It's the first law of movie-making: no matter how expensive your camera, or how skilled you are at using it, your raw footage will always be rubbish. And so, if you're looking to add a little professional polish, then installing a video editor will be essential.
Commercial video editors can be very expensive, of course, but you may not have to go that far. Whether you want to trim your clips down to size, add a soundtrack or captions, apply transitions or special effects, there are some great free tools which can help - and these are the very best around.
Note that a future version of this guide will include a list of online video editors as well since they have grown in popularity and have also managed to get powerful over time.
Windows Movie Maker
(Version previewed: v16.4, released: April 2014) Windows Movie Maker remains one of the best free video editing applications out there and certainly the most popular one on the market.
The best part is that it comes free-of-charge as part of the Windows Essentials package shipped with every version of the OS. It's designed with simplicity in mind and all users have to do is drag a selection of video clips and/or photos over to the app and they will immediately be displayed in the order they were added.
After this it's very easy to add soundtracks, captions or credits, save it all as a video file and you can even upload it directly to YouTube, Facebook or other sites.
The program has seen little wholesale change in years and its ease of use almost guarantees it will be a part of Windows 10 when it is released later this year.
Kate's Video Toolkit
(Version previewed: v1.8, released: n/a) While there's nothing too surprising in Kate's Video Toolkit, it does provide some very, basic but useful editing features. So you can trim files or join them, link two videos with a transition, create a sequence of videos with a custom soundtrack, and there's a simple file format conversion tool as well.
There are plenty of limitations, too (you can't maximise the program window to use your full screen resolution, for instance), but Kate's Video Toolkit is extremely easy to use. If you don't want to read Help files and your editing needs are simple, it could be a great choice.
Cloud-based video editing services are growing in popularity and WeVideo is one of the go-to offerings that has a useful free-to-use version, even if it does have some fairly harsh limitations. Users gets 5GB of cloud storage plus the ability to publish five minutes of video per month to YouTube, Facebook and another six services.
When it comes to uploading video to WeVideo's editing suite, you can connect it to a variety of different social media sites in order to grab clips that could otherwise be hard to reach on desktop programs. Adding files is very easy and then applying special effects is just as simple thanks to a range of different options.
Whilst the five minutes of video per month is pretty stingy, WeVideo is still a useful editing program for one-off videos.
Avidemux is a small but capable open source video editor which can help you join clips, cut them (without re-encoding), and apply a lengthy list of useful filters (Add Logo, Crop, Flip, Rotate, Resize, Sharpen, Remove Noise, tweak brightness, contrast colours and more).
While this sounds basic, there are lots of options and fine controls to help make sure everything goes as you expect, and an excellent online wiki which documents everything. Overall, Avidemux is well worth a look, as long as you're happy to spend a little time learning how it all works.
VSDC Free Video Editor
Non-linear video editors can take some time to learn, and VSDC Free Video Editor is no exception (a lack of useful documentation doesn't help, either).
Once you get past this fairly significant hurdle it's almost plain sailing as the set of tools on offer is definitely on a par with the other free video editing suites out there. When you have completed your project there's even the chance to bring it to mobile devices or burn it to disc.
MPEG Streamclip 1.2.1b6
With a download size of only 327KB, you'd expect MPEG Streamclip to be, well, a little underpowered. And yet, the program opens multiple files, DVDs or URLs of video streams; can trim, cut, copy or paste parts of your footage; and has options to rotate your footage or export the soundtrack, while its Export dialog provides more control over your finished video than some commercial products.
It's not all good news - we had problems playing back some MP4 files - but if you're just looking for trimming and file conversion features then MPEG Streamclip is definitely worth a try.
It looks a little dated now, and only works fully with AVI files, but if that's your format of choice then VirtualDub has plenty to offer.
A clean and clear interface helps you navigate through and trim your clips, there are plenty of filters - sharpen, blur, resize, rotate (at any angle, not just 90 degree increments), brightness, colour and contrast tweaks - and optional plugs add even more capabilities.
Learning how to use all these functions can take a little while, as you'll need to explore some very lengthy menus to find them. But if you need an AVI processor, though, VirtualDub is still worth the effort.
Free Video Editor
Formerly known as Free Video Dub, at first glance Free Video Editor looks like just another video trimming tool: step through the source movie, select the left and right points, cut that section from the video and save the results.
What's different here, though, is that the program doesn't re-encode your movie, so no matter how much trimming you do, no video quality will be lost. And if you have a lengthy clip which requires a lot of work then that could be very useful indeed.
(Version checked: 12.0.2, released: December 2014) If it's real editing power you need, then Lightworks has the biggest set of features among the free pack. Its feature-packed timeline, strong multicam support, realtime effects and smart trimming tools are so impressive, in fact, that the program has regularly been used to help produce top Hollywood movies such as Mission Impossible and Batman.
Editshare's baby is constantly updated and the latest version offers users the chance to edit videos with resolutions of up to 720p, has a modern looking UI, better export controls and content management, and the best part of all is that it remains completely free-of-charge.
A paid-for version is also available and the just released v12.5 rc1 adds a number of features and squashes a few known bugs as well.
There is a price to pay for all this functionality, though: an extremely steep learning curve. This is not a tool for beginners, and you should expect to spend plenty of time reading the documentation before you can do anything useful at all.
Freemake Video Converter
As you'll probably guess from the name, Freemake Video Converter is primarily a video conversion tool (and a very good one, too) - but it can also double as a simple video editor.
Drag and drop your clips onto the program and you can arrange them into order, cut each one to suit your needs, flip or rotate individual clips and convert them to your preferred format (or even upload the finished movie directly to YouTube). And all in a polished, professional and very easy-to-use interface.