Whether you’re making movies, vlogging your travels or plotting YouTube stardom, video editing software is the stuff that dreams are made of. The advantages of editing software over the snip-and-tape days of linear film editing are legion, but when it comes to choosing among the dozens of tools available, well, Houston, we have a problem.
For the aspiring videographer, we decided to make you an offer you can’t refuse: a rundown of the best video editing software available. Since needs vary, depending on goals and experience, we’ll name the top options for professional video editing and those built for enthusiasts.
The reigning king of the world is Adobe Premiere Pro, an advanced editor used by prosumers, film students and silver-screen greats. However, amateur filmmakers looking to save money should say “hello” to our little friend, Corel VideoStudio. While we recommend both, if neither appeals to you, we suggest a handful of alternatives to each below.
For those looking for a tool to sync and share their movies, give our best cloud storage for video guide a read. We also have a guide on how to backup video so you won’t lose your work in the event of a hard drive crash.
With the previews out of the way, it’s on to our main attraction.
Picking the Best Video Editing Software
The beauty of using software to make movies is that it allows for nonlinear editing. That means editors can do their thing without altering the source material. Prior to the early 90s, before digital cameras changed the game, most editing was linear, which was a much more time-consuming process, especially when mistakes were made.
Key to NLE is a timeline at the bottom of the editor. Use it to add, arrange and cut clips however you want. Whether you edit the beginning scene first or start from the middle or end, time code markers will help you keep it all straight. Most editors provide additional panes above the timeline for sources and previewing clips.
Over the last three decades, other features, as well as giant leaps forward in video resolution, have enhanced NLE. These features helped dictate the direction of our list, so let’s review the important ones.
Important Video Editing Features
Most video editing software supports 4K video, though some free video editors do not, and 360-degree video is becoming more common, even for consumer software. You’ll generally need more advanced tools such as Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X for 8K video, though.
Multicam editing lets you work with several camera angles at once and sync footage based on time codes and audio. Image stabilization smooths out shaky footage, which is helpful for shots using an action camera such as GoPro.
Motion tracking is another useful feature. It lets you isolate an object in a clip and apply effects that follow that object through the video. An example of that is brightening the colors of some elements while shifting everything else in the scene to black and white.
A related effect is video masking, which enables you to blur objects or remove them entirely. Time-remapping helps you speed footage up or slow it down, while pan-and-zoom lets you add additional motion to filmed clips.
To change the hue, saturation or even the colors of your work, good video editors have color-editing controls. Professional video editing software has a distinct advantage over cheaper tools in this area.
Effects libraries are another feature to look for, letting you add industry-quality special effects without having to export your clips to specialized applications such as Adobe After Effects. Title tools for credits, captions and other on-screen text are usually included in editing software, too.
Audio mixers are vital to making sure your sound isn’t too loud, soft or garbled. A feature called audio ducking will let you automatically lower one audio track, such as music, so that it doesn’t interfere with speech. Score stretching, meanwhile, automatically lengthens music tracks to match scene length.
Those are a few important features of modern video editors. We’ll mention more as we progress through our list. For now, let’s move on to our show stealer, Adobe Premiere Pro.
Best Video Editor for Professionals: Adobe Premiere Pro CC
Adobe Premiere Pro isn’t meant for those looking to dip their toes into video editing. It’s designed — and priced — for professionals and would-be professionals. The software has been used to edit multiple feature-length movies, including recent hits “Hail, Caesar!,” “Gone Girl” and “Deadpool.”
The software is downloadable for PC and Mac through the Adobe Creative Cloud client. It integrates with other Adobe software in the CC, such as Adobe After Effects, for special effects, and Adobe Audition, for audio. Take advantage of the seven-day Adobe CC trial to gain access to all those tools and test the product yourself.
Adobe Premiere Interface
The Premiere Pro interface is dark, so you can focus on your footage. The default editing layout has four panes. Going clockwise from the top left, they are “source preview,” “project preview,” “timeline” and “project assets.”
You’re not stuck with the default look, though. One of Adobe Premiere Pro’s strengths is its flexibility. Workspaces can be customized to your liking with adjustable toolbars and rearrangeable panels. The panels can be removed from the main interface and spread across multiple monitors to create your own editing bay.
Adobe has premade layouts based on task, so you don’t have to tinker with the interface yourself. Layout options include assembly, editing, color, effects and audio. You can switch between them quickly by clicking buttons along the top of the screen.
Adobe Premiere Pro Video Editing
Adobe sets the curve for features, with new releases about twice a year, which is one reason for its popularity with professional videographers.
Premiere Pro is capable of handling any video type, even cutting edge ones such as 8K and 360-degree. The latter can be viewed in anaglyph 3D, but you’ll need a pair of those red-and-blue glasses.
The software supports unlimited multicam angles, as opposed to 64 for Final Cut Pro. Footage from different cameras can be synced using the “merged clips” feature to save time, too. Audio can be synced, as well, and you can use sound to align your video clips automatically.
Color manipulation is another aspect of video editing in which Adobe ranks ahead of the competition. That is partly due to its handy Lumetri Color panel.
Basic adjustments such as white balancing, tone and saturation are available, as are sliders to sharpen your clip and adjust fade, saturation and vibrance. If you don’t feel like making adjustments, several presets are offered.
While you can use Adobe Audition to edit audio for your videos, switching between apps consumes time. Adobe Premiere’s built-in “essential sound” panel is easier to use than Audition and has enough features to address most needs.
Clips of audio can be highlighted and tagged as one of four specific sound types (dialogue, music, special effects or ambiance), each with its own customized options.
An auto-match button can adjust audio clips recorded at different levels, which is a useful time saver if you’re working with multiple sound sources. You can also retime music to match a clip, though that’s one area where Adobe Audition has the advantage.
Titles, captions and credits are created using the “essential graphics” panel. There are several templates available — “coming up next,” “presents,” “bold credits — or you can create your own.
Prebuilt animation effects made with Adobe After Effects are available to impress your viewers with minimal effort on your part, too.
You can keep project assets organized by creating custom bins and subfolders. An Adobe Premiere Pro CC subscription comes with 100GB to store those bins and subfolders in, which are accessible using a sync folder installed in your file system.
Adobe Premiere Pro Pricing
Adobe offers access to Premiere Pro through Adobe Creative Cloud, which is a subscription service. That means you pay few costs up front and get access to updates without having to buy upgraded software.
Pay for a single month or subscribe for a year to receive a 33 percent discount. Annual subscriptions can be paid for monthly if you’re on a budget or you can pay them in advance.
|Adobe CC Subscription Costs:||Month-to-Month Plan||Annual Plan Paid||Annual Plan Paid in|
|Premiere Pro CC:||$31.49||$20.99||$239.88|
|All CC Software:||$79.49||$52.99||$599.88|
Those subscriptions are available for Adobe’s full lineup of editing software, including Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver. After Effects is there, too, to add visual effects to your film.
For Adobe super fans, save money by subscribing to the whole shebang. An annual plan costs around $500. Month-to-month, you’ll pay about $80. With this subscription, you get up to 10TB of cloud storage. The Adobe name looms large in the industry, but it isn’t for everyone. Try it before subscribing with the seven-day trial offer.
Best Adobe Premiere Pro CC Alternatives
There are other video editors for the aspiring J.J. Abrams. The most likely Adobe Premiere alternatives to be found in a professional videographer’s editing room are Apple Final Cut Pro X and Avid Media Composer, though both have lost ground in recent years.
Apple provides a free video editor called iMovie that will satisfy hobbyists. For prosumers and professional videographers, Final Cut Pro X works well.
The “X” version of Final Cut Pro arrived as a complete overhaul in 2011. The revamp wasn’t an immediate hit with movie makers, though, since several key features were removed. Apple has steadily improved FCPX, regaining some of the predecessor’s popularity with indie filmmakers and film students, among others.
Mac users can download a 30-day trial version. The software isn’t available for Windows. If you’re a PC fan looking for a professional tool, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer are your best bets.
Apple Final Cut Pro X Interface
Apple has engineered an interface that breaks from tradition, but provides a more intuitive user experience than you can expect from other professional tools. If you’re used to traditional video editors, it’ll take some getting used to.
The FCPX workspace is dark gray for visibility and divided into four panes: “browser,” “viewer” and “inspector” along the top and a timeline across the bottom.
The big departure from other editors is a new take on the timeline. Final Cut uses a “magnetic timeline,” which takes a single-track, rather than multi-track, approach. “Roles” are key. They’re metadata that you can assign to video and audio clips, as well as graphics, such as titles. Roles help organize clips and control the arrangement of the timeline.
Four preset layouts are available: “default,” “organize,” “color and effects,” and “dual displays.” Parts can be added and removed to create custom FCPX layouts, but you can’t detach them into their own separate interfaces like you can with Adobe Premiere Pro.
Apple Final Cut Pro X Editing Features
FCPX supports up to 8K video editing. Virtual reality support is included with 360-degree video editing, along with 3D titles. You can preview VR clips by attaching an HTC Vive headset.
Multicam editing lets you edit and sync footage from different camera angles. Unrelated footage and photos can be grouped to create montages and image stabilization for action cameras is included, as well.
Precise adjustments to your clips can be executed from a dedicated color tab. Tools include an eyedropper and curves for colors, hues and saturation. High-quality effects are available, in addition to titles and transitions, and you can add more from third-party libraries.
Some of the best features aren’t for editing, but for organizing. These include libraries, ratings and tagging, each helping you use the same assets across multiple projects. Assets in libraries are automatically backed up to a separate drive.
A weakness of FCPX compared to Adobe Premiere Pro is that it doesn’t have many collaboration features, though it supports file locking to avoid having work overwritten.
Apple Final Cut Pro Pricing
Apple software doesn’t come cheap and Final Cut Pro X is no exception. On the plus side, the cost, substantial as it may be, is for a lifetime license. That may make it a better deal for the Mac crowd than Adobe Premiere Pro, but you’ll have to pay for upgrades.
You can obtain a license through the Mac App Store for $299, but, true to form for Apple, you can’t get it anywhere else. You can use the software on multiple computers, as long as you’re using your Apple ID, and the company provides a 30-day period to experiment with FCPX before you have to buy it.
From Avengers: Infinity War to Game of Thrones, Avid Media Composer has been used to edit more blockbuster films and television hits than any other software. Part of its success is that it was the software that made nonlinear, digital video editing mainstream in the 90s, meaning more professionals are familiar with it.
Media Composer doesn’t do much hand-holding, so you’ll have to be patient. While there are YouTube videos and guidebooks available, you may want to take a class on this one. Avid offers online courses and there’s a 30-day trial available for PC and Mac to follow along with them.
Avid Media Composer Interface
Media Composer lets you customize your workspace to your liking. Single views, full-screen playback and removable panels can be used to bring a multi-monitor editing bay to life.
The default looks as expected: dark gray for visibility, a timeline along the bottom and separate panes for source media and project previewing. Down the left, you can access projects and project bins.
A separate source browser can help you find assets more quickly.
Avid Media Composer Video Editing Features
Media Composer keeps up on video technology, supporting 4K, 8K and 360-degree video editing. Twenty-four tracks of video can be stored for project creation, which limits the number of angles available for multicam editing, but it’s rare to need that many, anyway.
You can use other software to create effects for Media Composer, but that won’t always be necessary. Built-in options include 3D warp, paint, animate, transitions and timewarp. Color correction tools, such as color curves, hue offsets and luma range are available to quickly change the feel of clips.
Built-in audio editing and sounds effects are available, too. Features include an audio mixer, audio ducking, audio punch-on for voice-overs, subframe editing, multimix and sample rate changes.
Media Composer can only sync video and audio for single takes, meaning one video clip and one audio clip. Unlike Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro X, more complex syncing requires the use of third-party software, such as Shooter PluralEyes.
Avid Media Composer Pricing
You can get Media Composer with a subscription or perpetual license. The perpetual license costs $1,299 and comes with a year of software updates and support. Given that a one-year subscription costs around $200, a perpetual license isn’t the value move if you want to get all the latest software updates.
|Avid Media Composer Subscription Costs:||Media Composer 1-Year Subscription Paid Monthly||Media Composer 1-Year Subscription Paid Upfront||Month-to-Month Subscription|
You can pay your one-year subscription on a monthly basis for $19.99 or you can just go month-to-month with no long-term obligation for $5 more. Support is available as long as your subscription remains active.
There’s a collaborative plan with workflows called Media Composer Ultimate for team editing. As with the standard plan, it comes with a 30-day trial, which your should take advantage of if you’re considering a one-year commitment or perpetual license.
Finally, Avid now has a feature-limited Media Composer First plan that’s free. You can’t create 4K video, or anything above, and there are other restrictions, but the user experience is similar to the professional software. The learning curve will be too steep for hobbyists, but Media Composer First is a good choice for students trying to learn the trade.
Best Video Editor for Enthusiasts: Corel VideoStudio
Adobe Premiere Pro CC is stellar software but it comes at a cost that hobbyists, vloggers and others won’t want to pay. Plus, the learning curve is steep since the software comes with many features meant for pros. If you’re looking for a suitable video editing software that’s less involved, consider Corel VideoStudio.
Like Adobe, Corel makes many products that have been around since the 80s (does anyone still use WordPerfect?), but VisualStudio is a relatively recent addition to its lineup, which it acquired from Ulead Systems in 2006.
Corel VideoStudio Interface
The simplicity of VideoStudio will appeal to those looking to learn the basics and get to editing quickly. Clear buttons and tooltips make it intuitive. There are three tabs at the top of the screen, “capture,” “edit” and “share,” that will guide you through the production process.
The edit view is where most of the action happens. It’s split into three panes: a video preview window and source library on the top half and a timeline along the bottom. Break out the video preview window and you can move it to a separate monitor.
Corel VideoStudio Video Editing Features
Corel can’t edit 8K video, but it can handle 4K Ultra HD and 360-degree VR. Multicam editing is supported for four or six angles depending on whether you buy VideoStudio Pro or VideoStudio Ultimate.
VideoStudio 2018 added split-screen video to incorporate multiple videos into one frame. Several templates will help you get the effect right. Two other new features are distortion correction for action cameras and 3D titles.
Additional drag-and-drop filters and effects were added to VideoStudio’s already nice collection. Color correction works well, too, even if the features aren’t as advanced as what you get with Adobe Premiere Pro or Apple Final Cut Pro X.
Pan-and-zoom, multipoint motion tracking, time-remapping and video masking are other features of note.
VideoStudio has an audio mixer to control the audio characteristics of your project, such as voice and music clips, but it’s basic.
While there are some misses, such as no storage bins, and other elements could be more developed, the editing capabilities provided by VideoStudio make it a bargain when you take the cost into account. We’ll look at that next.
Corel VideoStudio Pricing
How much you pay for Corel VideoStudio will depend on whether you buy VideoStudio Pro or VideoStudio Ultimate. The latter has more movie-making features, but both are priced affordably. In fact, a lifetime VideoStudio license costs about the same as three months of an Adobe Premiere Pro subscription.
|Corel VideoStudio Lifetime License Costs:||Corel VideoStudio Pro||Corel VideoStudio Ultimate|
Corel doesn’t offer subscriptions, but there is an upgrade option that will save you money on future releases of VideoStudio. The savings aren’t great, though. A Corel VideoStudio Pro upgrade currently costs $35.
Go through Corel directly and you’ll save money over purchasing from Amazon. Corel provides a generous 30-day free trial of VideoStudio, with no credit card required.
CyberLink PowerDirector is one of the easiest video editors to use, while still providing enough features that amateurs should have no trouble producing impressive creations for YouTube, Wistia or Vimeo. It also has one-click exports that let you share videos to Facebook for your friends and family to enjoy.
CyberLink PowerDirector Interface
PowerDirector has two interfaces for making videos: a timeline look and an innovative storybook mode. The timeline mode mimics the classic video-editing interface with assets and a video preview on the top half and a timeline running along the bottom.
Buttons down the left let you switch between rooms designed to control various effects. There are rooms for general effects, video overlay, titles, transitions, audio mixing and voice-overs, among others.
With storybook mode, you can drag and drop thumbnails of media files to construct a narrative. You have to switch to the timeline view for more advanced features such as effects, though.
CyberLink PowerDirector Video Editing Features
CyberLink was one of the first consumer editing tools to offer 360-degree editing for making VR films. It also supports 4K video. You can sync multiple videos shot from different angles at the same time using a multicam designer and automatically align shots using audio.
CyberLink lets you add many different effects, including voice-overs, titles and transitions. There are over 500 built-in visual effects, too. Rooms built for visual effects let you preview them first, then drag them onto your timeline to apply them.
PowerDirector Ultra features what CyberLink calls “true theater color technology,” which can be used to alter hue, saturation, brightness and make other color edits. Another feature, called “intelligent color correction,” can automatically adjust color settings across an entire project.
Other features of note include image stabilization and motion and object tracking.
CyberLink PowerDirector Pricing
Like Corel VideoStudio, CyberLink hasn’t gotten on the subscription bandwagon yet, but it’s price is low enough that it doesn’t matter that much.
|CyberLink PowerDirector License Costs (Approximate):||PowerDirector Ultra||PowerDirect Ultimate|
CyberLink runs frequent sales. For example, at the time of this writing, PowerDirector Ultra was being sold at a 40 percent discount for $70. Licenses are good for life, with discounts available for upgrades. Right now, an upgrade for Ultra costs just over $50.
The trial is good for 30 days, which should be plenty of time to play with the software and produce a Hollywood blockbuster or two.
Pinnacle Studio is another Corel product, but it’s developed separately from VideoStudio. It’s somewhat more advanced than VideoStudio, though harder to use. In that way, it’s better for prosumers than hobbyists.
Pinnacle Studio Interface
The appearance of Pinnacle Studio has undergone many improvements over the years but it still feels a little distracting, even with a dark-gray background. Part of the problem is that many on-screen elements, taking the focus away from the work itself.
The layout includes a timeline along the bottom, a preview pane on the top right and source content on the top left. You can pull panels off and rearrange them. The timeline is magnetic, as with Apple Final Cut Pro X, letting you drag clips and snap them into place.
Navigation buttons down the left let you switch to the audio mixer, play with effects and add transitions and titles. At the top of the screen, you’ll find buttons for importing and exporting video.
Pinnacle Studio Video Editing Features
Both 360-degree video and 4K video are supported, though the latter requires the more expensive Pinnacle Studio Ultimate edition.
Multicam editing is possible, but only up to six camera angles at once, which also requires Ultimate. Pinnacle Studio Plus allows just four angles to work with. Camera angles can be aligned using audio or time codes and markers.
To make editing easier, assets can be rated and tagged to find them more quickly in your library. Project bins let you sort clips, photos and sound files.
Keyframing is a newer feature for Pinnacle Studio that lets you precisely time effects such as filters, panning and zooming. Pinnacle Studio comes with a nice selection of transitions and over 2,000 special effects to dress up your videos. It has 3D title editing, too, which is another cool and somewhat unusual feature.
Other video editing features include motion tracking and stop-motion editing to create animated videos using objects.
Pinnacle has nice audio editing features, including a mixer. A “scorefitter” will stretch background music to match your clip length and audio ducking will lower background music automatically when someone is speaking.
Pinnacle Studio Pricing
While there are two cheaper software packages, if you want to edit 4K video, Pinnacle Studio Ultimate is the way to go. The cost is a reasonable $99.95 for a lifetime license and $64.95 for an upgrade.
|Pinnacle Studio License Costs||Pinnacle Studio:||Pinnacle Studio Plus:||Pinnacle Studio Ultimate:|
Pinnacle Studio has fewer effects and comes with 6-track video editing. Pinnacle Studio Plus adds 24-track and 3D video editing. Other added features include screen-recording software and professional audio tools.
In addition to 4K video editing, Ultimate includes more effects, titles and templates. A few added effects include paint effects, morph transitions and motion tracking.
Downloads and discs are available. There’s a 30-day trial with feature limitations, but it’ll work well enough to find out if you want the software.
Best Free Video Editor: Lightworks
Lightworks makes a subscription-based professional video editor, Lightworks Pro, that’s been behind a few cinematic masterpieces such as “Pulp Fiction” and “L.A. Confidential.” However, its free video editor warrants its own acclaim.
We rank Lightworks Free as the best free video editor, beating out some capable alternatives such as DaVinci Resolve and Blender. Behind that ranking are advanced editing tools and a nice collection of filters and effects to make crisp videos that don’t look amateurish.
The interface looks professional, making it a great tool to train on before investing in more expensive video editing software.
Choosing the best video editing software is a matter of needs. For professional editors and prosumers that don’t mind expensive monthly fees, Adobe Premiere Pro is the most refined editor on the market, thanks to a customizable interface and consistent software updates with new, cutting-edge features.
It’s inclusion in the Adobe Creative Cloud ecosystem doesn’t hurt, either, as it grants you access to Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, Audition and other software for the creative technophile. Neither a standalone Premiere Pro nor a Creative Cloud subscription is cheap, so we suggest using the seven-day free trial to make sure you’re getting what you want.
Those with less money to spend should look to Corel VideoStudio. A VideoStudio Ultimate license costs just $99 and you don’t have to worry about recurring charges like you do with Adobe Premiere Pro. VideoStudio doesn’t skimp on features, either, providing enough options to make your movies picture perfect.
Let us know your own thoughts on video editing software in the comments below, including what software you like and what features you look for most. Hasta la vista, baby.