Chances are, there are hundreds of videos languishing on your smartphone, DSLR or compact camera. Instead of letting it collect dust, why not polish it up to share with family and friends? That's where a good video editing program comes in.
Among the paid software, only one — Adobe Premiere Elements 2019— is truly cross-platform, and it emerged as our top pick. Despite its lack of emerging popular technologies, like 360-degree video handling and multicam editing features, it's the easiest video editor to learn and use, and offers plenty of advanced functions, such as guided edits and a revised home screen.
CyberLink PowerDirector 16 is the best video editing software for Windows, featuring a dazzling array of tricks and treats; plus, it's great for editing 360-degree videos, too.
Apple’s iMovie, which competes only with cross-platform free apps and Adobe Elements, is the obvious choice for the best Mac video editing software, thanks to its outstanding output, themes and trailers, macOS integration, and features that encourage good moviemaking skills. For the best free software, HitFilm Express gets the nod for its abundant cinematic capabilities and stylish interface. If you often share your videos on YouTube and other social media platforms, the free, cross-platform VideoPad is your best option.
Editor's Note (5/24/19): Hitfilm Express has been updated since our last review; improvements include new text tools, accelerated decoding of video files with Nvidia GPUs, native support for Dolby AC3 audio, and more. Stay tuned for our updated review.
Our Top Picks
When it comes to user-friendliness, sophisticated features and ways to output your video, nothing beats the cross-platform Adobe Premiere Elements. For 2019, Adobe streamlined the Quick Edits interface, making it all the more easy for novices to jump in. The company's AI now creates collages and slideshows automatically, and can also trim the fat off your videos.
CyberLink PowerDirector offers a dazzling array of fun, advanced video editing features wrapped in a stunning, easy-to-use package. For this year, Cyberlink has beefed up its 360-degree capabilities, making it far easier to edit 360 videos.
Apple iMovie is the ultimate Mac video app for novice filmmakers, combining professional trailers and themes,abundant special effects and an easy-to-learn interface. Version 10.1 added 4K editing and sharing, as well as extended handling to video shot at 1080p and 60 fps. Recent updates tweaked the interface and added Touch Bar support for the latest MacBooks.
The free HitFilm Express 9 has a quirky but appealing interface and plenty of powerful features, including a new layout panel and better export tools. An optional Starter Pack ($9.99) adds even more editing options. It's good for prosumers and enthusiasts with cross-platform editing and compositing abilities, tracking options, 2D and 3D effects, speed controls, audio tools and an arsenal of instructional videos.
Corel VideoStudio, an outstanding editing package for beginners on the Windows platform, is a powerful but easy-to-learn app for anyone who wants to make simple videos quickly without fussing around with complex controls. Its spare but inviting interface offers 360-degree video editing, enhanced lens-correction tools, and 3D text editing.
VideoPad is a comprehensive cross-platform software package for the YouTube social media crowd. While this app lacks the flashy, whiz-bang appeal of some commercial apps, it’s still a rock-solid choice for simple video editing. From the main menu, you can choose which social network you want to upload to. The app offers a number of YouTube choices ranging from 480p to 4K, as well as Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox and Google Drive, and is free for non-commercial use.
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.
How We Tested
We tested more than a dozen programs — paid and free — on consumer Mac and Windows laptops for more than 100 hours, to see which are the best for editing, as well as sharing your videos with friends and family.
We evaluated all of the software based on functionality, ease of use, performance, sharing options and new features in the latest versions. We also judged the packages based on real-life uses for a number of categories, including best overall, best free app, best for beginners, best for YouTube maestros, best for Mac users and best for Windows platforms.
Free or Fee?
There’s no reason for the occasional video jockey to fork over any cash, as there are plenty of free apps available for both Windows and Mac. But while the deciding factors for free and paid software may appear to be based on cold hard cash, that’s not the whole story.
People who are looking for a more powerful editor with a variety of built-in resources, responsive technical support and more would be better off dropping some cash on a video editing program.
However, there’s a third option: You can download software such as VideoPad or HitFilm (which offer all of the basics) for free, and then purchase additional features à la carte as your experience and needs grow.
For our speed comparison, we tested all of the Windows and cross-platform video editing software on an HP Spectre x360 convertible laptop running Windows 10 Home. The laptop's 64-bit Intel Core i5 processor, with a 5200U CPU, runs at 2.2 GHz on an Intel HD Graphics 5500 system and has 8GB of RAM. We tested iMovie on a MacBook Air (late 2013) with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i7 processor, Intel HD Graphics 5000 and 8GB of RAM, and running macOS Sierra v. 10.12.1.
We combined a text opener with five clips linked by a cross-fade-type transition into a 2.5-minute video shot at 60 frames per second, and rendered the projects to the MPEG-4 format at 720p. We timed rendering at both 60 fps and 30 fps. We adjusted settings to take advantage of hardware acceleration for all tests whenever possible, setting them in either the preferences or the rendering controls for the best speeds. Apple’s iMovie, the lone Mac-only app, is not included in the timed comparisons.
Performance results are important, but they’re not critical components of software evaluations, because depending on your hardware setup, your mileage will vary. By comparison, ease of use, interface and features carry more weight than export clock speed. Nonetheless, as a single measure among many, speed testing provides valuable comparative information.