Here's a tip: Chances are, the best free video editing software will let you do everything you want without having to spend money.
Far from being some hobbled utility, the best free video editing software these days is surprisingly powerful, letting you add effects, graphics, and more to the footage you shot on your smartphone or camera. For those new to video editing, the best free video editing software is also an inexpensive way to learn the fundamentals.
But just because something is free doesn't mean it's good. That's why we've tested a number of the leading programs to see just what they can do, and if they're right for you.
What is the best free video editing software?
After testing numerous suites, the best free video editing software overall is HitFilm Express. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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, 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 15, now has an auto stabilizer, making 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 also 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, 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, through 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.
Other free video editing software to consider
Lightworks is a free video editor that's available for Macs, PCs, and even Linux systems, and has a plethora of features, including multi-track editing, background import and rendering, and a wide range of import formats. However, the free version limits the resolution of export files to 720p MP4 files. If you pay for a subscription ($24.99/month, $174/year, or a one-time fee of $473.99), this restriction is lifted, and you gain access to a host of other functions, including 3D and the ability to export files in a multitude of formats.
MovieMaker Online is just that: a web-based video editing program, which means that you can use it on any computer with a web browser. It also includes free music and stock photos and images you can add to your video, and add transitions and some basic effects. However, its interface is a bit confusing, ads are intrusive, and it only exports movies in MP4 format.
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.