For those familiar with the world of photo editing, there’s an easy parallel to make with Shotcut Video Editor: The GIMP. Despite the funny acronym, the GNU Image Manipulation Program is surprisingly powerful and a rival to the best Adobe can put out, plus it’s available for free. It’s just not particularly intuitive, and can take some time to learn, especially if you’re used to other applications.
That’s Shotcut too. Free, open source, remarkably powerful, just with some rough edges. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, in fact it can be a excellent application to learn and use, it’s just that you can get more polish and more features elsewhere. It’s free, so worth giving a try, and it's included in our guide to the best video editing software. It’s also notable for having nice low minimum system requirements, opening up video editing to those who may not have the latest CPUs . You’ll still need 16GB of RAM to edit 4K footage natively, however, so look to the best laptops or home computers if you need a more powerful set-up.
Shotcut review: Ease of use
The basic Shotcut user interface is a bit sparse by the standards of other non-linear video editors, which like to throw the kitchen sink at you in terms of windows, menus and options. It’s all there though - click any of the buttons along the top of the interface and they’ll add modules to your workspace. In this way, you can make things as complex as you like, removing modules you’re not using when they get in the way. It is, however, tricky to load up and start using if you’ve got no experience of similar applications. The instructional videos are a must-watch if you’re a complete novice.
Once you’ve got your clips ready and begun editing, there are handy time-savers such as the way clips snap together, and trimming that’s a case of placing the playhead and clicking once. You can copy and paste your clips around. We particularly like the Adobe-like History palette, which lists every action you’ve taken so you can step back through them in the event you make a mistake.
One area Shotcut excels in is its filters. This is where you’ll find chroma-keying, to remove a green-screen background, as well as a lot of simple preset visual looks and film simulations. There are also transitions, effects stacking and keyframe animation on offer. The text-editing tools, used to create titles and credits sequences, are excellent: your text can be static or animated, flat or 3D, and applied in classic styles you’ve seen many times before, or drop in from the top and fly around your frame. If you’re happy with what you’ve created, you can save it as a preset and use it again.
Shotcut review: Speed
A new feature in Shotcut is Preview Scaling, which allows you to edit lower-resolution previews of your video clips before rendering the final result at full resolution. This takes a lot of the strain off your processor, and opens the app up to running on lower-end hardware. It’s worth enabling if your computer is starting to struggle with full-resolution editing, as it can speed things up considerably.
As with most video editing software, though, the best way to speed things up is to run the application on a computer with a more powerful processor, plenty of RAM and high-speed solid state storage. There’s GPU assistance through Open GL, and multicore parallel image processing if you don't have a GPU, plus you can capture video direct from your webcam if you want to. And for those guerilla editing projects where you want to leave no trace, you can run Shotcut as a portable app from an external hard drive.
The only thing slowing Shotcut down, for beginners at least, is its slightly kooky interface. There’s nothing particularly unusual about it, just that the idea of keeping things sparse and snapping the modules you want into place using a range of interface buttons goes against the general direction of other apps that do the same job, which is that more is more and you’d better have multiple screens. Perhaps it’s tied into the lower system requirements of Shotcut compared to other apps - you can’t expect someone editing on a ten-year-old CPU to have multiple 4K monitors, after all. This aside, it can be unintuitive, and you wonder what led the developers to place a particular option where they did.
It’s worth noting that Shotcut can’t share your final results directly to websites such as YouTube, a function that a lot of competitor apps have. You’ll need to export and upload manually, which isn’t a particularly onerous task but can slow things down.
Shotcut review: Value
As with all free applications, it’s hard to talk about Shotcut in terms of value. People have put years of their lives into creating this app, and choose to give it away for free when it could function perfectly well as a commercial product. We’re unendingly grateful to them for doing this.
What we can do is compare it to other products. DaVinci Resolve is the most obvious candidate, as it’s also available for zero dollars, even if it is a thinly disguised front for selling you expensive hardware. Of the two, we’d probably pick Resolve if we were serious about using our editing skills professionally, and Shotcut if we ‘just’ wanted to cut home movies and make funny music videos with the kids. The two applications both have online tutorials, but if you were thinking of spending some money, consider Adobe Premiere Elements, as it embeds its tutorials into the application and teaches you to edit video using the tools available on-screen.
If you decide you like Shotcut, and want to learn more about it, there are free tutorial videos on YouTube, as well as a paid-for video training course linked to from the Shotcut website.
Should you choose Shotcut?
Shotcut is free, so there’s nothing to stop you from downloading it and trying it out. Its ability to run as a portable app means you can try it out on a range of computers to see how well it runs without having to actually install it, and the wide range of video formats it handles means you’ll never be short of clips to edit, whether they come from your cellphone, webcam, or something much older. Shotcut is a good product to try out, and there’s plenty of depth if you decide to stay with it.