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Editing for free


These days there are a lot of free editing and effects programs, some very powerful.  Below is a list of the ones I have tried and my opinion.

Editing for free

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

Resolve is an amazing program for free.  With Resolve 14 Blackmagic have developed the editing abilities further and introduced a decent audio mixing page.  There is a free version and a paid version (called Resolve Studio and about £300 to buy).  The free version is fully functional and can handle projects up to UHD in size.  What you get by buying the program are some extra, very nice, filters, nice noise reduction, the ability to edit projects large than UHD and Stereoscopic features.  However, you can happily edit and output using the free version with no watermarks or restrictions.

What’s good about Resolve?

  • Excellent editing and effects abilities
  • Brilliant grading – which is the program’s main purpose
  • Excellent real-time performance (with the right hardware).
  • A dynamic link with Blackmagic’s effects program. Fusion.

What’s bad?

  • Resolve does not handle many video formats – it handles Professional and high end formats but will not load most AVI files, AVCHD, XDCAM and many others, which means you have to convert the footage before editing.
  • Resolve is very dependent on the graphics card – if you buy the Studio version it will use the power of 2 or 3 cards, if installed.  This gives the great real-time performance mentioned above.  However, if you don’t have the right graphics card then parts of the program will not work at all or cause the program to crash.  Thankfully, a decent graphics card, like an nVidia 6GB 1060, is not too expensive and I have successfully edited and graded UHD footage with a 1060.
  • In the same way that it does not handle many input formats it does not have many output formats either.  It will make some MOV files, image sequences and with the latest update, will finally make MP4 files.  You can mix surround sound but not output it in Dolby Surround.  If you want to make files for DVD, Blu-ray and many other uses then you will need to make a clean file from Resolve and then use another program to do the work.
  • You need a Blackmagic card in a system to see a full screen playback while working.  A proper I/o card is essential for grading in any program but if your edits are going to the web, for example, just seeing the picture full screen on a second PC monitor is probably good enough.  Resolve does not let you do this.  Of course, Blackmagic are giving you an amazing program for free so they must make their money somehow

Read more about Resolve here: https://Blackmagic/products/davinciresolve

Avid Media Composer First

In 2017 Avid released Media Composer First - a free, cut down version of their flagship editing program. It works in the same way as the full version of MC and has several limitations.

What's good?

  • Excellent editing and effects abilities - it has most of the abilities of the full version.
  • Completely free and works on your local computer - does not save projects to the cloud.
  • Supports lots of formats - although there are notable exceptions like AVCHD which cannot be loaded because Avid free cannot load Dolby digital sound files, which is the format used by most AVCHD cameras..

What’s bad?

  • Limited to 4 bins and projects up to HD.
  • Cannot currently open bins made in the full version of Media Composer
  • Limited output formats - you really need to add a decent encoding program to make most file types.

You can find out more information and download a copy here: http://www.avid.com/media-composer-first


Lightworks has a free and paid version like Resolve and Avid. It will load many different formats and is very similar to the other editing programs. It also outputs using various hardware like Blackmagic cards.

I have not edited extensively with Lightworks myself and have only dabbled, but it seemed very competant and had loads of features - similar to EDIUS or Premiere.

There are two versions - the free version and an paid version. The the paid version can either be rented monthly or yearly of you can buy and "outright license" for £249. It works on Windows, Mac and Linux, You can read more about the differences here: https://www.lwks.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=102&Itemid=213.

Compositing for free

Blackmagic Fusion

Fusion is amazingly powerful for a free program, rather like Resolve. It can do many of the things that Adobe After Effects can do, and is in some cases better, although After Effects also has quite a few features Fusion does not posses.   Like Resolve there is a free version and a paid for, Studio version.  The Studio version is about £800.  The Studio version has better slow motion, more options for keying, can handle higher than HD projects; it will let you add plug-ins (like Boris Continuum, for example) and can use a network to render scenes.  However, you can achieve a lot with the free version.

What’s good

  • Very powerful and packed with features
  • Can do proper 3D – you can bring in 3D objects from other programs and texture them and move them around in 3D space.  You will need a pretty powerful computer, however.
  • A “dynamic link” with Resolve – take a clip in Resolve and send it to Fusion.  Do some effects, render it and the new version appears on the timeline in Resolve.  This is not quite as good as the Adobe  dynamic link where the clip is rendered inside Premiere;  with Fusion you have to render it in Fusion before you can use it in Resolve, but is very useful and takes the pain out of getting clips from the editing program to the effects program and vice-versa.

What’s bad?

  • Fusion is a node-based editor which means it works differently to effects programs to which you may be used.  This makes it quite hard to learn.  There are tutorials on the Internet but not as many as are available for Adobe After Effects.
  • Fusion works on one clip at a time.  In After effects I am used to bringing in a scene from Premiere and then applying effects to the clips as needed.  With Fusion each shot would be an individual project.  You can have as many clips as you like linked to the main clip for complex composites but you do not work the same was as After Effects.  You can have two copies of Fusion open if you want to copy effects from one shot to another.
  • Fusion does not do sound very well.  If  you want to export a clip with sound you have to add the sound in on the export tab.

Read more about Fusion here: https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/fusion

HitFilm Express

HitFilm is a another very comprehensive program with great keying, lots of brilliant particle effects and the ability to handle 3D objects.  There is a free version, called HitFilm Express, as well as a paid for version.  The paid version has a lot more features than the free version, but you can still do quite a bit in it, and then buy add-ons which eventually turn it into the full version.  The paid version is about £300.

What’s good?

  • Works like After Effects and “traditional” effects programs
  • You can edit clips (as you would in EDIUS or Premiere) as well do effects and it is one of the few programs that copes with variable bit rate MP4 files of the sort filmed by iPhones.  The editing is not as good as Premiere or EDIUS but you can add clips, trim, slip,, slide etc..
  • Lot’s of lovely particle and SciFi effects for people that are making effects heavy movies.  Not everything is in the free version of course.
  • Lots of easy to follow tutorials on their YouTube channel to get you going.
  • Mocha tacking included for better motion tracking.

What’s bad?

  • The free version is missing many features.
  • Limit output formats – the free version only does MP4 files for YouTube.
  • The editing side is limited and missing quite a few basic editing features.
  • No decent way to export an edit from another editing program and bring it into HitFilm (i.e. no EDL, AAF or XML options)

Learn more about HitFilm Express here: https://hitfilm.com/express

Virtual Dub

This is a program which has been around for years.  You can do many effects in it and many people have written very good free plug-ins.  It does do somethings amazingly well – I use it for resizing clips and de-interlacing, for example.

Learn more about VirtualDub here : http://www.virtualdub.org/

Audio editing for free


A good audio editor complete with noise reduction that is not bad, multitrack and many effects.  It does look and feel quite old fashioned but that does not stop it working!

Download Audacity here : http://www.audacityteam.org/

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

Resolve 14 included the Fairlight audio panel which Blackmagic claims is a very powerful audio mixer.  As I write this the program is still in beta and this part does not work well, however, if it does what it is supposed to do then it will be very powerful, and it is included in the free version of Resolve.

Read more about Resolve here: https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve

3D programs


This is an amazing program for free.  In addition to making 3D worlds you can edit video in it and do effects in a node-based compositor.  I have not included it in the list of free editing programs and I have never used it like this so cannot comment on how good it is (or otherwise).

Primarily it is a powerful 3D program, like LightWave and Cinema 4D.  It has many amazing features.  Last year they added a new render engine, called Cycles, which uses the graphics card and does proper, physically based, lighting and shadows.  In most programs you have to pay extra to add a render engine like this.  In fact a company has adapted the Cycles render engine to be used in Cinema 4D and charge over £200 for it!  Personally I bought this plug-in because I found Cinema 4D easier to use but preferred the rendering quality of Cycles; I could get the quality for free in Blender but there was a huge amount to learn and even when you know how to use it Cinema 4D is still easier.  You can read more about Cycles for Cinema 4D here: http://insydium.uk/cycles4d/

What’s good

  • It has Cycles rendering, a powerful particle and effects system, support for just about everything you could want.
  • It has a compositor built-in so you can take a part of the scene – a big glowing ball, for example, and treat it to improve the look inside the program. With other programs you need to take your results into another program (like After Effects or HitFilm) and treat them there.  This makes isolating a particular part of the shot harder.   Want a nice glow around a planet – simple, put it on its own “render layer” and apply a glow to just the planet with out affecting anything else in the scene.

What’s bad

  • It is quite hard to learn and they change things quite regularly.  When I first started using it I struggled with simple things like moving windows around – making lots of spare, empty windows in the process and not knowing why!  Now I have got used to the way Blender works I can now customise my workspace easily.
  • There are many free tutorials on the Internet, but as they change the program frequently they can be out of date and you spend time watching a tutorial only to find that feature is not in the latest version.  For example, I need to make a starfield background; there was an option in older versions to choose “starfield” as an option for the backdrop object.  This is no longer available.  The alternative is probably better but only if you know how to do it.
  • The Cycles render engine can produce great results but it takes a lot of time.  On a complicated scene with lots of reflective materials you can get a scene rendering for hours only to fine it has still a lots of little white “dots”, called fireflies, and you need to increase the “samples” and do it all again.  There are ways to tackle this problem but you have to learn them.

Learn more about Blender here: https://www.blender.org/

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