The Best Cheap or Free Video Editing Tools for Mac + PC
Video editing used to be a tricky and expensive endeavor. Just five years ago, you needed a decent digital camcorder and expensive editing software to create something that looked professional. Rewind thirty years, and you’re talking tape splicing! Thank goodness we’ve come so far so fast; Nowadays, all it takes to create slick, professional-looking video content is a smartphone, laptop, and access to one of the many free editing software suites available.*
And when we say “many,” we mean it. There are dozens of options out there at every price point and level of difficulty. So just how do you pick the best possible video editing tool for your specific needs?
You could certainly research and test the various options yourself, but we thought we’d save you the time and trouble! Here are our picks for top-notch video editing software packages—including options for both Macs and PCs—along with the reasons we adore them.
The Best Video Editing Software for Macs
Apple iMovie: The gold standard for easy-to-use, intuitive video editing, iMovie comes preloaded on all Macs and is a remarkably powerful and versatile tool. With drag-and-drop imports and a clean, navigable layout, this program makes basics like adding audio and incorporating transitional effects ridiculously simple. iMovie includes an impressive selection of ready-to-use audio files (including royalty-free sound effects and music), a decent array of pre-made titles and backgrounds, and plenty of fun transitions that can be easily previewed by skimming. Die-hard Mac users with basic video-editing needs should feel free to stick to this beautifully designed native software package. No shame in relying on a built-in when it’s as thorough and effective as this one.
Corel VideoStudio Pro: If you’re a more advanced user and feel ready to spread your wings beyond iMovie, Corel’s package is a great choice. This affordable mid-range editor has a clean, clutter-free layout that’s similar to iMovie. VideoStudio Pro allows you to easily manipulate your raw footage in several impressive ways; You can layer effects, tinker with speed, reverse your clips, or enhance the color in your videos. For a truly professional feel, you can combine, sync, and edit footage from multiple cameras and select the angle you want to show as your video plays. The Stop Motion feature allows you to control a DSLR from within the software, and Track Motion lets you follow the movement of a single object and apply effects to it. VideoStudio Pro is just a smidgen less intuitive than iMovie, but also gives you access to a larger and more powerful array of functions to tweak and improve your clips. This software costs about $65 and is also available for PCs.
The Best Video Editing Software for PCs
Windows Movie Maker: Although this software was once preloaded on all Windows machines, it wasn’t included with the Windows 10 rollout. Luckily, experts have run extensive tests and found it to be fully functional on the most recent release! Windows Movie Maker can be downloaded for free from the Windows website, and offers users a pared-down package that includes all the best basics. You’re able to cut, trim, rotate, and join your clips, as well as adding simple titles, effects, transitions, and audio to your projects. The program works with both still images and video footage, and allows you to manipulate raw files in a dozen video formats. Movie Maker doesn’t have many filter options or advanced editing options, and it won’t allow you to add multiple audio tracks or trim clips precisely. But it’s an ideal option for creating basic teaching or promotional videos. Much like iMovie on the Mac side, it’s hard to find fault with an easy-to-use, free video editor that’s been designed to work seamlessly with your operating system.
Shotcut: If you want to dig a little deeper or create more complex videos, Shotcut is a free, open-source option that’s described by many as a robust replacement for Windows Movie Maker. However, you should be prepared for a rather steep learning curve. Shotcut’s standard interface is sparse, but not quite as clear-cut as Movie Maker. You can add editing modules to the interface by clicking the buttons along the top bar, so tinker a bit before settling into the editing process. If you’re a fan of filters, you’ll be delighted by Shotcut’s deep library of video and audio filters, all of which are fully customizable and can be layered and combined in marvelously creative ways. (Slight drawback: You can’t preview a filter before applying it, but all the filters are a snap to remove, so this shouldn’t cause too much hassle.) This option isn’t for the novice user hoping to slap together a 30-second promo in an hour or less, but those willing to explore Shotcut’s options and take advantage of its abundant editing features will be thrilled by its flexibility and depth. (Also available for Mac.)
More Affordable Video Editing Tools to Consider for Mac or PC
Filmora: This software is ideal for those hoping to move beyond native software but who still want a user-friendly, unambiguous video editor. Filmora has two modes—”Easy Mode” and “Full-feature Mode”—for basic or advanced editing. Although “Easy Mode” is ideal for quick projects, even the “Full-feature mode” has a fantastically straightforward interface that’s easy to navigate. From there, you can trim, crop, adjust color, rotate, adjust speed, and more. Filmora also has an impressive effects library, which includes more than 300 overlays, filters (including many that mimic Instagram filters!), motion effects, transitions, and titles. The software also includes a built-in music library with everything from folk to hip-hop. You can download and use media from Facebook and Instagram, and then upload your finished work back to your social media accounts. The initial download is free, but until you pony up $50 to register, all of your videos will have a Filmora watermark. Also available for Mac and PC.
Adobe Premiere Elements: Premiere Pro, Adobe’s full-feature video editor, is currently offered as a subscription-only program that will set you back $20 per month. Elements is a stripped-down version that includes some of Premiere's best features and can be purchased for a less onerous one-time fee of $100. Like Filmora, Premiere Elements has two modes: "Quick" for creating simple videos, and "Expert" for more complex projects. The software offers a “Guided” option for editing, which is helpful to newbie users hoping to master more advanced features. The sharpening feature can clear the haze from your clips, and the program’s “Face Detection” component means you’ll never have an out-of-focus speaker again. “Guided Edit” allows you to apply effects across multiple clips or your entire movie at once.If you’re feeling restricted by iMovie or Movie Maker and ready to spend some time learning a more varied and flexible system, Premiere Elements could be a perfect fit. Available for Mac and PC.
Aside from the two native programs, all of these editors offer free trial downloads so you can tinker around before committing to a purchase. If you’re unsure how granular you’d like to get with your video editing, try a few and see which one feels the most natural! None of these programs will be ideal for editing a full-length feature film, but every single one is fine for the video-polishing needs of eager beginners who are looking to build a business by teaching online.