Choosing video editing software can be challenging, and most creators will agree with that. Some tend to think that a well-known brand or high price guarantee the best results, but that’s not exactly so. Indeed, there are dozens of free video editing programs with feature sets so advanced that they leave the expensive ones far behind. And that is what a new YouTube creator should be looking for.
Here’s a piece of advice: When choosing video editing software, don’t look for the best one — look for the right one. Each program has something special to offer, so you need to figure out whether that something helps achieve your goals. Whether you stick to the list below or decide to continue searching on your own, we recommend you to keep the following characteristics in mind.
First, supported formats. You might use a professional camera or you might decide to shoot videos with an iPhone and a selfie stick — that’s your choice. What you might not want is to be forced to convert your videos to the required format each time before editing, so make sure your videos can be effortlessly opened in the chosen program.
Second, features available. Will you benefit from numerous visual effects or avoid them entirely? Are you planning to use screen capture or chrome key? Will your videos need color correction or voice over? Don’t be misled by an endless list of features — they might all be useless if the right one isn’t there.
Third, video export options. As a creator, you should be able to save your project in formats supported by YouTube: .MOV, .MPEG4, MP4, .AVI, .WMV, .MPEGPS, .FLV, 3GPP or WebM. H.264 codec is considered a current de facto standard for videos uploaded on the web — see if the program has it on the list.
Finally, check software limitations in advance. Some free editing programs put watermarks on videos, disable certain formats for export or restrict exporting all together. It can be an unpleasant surprise after hours of working, so make sure to read the fine print before starting a project.
Sounds a bit overwhelming? We’ve got you covered. Take a look at a brief overview of some great video editing programs below. Not only do they have comprehensive functionality, but they are also available at zero cost.
(Windows, Mac and Linux)
Lightworks has been on the market for 20+ years, and it’s the only multiplatform video editor at this level available for all three major operating systems. In the words of the developers, the program is compatible with “almost every format you can think of,” including ProRes, Avid DNxHD, AVC-Intra, DVCPRO HD, RED R3D, DPX, AVCHD and HD 422.
The free version of Lightworks allows you to play with titles, perform multicam editing and apply more than 100 built-in presets to improve the way your video looks. Yet its strongest side is not a set of transitions and visual effects, but a superior trimming feature designed to be fast and simple. That’s why, according to the website, Lightworks was chosen for such Hollywood movies production as “The King’s Speech,” “Bruce Almighty,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and others.
Export options: Lightworks archives, YouTube, Vimeo
Pros: Clean interface, spectacular ultra-precise trimming
Cons: Export options in Lightworks free version are limited to YouTube and Vimeo. That means you can only upload your project from timeline directly to a web account.
VSDC has been on the market for six years and deserves its reputation as a comprehensive all-in-one tool because of its rich feature set. Full format compatibility is the key advantage here, and unlike most free video editors, VSDC does not limit export options. In other words, it reads all the video formats and allows you to save in any of them as well. You can even export your project in H.265 codec for better compression qulaity.
Despite an old-school website design, VSDC is clearly up to date with the latest video editing trends. Among its features you’ll find numerous visual effects, a masking tool, Chroma Key and blending modes. As a YouTube creator, you might also make use of built-in screen capture and numerous ways to work with text and subtitles.
Export options: AVI, DVD, VCD/SVCD, MPEG, MP4, M4V, MOV, 3GP/3G2, WMV, MKV, RM/RMVB, FLV, SWF, AMV, MTV
Pros: VSDC has an impressive feature set and full format compatibility. The free version has no limitations.
Cons: The software interface will not be intuitive for someone who is switching from linear programs like Movie Maker. It might take some time and effort before you’ll be able to turn on your video editing conveyer machine.
DaVinci Resolve 12.5
(Mac and Windows)
When it comes to color correction and grading, DaVinci Resolve is a game changer. If you tend to be a perfectionist about image quality, you won’t find anything better. There is a tiny difference between the free and the paid version of DaVinci ($995), as the latter is aimed at filmmaking professionals and includes such features as noise reduction and 3D stereoscopic editing.
DaVinci Resolve allows you to perform multiple video editing procedures, such as trimming, applying transition effects or waveform audio editing. With OpenFX plug-in support, you can set up video filters according to your needs. Users love this software for its incredible color palette and automatic Shot Match tool, but using DaVinci for simple edits is probably like using a steam hammer for cracking nuts.
Export options: AVI, QuickTime, MP4, MOV, APNG
Pros: Unparalleled color correction
Cons: High system requirements: at least 4GB of graphics RAM. Also, you might encounter issues trying to import certain file types. Davinci’s preferable format to work with is ProRes, so conversion is highly recommended before starting.
HitFilm 4 Express
(Mac and Windows)
HitFilm is initially positioned as a video editor for independent movie makers, though lately it has become quite popular among Youtuber creators as well. This program is all about unleashing your creativity and letting your imagination fly. HitFilm focuses on visual effects — you’ll find over 140 of them including shake, rain, blood spray, explosion and procedural fire — but what makes it unique is 2D and 3D compositing tools that can easily compete with the ones in Adobe After Effects.
HitFilm 4 Express includes standard titling tools, color grading, a Chroma Key feature and audio editing. It is compatible with Quicktime, AVI, MOV, MP4, MPEG-1, MXF, DV, HDV and WMV.
Export options: QuickTime, MP4, AVI, YouTube direct upload
Pros: HitFilm 4 Express has a feature set for basic video editing and very few system requirements.
Cons: Some essential features are only available with a subscription, which makes the idea of HitFilm 4 Express free version inconsistent.
(OpenSource Linux. Windows and Mac installers in Beta)
As with most open source projects, OpenShot video editor has a supportive fast growing community and frequent updates. It works with all the formats supported by FFmpeg, for example, WebM, AVSHD, HEVC and popular audio codecs.
At a glance, the Openshot feature set does not look too outstanding in comparison with some previously mentioned products. You get a non-linear video editor with trimming, resizing, scaling and rotation features. You get multiple color Chroma Key, transition effects, audio editor and multiple tools for titling. Yet the “open source” tag is what makes this option special. For instance, due to FFmpeg support, you can customize output formats and create your own combination of bitrate, formats and codecs.
Export options: Simple mode: web-ready formats for YouTube and Vimeo, Advanced mode: customizable
Pros: The only high-end open source video editor.
Cons: According to user feedback, Openshot might be unstable and crash periodically.
(Windows and Mac)
If all you’re looking for in a video editor is being able to quickly cut out fragments, VideoPad might be suitable for your needs. This video editor is simplistic and feature-limited. However, it does what it says.
There are around 50 visual effects, Chroma Key, text overlay, basic audio editor and shaky footage stabilizer. You can also create voiceovers and add subtitles to your video. The free version’s interface is clean and will look familiar to those who’ve used Movie Maker before. The advantage of having a paid version of VideoPad is an ability to edit multiple video tracks simultaneously and use external plug-ins.
Export options: AVI, WMV, MPG, 3GP, MP4, MOV, direct upload to Youtube, Flickr or Facebook
Pros: Immediate installation, clean interface, drag’n’drop editing
Cons: Lack of documentation and support. Exported video seem to have minor quality loss, probably not visible on small screens.
Now that you have this list with all the shortcomings pointed out, we hope you’ll be able to pick one that suits your video editing needs and style.
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The articles here are very well written and informative, but the lack of a date at the top (other than the auto-updated header date that shows today’s current date) is a bit misleading. I understand that there is a risk of the site appearing irrelevant or the information appearing antiquated, but it really undermines the usefulness of the site when there is no context as to how old the information is (for instance, the article mentions that VSDC has been on the market for 6 years, however I believe it was released in 2011 (9 years ago)).
Anyways, thanks for putting together such good information – please do consider adding a date to the top of the page that reflects the actual date the article was written.
All the best!
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