People like movies – no question about it – but not everyone likes to go through the painstaking task of filming and editing their own feature-length film. It’s often a difficult process, one that can be filled with time-consuming chores and tedious work, not to mention a costly budget. However, simple video editing can be done on the cheap if you’re willing to part with powerful, high-end software like Final Cut Pro or Sony Vegas Pro in favor of a more modest program. Let’s face it, you’re probably not going to be making Spielberg-like films, but your home movies and YouTube uploads can take on a whole new shine with a few straightforward tools.
Here’s are our picks for the best free video editing programs for Windows and Mac OS X so you can channel your inner Michael Kahn or Thelma Schoonmaker on a nonexistent budget. Ready, set– EDIT.
Apple’s iMovie has long been one of the most consumer-orientated video editors out there. It’s packaged with iLife, a simple software suite that comes bundled with every Mac, and touts some serious practicability for the everyday user. The latest version of the software allows you to import and edit video clips from a variety of external devices, such as smartphones and professional camcorders, and sports a clean interface that is attractive and easy to navigate.
Aside from video, images and audio can also be incorporated into your project by simply dragging your desired multimedia into the project area and arranging them in timeline-like fashion. The resulting video can always be previewed in real time, as well as any effects – themes, text, music, etc. – before exporting the file directly to YouTube or burning it straight to DVD. Newly added features include an impressive Face Finder, a basic audio editor, and the ability to make your own movie trailers complete with transitions and end credits. It’s not a tour de force of video editing, but it’s perfectly suitable for home videos and minor projects.
Like iMovie, Windows Movie Maker is another easy-to-use video editor capable of creating fresh videos without all the complicated bells and whistles of more robust programs like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro. The software allows users to combine video, images, and audio using a drag-and-drop method similar to iMovie, and it features all the essential functions we now come to expect from any basic editing software. Adding themes and effects is a breeze, as is trimming video and one-step uploading to various sites like YouTube and Facebook.
Limited format support is a drawback, but a decent video converter or media player can typically solve the issue within minutes. Additionally, the full-screen preview and high-definition webcam capture are also a plus, especially when combined with the sleek interface and native audio editing software featured on both the Windows 7 and Windows 8 versions. Windows Movie Maker certainly won’t floor you with its capabilities, but it does offer enough free incentives to keep the amateur video editor satisfied without the financial burden of the aforementioned heavy-duty programs.
Most of the software programs in our roundup can’t boast Hollywood credentials like Lightworks can. Edit Share LLC’s non-linear editing system has been used to help produce everything from Raging Bull and 28 Days Later to Pulp Fiction and Mission Impossible, offering a solid set of both free and premium tools that we simply can’t ignore. Features include professional-level color correction, GPU-accelerated real-time effects, video capture, and nearly an all-encompassing format support, as well as your traditional tools for importing, trimming, and seamlessly weaving audio and video together with a few effortless mouse clicks.
Other great inclusions are the program’s instant auto-save functionality, which works flawlessly in the background, and the ability to select Avid and Final Cut Pro keyboard layouts if you refuse to adopt Lightworks’ default design. Despite its brawny capabilities, it’s quick and on-point, and the full-screen interface is polished and well-organized to match. Also, given the open-source nature of the software and steep learning curve associated with the freemium product, the program’s forums are more bustling than most. Lightworks is by far the most fully featured video editor on our list, but it’s also the one requiring the most tech-savvy of user to truly tap into its powerful framework and flagship.
Avidemux is the Instagram of video editing software: quick, dirty, and impressively capable. The software is designed for quick trimming, filtering, encoding, and a slew of other basic features, which are all housed within an unfortunate, dull grey window that’s easy to navigate despite its Windows 95 appearance. The cross-platform software is open-source – with a resourceful wiki page to boot – and tasks can be automated using assorted projects, job queues, and custom scripting capabilities that push it slightly beyond barebones functionality.
Fortunately, with light features also comes a relatively light footprint, and Avidemux takes up little space compared to the other programs in our roundup. It also allows users to change extensions and select individual output formats when finished editing a video, but the less-than-friendly user interface makes it difficult to navigate the more intricate features and worthwhile tools. It may remain a bit buggy and prone to crashing, but the program’s defaults still work as intended. Avidemux is a standout choice once you learn your way around the software. Just remember to save your work.
VSDC Free Video Editor isn’t as quick as it is reliable, but it does come bundled with a video-editing hodgepodge of features that will suffice for quick editing and additional conversion. The interface appears a tad outdated yet clean, sporting a minimalistic design and a simple navigation ribbon that isn’t nearly as complex as it may look. The software handles many common formats – from AVI to MP4 – and tackles combining audio and video effects with ease.
Commonplace tasks such as altering lighting, splicing video, and applying filters and transitions in post production, can also all be comfortably carried out within program without any previous user experience or prior software knowledge. It does run slow when utilising more power-intensive tools, but the recent builds rarely crash and offer optimised save outputs for a variety of devices, including smartphones and gaming consoles. Like Light works, the non-linear editing system is able to produce stellar, professional-grade videos in the right hands, but users will have to get over the moderate learning hurdle before they really start to see what VSDC Free Video Editor is capable of.
While Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, and Lightworks may take the crown as far as free video editing software goes, there are scores of other free programs capable of performing basic video-editing functions without dipping into your wallet. They might be a little lackluster, slow, or unattractive, but they still are worth a look if Microsoft and Apple’s user-friendly software fails to catch your eye. Check out some of the better ones below.
- Pinnacle VideoSpin (Windows)
- YouTube Editor (Web-based)
- DebugMode Wax (Windows)
- Google Picasa (Windows/Mac)
- VirtualDub (Windows)
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