What's the best editing software?

Internet Filmmakers' FAQ

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.

Answer by Benjamin Craig  |  Last updated 12-Nov-2004


Older Comments

Karthik  |  02-Jun-2009
Avid is the world best editing software, Now there is a new verson in avid called, avid media composer 3.5, it has lot of tools, with avid alone you can complete your full movie . . .
Ben Steketee  |  21-Apr-2008
I use Sony Vegas Pro 8. Contrary to the information in this answer, I'd say it's one STUDLY program. I have not come across a single thing in filmmaking that Vegas has not had an answer to. Highly recommended.
Lonnie  |  17-Nov-2007
MagixAG produce excellent low cost editing software, however the USA versions are always behind the UK & German releases. The best in English at the moment is MEP 11+ UK blue box not sold in the USA, but available for $60 on UK e-bay although the 2008 version should be out soon. It has a slightly stiffish learning curve but is full of features that can only be found in a much more expensive editing programs. It can be viewed on the Magix UK site and the list of functions will be a surprise.
obp pro  |  01-Jun-2007
I am also a Vegas user and do wedding professionally. I have also used Final Cut and it is definitely superior, especially regarding the audio capabilities. But I'm not entirely sure you have to start out with Final Cut to be considered "serious" about your work. Final Cut is a sizeable undertaking if you want to master the system. Unless you’ve had formal schooling, I’d say start with an easier program and build up to Hollywood-grade software. The main thing is to keep on filming! :)
damien ward  |  11-Sep-2006
Interesting read this article, but I use Vegas 6 for a number of short films and have to say that with the right pc system I think its unfair to say that only Avid or Premiere or Final Cut the only programs to consider if your serious. I would like to know what hinderence I would find during editing a movie Vegas 6 would bring where as Adobe or Avid would not.
brandon g  |  14-Dec-2005
I use Magix Movie Edit Pro 10, and it is only about $50. I love this program. it will do just about anything. This is a very good program for editing.
Ronnie Rokk  |  14-Sep-2005
Vegas Video 6 offers in put and out in HDV video as well as many other formats, the price is around $449.96 but would recoment the Vegas+DVD package for $674.96 if you can afford it. I use this along with Photoshop 7.0 to get some awesome results and the Vegas interface is very easy to work with, the timeline is completely interchangable. View this video I made with Vegas 6.0 it's 30 seconds long and this is on a cheap camcorder a Sony DCR-TRV260 at this link. http://www.acidplanet.com/artist.asp?PID=630299&t=9194 copy and paste it in your browser, this will give you an example of how good of quality you can get using Vegas. for more info on Vegas go here: http://www.sonymediasoftware.com/Products/ShowProduct.asp?PID=967&KeyCode=7777-4701
Paddy  |  02-Aug-2005
Avid also have lower cost options - Avid Xpress DV (For digital/TV use as opposed to film) is great, and shares an identical interface and file formats with the rest of the Avid family, so you can theoretically do your first cut using it, then go to a 'proper' facility with your EDL (Edit Decision List) and source and use all their extra effects and whizz-bang tools to finish your edit. PC and Mac, but you'll want a top-end laptop if you plan to go mobile, and a suggested min 1.5G RAM. Avid also have a free edition - Avid Xpress DV Free - identical interface, but with only 2 video and audio tracks, and incompatible file formats, it's really just a teaser to get you used to the interface. Your EDL may still be exportable though, or it may still be good enough for a rough-cut to give a facility a good idea what you want. And the price is right ;-)
Patrick Wylie  |  01-Apr-2005
Magix Movie Edit Pro 2004 is a cheap program, starts around $30 and does a suprisingly good job. Chroma Keys, Real Time FX, Audio Cleaning, Video Cleaning, Transitions, and much much more. This is a great program for filmmakers who are just starting.