The world of video editing used to be a lot simpler. A video editor only had a couple of functions for computer editing, and there were only a few options. Now there are so many options one post couldn’t possibly cover them.
In this post, I’ll help you choose a video editor based on your needs and the most common options out there. It really won’t be that hard.
Video Editor Criteria
Here are the differences in the video editors and what you need to consider:
Not all video editors can do the same things. So the first part of your selection will be listing all the jobs you want your editor to do. Btw, I will assume that since you’re reading this you’ve done some editing before and know at least some of the terminology used in editing. All editors will make some kind of jump cut.
All editors will make some kind of jump cut. Most editors also have built-in transitions, but they aren’t all as useful. iMovie and Final Cut Pro X have a lot of transitions, but only about 4-5 are useful (the rest are best left to editing family videos you would only want to force on your closest friends).
Deep editing tasks like color correction and LUTs will not be found on the simpler editors. So if you need those tools, you can easily eliminate several editors like iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, and Filmora.
There are also movie studio type of work that some videos require. Slow motion, stabilization, special effects, and animations are standard for many editors now, but the quality of each and ease of use will help you decide the best choice for you.
If you know what tasks you will need in your video editor, make a list (or keep one in your head) of everything you expect your editor to do. As you read through the rest of this post, you can refer back to your list and eliminate options that won’t work for you.
Ease of Use
This is a bigger consideration than most new editors think. Video editing requires time and energy. Lots of it, in fact. A video editor that’s easy to use can save you countless hours in work. Even though I’ve produced studio quality videos, there are times when I will use a simpler editor just to save myself time.
The more complicated a task is, the more time it will take to do it right. This is where the higher level editors separate themselves. Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere both have deep color correction, but anyone who has used both will know that Premiere’s tools are much more robust than FCPx. However, Premiere is also a beast to use. You will have to invest in training to fully understand and effectively use Premiere’s tools.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll separate the ease of use category into beginner, intermediate, and pro. Don’t let these labels fool you. I know pros who use iMovie. Instead, think of it this way. Beginners will spend less than an hour for a simple 20-minute video. Pros will spend more than 2 hours on the same video and will sometimes only get marginally better results.
Some people would put this first on your list, and yes, money is important, but let me through you a little caveat. Whatever video editor you choose, you will likely spend lots of your time editing on it.
How much is your time worth?
If a video editor saves you an hour or two in the editing process and your time is less than $100 per billable hour, you still save money by investing in a better editor in the long run. In the same way, thinking of time, if it takes you hours and hours of time to learn your new editor, it might not be worth it.
So try to balance the budget for your editor while thinking of your most important commodity – time.
Simple Video Editors
In the simple editors category, you have the ability to make simple cuts and transitions, at least two tracks of editing, basic titles and text overlay and common transitions.
iMovie starts out this list as the most popular simple video editor. Its standardized interface certainly makes it a great choice. You can find plenty of tutorials for it and it will give most people everything they need. iMovie is also free if you already own an Apple computer.
If you don’t live in the Mac world, Filmora, costing $59, is a very close editor to iMovie (although you can get it on Apple computers too). Filmora looks and feels like iMovie, but really shines in the styles it offers. Instead of filters that look like they came out of the 90’s (ahem, iMovie) it has updated looks similar to what you would find on Instagram. Filmora can also record screencasts, making it a better choice for creative biz people’s needs.
Adobe Premiere Elements takes the simple editor about as far as it can go. At $99 will give you the most options for a simple editor. While Premiere Elements still doesn’t give you full color correction, it’s as close as you can get in the simple category. The style/looks are much more usable than either iMovie or Filmora and it generally just does most of the work in a way that feels more professional. In addition, Elements also has video guides to make up for its complexity and lack of third-party tutorials.
There are other choices like Corel VideoStudio, CyberLink PowerDirector, Pinnacle Studio, Magix Movie Edit Pro, and Vegas Movie Studio. Each of these will do most if not all of the previously mentioned tasks, but I recommend staying with the other three for one common reason – support. Each of these other platforms may work great, but if you need help, especially from outside of their company, it will be hard to find.
Conclusion: Each of these simple video editors will get most basic jobs done. It really depends on your budget and what you prefer in an editor. Many people will choose iMovie simply because it’s available on your Mac. My choice, if I could only have one of the three, would be Premiere Elements.
Professional Video Editors
In the professional editor category, I’ve listed three that can do almost anything you can imagine in editing. These apps will offer deep color correction with multiple video scopes, editable transitions, title and text edits and even motion tracking. These are powerful, feature filled programs with tons of complexity and the learning curve associated with them.
Final Cut Pro X
We’ll start out with Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, simply because it’s the lightest of the three in ease of use. FCPx has Apple’s customary user interface that, while not always intuitive, makes sense once they train you to think like Steve Jobs.
Final Cut Pro X will be the easiest of the pro-level editors to learn. Most of the tools are drag and drop styled buttons. You can easily make cuts, trim them, change their timing, etc. without even looking at a tutorial. Transitions are simple and can be previewed before adding, and the basics are there along with a lot of super-cheesy, dated ones as well. The same is true of titles and text. Adding anything is as easy as dragging it from the menu into the timeline where you want it.
Transitions are simple and can be previewed before adding, and the basics are there along with a lot of super-cheesy, dated ones as well. Have you ever watched a middle school power point presentation, where they try to use every available transition possible? That’s what most of FCPx’s transitions remind me of. The same is true of titles and text. Adding anything is as easy as dragging it from the menu into the timeline where you want it.
The same is true of titles and text. All the useful text effects are available and also tons that will have people rolling their eyes at your lack of professionalism. However, adding these is as easy as dragging it from the menu into the timeline where you want it, and then editing it in the inspector panel.
Final Cut Pro X has deep editing functions in the top right of the user interface in the inspector panel. You’ll get all the things you wished you could control in iMovie. You can change text, transitions, match audio and video from other clips (very useful) and control most of the functions of your edits. Video scopes and Histograms are available to make as many changes as you want.
Video scopes and Histograms are available to make as many changes as you want. The simple interface here will make your life easier, but if you want really deep edits, it might be frustrating. Color correction, for example, is limited to dark tones, mid tones, and highlights. You can change only three with one color correction. Of course, you can stack up several color corrections, but that gets tricky.
Things like organizing files only make sense if you’re used to Apple’s interface. For example, FCPx has Libraries, Projects and Events. The Library is where files are kept, right? But if you don’t load the files into the event your editing, even if it’s within the library you created for this Project, then FCPx doesn’t play well with the associated files. I’ve been burned on this several times when I’ve edited everything and then rendered the file only to have no audio.
The simplicity of FCPx’s interface is also where you see the limitations. Sure, you can drag pre-animated text right into the timeline and make it work, but if you want to edit the animation, you’re going to be very disappointed. Transitions are also a little disappointing as well. Adding a crossfade transition to a layer of text above a clip will also crossfade the layers under it.
Final Cut Pro X is a great next step from iMovie or any of the simple editors out there. You can get a lot done quickly, and as long as you aren’t too particular about the end results, you’ll be very happy.
One video editor that defies the category of “simple” is DaVinci’s Resolve. It’s a free download, which is confusing for some, since it has deep editing found only on professional editors.
You can do true color correction on it (much more in-depth than FCPx), make all the cuts you want, and it has some of the best motion tracking available. Resolve also has hugely robust audio editing options. It really is an amazing editor.
Resolve used to be a program editors would use simply for color correction. It’s that good. But now they’ve added so much more to its usable functions that I would easily use it for most of my work.
Where Resolve (and Premiere) differs from FCPx is really in its complexity. Those premade text animations in FCPx that you couldn’t edit, those are gone. So you get more control, but you have to create it yourself. This isn’t anything hard, but it is time-consuming. For this reason, a lot of people stick with the limitations of FCPx, so they can get their work done quickly.
Resolve splits the different between FCPx and Premiere in its stylized transitions and effects. You get a lot with this package that you can use, unlike many of FCPx’s transitions and effects.
One thing that Resolve does that neither of the other editors can touch. When it comes to editing audio, Resolve wins. You could probably record a music album with the resources in Resolve (the Fairlight audio engine has recorded many top-ten hits). It’s more than you could ask of any editor, and if you might need deep audio editing, look no further.
DaVinci Resolve is free, btw. It used to be considered good only for color correction and simple cuts, but the newer version (14) makes it a very usable editor. You can upgrade to the paid version to add some more options and 4k editing for $299.
The only reservations I would have about paying for or investing a lot of time learning Resolve is its limited availability of resources. There’s something to be said for being able to go on YouTube and look up videos on how to get everything done. FCPs and Premiere have tons of these resources. There are also lots of third-party effects and transitions available for the other editors. Resolve, not so much.
Premiere is considered by many editors the benchmark of video editing. It has everything an enthusiast video editor needs and much that you will never use. It won’t make your coffee for you, but it can make a video of you drinking coffee do almost anything.
For $19.99 a month, you get a workhorse of an editor that continually updates to the newest version with all the tools you will need.
Premiere handles deep color correction, edits and transitions, titles and text, and just about anything else you can throw at it. It does it all with solid performance that thousands of professionals use every day.
The price of all that competitor crushing performance is ease of use. It’s not that it isn’t easy. For the most part, it is. But you can’t include every option in editing and not also create a bloat of menus and options at the same time. Think Microsoft Word is difficult with all its options? Premiere laughs at you.. to your face… without apology.
The good news is that you can find a tutorial on almost anything Premiere does. There are so many helpful resources out there, you will have to wade through them to find your favorites.
And speaking of resources, third party add-ons Premiere has in spades. Want an effect to make your video look like the Matrix? Got it. Animated text effects? Yup. Granted, you have to pay extra for these premade third party resources, but again, that time thing. If your time is worth anything, you’re better off just buying them.
Here’s where all that power causes problems. Because Premiere depends on you to know what you want and how to make it yourself, you have to be a bit of an expert on every element. Premiere scoffs at Apple’s cute little-premade text animations.
Because of this, Premiere will not be a good choice for some. The lack of premade, built-in, easy to use templates for text and effects will make Premiere way too time intensive for some editors. Sure you can buy third party resources, but that takes more time (and money).
Choosing the Right Video Editor
The right video editor is the one that you can get the best results on with the least amount of work. At a top price of $299, none of these are out of your price range if your time is worth anything. In hours of editing, even if your time is worth $10, you only have to edit a mere 30 hours to make a purchase worth your time.
It really comes down to time. How much time do you plan (or have) to spend on editing videos? Here are some guiding principles to help you decide which editor is right for you.
- If you spend less than one hour for 20 minutes of video, get a simple editor, probably iMovie or Filmora.
- If you like more stylized video, choose Filmora.
- If you can work for an hour or more on editing, consider Premiere Elements or one of the more professional editors.
- If you have a high standard for what your video looks like but aren’t particular about typography, animations or color grading, Premiere Elements or FCPx is for you.
- If you know what you want and will be frustrated with having to settle, look at Resolve or Premiere Pro.
- If deep audio editing is important, choose Resolve.
- If you aren’t sure how long you will edit video in the span of your career, any choice is as good as another, although one of the programs that doesn’t require a lot of training will probably be a better choice.
- If you plan to continue editing and develop yourself as an editor, Premiere is probably the best choice.
I hope this helps you get the most out of your video editor. If you want more useful tips, please check out my YouTube channel, where I have tutorials on editing and video creation. I also will be launching a course soon on lighting. You can sign up for the discounted pre-release here.