If you've dabbled in video editing, you've probably at least played with iMovie, Apple's built-in moviemaking software. This program is far better than a basic video editor needs to be, but does leave Windows users at a bit of a loss: Is there any free, entry-level PC editing software as good as iMovie?
The short answer is "no," but that's no reason to despair. Windows users are spoiled for choice when it comes to software selection, and video editing is no exception. If you're not willing to spend a single penny, you'll most likely get what you pay for, but with a little money at your disposal, you can edit movies like — well, not like a pro, exactly, but like a savvy consumer.
Your first option is good old Windows Live Movie Maker. It's a little thin on features, but actually quite user-friendly. It's also completely free and receives constant support and attention from Microsoft. There are other free programs, of course, but few have a big company behind them to patch bugs or security vulnerabilities on a regular basis.
If you just want to cobble together family videos or trim some footage you snagged at a concert for YouTube, Movie Maker should actually serve your purposes just fine. If you have more ambitious goals, like making a Web show, a video review or a short film, you're going to need something more sophisticated. Remember, Movie Maker does not allow you to employ multiple audio tracks or trim individual clips with great precision.
A quick Google search for "free video editing software" reveals a plethora of options, but if you do a little research, you'll find that these programs generally fall into two categories: lacking in features or hopelessly complex.
Take Kate's Video Toolkit, for example. This program is easy to use, but makes Movie Maker look positively robust in comparison. Kate's Video Toolkit allows you to trim clips and join them back together with rudimentary transitions. That's about the extent of it, and your time would probably be better spent learning how to operate Movie Maker.
The Video Software Development Community (VSDC) Video Editor exists at the opposite end of the usability spectrum. VDSC has more features a veteran editor would expect, such as running two videos simultaneously (like the picture-in-picture feature on a TV), including multiple audio tracks (narration and a soundtrack) and being able to process a large variety of different video formats. Not that any of this is incredibly easy or intuitive, of course: Expect a lot of trial and error, combined with frequent trips to forums and infrequent support from the program's creators.
Of course, if Kate's Video Toolkit or VSDC sound like a good fit for your needs, by all means, download them and try them out. They're free, so you have nothing to lose. If you want something that's both versatile and easy to use, however, you're going to have to shell out a few bucks.
Adobe Premiere Pro is one of the most popular choices among professional video editors, but its $800 price tag is admittedly not friendly for newcomers. Adobe Premiere Elements, on the other hand, provides some of Premiere's best features with a much more manageable $100 price tag.
In addition to coming with a whole bevy of tutorials, from "Instant movie basics" to "Applying effects," Premiere Elements has two modes: "Quick" for users who want to just bang out a simple video, and "Expert" for those who want to play around with up to three simultaneous video streams and five simultaneous audio streams.
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For those who have had a taste of the forbidden Apple and can't live without something that resembles iMovie, there is one option: Movavi Video Editor. Movavi is not as feature-rich as Premiere Elements, but it does have iMovie's pleasant white-on-gray color palette, large windows for viewing multiple clips, and an easy-to-access menu of transitions and special effects. The program usually retails for $50.
The best way to find the video editor that's right for you is to try a number of different programs and see which one feels comfortable. Just remember to approach free programs with a grain of salt: They'll often give you "unlimited" free trials, then spring a price tag on you as soon as you want to export your finished product into an AVI or MPEG format.
Be sure to check which formats each program supports as well. Your camera or smartphone will record video in a certain format (for example, MP4, or, if it hates you, MK2V). If your video editing software doesn't recognize that format, you'll have to shell out additional cash for a cumbersome video converter program. This will add hours to the editing process.
Video editing can be intimidating for beginners, and its fearsome reputation is well-earned. Still, the right program can turn the learning process from a slog into something manageable.