Shotcut is a free, open-source, cross-platform video editor for Windows, Mac and Linux that works with a variety of formats and with resolutions of up to 4K. 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, it might be a bit much for novice users who just want to throw together a video of their holiday weekend to share with family and friends on Facebook or YouTube.
When you first launch Shotcut, it looks like a simple media player: spare and unintimidating. Under the View setting, you can selectively reveal interface windows as needed while keeping others hidden. With all windows visible, the app quickly becomes overwhelming, because unlike iMovie or Corel VideoStudio, Shotcut exposes more of the complexity of moviemaking.
Like with VideoPad, you can choose from among dark, white or a natural light-gray skin. And like on VideoPad and Magix Movie Edit Pro Plus, there are multiple dockable panels, which show media details, recent files, a playlist with thumbnail view, filter panel, history view, encoding panel, jobs queue and more.
Shotcut does not hold your hand, but more-experienced users should welcome its flexibility. For example, the codec pop-up menu is way more extensive than those on most other video-editing apps — chock full of items many users would not be familiar with. MOV and MPEG 4 were present, of course, but so were dozens of codecs from asv2 to zmbv.
Unlike most consumer apps, Shotcut lets you get started immediately by simply dragging clips into the timeline, or the blank space where the timeline should go — an actual timeline is not immediately visible — so there's no need to create or name a project first. There's nothing inherently wrong with that technique; it's just unconventional and can be confusing even though it removes a point of friction.
Shotcut provides a multiformat timeline that lets you mix source videos of varying resolutions and frame rates in your project. You can also use the program to capture audio and video via webcam.
Video features include effects, HTML5 as video source, filters, three-way color wheels for color correction and grading (shadows, mids, highlights), a variety of transitions, track compositing/blending modes and filters, and speed effects for audio and video clips. All of these were intuitive and easy to use.
The software provides audio scopes for loudness, peak meter, waveform, plus a spectrum analyzer, volume control, numerous audio filters and mixing across tracks. Many of these are prosumer tools that newcomers may not want to delve into immediately, but they're available for users as they get more advanced and consult the wide range of video documentation. The resizable, dockable viewer and windows made these operations easier to focus on.
For more prosumer/professional operations, the app's hardware support includes Blackmagic Design SDI and HDMI for input and preview monitoring and Leap Motion for jog/shuttle control.
Shotcut has tons of output presets, and it does not give in-program clues on how to save out for specific online formats like YouTube or Vimeo. But the documentation does reference how to export to popular viewing platforms. Shotcut also offers a plethora of fine instructional videos, both in-house and via third parties, that detail all aspects of how to use the app.
I tested Shotcut on an HP Spectre x360 laptop running Windows 10 Home. This machine's 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 and timed rendering at both 30 fps and 60 fps. Shotcut came in at the midpoint among the competition, at 3:52 and 6:40, respectively. VideoPad, the top performer among the free apps in rendering speed, clocked 2:57 at 30 fps and 3:15 at 60 fps.
While the Shotcut app worked without a problem on my Mac, I at first encountered serious performance issues on Windows. It was only with the DirectX display method setting — via a hint that came directly from the developer — that I was able to get the app to function on my PC. In subsequent updates, the developer designated Direct X as the default setting for Windows. These issues underscored Shotcut's vibrant and interested forum community, in which a number of participants tried to give me a hand in solving problems, and the developer's willingness to acknowledge and fix troublesome issues. That said, I was disappointed with the playback quality in some instances, with the video looking a bit choppy.
Shotcut is open-source, with a single free version available for Mac, Windows and Linux. It is updated frequently, and each launch lets you check for the latest version.
Shotcut offers a super-flexible editing environment wrapped in a somewhat unorthodox interface. It's very robust if you are willing to devote the time to understanding its conventions. There is plenty of good documentation if you get stuck. However, in the free realm, a more friendly choice like iMovie for Mac, the cross-platform VideoPad or the quirky but fun HitFilm 4 Express may be easier and more fun to jump into for consumer-oriented projects.