HitFilm 4 Express Review: Best Free Video Editor

When it comes to cross-platform video editing and visual effects, HitFilm 4 Express is a fresh, colorful, cool-looking, highly functional platform. It aims to be a complete package for YouTube wranglers and the indie filmmaking crowd: It allows editing with both 2D and 3D effects compositing; and offers over 180 visual effects and transitions; and unlimited tracks. And, it's free, making it the best for those who want to create movies without paying for an editor.

Interface

HitFilm 4 Express rocks out with a lively, colorful, inviting look. The Home splash screen is plastered with Hollywood-style instructional videos, tweets and YouTube videos designed to get you pumped. Those coexist alongside Project, Edit and Export tabs, which are self-explanatory. The media panel is located below the trimmer window adjacent to the timeline.

When you launch the software, you have two choices: Start Compositing or Start Editing. The former gives you an entrée into creating special effects, while the latter takes you directly to the timeline and editing interface.

First, trim the clip and then drop it into the timeline.First, trim the clip and then drop it into the timeline.

The easiest way to edit is to bring clips into the media bin, trim them precisely in the trimmer window above it and then drag the trimmed clip into the timeline. From there, you can continue editing, import more clips, edit built-in effects or add an audio track. The trimmer window is located where most programs park the media bins or the viewer, but the trimmer window performs the same function as the pop-up trim window in CyberLink PowerDirector or Premiere Elements.

Editing special effects in HitFilm.Editing special effects in HitFilm.

While working with clips, you sometimes will need to switch to the compositing mode when you want to add elements like text and special effects, and then switch back and forth between the media bin tabs to access additional controls. This is easy to do: Select a clip, right click and then choose the Make Composite Shot command.

The latest update to Hitfilm 4 Express adds new animation, and audio and editing tools previously only available in the Pro version.

A full list of add-on packs appears on the web-style home screen, where you can add paid features as needed The in-app purchases range in price from $10 to $50 and are readily available, but it's unlikely you'll need them straightaway. 


Effects menu in HitFilm.Effects menu in HitFilm.

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Features

HitFilm's engaging interface makes movie editing intriguing.HitFilm's engaging interface makes movie editing intriguing.

The latest update to Hitfilm 4 Express adds new animation, and audio and editing tools previously only available in the Pro version. These include curves; end-credits crawl; lightning; action cam lens distort; and upgraded timeline enhancements to playback controls and workflow. New audio tools include audio reverse, echo, doppler shift and balance, and new speed controls for simple slow motion.

Quickly switch back and forth from the timeline to compositing — right on the timeline.Quickly switch back and forth from the timeline to compositing — right on the timeline.

Sharing

HitFilm is social-media-savvy in that its project settings include outputs for Instagram and Vine as well as YouTube. However, output resolution for these tops out at 1080p.

With this special setting, HitFilm 4 Express makes it easy for YouTubers.With this special setting, HitFilm 4 Express makes it easy for YouTubers.

Mac users can output to Apple's QuickTime format, with various codec options and compression settings. Several common image types are covered, though they do not include audio. On Windows you can export to uncompressed AVI or legacy DV codecs.

Performance

I tested HitFilm on an HP Spectre x360 laptop running Windows 10 Home. Its 64-bit Intel Core i5 processor with a 5200U CPU runs at 2.2 GHz on an HD Graphics 5500 system with 8GB of RAM. I combined five clips into a 2.5-minute video shot at 60 frames per second and rendered the projects to MPEG 4 at 720p. I timed rendering at 60 fps and 30 fps.

HitFilm 4 Express performed well from the outset on my Mac, but had some display problems in Windows, which mysteriously worked themselves out. My query to HitFilm's tech support got an auto response, but no further follow-up. Rendering speed, compared to the other Windows packages — commercial and free — was the slowest, at 5:59 for the 30-fps test and nearly the slowest, at 5:37 at 60 fps. In comparison, VideoPad was the speed demon among the free apps, at 2:57 and 3:15 for the two rendering resolutions, respectively.

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Versions

Like VideoPad, HitFilm 4 Express'  free core of video-editing functions should satisfy most amateur and home users. However, if you've exhausted your creative impulses with the free version, the app lets you buy additional features a la carte, without having to buy the $349 Pro version. You can purchase features like the $50 Boris FX 3D Objects, the $25 Film Looks Pack and others.

HitFilm Pro, for $349, includes all the individual plug-in packs and add-ons offered for individual sale in the Express version as well as additional features. It supports up to 8K UHD at 32-bit depth, 3D model import, rendering and animation, professional color grading, action cam, 360-degree video effects, and more.

HitFilm 4 Express has a dynamic Hollywood-style splash screen that makes a bold artistic impression and facilitates the purchase of add-ons.HitFilm 4 Express has a dynamic Hollywood-style splash screen that makes a bold artistic impression and facilitates the purchase of add-ons.

HitFilm 4 Express restricts rendering to 1080p, and there is no support for 16-bit or OpenEXR export (for HDR images) or OpenFX plugins. Those limitations will likely not affect most novices, though.

If you switch platforms or computers, you'll have to deactivate the program on your previous computer before signing into the new one.

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Bottom Line

HitFilm 4 Express is a flexible editor with a rich collection of audio, video and transition effects built into a free cross-platform package. There is plenty of detail and options are available for customizing your movie, and the program's complexity and somewhat unorthodox interface was fairly easy to master. The in-app purchases range in price from $10 to $50 and are readily available, but it's unlikely you'll need them right off the bat. Prosumer types who want lots of cool, cutting-edge features should check out CyberLink PowerDirector 15 Ultra, but HitFilm 4 Express is a great free editor for beginners.

Screenshots: Jackie Dove

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