filmora as good choices because they have easy-to-understand workflows for non-editors.

For those who plan to edit more regularly, CyberLink PowerDirector is a good choice. “Cyberlink gives you room to grow, which is key for people who do this often,” Tyler stated.

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.