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Best video editing software 2019: paid and free editors reviewed and rated

best video editing software - premium and free video editors
Image credit: FXhome Ltd; TechRadar

On the face of it, getting hold of the best video editing software is no easy task. There are loads of options out there, all boasting brilliant features and innovative add-ons. But the option that will suit a professional video editor won't necessarily be the best for the enthusiastic amateur. And what about free video editing software?

That's where this TechRadar guide to choosing the best video editing software comes in. We've used all the best (and worst) editors around and distilled them down to an easy-to-digest list of our favorites.

Below you'll see lists of both premium and free video editing software. So if you're ready for something advanced, opting for a paid product will get you high-end extras like 360-degree video support, motion tracking and multi-cam editing, but that's just the start.

The most impressive programs make your everyday tasks like cutting, trimming, combining and applying filters to clips as simple as possible - that's true regardless of whether you demand the absolute best video editor out there, or if you were hoping for free video editing software instead. Downloading an inferior option will lead only to frustration and a less polished finished product. The tools we've picked out for you in this guide are the very best in their class.

Keep reading to get the best of both worlds, with Adobe Premiere Pro leading the way as our #1 favorite. And further down the page we have an FAQ to answer all your burning questions about video editing software.

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The overall best video editing software

These premium video editors can't be matched - not even by the very greatest free options. The extra resources available to commercial projects help to refine the entire package, often bringing more accurate and configurable effects, an enhanced interface and a faster rendering engine. If it's the very best video editing software that you're after, then look no further than this quintet:

Adobe Premiere Pro

Image credit: Adobe

1. Adobe Premiere Pro CC

Dedicate the time to mastering Premiere Pro and reap the rewards

Platform: Windows/Mac | Free trial: 7 days | Upload straight to YouTube: Yes | 8K support: Yes | 360 support: Yes | Purchase type: Subscription

Supports 360-degree and VR video
Huge assortment of filters
Customizable interface
Subscription model won't be for everybody

Adobe Premiere Pro is an industry-standard video editor and getting the most from it will require an investment of time as well as cash, but if you’re serious about video then it’s well worth the effort.

video editor's choice

There's a vast assortment of stackable audio and video filters, support for 360-degree and VR video, native support for a huge number of raw file formats, and the ability to work collaboratively with others. You can even start editing your videos before they've finished importing. 

This kind of power doesn't come cheap and the monthly or annual subscription fee adds up, but the lack of a large initial outlay makes Premiere Pro surprisingly accessible. It's worth downloading a trial of the other video editors here before making a decision, but Premiere Pro is extremely versatile and the cloud-based model means you won't have to pay for upgrades as they're released.

Read our full review: Adobe Premiere Pro CC

Adobe Premiere Pro | From $20.99 (£19.97) per month
Like all of Adobe's single app plans, Premier Pro costs around $20/£20 per month when you sign up for a year. That's excellent value for such an impressive piece of software.
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Final Cut Pro X

Image credit: Apple

2. Apple Final Cut Pro X

A premium editor for Mac owners, with a unique interface

Platform: Mac | Free trial: 30 days | Upload straight to YouTube: Yes | 8K support: Yes | 360 support: Yes | Purchase type: Retail

Smart 'trackless' timeline
Excellent file format support
Price includes major updates
High initial cost

This is a video editor aimed squarely at the professional end of the market, but Apple Final Cut Pro X is not needlessly complicated. Its interface is a little different to most, and is built around a 'trackless' timeline that encourages you to organize elements into specific 'roles', such as voiceover, music and titles.

If you're looking for a video editor to pair with your drone, Final Cut Pro is an excellent choice. It supports raw video from all the major makes and models, and is regularly updated with additional profiles. It also supports 360-degree video editing (fast becoming mandatory for premium video editing software) and HDR, with advanced color grading.

Rather than adopt a subscription model like Adobe, Apple has chosen to make Final Cut Pro available for a one-off flat fee. It's relatively expensive, but includes all major updates and will work out cheaper than Premiere Pro if you keep using it over a couple of years. If you own a Mac and are torn between Apple and Adobe, we recommend taking the free trials of both for a spin before making up your mind.

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CyberLink PowerDirector

Image credit: CyberLink

A video editor that puts premium tools within reach of newcomers

Platform: Windows | Free trial: 30 days | Upload straight to YouTube: Yes | 8K support: Yes | 360 support: Yes | Purchase type: Retail

Wizard optimizes videos in seconds
Beginner and advanced interfaces
Fewer fine controls than some

If Adobe Premiere Elements and Apple Final Cut Pro X are overkill for your video editing projects, take a look at CyberLink PowerDirector.

Although PowerDirector is a premium, feature-packed video editor, it's also very forgiving, and offers a gentle introduction to post production that won't faze complete beginners. The Magic Movie Wizard is the ultimate example, paring the task of combining and optimizing videos down to a few clicks. You'll achieve better results by spending a while in the timeline editor, but for anyone who just wants to quickly piece something together to publish on Facebook, it's ideal.

That's not to say that CyberLink PowerDirector is dumbed down, though; far from it. The software also offers a standard post production interface based around control panels and a timeline. It sometimes takes a little while to drill down to the finer controls, but every filter and option is extremely flexible once you start exploring. Perhaps most impressive of all, CyberLink PowerDirector makes video editing fun.

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HitFilm Pro

Image credit: FXhome Ltd

4. HitFilm Pro

If you're interested in special effects, HitFilm is the editor for you

Platform: Windows | Free trial: No time limit, but can’t export | Upload straight to YouTube: Yes | 8K support: Yes | 360 support: Yes | Purchase type: Retail

Intuitive interface
Superb for special effects
Overkill for beginners

HitFilm Pro is a premium video editor that's a firm favourite with fanfilm makers - and with good reason. It's packed with tools for creating stunning special effects, but is accessible enough for home users.

One of HitFilm Pro's biggest selling points is the ability to tackle pretty much every aspect of video post-production within the editor. Animations, titles, audio editing and color grading are all accessible with a couple of clicks, but the interface is intuitively designed and never feels cluttered.

Unlike the other video editors in this roundup, HitFilm Pro supports importing and animating of custom 3D models, complete with simulated 3D cameras, custom shadows and dynamic lighting. There are also impressive particle effects, and superb chroma-keying to minimize annoying spill.

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Adobe Premiere Elements

Image credit: Adobe

5. Adobe Premiere Elements

A friendly introduction to video editing for complete beginners

Platform: Windows/Mac | Free trial: 30 days | Upload straight to YouTube: Yes | 8K support: No | 360 support: No | Purchase type: Retail

Excellent tutorials for new users
Automated tools for common tasks
Simple step-by-step wizards
You may soon outgrow it

Of all the premium video editors in this roundup, Adobe Premiere Elements is the most beginner-oriented. It's designed to make video editing as easy as possible, and even its Expert interface is extremely straightforward.

Unlike Adobe's premium software (like Premiere Pro), Premiere Elements is only available as a one-off purchase, so you aren't committed to paying a monthly fee to keep using it. It's also one of the most affordable video editors around, which is impressive for a huge name like Adobe.

Some video editors assume a certain degree of familiarity before you begin, but Premiere Elements is ideal even for total beginners. Its interface features large buttons, clearly labelled. There are also some excellent tutorials included to help bridge the gap between creating a video using wizards and using the more traditional multi-track timeline.

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The best free video editing software

If you're a beginner, there are free video editors that will make the whole process as easy as can be and don't cost a penny. These user-friendly editors offer a gentle introduction to editing, so you'll learn the basics and be able to make the step up to a more advanced premium program when you're ready. We've picked our the five best video editing software choices below.

Lightworks

Image credit: EditShare LLC

1. Lightworks

The best free video editing software available, for any level of expertise

Platform: Windows/Mac/Linux | Upload straight to YouTube: Yes | 8K support: No | 360 support: No

Advanced editing tools
Real-time effects
Well designed interface

Lightworks is an incredible tool that's published free with the noble aim of making professional quality video editing software available to everyone. As you would expect for such a powerful video editor, you won't be able to master it overnight, but that's certainly not something you could hold against it and hasn't stopped us naming it as our number one best video editing software on the web.

If you've tried other free editors you'll probably find that the interface is a little different to anything you're used to, but you can arrange the various controls and windows to create something that suits your way of working.

There's a paid version, Lightworks Pro, which adds the ability to export in formats other than MPEG, publish 4K video directly to YouTube, and export 3D videos, but the free video editing software includes everything else you need to make impressive videos.

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Hitfilm Express

Image credit: FXhome Ltd

2. Hitfilm Express

A powerful free video editor that's expandable if you outgrow it

Platform: Windows/Mac | Upload straight to YouTube: Yes | 8K support: No | 360 support: Requires add-on

Professional-grade tools
Expandable via add-ons
High system requirements

Hitfilm Express is another video editor that promises pro-level features for free – and it delivers. The basic editor is very impressive, with advanced cutting tools, a great set of audio and video filters, layers and masking, compositing options, and chroma keying for creating green screen effects.

Additional tools are available for a fee, starting at £8.85 (about US$10, AU$15) for a pack featuring color-correction, exposure adjustment, split screen masking, and various creative filters. But the free video editor is well worth a look, too.

The downside of all this power is that Hitfilm Express is much more demanding than either Lightworks or Shotcut, which is the main reason it's dropped to third place. Make sure you check the technical requirements before downloading it to avoid disappointment.

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Shotcut

Image credit: Meltytech LLC

3. Shotcut

It might look unusual, but master it and you'll reap the benefits

Platform: Windows/Mac/Linux | Upload straight to YouTube: No | 8K support: No | 360 support: No

Advanced, customizable filters
Intuitive interface
Steep learning curve

Shotcut is another professional-feeling free video editor that requires a little patience if you are achieve the results it is so capable of delivering. The slightly unusual interface can be put down to the fact that this started life as a Linux application, and little has changed in its conversion to Windows.

To start with, the interface may seem a little stark. You will need to not only load a video, but also choose which editing mode you would like to work in and which tools you'd like to use.

There's no getting away from the fact that Shotcut has a steep learning curve. It's possible to achieve some impressive results by simply applying one of its many filters to your video, but the real rewards will only be reaped by those willing to invest the time and energy in fully getting to grips with what's on offer.

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DaVinci Resolve

Image credit: BlackMagic Design

4. DaVinci Resolve

Premium quality software for advanced video and audio editing

Platform: Windows/Mac/Linux | Upload straight to YouTube: No | 8K support: Yes | 360 support: Requires add-on

Full audio mastering suite
Advanced color correction
Free version lacks a few features

DaVinci Resolve is a free version of a premium video editing suite, but as with Lightworks, it's so feature-packed you probably won't miss the few tools it lacks.

DaVinci Resolve is a professional-grade free video editing software, with intuitive interfaces for editing, color correction, audio mastering and exporting. Color correction is one of DaVinci Resolve's standout features, whether you want to adjust a whole video or just a selected part. There's HDR support, and you can work on raw files directly from your camera.

A few of the filters are exclusive to the premium DaVinci Resolve Studio, and there's a maximum export resolution of 3,840 x 2,160, but those are the only limitations. It's overkill if you just want to trim a video and upload it to YouTube, but for bigger projects DaVinci Resolve is hard to beat.

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VSDC Free Video Editor

Image credit: Flash-Integro LLC

5. VSDC Free Video Editor

A non-linear editor stacked with tools, with more added all the time

Platform: Windows | Upload straight to YouTube: Yes | 8K support: No | 360 support: Yes

Non-linear video editing
Easy to master
120fps support
Smart interface
No hardware acceleration

VSDC Free Video Editor is highly capable, and can yield superb results. As a non-linear editor, it works in rather a different way to many other similar tools, letting you position  clips and other elements on the timeline wherever you like and edit them there.

With the ability to not only work with multiple scenes and transitions, but also to add sprites and text to videos, you can create a professional-quality movie if you're willing to stick with VSDC's slightly unusual workflow – though its interface has recently had a total overhaul, making it look much more slick and modern. You can now detach the timeline too, which gives you lots of extra flexibility – particularly when working on multiple monitors. 

VSDC's free video editing software lets you add extra artistic effects, including smoke. There's also a dedicated Instagram export profile and automatic image stabilization. You also get look-up tables (LUTs) for professional color grading, the ability to export footage at 120fps, and automatic alignment when dragging objects. An excellent choice for creative video projects.

More on this:

Video editing software FAQ

How do I choose video editing software?

There are several key factors, and price isn’t necessarily the most important: if it were, every Hollywood movie would be made in Apple’s free iMovie!

Let’s start at the end. What kind of video do you intend to make, and where is it for? There’s a world of difference between quick editing of home videos you’ll watch on TV and editing something for Netflix or cinema distribution.

You’ll need to consider what formats the software needs to export in, what level of quality it needs to output (HD? 4K? 8K?) and whether it can deliver the kind of visual effects you want to use. If you’ll be collaborating, your app will need to be compatible with the other people’s apps too.

There’s also you to consider. Are you experienced, or would a simpler app that takes you step by step through the whole process be more helpful? Do you want to have complete control over every pixel, or would you rather let the computer do most of the work? How future-proof do you need your app to be?

And then there’s price. Most but not all cheap or free apps are very limited; most but not all high-end editors are frighteningly expensive. It’s possible to pay too much and end up with an app that’s overkill, or to pay too little and end up inventing new and colourful swears when the app refuses to do what you need it to do.

Remember too that the more you can do, the more you’ll want it to do. Can your chosen app grow with your imagination?

Why should I care about video editing software?

Video is the new rock’n’roll: where children used to dream of being rock stars, now they dream of being YouTube vloggers. Meanwhile video has become the lingua franca of the internet, from viral clips and video responses to indie films and glossy corporate presentations.

The one thing they almost all have in common is editing. That could be simple trimming to cut a clip at the appropriate place, or it could involve mixing multiple clips together, changing the soundtrack and adding a whole bunch of special effects. To do these things you’ll need a video editing app.

Free video editing software vs premium video editors

To state the blindingly obvious, premium video editors tend to have advantages that free ones don’t. Those advantages tend to come in the form of resources: resources to develop apps that squeeze the most performance out of high-end hardware, resources to develop better effects, resources to fix show-stopping bugs, resources to make sure the app works on the latest hardware, resources to polish the interface and create help files and how-tos and all the other things you’d expect from professional software. But of course, that comes at a price – $300ish for Final Cut Pro X, for example.

If you’re a pro, time is money so you spend money to save time, whether that’s the time it takes to render your footage or the time you can’t afford to spend shouting "WHY GOD, WHY?" when the app doesn’t do exactly what you want or crashes mid-edit.

Free apps are aimed at a more forgiving and less demanding kind of user. That’s not to say they can’t do great things. They can. But they often take a hand-holding approach that focuses on the basics and doesn’t give you access to the fine detail. They might take a good-enough approach to performance rather than a “Steven Spielberg needs this NOW!” no-compromise approach, and their effects may be simpler than the pro ones.

So is free video editing software worth getting?

It can be. Movies made in Apple’s iMovie have wowed crowds at film festivals over the years, and some people have made perfectly good movies using just it and an iPhone.

There are many decent free video apps out there, but there are a few things to consider. Performance, especially encoding and exporting, isn’t always up there with the big hitters, and you’ll often find that features are only available if you buy in-app purchases or just aren’t there at all. Some stick an enormous watermark over everything you output; few offer any kind of technical support. Pro-level features are rarely offered because these apps aren’t designed for video pros.

It’s worth being a bit pedantic here and differentiating between free commercial software and free open source software. The former is often a cut-down version of a full product offered for free in the hope you’ll buy its big brother. The latter is usually a full product made available by individuals or teams of volunteers with no expectation of any financial reward. While open source acts can sometimes lack the polish and/or user-friendliness of commercial software they may well deliver all the features you need without requiring you to spend any money.

What video editing software features should I look out for?

That depends on the kind of editing you’d like to do. For example, you might not need much in the way of visual effects if you’re just splicing together clips from Uncle George’s 90th birthday party. But there are some key things to consider.

First up, what formats and resolutions does the app support? Can it use the footage from your camera without converting? Can it export to the places you want to share your finished footage?

Do you need features such as green screen or picture in picture (if you’re a YouTuber, the answers to those to are probably yes)? Can you share directly with social media, if that’s your thing?

How many tracks can you use? Can you pull in footage and audio from multiple files, swapping between them as needed, or will you need to do some pre-production first because the app can only handle a couple of tracks at once?

Does the app have any smart features to make everyday editing easier, such as smart trimming of clips or simple editing modes? Is it easy to add titles, transitions between scenes or to adjust the colours?

If it’s a mobile app, can you transfer your project to continue editing in a desktop equivalent of the app?

What does 8K support mean for video editing?

8K is a screen resolution: that is, it tells you how many pixels (dots) make up the picture.

Here’s a list of the resolutions for TV and movies formats in recent years.

VHS 335 x 480

DVD 720 x 480

HD 1,280 x 720

Full HD 1,920 x 1,080

Then there was 4K. 4K can mean a few different things, but the version you’ll get on a 4K TV is called 4K Ultra HD and delivers 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. Take those numbers, double them and boom! 8K!

Do you need it? Almost certainly not. Chances are you don’t know a soul with an 8K TV or monitor, and that you don’t have and can’t afford a camera capable of recording in that quality.

What is 360 support for video editing?

Traditional cameras can only point in one direction, but 360 video uses clever cameras and/or clever processing combining the input from multiple lenses to get a full 360-degree video recording. You’ve probably seen it on Facebook or in a VR app: if you move up or down or left or right the video moves accordingly just as it would if you were actually there. 

In fact, editing 360 video isn’t significantly more difficult than editing 2D video, but exporting is more complicated and many apps just can’t cope with 360-degree video in the first place. The video sharing site Vimeo strongly recommends using Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC (yep, our number one recommended video editing software) our if you’re serious about 360-degree video editing.

What video editing software do most YouTubers use?

iMovie remains massively popular among YouTubers because it’s really easy and it comes free on their MacBooks, iPhones or iPads. For straightforward face-to-camera videos you don’t really need anything more complicated: iMovie has all the cutting, titling and transition effects you’re likely to need, and it supports green/blue screens for when you want to put yourself over something such as footage of gameplay. On PC, Microsoft Photos is an underrated gem. Adobe Premiere Pro CC, the entry-level version of Premiere Pro, is very popular too.

Generally speaking YouTubers tend to go for simple, effective and affordable apps. One of the best free apps is Lightworks, which you can get for Windows, Mac and Linux devices. It has integrated YouTube exporting and a bunch of really impressive real-time effects. It looks absolutely terrifying compared to something like Microsoft Photos but it doesn’t take long to learn and it’s a really good editing app.

There are lots of other good options too. HitFilm Pro has a free version but also offers a powerful professional version. The free app DaVinci Resolve is very good, especially on colour correction, and while the VSDC Free Video Editor lacks the hardware acceleration of paid-for editing apps that’s not really an issue if you’re not in a busy working environment.

What video editing software do professionals use?

That depends on your definition of professionals and the industry or sector you’re thinking of. Go to Hollywood or a major TV studio and the editing’s almost certainly being done in Avid Media Composer Ultimate. In ad agencies, indie film studios and businesses making YouTube films you’re more likely to see Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Apple Final Cut Pro X and associated apps such as Adobe’s After Effects, a motion graphics and visual effects app - see above for how well we rate those. These are very, very good tools designed to run on very, very good computers.