Ask LH: What Video Editing Software Should I Use?

Ask LH: What Video Editing Software Should I Use?

I’m looking at buying some video editing software (budget up to $500) and was wondering what would be the best software to spend my money on? I have PC and just need basic editing (although I may need to do more later). At a minimum, I’ll need to chapterise, cut clips, merge files and change formats (mainly to mp4, wmv, avi). I’m a bit overwhelmed with all the choices out there so please help! Thanks, Emma

Dear Emma,

Pretty much every video editing program on the market can do the above tasks without issue. There’s certainly no need to spend $500. Indeed, a free editing application is probably all you need.

For PCs, I’d recommend Windows Movie Maker. As its name implies, this is an editing program made by Microsoft specifically for Windows machines. It contains all the basics a novice editor needs, including a splitting tool to cut and tailor clips, a multitude of transitions and title effects, the ability to add music and various publishing/upload options. Best of all, it’s free.

If you’re using an older Windows PC, you should already have Windows Movie Maker pre-installed. If you can’t find it on your desktop, click the Start button and search for it in Programs. (It should be located in C:Program FilesMovie Maker.)

If you’re on Windows 7, 8 or 10, Windows Movie Maker isn’t included. However, you can still download it for free from Microsoft’s Windows website. Simply click here and follow the prompts.

The program requires a 1.6 GHz CPU with SSE2 support, 1GB of RAM, a resolution of 1024 × 576 pixels and a graphics card with DirectX 9.0c support at a minimum. If you have no idea what any of these specs mean, don’t worry too much about it; any PC purchased in the past decade should be fine.

Windows Movie Maker is by no means perfect — it’s particularly fiddly if you’re trying to sync up cuts and transitions so they match the beat of your music soundtrack, for example — but for learning the ropes, it’s a great place to start.

When you’re ready to get more serious, Adobe Premiere Pro is the PC option of choice for most semi-professionals. However, its recent switch to a monthly subscription model doesn’t make it very cost-effective, particularly for amateurs and occasional users. Instead, you may want to consider Sony’s Vegas/Movie Studio range: prices start at $US49.95.

If any readers have suggestions of their own, let Emma know in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Another +1 for Sony Vegas. Been using it since version 6 (they’re up to 13 now) and it’s always proved to be the friendliest blend of intuitiveness and power. Just the right amount of each.

  • Windows Movie Maker really isn’t that bad, and these days I would suggest it’s easier to use for a novice than iMovie (if not as feature rich).

    If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, Sony Vegas Movie Studio is a great entry level product, and as it only runs on Windows, it’s pretty stable and fast. It also doesn’t cost the earth.

    Finally, both Davinci Resolve and Lightworks are available as free versions – and they offer a huge amount of options and power.

  • Do any of these suggestions provide multi video track so you can do video in video? I know Windows Movie Maker can’t.

    I want to have a presenter sitting at a desk with another video playing in the corner of the screen and I don’t know what software can do it.

    • Lightworks certainly can. It’s free and among others edited Pulp Fiction, Good Fellas and any number of Oscar winners. Resolve is also free, is used by a huge numbe of pros and has a thoroughly modern interface. It would be my pick.

    • Vegas certainly does. In the Pro versions you get unlimited (limited only by your PC) video and audio tracks, allowing all kinds of complex layering.

  • I highly recommend Davinci Resolve. Free for most tasks you’d want to do unless you’re a professional studio (ie true 4k rather than UHD, 3D, etc). Does great non linear editing, amazing colour grading, object tracking, etc.

    Only wish the noise reduction was part of the free package. I’d also suggest converting clips to DNxHD (using ffmpeg) before editing them, the performance difference (especially over AVCHD) is amazing

  • Premier Elements is actually quite good and has modes for novices and more experienced editors.

    I have been professionally trained in Premier Pro. I never really worked professionally doing much with it. Then in my personal life ended up switch to Vegas as it was just easier for what I was doing.

    However last year before a 6 month trip I bought a laptop that came with Premier and Photoshop Elements and I really was surprised both those programs really did everything I needed. I had the whole, “simplified is worse” attitude but really for what I am doing, I don’t need more. Some of the simplified tools actually were really handy. I also am trained professionally in Photoshop and have done a lot in it. So deeper stuff I can do you can’t in Elements. However unless you’re doing complex stuff, I would tell anyone to get elements. They’ll do everything you’d want to do.

    For photos I used lightroom and then Photoshop Elements. Missed nothing from not having full photoshop while on the road.

    With editing my video, I ended up using premier elements instead of vegas which is what I am most comfortable in and have mainly been using for years now.

    Infact I have just been editing some video on my desktop in vegas recently and I am now going to buy Premier Elements

    There are still some lame interface things designed for people who know nothing, but yeah as someone who was all, “ewww I am too good” I was really surprised.

  • For the PC Windows Movie Maker is a good start if you want to edit home videos, but in saying this I do this sort of editing on my phone or tablet now.

    If you need a video file converter with some limited editing tools Freemake Video Converter is a great choice, if a little crashy. About 2GB seems to be its limit in file conversion and for a AU$4 or more donation it wont include the logo screenshot at the end of the video (not the sort of thing I wanted on the home videos as I migrated them from mpg to mp4).

    A few years ago I got Sony Movie Studio Platinum 13 to help with converting and editing home video tape to digital and the amount of options available are very reasonable for the non-professional level.

  • Thanks for sharing. Btw, If you need to send videos to clients in a secure and easy way then do that with Binfer.

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