The best free video editing software can help you turn those hours of cat and kid videos on your smartphone into a masterpiece. With no more than an investment of your time, you can make home movies that you'll be proud to share with family and friends.
Despite the fact that they don't cost anything, the best free video editing software is surprising powerful, incorporating features found in programs that cos t money. For example, you can import multiple video and audio tracks; apply various filters; add things such as 3D effects, edit 360 video, and correct for lens distortion.
Many of the best free video editing software suites have additional features that can be purchased separately. The value of these so-called freemium programs vary of course, based on the price as well as the functionality of these add-ons.
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.
What is the best free video editing software?
After testing numerous suites, the best free video editing software overall is HitFilm Express 14. It works with both Macs and PCs and has a revamped interface that's powerful but easy to use and customizable to your needs.
HitFilm Express has threaded rendering, as well as GPU decoding for AMD, Intel and Nvidia GPUS on PCs, so if you have a discrete graphics chip, you should see much faster speeds when rendering video. And, HitFilm allows you to export clips while you're working on others, which can speed up your entire workflow. Other features include Picture-in-Picture and support for vertical video, though you have to purchase an add-on pack.
While HitFilm is free, the company offers 30 add-on packs which range in price from around $15 up to $50, and include such features as 360-degree video editing, 3D titles, as well as advanced color-grading tools and LUTs, even audio tools such as Doppler Shift and noise reduction. It even has a Particle Simulator, which lets you create things such as clouds and waves, and have them move as realistically — or unrealistically — as you like. It also has a new light interface, but if you prefer the dark interface, that'll run your $9.
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. If all you're doing is stitching together some video from a family event and then seamlessly post them to YouTube, Vimeo, or even watch it on an Apple TV, then iMovie will work like a charm.
The best free video editing software you can download today
1. HitFilm Express 14
The best free video editing software overall
Compatible with: Mac, Windows | Minimum system requirements: Windows 8 (64-bit), Mac OS 10.13 Sierra
Hitfilm Express is the best free video editing software, as 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 14, now 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 new 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, support for 4K video, as well as such features as 3D effects, 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 functionality to the program.
Read our full HitFilm Express 14 review.
2. Apple iMovie
The best free video editing software for Mac users
Compatible with: Mac
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 the Mac OS. 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 the macOS, iMovie was 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.
Great video editing software for beginners and social media
Compatible with: Mac, Windows
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 and 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, like 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.
4. DaVinci Resolve
Best free video editing software for advanced enthusiasts
Compatible with: Mac, Windows, Linux
DaVinci is the best free video editing software for those who are more advanced. 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 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. This video editor 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.
DaVinci Resolve 16 is now available, and includes such new features as facial recognition, fast export to YouTube and Vimeo, and 3D audio.
Read our full DaVinci Resolve review.
A Windows-only free video editor with some good features
Compatible with: Windows
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 some popular features, such as the ability to edit 360 video. 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.
A powerful cross-platform free video editor, with a steep learning curve.
Compatible with: Mac, Windows, Linux
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.
We like that Shotcut's interface starts out sparsely populated; you can add windows as you see fit, through it can get cluttered quickly. Now in version 20, Shotcut includes such features as low-resolution preview scaling, a number of new transitions, and an audio pitch filter.
Read our full Shotcut review.
How to choose the best free video editing software
The definition of free: 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. Our favorite program, HitFilm, never pushes an upgrade on you, but it makes you go through a social media and authorizing song and dance to download the product or switch computers. 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.
Those looking for a powerful editor with a huge variety of built-in resources and responsive technical support may be better off dropping some cash on a consumer video-editing program, like Adobe Premiere Elements, CyberLink PowerDirector and Corel VideoStudio. However, first consider trying out software such as HitFilm Express, VideoPad, DaVinci Resolve or VSDC, which offer all of the basics for free, and then purchasing additional features à la carte or simply upgrade as your experience and needs grow.
Basic features: 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 distinctions 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.
System requirements: 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.
Export options: 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.