What's the best editing software to use?
Internet Filmmakers' FAQ
The market for video editing applications has consolidated in recent years. And while there are a plethora of options available for those looking to cut videos for social media or personal use, the range of options for filmmakers has become somewhat short. And that's a good thing.
What makes any given application a good option for filmmakers? The short answer, control. Basic editing tools are designed to allow novice users the quickest and simplest path in going from raw footage to release. If you're making content for social media or simply cutting down your holiday videos into something watchable, that's fine. But by nature, these tools will take away many elements of control that you'll want if you are making narrative or documentary content.
These days, most independent filmmakers settle on one of four video editing applications for their projects.
The Best Editing Apps for Filmmakers
|Adobe Premiere Pro||Apple Final Cut Pro||Avid Media Composer||Blackmagic Design Davinci Resolve|
|Platform||Windows, Mac||Mac||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac, Linux|
|Price||$20 - $59||$299.99||$23 -$49||Free or $295|
|Trial||7-days free||90-days free||Free (basic version)||Free (full version)|
All four products include pretty much everything you'll need, so the choice really comes down to personal preference for the various tools and workflow offered by each product. And of course, how much you are willing to spend.
Adobe Premiere Pro
Adobe's core video editing application has been around since the late 90s, but it wasn't taken seriously as a tool for professionals until a ground-up rewrite in the mid-2000s. Today, Adobe's dominance in the creative space means that Premiere Pro is one of the most widely used tools out there. Oddly, it also gets away with this despite being one of the most expensive.
After a pretty stingy 7-day free trial, Premiere Pro users must take out a subscription to continue using the software. Prices start at around $20 per month in the US (and similar prices in other markets) if you only want Premiere, or $59 per month for the full Adobe Creative Suite. Pricing is clearly designed to nudge users towards the latter, but for the money, you also get access to a host of other applications, including Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere Rush, Audition, and more.
Premiere Pro's workflow has matured well over the years and the range of tools available is constantly being refined (one of the only advantages of subscription based software). Premiere is able to work with most major video and audio codecs (including ProRes and H265), and supports a wide variety of third-party plugins. Premiere Pro is available for both Windows and Mac, but it's worth checking the system requirements on the Adobe website to ensure your machine is capable of running the application.
Apple Final Cut Pro
Final Cut Pro first appeared in the early 2000s as Apple's answer to, a) the cost of professional video editing applications from then market leader Avid, and b) the lack of any other decent products for Macs. Apple's fanbase and existing footprint in the creative industries meant that Final Cut Pro quickly became one of the leading products in its space.
Today, Apple offers Final Cut Pro for a one-off cost of around $299 (the product being slightly more expensive in other markets – e.g. in the UK, it retails at £299). There are no subscriptions or ongoing costs, and Apple is fairly generous in providing existing users with regular updates. But of course it means that major updates may require a subsequent purchase. For those new to Final Cut Pro, Apple offers a free 90-day trial. The trial is fully-functional, although it's worth noting that support for some codecs may not be available in the trial version due to licensing restrictions.
Final Cut Pro includes all of the tools you need to edit your video, create motion graphics, manage colour correction, and audio post. It also natively supports ProRes and is optimised to take advantage of Apple's hardware. Final Cut Pro of course only runs on Macs, and does come with a set of minimum system requirements, depending on the type of video you're looking to edit.
Avid Media Composer
Avid was one of the early innovators in developing digital, non-linear editing systems. It was born as a division of Lucasfilm back in the 1980s, and spun off as a separate company in the early 90s. Avid was the 'industry standard' for over a decade. However, the cost and hardware requirements of Avid systems, combined with a love-it or loath-it interface, saw Avid lose ground to competitors in the new millennium. Today, Avid is still a major player, but does not enjoy the industry dominance it once did.
Avid's confusing product lines have been simplified in recent years. Today, their core editing application is known as Media Composer. There are several tiers of the product: the free entry-level version, Media Composer | First; the a standard version, known simply as Media Composer, and Media Composer | Ultimate, for advanced users and facilities. The free version contains a lot of useful features, but comes with limited support for certain codecs and workflows. For most professional users, the standard Media Composer will be most suitable (at $23.99 per month), and post facilities will often opt for the Ultimate flavour.
Unlike it's Adobe and Apple competitors, Avid has long supported integration with custom hardware devices. These provide hardware acceleration (DNx) and superior connectivity to otherwise standard desktop computers... at a price of course. New users can familiarise themselves with the Avid interface and workflow using the free edition, but to gain access to a lot of the more useful tools and codecs, you'll need to shift to one of the paid tiers. Avid Media Composer runs on both Windows and Mac, but your system will need to meet the minimum hardware requirements or be an Avid-qualified system.
Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve
DaVinci Resolve has been around since 2003, but it wasn't until the product's parent company, da Vinci Systems, was acquired by Blackmagic Design in 2009 that it became a serious player. Originally a super-expensive product focussed more on finishing (colour grading etc), Blackmagic evolved Resolve into a fully-fledge post suite.
Today, two versions of DaVinci Resolve are available: a completely free version, and DaVinci Resolve Studio, which comes with additional hardware for around $295. The free version is by far the most fully-featured of any of the free/trial versions of the four competing products, making it an interesting choice for cash-strapped indie filmmakers. Indeed, Engadget recently suggested that DaVinci Resolve may now be a better option for many users than Premiere Pro.
DaVinci Resolve offers a full suite of tools for editing, visual effects, motion graphics, colour correction, and audio post. It's also able to leverage Blackmagic Design's industry leading hardware solutions, which offer a range of interface and acceleration options. DaVinci Resolve runs on Windows and Macs, and also on Linux workstations. As with all video post tools, your machine will need to meet a set of minimum hardware requirements in order to run the product effectively.