The best free video editing software is just the thing if you want to give movie making a go without spending a fortune up front.
Gone are the days when free video editing software was a poor relation to paid versions — in fact, some of the choices in our list come with advanced features such as 3D rendering, auto image stabilization and color correction.
And if that all sounds like overkill then don't worry, because the best free video editing software will also help you master the basics, such as how to create transitions and add a soundtrack or text overlay.
Of course, free video-editing packages do have some compromises compared to the paid versions: for instance, some will only let you export up to a certain resolution, while others miss out on specific features that you'll find on the likes of Adobe Premiere Pro and CyberLink PowerDirector. But they're still powerful enough for home movies of your latest vacation and if teamed with one of the best action cameras or the best drones you could easily make an epic extreme sports film; the possibilities are endless.
Read on, then, for our pick of the best free video editing software packages. And when you do decide to take the next step, you can look at our list of the best video editing software packages, which includes the best paid options.
Top three video editors overall in 2021
If you feel you're already ready to take the step up to some more advanced video editing options, there are some really great value paid-for options out there. If you're creating video for commercial purposes, in particular, it's worth investing in the proper tools. These are currently the best three paid-for video editors out there:
1. Adobe Premiere Pro: starting at $20.99/month
Premiere Pro is the video editing program used by professionals the world over, but it's also a fine choice for everyone else, thanks to its user-friendly setup and best-in-class feature set. Adobe also offers a free 7-day trial of either Premiere Pro or its full Creative Cloud package, so you can try it out before committing. Plus, right now Adobe is offering 20% off Premiere Pro if you pay upfront. The offer is valid until Oct 1 in the US and Canada.View Deal
2. CyberLink PowerDirector 365: $51.99/year
If you're looking for a video editor that's less expensive than Premier Pro, but that still has a wealth of cutting-edge features, then CyberLink PowerDirector 365 is a great choice. Also note that you can download PowerDirector 365 for free and use the full feature set, but with a watermark in the bottom-right corner.View Deal
3. Corel VideoStudio Ultimate: $99.99
Corel VideoStudio Ultimate is powerful but easy-to-learn, and can be used to create simple videos without fuss. That's not to say it doesn't have a great feature-set: it supports a huge array of tools for when you're ready to make more complex videos. A free trial lets you try it out for 30 days.View Deal
On to the best free video editing software
After testing numerous suites, the best free video editing software overall is HitFilm Express 16. It works with both Macs and PCs and has a revamped interface that's powerful but easy to use and customizable to your needs. While HitFilm is free, you can pay for 30 add-on packs, which range in price from around $15 up to $50. These include such features as 360-degree video editing, 3D titles, advanced color-grading tools and LUTs, and even audio tools such as Doppler Shift and noise reduction. Lightworks is another great option, offering plenty of advanced tools completely free, but with the caveat that exports are limited to 720p.
Mac users who only need a simple video editor will find that Apple iMovie is the best free video editing software, because of its strong integration with Apple's operating system and easy-to-grasp editing tools. iMovie supports 4K video, and has some good tools for smoothing shaky video, adding titles, and even soundtracks from music in your iTunes library. However, you won't get advanced features such as 360-degree video editing and special effects here.
Of course, there are some features that can only be found in paid software packages; be sure to check out our picks for the best video editing software under $100 too. But if you need just the basics, you've come to the right place.
The best free video editing software you can download today
Hitfilm Express is the best free video editing software package. Its high-energy style appeals to budding filmmakers who want to put a special touch on a personal event or get creative with a video blog, but it's still easy enough for the adventurous friends-and-family crowd.
The latest version, Hitfilm Express 16, includes an array of enhancements such as physically based 3D rendering, custom Light Flares effects, a built-in voice recorder and more. That's all on top of the many other features already present in this premium-feeling package: there's an auto stabilizer to make bumpy footage look smoother, motion tracking, a color picker to selectively adjust colors, and a crop & pan tool — otherwise known as the Ken Burns effect.
Hitfilm Express supports resolutions up to 4K, GPU-accelerated decoding on Nvidia, AMD, and Intel graphics cards (on PCs only), changes to the interface, and native support for Dolby AC3 audio. It also supports VEGAS files and effects. And, it has a light interface — but if you prefer a dark interface, that'll set you back $9.
Other great features include the ability to create your own lightsaber battles, 360-degree video editing and lens distortion correction from action cameras. You can also purchase a number of add-on packs, starting at around $10, to add even more functionality to the program.
Read our full HitFilm Express 16 review.
Lightworks is advanced enough that the Pro version has been used to create multiple award-winning movies including the likes of Pulp Fiction and The Wolf of Wall Street, but the free version is only marginally less full-featured.
There's a wide range of tools to create professional-looking videos, including some fairly advanced audio-editing options, VFX, color adjustments and more. And while the interface may take a little getting used to, even a beginner can master the essentials relatively easily. It also works on almost every platform, with versions for Windows, Mac and Linux.
The main drawback is that with the free version, output options max out at 720p — but depending on what you're planning to upload your film to, that may not matter. And if you do decide to go Pro, you can do so for $24/month and open up 4K export plus various other features.
Read our full Lightworks review.
iMovie is the best free video editing software for Mac users, as it delivers themes, Hollywood-style trailers and video effects with minimalistic panache, a cinematic flair, and deep integration and optimization with macOS. Recent updates tweaked the interface and added Touch Bar support for the latest Macs.
While you can now edit and share 4K videos, iMovie lacks features found in other free apps, such as the ability to edit 360-degree video, multicam editing and motion tracking. You also have limited control over output settings.
Because it's so deeply entwined with macOS, iMovie was always one of the fastest apps when it came to encoding video. Once that's finished, it also gives you plenty of sharing options: you can upload directly to YouTube and Vimeo, and share any video frame as an image. When you couple iMovie with iMovie Theater and iCloud, you can also view your creations on any Apple device or via Apple TV.
Read our full Apple iMovie review.
This free video editor makes it a cinch to export your creations to YouTube, Facebook, Dropbox, Flickr, Google Drive and an assortment of mobile devices through a simple pull-down menu. You have to sign in to these services first — and while YouTube uploaded directly to my channel without incident, you may have to save your video to your hard drive with social media specs, then upload to the social network yourself.
Compared to HitFilm's high-energy interface, VideoPad has a simple, soothing look which makes it the best free video editing software for novices. It works with both Macs and PCs and still lets you edit 360-degree video with the same ease as you would traditional movies, though adding text to 360-degree clips can be a bit tricky. VideoPad also lacks some of the advanced features you'll find with HitFilm, for instance multicam editing, high-end special effects and motion tracking — but you can purchase a number of add-ons to expand VideoPad's feature set.
Our biggest issue with VideoPad was not knowing which features were disabled in the free version versus the trial and paid versions. We found VideoPad to be a bit slower on our transcoding tests than Hitfilm, too. But that may not matter for those looking for an app that they can use to quickly and easily edit video and then upload to the social media outlet of their choice.
Read our full VideoPad review.
DaVinci Resolve is the best free video editing software for those who are more advanced video editors. A powerful pro-level, cross platform app, you’ll want to use a system with discrete graphics to get the most out of this video editor.
The latest version of DaVinci includes a major upgrade to Fairlight, the audio editing workspace, and gives free users the ability to collaborate on a project simultaneously — a function that was previously only available to those using a paid version. Previous versions also included such features as facial recognition, fast export to YouTube and Vimeo, and 3D audio; there's a lot to explore here.
DaVinci Resolve also incorporates Fusion, previously a stand-alone application, which brings with it four high-end video-production modules for editing, color correction, audio production, and video effects and motion graphics.
Davinci is quite powerful, but has a bit of a learning curve. If its 256-page manual doesn't intimidate you, high-level enthusiasts will find a lot of tools at their disposal.
Read our DaVinci Resolve 17 review.
VSDC has a hybrid layout that incorporates controls for both creating and editing video projects, along with links to instructional videos, which are a big help when navigating through its interface. VSDC is a non-linear editor, which gives you some more flexibility when editing, but that means it has a bigger learning curve than more traditional video editing software.
VSDC is not bad for basic edits, but its interface has a learning curve, and it lacks a few popular features. VSDC is also a Windows-only program. If you upgrade to the pro version of VSDC for $20 (good for one year for two machines), you get additional features such as technical support, a full multimedia suite, advanced settings, hardware acceleration, sub-pixel resolution, a masking tool, chroma key functionality and a visible audio waveform.
Read our full VSDC review.
Shotcut is a free, open-source, cross-platform video editor for Windows, Mac and Linux that works with a variety of video resolutions and more esoteric codecs. The platform-agnostic Shotcut appeals to prosumer and enthusiast filmmakers with its broad format support and abundant audio and video effects and editing features. However, its learning curve might be a bit much for novice users, and it lacks an easy way to share videos to popular social media sites.
We like that Shotcut's interface starts out sparsely populated; you can add windows as you see fit, though it can get cluttered quickly. In addition to being cross-platform, Shotcut also works pretty well on systems that don't have discrete graphics, making it more accessible to those who don't have thousands to spend on the latest GPUs.
Read our full Shotcut review.
Movie Maker Online is just that: a web-based video editing program, which means that you can use it on any computer with a web browser. That gives it an advantage over some of the best free video editing software packages, as there's no need for you to have a super-fast machine or lots of hard drive space.
It also includes free music and stock photos you can add to your video, plus there's the ability to add transitions and some basic effects. But don't expect HitFilm levels of sophistication. Movie Maker Online's interface is a bit confusing — for instance, the timeline runs vertically rather than horizontally — and there are other restrictions, such as the fact that you can only export in MP4 format. The ads are intrusive, too, but for making short films without much fuss it's certainly worth a look.
Read our full Moviemaker Online review.
How to choose the best free video editing software
Free vs. freemium
There's free and then there's freemium. Some software, like iMovie, is genuinely free. But just as some video-editing packages are sold in tiers — with more-expensive versions offering more and expanded features — a freemium video program may just be the lowest level of a paid version. Or it may be a trial version that hobbles the end product in various ways, like putting a huge watermark on your video or limiting output formats.
But there are variations on this theme. HitFilm, VideoPad, DaVinci Resolve and VSDC, for example, offer paid versions with high-end features that most consumers probably won't miss, but otherwise allow for full use of the basic program.
Another hidden "cost" is periodic or even constant in-line advertising or reminders that an upgrade is available. VideoPad (on the Mac) makes you verify at every launch that you are using the free version for noncommercial purposes.
Both DaVinci and VSDC mix paid features in their basic programs, but they do not explicitly mark these features as such. However, if you try to use them, you'll get an error message and an ad. We can't fault the software companies for trying to get users on board with paid versions, but just be warned that such annoyances are the hidden cost of otherwise-free video apps.
The watchword with free apps is often which one offers the best combination of technically complex software for which you would otherwise have to shell out the big bucks. All video editors should, at the very least, have some combination of familiar features like a viewer or playback window, library, timeline, and access to transitions and effects.
Tech support and documentation
One of the big differences between paid and free software is the level of documentation and tech support; paid software has more-explicit and -detailed documentation and guides than the free versions. That said, many software packages post instructional videos of the most popular features to YouTube, and more-complex free packages may offer extensive documentation.
Many independent vendors, who are often sole proprietors in charge of the software, make themselves available to users via social media and email to assist with problems, troubleshoot, take suggestions and criticism, and otherwise oversee the software. Programs with intuitive interfaces and tool-tip hints, and even built-in tutorials to greet new users, make free software popular.
Many free software packages technically serve most consumer hardware systems with integrated graphics, as opposed to more-powerful discrete graphics cards. If you have a consumer machine like a MacBook or a Windows laptop with integrated graphics, make sure your machine is powerful enough to run them efficiently.
Another area where free meets inconvenience may be at the tail end of the project, when you want to export your video, only to discover that the free version will not output to your desired format. Before you start using a free package, make sure that it will save your video to the platform and resolution you need, whether your video will eventually wind up on YouTube or on a Blu-ray disc.
How we test free video editing software
In order to determine which is the best free video editing software, we examine a number of different aspects of the software. For starters, how "free" is it? Some so-called free software is hobbled with limited features or watermarks on all your videos unless you pay a fee. We look at what you actually get for free, versus what you have to pay for.
Next we look at the software's interface. Video editing software that's targeted towards novices should be easy to use, with plenty of guides to help you along the way.
And then, of course, we test these programs by actually editing video, taking note of the workflow, the ease with which we can add such things as filters, transitions, effects, text, and more.
Be sure to check out all of our picks for editing video and photos:
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