Free Video Editing Software for Beginners
Which video editing software should I use? And where can I get it for free?
These are two of the most common questions I get asked by people looking to learn video editing, or those looking to do some video editing on a project for the first time.
The answers all depends on what you’re trying to do, right now, and where you’re looking to get to in the future.
Are you trying to get a simple home video of your kids edited together, or looking to add some edited video to a work presentation or simply trying to figure out what you should learn now, if you want to begin a career in film and TV?
I’ll answer all of these questions in this post, and point to some great free and affordable video editing software options, that should work for you, regardless of your hardware capabilities.
When you are just beginning to learn video editing, you obviously need something to edit with. In this 7,000 word opus on building an Alternative Film School for Editors, I’ve included a section on where to source projects to edit, and why getting constructive feedback is so key. This section includes a discount code for Editstock.com, which is probably the best place to look, if you’re starting from scratch.
If you are starting out and looking for other freebies or discount codes, be sure to hit this page dedicated to such things, including free colour grading LUTS, film grain, light leaks, editing books and more!
If you need some cheap or free royalty free production music, check out this post which lists my four favourite sites for high quality music tracks.
Free Video Editing Software for Beginners
When you’re first starting out you probably don’t want to spend a lot of money on video editing software, especially if you’re not going to be using it all that often. Thankfully there are a few different free options available today, which can deliver excellent results.
In this section of the post I’ve rounded up some free video editing applications for Mac, Windows and Linux that will help you get serious creative work done without spending a penny. In the second section I talk about what software you should choose depending on where you want to work.
Some of these programs do offer in-app purchases to extend their capabilities, but most will work right out of the box.
- DaVinci Resolve
- Avid Media Composer | First
- Hit Film Express
- Media 100
Since Blackmagic Design bought DaVinci Resolve a few years ago they have totally transformed the industry leading colour grading software into the best free editing and colour grading application available today.
It’s without a doubt the most feature-rich and ‘professional’ application you can download and deliver from without spending a single cent/penny. You can see just how many features are included in the free version here.
The only caveat with Resolve is making sure your system will run it smoothly. Be sure to check out the system configuration guide to make sure you’re getting the best performance you can. Also the user manual is the best you’ll ever encounter.
Best for: Junior editors and would be colorists who want professional level tools for free and have the hardware to support them.
Price: Free or $299 for the full Studio Version.
Platforms: Mac, Windows and Linux
Download Link – Download DaVinci Resolve for free here.
I recently put together an entire post dedicated to rounding up free and paid resources for learning to edit in DaVinci Resolve, so that’s the best place to start if you want to give Resolve a whirl yourself.
This post includes a brilliant 10-part video tutorial series that will take you through editing your first project from start to finish.
The best place for a one-stop-shop-free-tutorial destination for Resolve is probably Goat’s Eye View’s excellent bite size series of tutorials. Clocking in at over 120 free short video tutorials, you’ll be able to find an answer to ‘how-do-I?’ questions here.
You should also browse through the 140+ posts on this blog which feature DaVinci Resolve, and within each post you’ll find hundreds of further free tutorials, tools, resources, paid training titles and more.
Avid Media Composer | First
Avid Media Composer has long been the industry standard when it comes to film and TV post-production. It is robust, comes with (optional) dedicated hardware and delivers decades of confidence in its tried and tested workflows between post production teams.
Avid finally offers a free (non-trial) version of the software called Avid Media Composer | First, which is quite limited but still very useful if you want to learn to edit in this ‘legendary’ software.
What do you get for free?
- Support for Mac and Windows
- Limited to 4 video tracks and 8 audio tracks
- Limited to 1080p resolution and Rec. 709 colour space
- Unlimited Projects
- Only 5 Bins per project
- QuickTime export to H.264 and DNxHD only
So what don’t you get for free?
- 24 video tracks and 64 audio tracks in full version
- No support for DNxHR
- Full colour correction, audio editing and effects tools
- Full keyboard shortcut mapping
- Everything else!
If you do want to pursue a career in feature film and broadcast television then you should master Avid Media Composer.
This subsequent post will help you understand what you need to become an Avid Media Composer Assistant Editor (Overnight). It includes professional training courses, free tutorials, recommended books and a whole lot more. It also covers why you should learn Avid Media Composer over other NLEs.
Best for: Film Students and learning assistant editors.
Price: Free or $19.99 a month for Avid Media Composer or $49.99 a month for Avid Media Composer Ultimate
Platforms: Mac or Windows.
Download Link – Download Avid Media Composer | First for free.
Filmora from Wondershare
I’d not heard of Wondershare’s Filmora before their marketing team got in touch to tell me about it, but it does look like a really useful low cost option for parents, hobbyists, online content creators and video bloggers looking to create smart looking videos they can easily share online and via social media.
They’ve just updated the app to version 8.1 which includes access to over 300 new effects including 103 titles, 191 motion elements, 60 overlay effects and 25 free music tracks through a collaboration with ArtList.io, one of my favourite new production music sites.
The Effects Store lets you purchase add on content like transitions, effects, title packs, colour grades and more. This makes adding some extra glitz to your project quite straightforward, as long as you don’t mind paying between $30-50 for a pack of them.
According to the site they already have over 5 million happy users and the real attraction to using Filmora seems to be the very low price ($60 lifetime license) and the drag-and-drop content creation simplicity it delivers.
Best for: Video bloggers, tutorial creators, part-time editors and anyone with a penchant for online video content.
Price: Free trial with watermark or a one-off fee, lifetime license with free upgrades for $59.99.
Platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android.
Free Tutorials: Tons on their YouTube channel (see below)
Download Link – Download a free trial of Filmora here.
The Filmora YouTube channel is packed with free tutorials for getting started with the software, masterclasses on becoming a Vlogger, creating beauty and make up tutorials, growing your YouTube channel or helping you do specific things like create a gif.
In this short promo video you can check out an example of one of the free add-on packs for Filmora.
HitFilm Express is the free version of the popular combined editing and visual effects software package HitFilm Pro. It is fairly limited compared to the Pro version, but the modular pricing system means you only have to pay for the bits you really need.
If you’re looking for free tutorials there are TONS of them on their very active and entertaining YouTube channel. There are playlists covering a range of topics including beginners tutorials, HitFilm Express specific tutorials, Star Wars effects tutorials, 3D compositing, colour grading and much, much more.
Hit Film is a very capable piece of editing software, that is freely available for Mac and Windows. This is great.
But, as with Media 100, I wouldn’t recommend choosing it for a long-term solution if you’re looking to find a place working in the industry as an editor, because you’ll need to know one of the more ‘mainstream’ apps like Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere Pro.
Best for: Video editing enthusiasts, junior visual effects artists and anyone looking to create fun explosive short films for free. Editors will appreciate being able to bring in all of HitFilm’s high quality effects into their NLE of choice via Ignite Pro.
Platforms: Windows and Mac.
Download Link: Download HitFilm Express for free here.
I’ve been an interested observer of the development of Lightworks, ever since I discovered that it was the editing application of choice for Thelma Schoonmaker (Wolf of Wall Street) and Tariq Anwar (American Beauty).
It used to be a paid for app, then it was going to be an open-source application, but now it’s still under private development but at least with a free version, that’s limited to a 1080p ‘Vimeo’ export.
It goes without saying that it’s clearly a very capable editing package that has some devoted users. You can check out previous posts about Lightworks on this blog here, or watch some of the easy to follow tutorials below and on the official YouTube channel here.
Lightworks version 14 was just released with a brand new video interface which offers a ‘fixed’ (as in static) layout compared to Lightworks historically extremely flexible collection of floating windows. Although you can actually switch between these two layouts in a jiffy.
One of the compelling attributes of Lightworks are it’s trimming tools, as well as multi-editor workflows. Version 14 also brings with it some interesting bundling of services with Audio Network and Pond 5, for in-app access to royalty-free audio and video content.
That integration delivers some really nice real-time previews of your music tracks, over your edited sequence in a single click. This will save a good deal of time downloading previews that just don’t work under the pictures.
The free version of Lightworks is limited to the following features. Compare that to the paid for version here.
- Realtime titling effects
- Realtime effects, including over 100 presets
- Advanced multi-cam editing
- Second monitor output
- All Import Formats
- Lightworks Archives
- Export to Vimeo (H.264 / MPEG-4) 240p, 360p, 480p, 720p and 1080p (HD)
- Export to YouTube (H.264 / MPEG-4) 240p, 360p, 480p and 720p
Best for: Old school Oscar winning editors. Editors who are tired of the ‘usual apps’ and anyone who wants to try out a really interesting toolset (mostly in the paid version)
Price: Free or £99/year £249.99 outright.
Platforms: Mac, Windows and Linux.
Download Link: Download the latest version of Lightworks for free here.
In a pretty recent move Media 100, one of THE original video editing software programs ever created, is now available entirely for free.
I just downloaded it and after a few minutes of wrangling the individual floating windows into one corner of my 4K editing monitor, I took this screenshot and uninstalled the app. That was the extent of our relationship, mostly because the ancient looking UI told me we didn’t have a future together.
But hey, it’s FREE, and you can’t argue with that. You can almost certainly achieve high quality editing with it, if you can figure out the interface.
Here’s what the press release has to say about it.
Featuring an easy-to-use, responsive interface and broad support for 4K, 2K, HD, and SD standards, Media 100 delivers broadcast-quality output for tape and file-based workflows. Editors can edit in Media 100 and export their Media 100 timeline to Adobe After Effects for finishing. In addition, Boris RED is included for integrated transitions and titling on the Media 100 timeline.
Interestingly you can also get 100 free transitions (worth $50) from Eye Scream Factory bundled into the free download of Media100.
Each free Media 100 Suite download includes Eye Scream Factory’s “100 Essential Transitions” package, a $49.95 value. 100 Essential Transitions features a variety of designer transition effects ranging from the familiar to the inspired.
Best for: Editors who want to give a professional grade application a fresh try. I’m not sure how frequently you’ll encounter this application ‘in the industry’ so I wouldn’t recommend it for those looking to start a professional career. Great for anyone on Mac looking for a free video editing application.
Platforms: Mac OS 10.9+
Download Link: Download Media100 for free here.
There is a link to a set of free video tutorials for Media100 on the official site, although these were originally uploaded in 2015. A newer series of text-based tutorials are available too, these seem to be an updated version of the original series.
Which Editing Software Should I Learn First?
In my recent post rounding up tutorials and resources for editors switching between the mainstream video editing applications, I also suggested which software you might want learn and invest in, depending on where you want to get to in the future.
I thought I’d expand on those thoughts here too. Hopefully this will help you if you’re looking to build a career in the film industry from scratch.
For over 7000 words on how I would build an Alternative Film School for Film Editing, check out this post which details what I would do and buy if I was trying to set myself up for a freelance career in film editing without going to film school.
- If you want to work in features and broadcast TV – learn Avid Media Composer first, then Adobe Premiere Pro.
- Editing your own videos and price is your main consideration? – Learn DaVinci Resolve, it’s free!
- Don’t want to pay a monthly subscription fee? – Learn FCPX or Resolve.
- Coming from Final Cut Pro 7 (still!) and looking for an easy leap – Learn Adobe Premiere Pro
For each of these high profile editing applications there are free trials available, which are usually fully functional, but time-limited.
When it comes to investing your money in one of these applications FCPX represents the best value (it’s $299 for a lifetime of free updates) whilst Avid Media Composer is probably the most expensive for what you get, at $50/month.
Avid is more ‘expensive’ when compared to paying the same money per month for the full suite of Adobe’s Creative Cloud applications. These include Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and many more!
If your creative pursuits are broader than straight video editing, an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription is great value. Although if you stop paying, you no longer have access to any of your software.
These thoughts may well be contentious, and feel free to hit the comments and share your experience. I’m certain everyone’s will be different!
For further resources for learning to edit, take a rummage in the following categories for every single post on the blog related to these apps:
In many ways it doesn’t matter which editing application you learn, how expensive it is, or what it’s feature set.
Learning software is easy, learning how and why to edit is much harder. But it can be done!
You just have to cut and cut a lot.