The question of what software to use for video editing is always popular!
To get a decent answer there are, as ever, more questions to ask first:
- Are you using a computer or mobile device?
- What is your budget?
- What sort of footage do you need to edit?
- How experienced are you with NLEs (Non-Linear Editors)?
- What is your final output intended to be?
- Do you need integration with a wider workflow (eg graphics & audio packages)?
- What is your budget (just checking)?
That is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’ll try and answer as many of those sort of questions as possible as I go through a list of the most popular and readily available software!
Mobile (smartphone or tablet) solutions are abundant and often related directly to computer based editors. However, they are also limited by the hardware and can only offer a fraction of the capability of even free PC or Mac based solutions. So, if you want to be able to work with the very best footage from your drone and really find its potential, you would be well advised to look at using your computer for editing.
In this post I’m only going to look at computer software, but I will look at mobile apps in another post (if there is a mobile version, I’ll say so, but won’t go into its detail).
Budget is always the first thing people ask – “What can I get for free?”
iMovie – Mac only (iOS version available)
iMovie is a really good starting point for anyone interested in editing. It comes bundled with all new Macs and has done so since the early 2000s. The latest version is really just a cut down version of Final Cut Pro, with a similar interface and navigation. The main differences lie in the refinements available in the FCPX professional workflow, compared to the more limited requirements of a hobbyist. FCPX lets you adjust absolutely everything however you want, but iMovie offers limitations in things like colour correction, audio processing, graphics, transitions and final outputs. Also, without the professional codec package integrated into FCPX, iMovie is limited in what video codecs it can use. However, for a beginner, using anything other than 10bit H.265, it is unbeatable all-round.
Windows Movie Maker – Windows only
Movie Maker is similar to iMovie, but in a Windows environment. It is very easy to use and has similar limitations compared to higher-end NLEs. If you have a PC and no idea where to start, fire up Movie Maker and you will soon be looking to spread your editing wings with confidence.
Filmora – Mac & PC
This is just an awesome tool! It owes a lot to iMovie, but has more in-depth features and it just works! The free version does everything you are likely to need, but you may find you need to find some codec drivers for 10 bit H.265. If you start out with Filmora, you will find it easy to learn and packed with useful tools. Very well worth trying.
Avid Media Composer First – Mac & PC
Avid Media Composer is still the Hollywood standard NLE. It has dominated the professional market since computer editing started, so there is serious pedigree in this package. This free version is limited compared to it’s big brother, but does retain everything you need to get good edits done. It may seem a bit complicated, compared to iMovie or Filmora, but it is very powerful and designed to train users to use the full-blown professional version. For anyone who could see their hobby developing into a career, knowing this software is almost essential.
DaVinci Resolve – Mac & PC
This is a full professional package and has the same complications. You will need time to learn your way around, but that will be time well spent. This free version is only limited in the extra applications that come with the paid-for ‘Studio’, but crucially, it also lacks some of the codecs that are bundled with the Studio. That means that some types of video file will not work. However, if your computer has those codecs enabled within the system, they will work here. Again, this is only likely to affect those who are using H.265 footage. – UPDATE! The latest version (v.15) has H.265 included, but only for ingest. That means you can edit it, but not export in that particular format. That shouldn’t be an issue just now, as it’s only really used as an acquisition format at the moment.
HitFilm Express – Mac & PC
This software comes bundled with special effects in mind. It also has an add-obn store, so you can buy extra capabilities as and when you want. It’s very easy to use and is great fun to play with. It also has a big brother with serious SFX capabilities.
Shotcut – Mac & PC
This is a hidden gem! It’s a fully featured professional-level editor, but it’s free and works cross-platform. It may be a little complicated to get started, but it’s fast and will cope with any video files your computer can play. If you feel you are outgrowing iMovie but don’t want to spend any cash, then you couldn’t do better than Shotcut. It’s a bit of an industry secret, but well worth exploring!
Openshot – Mac & PC
On paper it seems that Openshot is similar to Shotcut, but with a prettier interface. Unfortunately, I have never been able to get it to work, as it crashes every time I try to import any video files, which is a bit of a let down for a video editor. I so wanted it to work, as it seems ideal, but do let me know if you have any luck with it!
Cheap (up to around $150, but frequently less):
Premiere Elements – Mac & PC
The junior version of Premiere Pro is a fine piece of software, but doesn’t really offer much more than the free software available elsewhere. Now that video editing is mainstream and everyone has access to something that will edit video, this spot in the market is rather unloved and with good reason. Do check out the trial version, but I doubt you’ll find anything better than what’s free in Filmora.
Vegas Studio – PC only
Vegas studio is a bit like Premiere Elements. It’s decent software, but sits uneasily in a space where it doesn’t really offer more than any number of free solutions. It’s good at what it does, though, so worth checking out the trial version.
Cyberlink PowerDirector – PC only
PowerDirector is where this level gets more interesting. It has all sorts of features that are traditionally only found in professional apps, but at a really low price. It doesn’t have the pedigree of the professional apps, but will allow you to get the most out of your footage with relative ease. If it had full workflow integration with graphics and audio packages, it would be a serious contender in the professional sphere. Certainly one to watch and try out.
ProDrenalin V2 – PC only
Not far off what’s offered by Power Director, but this one is more focussed on actioncams and drones! The main business of the maker, ProDad, is effects plugins to address the various issues typically faced by users of action cams and drones, eg barrel distortion, camera stabilisation time remapping etc. That means that ProDrenalin V2 comes bundled with some of this extra ability, so really is a good starting point for drone enthusiasts. No other generic software is focussed this way, so it is a unique approach which may well prove extremely helpful to the drone community.
Professional level ($150 upwards):
All of these applications are fully-featured, professional NLEs, which feed into extended workflows with dedicated graphics, audio, colouring and encoding packages. There are multiple pricing strategies and some seem very cheap, but when you look at all the various add-ons and plug-ins needed, the cheapest will be around the $250 – $300 mark. Some are only available via subscription too. With these apps you can do anything you like with your video! The only real differentiator here is how you prefer your workflow and what sort of budget you have to make that workflow suit you. All these apps have similar capabilities, depending on what extensions or complimentary apps you have to work with them.
Adobe Premiere Pro – Mac & PC – subscription only
Along with Avid (and less so FCPX), this is the industry standard for professional film makers. It comes standalone, or more usually fully integrated with other video apps, After Effects (Graphics & SFX), Audition (audio mixing) and Media Encoder (outputting video). They all work alongside Photoshop and Illustrator too, for a full production workflow, costing roughly $600 per year.
Avid Media Composer – Mac & PC – various pricing models
As mentioned, this is THE industry standard for Hollywood. It comes as a modular package and ranges in price from $169 per year to well over $2,000 for all features.
Apple Final Cut Pro X – Mac only – one-off purchase
Similarly priced to DaVinci Studio, this is the big brother of iMovie. FCPX arrived in 2011 and changed how NLEs look, but not really how they work. The ‘old’ Final Cut, prior to ‘X’ was similar to Premiere and set the standard away from Avid. ‘X’ lost a lot of users, who went to Premiere, but has been gaining popularity as it matures and is now a serious professional player again. It costs about $300, but works best when matched with Motion (graphics app), Logic (audio/music app) and Compressor (encoding/output).
Sony Vegas Pro – PC only – various pricing
Vegas has been around for many years and is always popular for PC users. It has never really got further than events videography, but is relatively cheap and reliable. It can be bought as a one-off purchase for between $300 – $400, depending on the version, or as a subscription for about $200 per year.
DaVinci Resolve Studio – Mac & PC – one off purchase (also included in full with Blackmagic camera purchases)
Resolve has everything in the same place – editing, graphics, audio, colouring, encoding. It’s the only top-end software that does not require opening different apps to get everything done. However, it requires a very steep learning curve if you are not familiar with node-based applications and is certainly focussed on a hardware-based workflow. To get the most from it, you need considerable extra hardware, in the form of desktop panels and monitoring equipment. That said, it is awesome software even without the peripherals. Blackmagic has always been a game-changer and what they have done with Resolve (which was originally a standalone colour grading application) is remarkable. Costs $299 as a one-off and includes updates.
HitFilm – PC & Mac – one-off purchase
Not truly professional, as it is limited in the codecs it supports, HitFilm is really designed for independent movie enthusiasts, who want to make effects-laded videos. The feature set is truly remarkable, and it is incredibly easy to use. Drone footage within this mix would be amazing, so I strongly recommend trying the free ‘Express’ version and maybe moving up when you are more comfortable. Hopefully the new version (v12 coming in February) will include support for H.265 video, which would make this a really good bet for drone users who are ready to invest in a decent NLE. Cost is roughly $300.
So, there are a ton of good software packages available (and loads not even mentioned here too). My recommendation is to try Filmora if you haven’t done any editing before and then branch out if you fancy.
As you get more used to editing and you want to use effects, graphics, transitions, more advanced audio etc, you may find one of the more professional packages is worthwhile, but the investment in other necessary apps will have to be factored in.
I would steer clear of the mid-range apps, which pretend to be pro but are really just a rip-off. There are masses in this market area, but I only looked at a very few because they seem to be a false economy to me. The free stuff is so good and there are excellent, truly pro apps which are not outrageously expensive (especially if you have a $1,500+ drone), that they make this mid-tier seem pointless. The two exceptions are Power Director and ProDrenalin V2, which may be worth a look.
Let me know what your own experiences are and ask me what you want to know!