What are the best free video editing programs?
There three main contenders for computer desktop video editing. They are Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut X and Avid Media Composer. They are all great at what they do and are professional editing programs. The cost of them varies. Adobe Premiere Pro has a subscription that you pay every month, Final Cut X has a one-off charge and Avid Media Composer has a purchase price or a monthly subscription.
In the past, these would have been your only choices but recently some companies have been releasing some great editing programs that are free. You would think that because they are free they would not be as good as other bought editing programs, but this is not so. Some of the free editing programs are easily as good as their paid for rivals.
There is now no excuse not to be editing on professional video editing software. Not only will you become a better video editor but your final video will look great too. So if you are a little strapped for cash, here are some of the best free video editing programs.
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DaVinci Resolve started out as video and film grading tool and a colour correction program. Recently, its creators BlackMagic Design added a fully featured editing suit to the software and made it free to users. Video editors can now manage media, edit, colour correct, mix audio and deliver to any video format from the same program. Resolve has six sections that do different post-production tasks.
The media section is where you manage your video clips and import media. The cut section is for fast edits. The edit section is where you assemble and cut your video in detail. The audio section is where you sound mix your video. The colour correction section is where you correct image problems and do your grading. The final section is where you export your final video for the web, DVD or Blu Ray.
In the editing section you will find all the usual tools that a professional video editing program should have. It feels similar to the discontinued Final Cut Pro 7, so users of that program will feel right at home. You can do splice, roll and ripple edits and move around the timeline just like you would in Premiere Pro. You can even see audio waveforms under the video in the source monitor, which is useful for editing your video clip’s audio.
You can also do multicam editing with up to 16 different angles. So if you have just shot a music video, this will help to synchronise all those different video clips. Resolve has a fully featured title tool so if you want to add titles you can. You can change font, text size, colour and add text animations.
The audio section of Resolve uses the Fairlight digital audio workstation software. This will allow you to edit your audio in incredible detail and add advanced audio effects. It is like having a professional audio editing program like Cubase or Logic built into your video editing software. So if you are into sound design, you will have plenty of control over your audio.
You can fully customise the keyboard in Resolve to how you like to edit. If you are familiar with other editing programs like, Premiere Pro, Final Cut X or Avid you can set Resolve to match those programs keyboard layouts.
Resolve’s colour correction tools are excellent. You have incredible control over your video clip’s image. You can correct any image problems and apply any grading you would like. The software started life as a colour grading tool so you will not lack for features when it comes to adjusting your image.
Resolve also has fully featured effects suite called Fusion for adding transitions, fades, dissolves and other video effects. DaVinci Resolve is available for Mac, PC and Linux so no matter what computer you have, Resolve is available for you. The free version has a few limits, like not being able to export above 4k, but in general you will not find it lacks for much. I should also mention that you need a fast computer to run this software as it can make great demands on the processor.
Resolve can be a little difficult to learn for the new user and I would not recommend it for a beginner. But if you want to dive in and use this great free video editing program the rewards are huge. I think that DaVinci Resolve is the best free editor program available at the moment. It can easily compete with Premiere Pro and Final Cut X. When it comes to low budget filmmaking, this software is a must and you should defiantly try it out.
Lightworks from Editshare has been around for some time and has cut endless big budget movies. It was the software choice for editing award-winning feature films like Pulp Fiction, L.A. Confidential, and Moulin Rouge. It is a fully featured free video editor that has a legacy that goes back over 20 years. It supports all the major formats form SD, HD, 2k, 4k and many others. All the usual non-linear editing features are present and you won’t find there is much it cannot handle.
There are four tabs to help you improve the look of your video that use fast and intuitive tools with real-time effects. There is a log window to help you to import and manage your media. There is an edit section that gives you two windows. One for your source clips and another one for your timeline clips. You will also find here the usual timeline for editing.
There is a visual effects section for you to add transitions, video effects and colour grading. Finally, there is an audio section for you to adjust your sound mix and add audio effects.
Lightworks does have some limits and you will need to pay a monthly subscription or buy the software outright to make available all the video export choices. This means the free version will only export out to MP4 with a maximum resolution of 720p for the web. For many users this will be all they need but if you want more choices you will have to pay for it.
I think that this program is great and until Davinci Resolve Free came along was my number one free editor. It is available for Mac, PC and Linux so there are plenty of choices for your computer’s OS. Like Resolve, it may take you a little time to learn all its features but stick with it and you will see the benefits of this great free editing software.
HitFilm Express is the free version of HitFilm. The full version is $299.99 but its little brother, the Express version, has more than enough features for most video editing tasks. It has the usual editing features you would expect to find in an editor and has the bonus of a built in visual effects compositor. This will allow you to edit with 2D and 3D effects and offers over 180 visual effects and video transitions. So if you are into special effects, HitFilm will give you everything you could possibly need from a free video editor.
When you first start the software you will have the choice of editing or creating special effects. After this you will find the usual project, edit and export tabs that you need to edit your video. To start editing you bring in clips to a media bin, trim them in the trimmer window and then drag them into the timeline. In the timeline you can add any adjustable built in effects or add an audio track. To add more advanced effects or add text you switch over to the compositing mode.
HitFilm Express is social media ready and it has project settings for Instagram and YouTube. It has a maximum export resolution of 1080 HD. So if you want to export video shot in 4K you may have to upgrade to the paid version. It has various codec choices and compression settings. You can also export to Apple’s Quicktime format for Mac or AVI for Windows.
HitFilm Express is available for Mac and PC and if you only need to produce videos for YouTube or Vimeo, and you are new to video editing, this is a good starting place. The program is intuitive and you should be cutting pro videos in no time. It is a great free editing program and if you outgrow its limits, you can always buy the full version.
Avid Media Composer First
Avid Media Composer has been the number one choice for broadcast and feature film editing for nearly two decades. It has cut countless television programs and feature films. In the past you could only use Media Composer with expensive hardware. But a few years ago Avid released a software version of Media Composer. Since then digital video editing has changed dramatically and now Media Composer is facing some fierce competition from other video editing programs.
To get more users familiar with Media Composer, Avid have released a free version called Media Composer First. Now anyone wanting to learn Media Composer can try it out. Media Composer First is a limited version of Media Composer. It restricts you to exporting in H264 or Avid’s own DNxHD codec. You can edit in 4K but you can only export up to 1080 HD. This should be okay for most tasks though.
Media Composer First does support Mulitcam editing but you can only use up to four cameras. This is okay for most interview edits but you may struggle trying to cut a music video. There is also a basic set of effects including an image stabiliser and the ability to do Luma and Matte composting.
There are all the familiar editing tools you would expect to find in Media Composer and you can splice, insert and ripple and roll your edits on the main timeline. There is also a text tool but it can only do basic effects. You can however change the font, colour and size of your text to suit your video.
Media Composer First has lower system requirements than its bigger brother, which means it will work on lower performance computers as long as they are running at least 6GB of RAM.
There are some limits to Media Composer First. You can only have 5 bins in each project for your media. Sequences can have up to 4 video tracks and 8 audio tracks on the timeline. There are also limits to the colour correction tools but they should be good enough for simple image corrections.
Media Composer First is available for Mac and PC, so if you want to try out the industry leader in video editing, the choice is yours. There are many limitations to the free version of this software but if you are considering a career as a professional video editor, Media Composer First is a great way to see what Avid has to offer.
I have included iMovie as it is a free video editor that comes with any new Apple Mac. If you are a beginner editor then iMovie is a good place to start for doing basic editing and it has many features that will appeal to the novice. Because Apple own iMovie it will work great on most Macs.
You can edit and export your videos in 1080 HD and up to 4K. So if your video needs high-resolution, iMovie can handle it. It has the usual timeline editing features and you can stabilise and fine-tune your video clips with multiple editing tools.
To start a new project you just click the Create New button in the Projects browser and start importing your video clips. The controls for iMovie are hiding behind a set of icons in the upper right window. These hide all the tools you need to edit your video and keep the screen clean and uncluttered. Here you will find tools for colour correction, filters, cropping, noise reduction, titles, volume controls and special effects. There is even a built in music library to add a soundtrack to your video.
iMovie is not as fully featured as its big brother Final Cut X but it does come with extra content and templates to give your final videos the polish they need. There are even trailer templates to help you create a great promo for your video.
Because iMovie is an Apple only program you can only get it on a Mac. So if you are a PC owner you best look elsewhere. But if you are a Mac owner you will have this software already installed and it’s a great place to start learning how to edit your video.