So, you have a bunch of video and you want to edit it together into something that tells a story — you're going to need some video editing software.
Which video editing software you ultimately choose is going to depend on a number of factors ranging from what capabilities you need to how much you are willing to spend. To the extent that it helps, we'll break the contenders down into categories.
These days, professional video editing software often means one of Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro or Apple Final Cut Pro. Each of these are packed with features to get you from a collection of source footage to a final cut as quickly as possible and with the highest quality possible. That said, each has its own approach to video editing and one may be better suited to a particular workflow than another. Beyond that are considerations as to what other software is either bundled or available as an option — typical video editing software systems extend beyond the core features of non-linear editing software and often support advanced color grading, motion graphics, visual effects and multi-channel audio processing.
Final Cut Pro
Initially developed by Macromedia, the video editing software that eventually became Final Cut Pro was bought by Apple in 1998 with the first release of Final Cut Pro being made in 1999. Up until 2011, Apple continued to develop Final Cut Pro to the point that it was competitive with the then dominant Avid Media Composer while being a fraction of the price of a full Avid system. Then, at NAB 2011, Apple announced a radical rewrite of the much beloved Final Cut Pro to be released under the name Final Cut Pro X.
Unfortunately for long time Final Cut Pro users and for Apple, the initial releases of Final Cut Pro X were both too different from the previous version of Final Cut Pro, as well as missing needed features that were present in the previous versions. While not ultimately fatal to Final Cut Pro X as a product, these reasons were enough for many video editors to take another look at competitor offerings, in particular Adobe Premiere Pro.
Fortunately for Final Cut Pro loyalists, Apple has continued to refine Final Cut Pro X and to add missing features to the point that reviews of recent releases are much more positive. Only time will tell if Final Cut Pro will regain the momentum lost during the rocky transition period.
As is the case with most Apple software, Final Cut Pro will only work on Mac OS X.
How much does Final Cut Pro cost?
Final Cut Pro is only available via Apple's App Store and as such, only available for Mac OS X. Licensing is as a perpetual license and the price is $299.99. Complementing Final Cut Pro are Apple Motion for motion graphics, visual effects and compositing and Apple Compressor for advanced encoding. Both of these can be purchased from the App Store for $49.99 as a perpetual license.
Adobe Premiere Pro
Founded in 1982, Adobe Systems was initially focused on PostScript and digital fonts. It was not until 1991 that the first release of what would eventually become Adobe Premiere Pro was made. Then known as Adobe Premiere it was later redesigned and relaunched in 2003 as Adobe Premiere Pro.
Since the launch of the rebranded Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe has been aggressively improving Premiere Pro to better compete against Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro. The CS6 release in particular featured a significant redesign as well as integration with Adobe Prelude for video logging and ingesting, Adobe SpeedGrade for color correction, and Adobe Encore for DVD authoring. While Adobe Encore has been discontinued as the importance of DVDs for video distribution has declined, Adobe Prelude and Adobe SpeedGrade are useful complements to Adobe Premiere Pro. Adobe also offers Adobe After Effects for motion graphics, visual effects and compositing and Adobe Audition for working with multi-track audio.
Adobe Premiere Pro, along with the other applications in Adobe Creative Cloud, runs on both Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows.
How much does Adobe Premiere Pro cost?
Since 2013, Adobe Premiere Pro is only available to be licensed as a subscription via Adobe Creative Cloud. That being the case, the pricing is aggressive and should be flexible to meet the needs of most people who are open to subscription licensing.
|Adobe Premiere Pro||Annual||$19.99/mo.|
|Adobe Premiere Pro + 1 other creative cloud application||Annual||$39.98/mo.|
|Full Adobe Creative Cloud||Annual||$49.99/mo.|
|Full Adobe Creative Cloud||Monthly||$74.99/mo.|
In comparison to Final Cut Pro, the licensing model for Adobe Premiere Pro is its polar opposite. While Final Cut Pro offers a known total cost of ownership, at least as far as video editing software licensing fees, the subscription licensing of Adobe Premiere Pro or the whole Adobe Creative Cloud is easier on your cashflow.
Avid Media Composer
In terms of professional video editing software, there are really three NLEs that dominate: Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. Of these, Avid Media Composer has been around the longest with a lineage going back to 1989 when version 1.0 was released. Due to that long lineage as well as being a highly capable system, Media Composer has, until recently, been the dominant video editing software for film and telivision. More recently it has been facing stiff competition from Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro.
Up until Avid Media Composer 2.5 was released in 2006, Avid Media Composer was only available as with corresponding hardware. Since version 2.5, Avid Media Composer has been available as a software only system with optional hardware components. While the optional hardware components are in some cases useful by providing additional processing and input/output interfaces, the standalone Avid Media Composer on its own is a very powerful video editing software system.
For high end finishing work, the Avid Symphony option adds features for secondary color correction, working with incompressed HD and improved real-time performance to the stock Avid Media Composer offering. Avid Symphony is aimed at TV and movie professionals and as such comes with a professional grade premium.
Avid Media Composer is available on both Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows.
How much does Avid Media Composer cost?
While the price points are aligned with Adobe Creative Cloud for the subscription licenses, pricing for Avid Media Composer is more complicated than either Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. With Avid Media Composer you can choose to rent the software and pay monthly with either an annual commitment or month-to-month. As a bonus, if you qualify for a crossgrade you can save an extra $10/mo. on a subscription with an annual commitment. Avid also offers a perpetual license if you can afford to pay up front.
Unfortunately, whether you license Avid Media Composer on a subscription basis or perpetually determines what exactly you get as part of that license.
|Media Composer | Symphony Option||30-day trial||Included|
|NewBlue Titler Pro 1||Included||Included|
|NewBlue Titler Pro 2||Not Included||Included|
|Avid Support||One year||Included|
|Boris Continuum Complete Lite||Not Included||Included|
|Sorenson Squeeze Lite||Not Included||Included|
Looking at the pricing for Avid Media Composer, it is clear that Avid is trying to have their cake and eat it too by strongly encouraging customers to opt for a subscription license by throwing in the Symphony Option and support past the first year, while still offering a perpetual license and avoiding the pushback Adobe received in moving to a subscription-only licensing model.
While the price points offered for Avid Media Composer subscriptions have considerable overlap with those for Adobe Creative Cloud, it does not take much of a look below the surface to see that Adobe Creative Cloud offers far better value. Whether one only needs software for video editing or video editing and color correction, Adobe Creative Cloud is very affordable at $19.99/mo. and $39.98/mo. respectively. Throw in an extra $10/mo. and you get motion graphics, multi-track audio and a whole host of other capabilities with the full Adobe Creative Cloud suite.
Likewise, in comparison with Final Cut Pro the perpetual license of Avid Media Composer is significantly more expensive. Further, to add the Symphony Option to a perpetual license will set you back an additional $749.
Beyond the big three there are a few other video editing software offerings that are worth consideration. The first of these is Lightworks. Lightworks has been in development since 1989 and has been used on numerous award winning television programs and feature films.
With support for 2K, 4K, PAL, NTSC and HD as well as mastering digital video, Lightworks is targeted at the professional video editor. Lightworks is a top notch video editing environment with color correction, motion graphics and compositing abilities too.
How much does Lightworks cost?
Lightworks is available in to in two versions: Free and Pro. The Free version has all the basic features you would expect as well as many more advanced features — advanced multicam editing, second monitor output, full import format support. The main restriction of the Free version is that output is limited to 720p H.264/MP4.
For the Pro version you get all the features of the Free version plus the full range of output formats, project sharing, hardware I/O support (AJA, Blackmagick and Matrox), interoperability (export AAF, OMF and EDL), stereoscopic output and timeline rendering.
For professional video editing software, Lightworks is offering a lot of value with its pricing. Monthly subscriptions are nearly as inexpensive as an Adobe Premiere Pro subscription and the perpetual license is much less than anything else of the same level.
DaVinci Resolve was originally launched in 2004 as a next-generation color grading system complete with proprietary hardware cards. For the next decade, DaVinci was happy to further develop Resolve for color grading, but that all changed in 2014. At NAB 2014, DaVinci, acquired by Blackmagic in 2009, unveiled Resolve 11 as full featured video editing software. With this release, DaVinci resolve brings together video editing software with a top notch color grading system.
How much does DaVinci Resolve cost?
The pricing for DaVinci Resolve can best be described as very aggressive - both on the low end and the high end. In all cases, licensing is done on a perpetual basis.
|DaVinci Resolve Lite||Free|
|DaVinci Resolve Software||$995|
Blackmagic has a long feature comparison with all the details of the differences between the editions of DaVinci Resolve. In short, the DaVinci Resolve Software adds noise reduction, motion blur and 3D stereoscopic features to DaVinci Resolve Lite. The difference between DaVinci Resolve and DaVinci Resolve Software is a hardware control surface.
The pricing of the different DaVinci editions serves to illustrate some of the challenges of pricing a product for the video market — while some customers only have a minimal ability to monetize the video they produce, others are able to do so many orders of magnitude more, so how does one make their produce affordable to the first group while successfully capturing some of the value offered to the latter group.
What is the best video editing software for you?
Deciding on which video editing software is the best is ultimately a personal decision. That being the case, there is still a clear case if we base our considerations primarily on economics. With that in mind, here are the recommendations.
When it comes to video editing software, it is hard to beat the value in Lightworks. With a very capable Free version and a very affordable Pro version that you can license either on a monthly subscription or perpetually, there is not really much more you can ask for.
If you are for any reason wanting to minimize your software licensing costs for your video editing software, you should definitely give Lightworks a serious look. Whether you are a student looking to learn about video editing, a hobbyist looking to move beyond windows movie maker or an established professional looking to cut your expenses, give Lightworks a look first — it may not be for everyone in the end, but for many it will be hard to beat.
With top notch color grading and a capable non-linear editor, the second best value to be found for professional video editors is the free DaVinci Resolve Lite. This should be considered after Lightworks for new ventures, be they a new post production shop or those wanting to get started learning a professional video editing software system.
As with Lightworks, for anyone looking to learn a professional video editing software system, this is a great place to start. Learn the terminology and get some experience under your belt with DaVinci Resolve Lite and then see where your path takes you. Sure, you may have to learn another NLE along the way, but you will have a head start and you will not have invested any money to get there.
Adobe Creative Cloud
If you need a broad range of capabilities or want to go with one of the big three, the best value is to be found with Adobe Creative Cloud and with it Adobe Premiere Pro. With the full subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud you pay $49.99/mo. and get Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing, Adobe After Effects for motion graphics/effects/compositing, Adobe SpeedGrade for color grading and Adobe Audition for multi-track audio editing. On top of that you also get Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator for those days when you have to create or edit an image to be used elsewhere. If you want the Swiss Army knife with the most tools, this is the way to go about it.
At the end of the day, choosing one's tools of production is going to be strongly influenced by human factors — if you have a lot of experience using Avid Media Composer and are starting a new business you are certain will cover the licensing costs and you like using Avid Media Composer, then use Avid Media Composer.
Ultimately there are far too many variables to create recommendations that will suit everyone and for the most part, any of the video editing software discussed here will, in competent hands, be able to produce great work. In addition, anyone who is capable of telling great stories with Avid Media Composer is also capabable of telling great stories with Lightworks. Which you choose to use as your tool will depend on who you are and your preferences. Hopefully though, if you are a long time Avid/Apple/Adobe user, this will spur you to checkout Lightworks or DaVinci.