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.
However, simple editing can be done on the cheap if you’re willing to ditch powerful, high-end software such as Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere, in favor of a more modest program. Let’s face it, you’re probably not going to be taking home the Palme d’Or with the film you cut on your laptop, but your home movies and YouTube uploads can take on a whole new shine with a few straightforward tools.
Below are our picks for the best free video editing software available for Windows and MacOS (you may also want to read about the best free photo editors). Now you can channel your inner Michael Kahn, Thelma Schoonmaker, or Arthur Schmidt on a nonexistent budget. Ready, set, edit!
Most of the software programs in our roundup can’t boast Hollywood credentials like Lightworks can. EditShare’s non-linear editing system has been used to help produce everything from LA Confidential and Pulp Fiction, to Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street, offering a solid set of both free and premium tools that we simply can’t ignore.
Notable features include professional-level color correction, GPU-accelerated real-time effects, video capture, and nearly all-encompassing format support. Lightworks also offers traditional tools for importing, trimming, and seamlessly weaving audio and video together with a few effortless mouse clicks. However, the free version is only capable of exporting MPEG-4 files with a resolution of up to 720p.
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 as well. 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; however, it’s also the one that requires the user to be the most tech-savvy to truly tap into its powerful framework and flagship feature set. On that note, check out the best graphics cards around, too.
Apple’s iMovie has long been one of the most consumer-orientated video editors out there. It’s bundled with all new Macs, and touts some serious practicality for the everyday user. The latest version of the software allows you to import and edit 4K video clips from a variety of external devices, such as smartphones and GoPro cameras, and sports a clean interface that is attractive and easy to navigate. The ability to start editing on iPhone or iPad and finish on a Mac renders it even more convenient.
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, voice-overs — before exporting the file directly to YouTube, Facebook, or a wealth of other platforms.
Other recent features include a basic audio editor, the option to make previews for apps you’ve developed, and the even ability to make your own movie trailers complete with transitions and end credits. It’s not a tour de force in terms of video editing, but it’s perfectly suitable for home videos and minor projects. Consider combining it with free audio recording software!
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. The cross-platform software also remains 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 beyond barebones functionality.
With light features also comes a 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 they’re finished editing a video, but the less-than-friendly interface makes it difficult to utilize 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, making Avidemux a standout choice once you’ve learned your way around the software. Just remember to save your work.
Shotcut is a great video editor for at-home hobbyists who want as much compatibility as possible and simple, highly customizable interface. It supports most (literally hundreds) of formats via the FFmpeg project, and makes it easy to capture and use video right from your computer with support for up to 4K resolution.
We also like the modular style of the interface, which is simple except for the ability to “dock” as many panels as you want to customize a particular editing job with just the right tools. This makes Shotcut ideal for the experienced editor working on their own projects.
Hitfilm Express makes much of its trendy approach to video editing, promising tools to create the latest in Star Wars or Westworld effects. However, the software beneath the flashy visuals is effective at a range of 2D/3D compositing projects and includes 180 pre-made visual effects (with the option to purchase additional packages).
There are also tutorials and training videos showing you how to use them. It’s a good setup for new editors who are mostly interested in making their videos look cooler, and who may want to search for particular effects with the Hitfilm community.