What's the best editing software?

By Benjamin Craig, filmmaking.net

This is a difficult question to answer as it is affected by many things, primarily the features you need, and the budget you have available. Both of these things need to be seriously considered before you cough up for a piece of software. And although many operating systems now come with basic editing software pre-installed, this is targeted at the home user who wants to edit their holiday videos together and will most likely not have the features you need.

Generally there are two types of systems used in professional and prosumer editing:

Software Only
The cheaper of the two options, as the name suggests, software only solutions provide the editing program only. The advantage of software only products is definitely price, as the costs tend to rise pretty quickly the minute you start adding hardware to the bundle. Which package is best largely depends on whether you are a PC or a Mac user.

For PC users, the best all-round option is Avid Xpress Pro, however with a price-tag starting north of $1000 (for the software-only version), it can be a little out of the price range of many users. Price aside, the fact that you can edit both analogue and DV video, whilst familiarising yourself with the industry-standard Avid interface is definitely a plus.

A good alternative for price-conscious PC users is Adobe Premiere Pro. Premiere has always been the market leader for prosumer PC editing, however it's had a mixed reputation for a long time because of a range of issues (some of which are a result of Premiere and some which were limitations in earlier versions of Windows. Enter Adobe Premiere Pro, written completely from scratch by Adobe to be the "Final Cut" for PCs. It's certainly a far superior product to the previous version (6.5) and probably the best choice for PC-editing if you can't afford Avid. It will only run on Windows XP.

For Mac users, there is only one choice: Final Cut Pro. Final Cut is the main reason for Avid releasing Xpress Pro and for Adobe rewriting Premiere. It pretty much set the standard for video editing on equipment which is accessible to all.

A whole host of other, cheaper editing applications are also available for both PC and Mac (such as Ulead Media Studio Pro or Sony Vegas), however if you’re serious about your editing, you should probably only consider Avid Xpress Pro, Premiere Pro, or Final Cut Pro.

The downside with software only solutions is render time. With most software-only solutions, you cannot see effects and transitions in real time - they must be rendered first. Depending on the power of your computer, this can take anywhere from several minutes to many hours. Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro all offer some real-time effect capabilities, but these are entirely dependent on how powerful your computer is, and generally only perform well on top-end systems.

Hardware/Software Combinations
More serious video editors should consider a hardware/software solution. This involves adding a card to your PC which provides capture facilities and also hardware-accelerated effects and transitions. Many hardware/software solutions offer real-time effects capabilities, however as you can imagine, having hardware in the bundle significantly increases the cost.

At the entry level, programs like Premiere and Media Studio are bundled with capture/render cards from people like Pinnacle, Canopus, and Matrox. Both of these programs are optimised to make use of special features found in these cards, and such packages offer many professional features at reasonable prices. Avid has also recently introduced the DNA series of external video-editing accelerators which add a pretty serious performance punch to systems using Xpress Pro.

The next step up is "badged" hardware/software solutions. With these products, you get a whole computer, optimised for video editing, and including propriety hardware for capture/render/real-time effects. The most well-known systems are those produced by Avid and Media 100. These systems use their own proprietary editing software which is optimised to work with their hardware (or specially selected hardware from third-party manufacturers). These systems are used in broadcasters and professional editing houses, and are therefore priced accordingly.

Last updated 12-Nov-2004

Reader Comments

Karthik, 2-Jun-2009
Avid is the world best editing software, Now there is a new verson in avid called, av... read more...
Ben Steketee, 21-Apr-2008
I use Sony Vegas Pro 8. Contrary to the information in this answer, I'd say it's one ... read more...
Lonnie, 17-Nov-2007
MagixAG produce excellent low cost editing software, however the USA versions are alw... read more...
obp pro, 1-Jun-2007
I am also a Vegas user and do wedding professionally. I have also used Final Cut and ... read more...
damien ward, 11-Sep-2006
Interesting read this article, but I use Vegas 6 for a number of short films and have... read more...
brandon g, 14-Dec-2005
I use Magix Movie Edit Pro 10, and it is only about $50. I love this program. it will... read more...
Ronnie Rokk, 14-Sep-2005
Vegas Video 6 offers in put and out in HDV video as well as many other formats, the p... read more...
Paddy, 2-Aug-2005
Avid also have lower cost options - Avid Xpress DV (For digital/TV use as opposed to ... read more...
Patrick Wylie, 1-Apr-2005
Magix Movie Edit Pro 2004 is a cheap program, starts around $30 and does a suprisingl... read more...

Would you like to add information or comments to this answer?
» enter your comments now.