Free Video Editing Software Review - What's Best?
Recently I wanted to make a video tutorial however realised that I no longer have Windows Movie Maker since a system reboot. So I decided to scope out some free editing software.
This was not easy! So I thought I would do a little review on the software I found, and which was the best and which ones weren't so hot.
I am actually a professional video editor, with around twelve years of experience, and whilst I don't actually do it professionally any more, I still like to make my own videos now and again.
In my pro editing days I used the wonderful Final Cut Pro 6 & 7, which in my mind is the only valid use for an Apple computer!
Anyway, Apple in their infinite stupidity ended the Final Cut Pro line with Final Cut X, which was a big middle finger to the professional editing community. So that, and the fact that I can't really justify having a whopping great computer taking up space, just to use it now and again for editing. Is the reason I switched to trying to find good non-linear editing (NLE) systems for my PC laptop.
So with all that being said, Blender, the amazing free motion graphics software is the natural choice for me. However that is a heavyweight bit of kit, there are loads of settings and parameters that have to be met before you even start.
Plus I just didn't feel like learning a whole new system, just so I could edit one video. I like Blender and do want to learn the video editing side of it, but just not yet.
I have some basic requirements that my software needs to meet, so if the ones that I found didn't have that, I uninstalled immediately.
First of all, if it's advertised as free, then that's what I expect to get. My pet peeve is when they tell you it's free, you download, edit a clip and then when you go to export it, you get a watermark or a time limit restriction.
Non destructive editing - non-linear editing means that you should be able to cut a clip, then if you don't like it, simply drag it out and the clip is still there. This is possibly the single most important feature an editor can have.
Timeline editing. Quite simply I need to be able to play my clip, and comfortably edit in the timeline.
As the name suggests, this software will only work on PCs. Windows Movie Maker is the classic goto for the amateur editor wanting to make quick, no frills videos.
However as I stated above, Microsoft in their infinite stupidity have removed it from the latest Windows 10 bundle. This isn't even greed, with Apple they changed from FCP 7 to FCX because they knew they'd sell more units to the average kid making Youtube videos. They dumbed down their software to make more money.
Microsoft on the other hand, haven't even bothered to replace Movie Maker. However there is a company out there who have taken on the mantle (and the name) and are offering it as free software.
So I downloaded, opened up and got started.
Essentially every good editing program is the same, it just depends on how each individual one displays its tools.
In some ways Movie Maker's interface seems slicker and has been upgraded since Microsoft had it. However there is one glaring omission.
In the old version, when you brought in your video, it was represented as a multi level timeline in a box. The video looked kind of like old style photographic film, and crucially you could see the audio waves as well as tiny pictures.
Of course you had a viewer on the right which showed you what you were playing. Now it has been changed to a more traditional timeline, and you can't see the audio waves. Which if you are editing a tutorial is crucial, because a lot of the time the image on the screen looks the same from moment to moment.
So that's a big thumbs down.
Ease Of Edit:
All pro editing software, and indeed lots of software in general, tends to have three different ways of doing each thing. A keyboard shortcut, an onscreen button, and a menu option.
Windows Movie Maker does seem to have this, but it was not so obvious. I was fine using the right click for cut, or split as they call it. However when I wanted to get rid of a clip, I had to right click again and hit remove.
Whilst this may seem trivial if you're a novice editor. As you get better it will become infuriating. This is because you want to get into a flow whereby you highlight a clip and simply hit backspace or delete to get rid of it.
In fact on a good system, backspace will get rid of the clip and leave a gap in the timeline, whilst delete will get rid of it and close the gap.
Another big thumbs down for the editing logic.
This is where of course Windows Movie Maker used to come into its own. You could even export straight to Youtube (not that I ever got that feature working). This version has all of the old export features so thumbs up there.
Unfortunately why I don't recommend this, is because it tells you it's free. You download it, spend an hour or so editing a ten minute tutorial. Then when you go to export it, it tells you to buy the software or the video you have just been toiling over, will have a watermark on it!
Big thumbs down, instant uninstall!
I found this software whilst browsing someone else's review. It sounded good and the reviewer really seemed to enjoy using it, so I thought I'd give it a go.
All looked good here, the import settings are clearly laid out. Although some of the terms might end up being confusing for the amateur editor.
Before importing you have to state the frame rate of your video, and the frequency range of your audio. For a pro this is no problem as we understand what they mean, and how flexible those settings are.
However if you're fairly new to editing, having never used an NLE before, or only used a very simple one like Movie Maker or iMovies, then this will probably confuse the hell out of you. So it's a shame there isn't a quick import setting.
The windows and timeline are well spaced, and most of the buttons are labelled, and if not their functions are revealed once you mouse over them.
All in all, I was impressed with the interface, a nice pro feel and it seemed like it was all able to be customised.
Oh no! This is where unfortunately VDSC falls woefully short and falters by the wayside.
At first I was like, great, the logic seems like they've modelled it on FCP or Adobe's Premier Pro. However there is one major flaw.
You can't edit in the timeline!
This is essentially how editors used to work before the invention of computers! They would look at the pictures in a machine, and then use a cutting tool to splice bits of film together.
Then once they had done that, they could watch the results. Meaning any mistakes were not picked up until a whole load of work had been done.
VDSC let's you view the video in preview, however you have to drag your player head back and forth on the timeline to edit. So if you're trying to cut to sound, like bring the vid in on a certain word. You can't!
On the plus side, VDSC does have screen recording software built in. If it works smoothly then it's worth keeping, however I'm yet to test it.
Verdict: As far as the editing is concerned, huge thumbs down. If screen recording is below par, instant uninstall.
If I had come across Lightworks before trying anything else, then this would be a review about how great this amazing and powerful bit of kit is.
First of all, it looks and behaves like an editing program should. Even if you are fairly new to the world of editing, this is a huge plus.
There are nice big windows and the timeline is large and accessible. The preview bin works really nicely, you can import clips and scrub through them before importing them into the timeline.
The timeline itself has the audio waveforms displayed as default. The video and audio tracks are the same colour, which I have a feeling you'll only be able to change in the pro version.
As soon as I started using Lightworks it was instantly familiar. I like to test an editing system's usability by seeing how far I can go without watching a tutorial or looking up any kind of instructions.
With the two previous programs mentioned, it wasn't more than a minute before I had to look up instructions. With Lightworks however I was able to start a project, set an auto frame rate, import video. Along with getting the timeline and windows all to my size liking, and making the first few edits and marks.
Lightworks favours trimming and slipping as opposed to cutting. However it is easy to make cuts and delete them, or manipulate them however you please.
I like the fact that you make an in point, then move your playhead to the position you want, press 'z' and the newly cut clip disappears. You can then right click and close gap, drag, or even slip out the remaining clip.
This was far easier than clip selection, which I found a bit clunky, but am sure I'd get used to it fairly quickly.
Free vs Pro:
Having only used it to edit one 15 minute video, I can already tell that it won't be long before I'd want the pro version.
I haven't even looked at the VFX and colour correction tools yet. However I'm sure there are going to be a lot of bonus tools that will be plenty of fun to play with.
Not only that you are restricted in the type of export you can do in the free version. You can export direct to Youtube or Vimeo, or you can export an H.264 video file.
Whilst that's perfectly adequate for most people's needs, it is handy sometimes to be able to have more control over your export settings.
The pro version is $25 per month, and as far as I can see no one off payment. So I don't think I will buy the pro, as I don't make enough video content to warrant such an expense. However, I know that the free version will be more than enough when it comes to mine, and a lot of video content producers' needs.
Verdict: This is a must have whether you're an amateur, semi-pro, or pro content producer. It's a hugely powerful tool laid out in a clean and logical fashion. The free version will keep you happy for years.
So the review ends there because this is a functional review that was written as I tested the software. I figure lots of people have this issue, whereby they have created some video content, and they just want to edit it nicely before putting it out there.
Like me, they would have googled best free video editing software and come up with tonnes of results. It took me two days to come across Lightworks, hopefully this review has helped you save some time.
As far as Blender is concerned, I absolutely love it, even though I haven't used it that much. I will work out how to use it because it is the best and most powerful free tool out there.
However Blender isn't suitable for somebody who wants to concentrate on creating their relatively, visually simplistic content. Without having to bother about learning a complex piece of editing software as well.
I though am an ex-pro, so am used to a lot of the concepts I'm going to encounter as I learn Blender. Things like key framing and colour correction and balancing are powerful tools that can transform the production values of a video clip.
However most of the work will be done on Lightworks from now on, as most of my content these days are tutorials.
I highly recommend you give it a try!
HAVE YOU PRODUCED VIDEO CONTENT AND BEEN STUCK GETTING A DECENT EDITOR? OR PERHAPS YOU ALREADY USE A SYSTEM AND ARE HAPPY WITH IT? AS EVER, LET ME KNOW BELOW!