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3 free video editing tools anyone can use – Desktop edition

3 free video editing tools anyone can use - Desktop editionThe best video editing programs are free aren’t they?

Well, I guess it depends on your definition of “Best”.  But free is certainly a good place to start. For me, video editing is just a necessary part of getting a bigger project done.  And whether you’re making personal videos for fun, capturing memories of important events, or aiming for the next viral marketing video, editing can be intimidating. But that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult or expensive.

Thankfully, there are many different video editors you can choose from that fit your experience level and needs. And some of the best ones are free. That’s a bonus when you are just starting out or even if you’re advanced, but want to try out the editor before making a commitment.

Free versions sometimes come with restrictions though. For video editing that usually means you don’t have many options for exporting your video, or the more advanced features won’t work. There are some exceptions though, that are totally free and awesome. Here are three that can be used for free with restrictions or awesomeness noted.

All of the video editors in this blog are cross-platform. They will work on Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems.

WeVideo

One of the most disruptive developments in the world of business and technology is “The Cloud”. Virtually every industry is leveraging it by offering services and products that live “out there”, somewhere in the unknown vastness that is the Internet (of course that’s the overly dramatised description!). The video creation industry is no exception. Enter WeVideo.

This cloud-based video editing service offers a large selection of features. And of course it has the option to use a free account. The key here is the “option”. You can do quite a bit with the free version, though you’ll have to live with the following restrictions:

  • 720p top resolution. You can’t create videos in 1080p with the free account. This is probably fine for many purposes, but if you want true HD you’ll have to go pay up.
  • Limited storage. You only get 1 GB of storage for your video within the service. Whether this is a serious restriction depends on what videos you’re making, but if you’re willing to live with the other restrictions on the free account you may not need more.
  • Limited video length. This is potentially the most limiting of all the restrictions. You get a total video time of just 5 minutes per month. For example, 5 one minute videos or one 5-minute video, or any combination that adds up to 5 minutes. As a free user, there isn’t any way to get more “publish time” as they call it. You need to upgrade to a paid account to get more.
  • Only one export (“publish” in their terms) option. The only encoding option is H.264 “(baseline profile)”, 25 fps, 16:9 ratio and MPEG AAC audio codec.
  • Can’t use some advanced features. Free accounts can’t use screen recording, green screens or slow motion among others.
  • WeVideo branding included. Free users all have the WeVideo branding on the top right corner. And it’s kinda big. Whether this matters depends on what sort of video you’re making.

But it isn’t all bad. Here are some of the high points for free users:

  • Choose an interface based on your experience level. WeVideo caters to all levels by offering users the chance to choose how they want to edit. New, or recreational, users will probably like the Storyboard mode. This allows you to focus on the sequence of images or video clips rather than timing. Advanced users can use the Timeline mode, which is basically what most editors provide. There’s a timeline at the bottom and everything is done in relation to it. You can also switch between modes with the click of a button.
  • Export to common services. WeVideo directly supports publishing your video to most of the major services including Vimeo, YouTube, DropBox, Facebook, Google Drive, and a couple others. You can also download the finished product to your computer.
  • Includes content. You can choose from backgrounds, frames, overlays, music, themes to include in your video creation. Not everything needs to be created from scratch. But the choices are limited in the free account. You’ll need to pay to get access to the whole library.
  • Offers training and support. If you visit the WeVideo Academy, you’ll find tutorial videos on all the basic and advanced features available. Support is offered through their knowledgebase. There are some videos on YouTube as well, though not as many as some of the other options.

The features and restrictions above all refer to the “personal” account type. Business and education accounts are available, but there is no free option. You can try the personal one, but your business (or institution) will have to pay to get all the features they provide. It may be worth it if you have a team of video creators.

A major benefit to using a cloud-based service is the opportunity to collaborate. Paid users can either collaborate on the same video, or simply share a creative space (media) without editing permission on each other’s videos.

One final point about WeVideo. Since it’s in the Cloud, you’ll need to upload all your media or retrieve it from Dropbox (or other supported online file storage). Depending on your project this can take a long, long time. You can sign up for the free account at their website Wevideo.com.

Blender

A favorite tool in my house is Blender. It’s a free, open-source, 3D modeling, animation, and video editing program. Whew! What a mouthful. But it’s one of the tools that falls into the awesome category. Here’s why:

  • Did I say it’s free? Their tagline is “Free to use for any purpose, forever”. You can’t get more definitive than that – and you’ll see why that’s important when we look at some of the other options.
  • Strong open-source community. If you Google “free video editor” you’re going to get lots of results. Many of them are programs that don’t exist anymore, others are just outdated, and yet others are just ploys aimed to infect you with malware. Having a strong, credible, and active community behind a free software program is as good as gold.
  • All the basic video editing functions are included. Cutting and splitting are simple. Adding and mixing audio, live preview, and speed control is also simple and included.
  • Advanced features if you want them. Things like, live preview, luma waveform, chroma vectorscope and histogram displays. There’s waveform visualisation, masks, effects, layers, keyframes, filters and more.
  • Choose just about any codecs and format. By default, Blender supports a ton of codecs and containers. H.264, MPEG-4, Theora, MP3 and ACC are just a few. And if they don’t have what you want by default, there are many add-ins that offer alternatives.
  • Looks and works the same across all platforms. Unlike many popular software programs that work on multiple operating systems, Blender claims to be the same no matter what OS you’re running on. This eliminates the learning curve if you edit in different places with different types of computers (at home and at work for example).
  • There’s more if you want it. You can just use the video editing features, but if you want to add some fancy photo-realistic graphics to your video then you have the tools to do it already. If you want to add a bit of animation, you can do that without ever leaving Blender.

If all those points aren’t enough for you to download it and give it a try, then you’ll want to know there are an almost uncountable number of tutorials for Blender. For example, the video below is the first one in a series of how to configure Blender to work primarily as a video editor (it offers some interesting history of the software too).

On another note, the image on the devices on our homepage comes from the movie Big Buck Bunny made entirely in Blender! You can download blender, for free, at blender.org.

Lightworks

Self-dubbed “The professional editor for everyone”, Lightworks could be exactly that. It’s actually beyond professional into the land of Academy award-winning territory. That’s scary and intimidating for someone just starting out. But it’s also exciting to think about the possibilities of what it can do for both new and veteran editors.

But there’s a story behind Lightworks. It’s vaguely similar to Blender’s (if you watched the whole video above you’ll know what it is), but with a not-so-happy ending for the video editor community. At the heart of the story is the push for open source software.

Back in 2010 Lightworks announced the intention to become open-source. Six years later, there is only the option to use a restricted version of the product for free, or to pay a license fee for unlimited use. The open source community asks EditShare, the company that makes the editor, for updates frequently via the support forums. The question is usually left unanswered, but the forum threads are locked to prevent further discussion. And it’s this avoidance of the question that keeps fueling the story – will they become open source or not?

It’s an important question when we’re discussing free video editors. Because Lightworks is a top-notch – award-winning – editor, if it went open source the industry would have an amazing and free tool to create videos.

But as it is, the free version is mostly a trial due to these restrictions:

  • Limited exports. The free version only supports exporting to Vimeo and YouTube in H.264/MPEG-4. The top resolution is 720p as well. If you want to download your video or put it on any other service, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid account.
  • Can’t use advanced features. Project sharing, accessory support and Boris Graffiti and FX package support are not available in the free version. There’s also no support for direct hardware I/O in the free version.

And while it claims to be a video editor for everyone, Lightworks has a learning curve. It will take some time to learn how to use it. That time is a great investment if the product goes open source. If it doesn’t, then you’ll have to balance the value of your time with the cost to purchase the license. Here’s an example of the tutorial videos the company offers. There are also other tutorials on YouTube.

To be fair, the pricing isn’t horrible. Especially when compared with some of the purchase-required alternatives which can cost into the thousands of pounds. But you could end up in a time vs. money battle you never intended. You can get the free version of Lightworks on their website here.

Which should you choose?

If you’re still wondering which might work for you the answer is simple: try all of them. They’re free after all.

You may find you like the interface of one more than the others. Maybe you don’t mind a learning curve since there are so many tutorials available so the interface doesn’t matter so much. You could also find your computer isn’t powerful enough to render the videos you create so you’ll need the cloud-version.

These are my picks for the three best free video editors for laptops or desktops. Next week’s blog will be about free mobile options for video editing on the go.

Oliver Burt

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