Apple computers have long been aimed at the creative professional, with emphasis on photo and video editing. The only problem is that industry-leading packages like Adobe Premiere, After Effects and Apple’s own Final Cut Pro X series aren’t cheap.
Since iMovie is no longer free, decent Mac video editors are hard to come by. Nothing is quite going to match the premium might of Adobe and Apple’s in-house software, but there are a few free video editing applications to sink your teeth into.
The Studio version of Da Vinci Resolve costs nearly $1,000 — but the basic version is completely free. Better still it includes the same high quality image processing abilities as the pricier version, a powerful video editor, some of the best color correction capabilities on the planet and even works with external hardware panels for faster editing.
There are limitations of course, the main one is that Resolve can only output in SD, HD and Ultra HD (only!) which is likely going to be more than enough for most users. There are limitations on some of the more advanced grading and tracking tools too of course, but these limitations are mainly in place to convince professional users that they need to upgrade.
There may be quite a learning curve, but Da Vinci Resolve is one of the most powerful video editing suites on the planet and you get a hell of a lot for free.
Verdict: Powerful, feature-rich, with limitations that are mostly aimed at professional commercial users. Definitely worth a shot for free.
Built with the aim of providing a stable, free, and accessible video editor, OpenShot is a cross-platform open source video editor that’s been around since 2008. The project last received an update in August of 2016, with version 2.1 being released to the public.
The list of features has grown over the years to include great support for a variety of formats, keyframes for animation, unlimited video and audio tracks, transition and compositing support, titles, and a heap of extra features you’d expect from a modern video editor. Past criticisms have cited OpenShot’s reliability, but it’s still worth a shot for free.
Verdict: A great cross-platform open source option, with an impressive list of features. The interface feels a bit old-hat, which may put some users off.
Another free, open source, cross-platform video editor; Shotcut is still very much under active development. The features are just as impressive as OpenShot, but Shotcut also features a great-looking interface that more closely resembles a pro-tier application than a free open source effort.
In addition to supporting a wide range of video files and formats (including 4K video), Shotcut also includes great support for working with audio, an impressive list of video effects including compositing and transitions, and a flexible UI from which to work.
Verdict: Shotcut is definitely worth a look if you want a free and feature-rich video editor but can’t afford to drop hundreds on a premium package.
Blender is a free 3D modelling and compositing application that’s been used in some pretty high profile productions. What many don’t realise is that it’s also a capable non-linear video editor, provided you’re willing to take the time to learn.
We’ve written about Blender before at MakeUseOf, though with a focus on the 3D modelling aspect with only a brief mention of Blender’s potential as a non-linear video editor. It might not be pretty, it’s not exactly easy, and it won’t match the top-tier packages — but it’s not bad at all for free.
Verdict: Not purpose built, but powerful if you have the time to learn.
Lightworks is one of the most powerful apps on this list, and I’d happily recommend it above all other packages if it wasn’t so restrictive for the free user. The free version includes video effects, multicam editing, titling, as well as the usual multi layered timeline approach you’d expect from a comprehensive editor.
Unfortunately rendering (exporting your project) is limited to 1080p output on Vimeo, and 720p output to YouTube. You can also render to Lightworks Archives, but there’s no proper H.264, MP4, or even DVD export options.
So while the toolkit is vast, Lightworks isn’t a very appealing free editor unless you’d like to thoroughly try it out for free and upgrade at a later time.
Verdict: A powerful editor with plenty of features, but rendering is restricted to 1080p on Vimeo and 720p on YouTube until you rent for $24.99 per month or buy outright at over $400.
Better known for its compatibility with Linux (of which it’s one of the better video editors), Kdenlive can be compiled to run on macOS from source, with packages available via MacPorts. While developed has moved full-steam-ahead on Linux, the Mac packages available are currently over a year out of date.
Kdenlive has developed quite a bit over the years, and now looks more like a professional editing suite than the it used to. The latest version features multi-track video editing, support for a large number of video formats, effects and transitions, the ability to add titles, support for keyframes and a customizable interface.
While there are a lack of features found in the big commercial suites, Kdenlive is a straightforward and functional non-linear editor with plenty of friendly folks on the forum to help you out if you get stuck.
Verdict: Great range of features for free, but Mac packages are outdated so some features won’t be available.
Jahshaka, previously known as CineFX, combines video editing, 2D and 3D animation, compositing, color correction, and video effects into across-platform over Mac, Linux and Windows package. It is probably best compared to Adobe After Effects in terms of what it delivers, but for free it might be worth a punt.
The community doesn’t seem that active, but it’s still nice to see a truly open source cross-platform stab at a market dominated by Adobe. Developers have recently set their sights on the VR market with the launch of a new toolkit called Jahshaka VR.
Many of the tutorials on the website date back to 2013, so you might want to spend some time experimenting on your own to get the most out of the latest version.
Verdict: More of a video processor than an editor, Jahshaka focuses on effects rather than providing a non-linear workspace. It’s also a bit outdated, but appears to be under active development.
Another oft-listed Linux variant is Avidemux, and though it’s basic in nature it works well for simple editing tasks and supports a wide variety of input and output formats. The project undergoes several updates a year, with development continuing at a steady pace. Parity is maintained between all three major versions, so you won’t miss out on any features if you opt for the Mac package.
The last time I used Avidemux for any kind of project it was capable, fiddly, and crashed on a semi regular basis. Six years have passed since then, and things are considerably better, though it’s still lacking in features you might expect from a modern video editor.
Verdict: A capable freebie, but lacking in polish and features.
One to watch: VideoLan Movie Creator
Still in the early stages of development, VideoLan Movie Creator (VLMC) is a non-linear editor based on the daddy of all media players, VLC. The project still isn’t available for general release, it’s not even reached beta stage at the moment.
You can compile VLMC from source yourself if you really want to, but there are no binaries available at present to simply download and try out. If you’re scratching your head at the mention of VLC then you might want to familiarise yourself with the world’s best media player.
Verdict: A promising-looking open source free application that’s not quite ready yet.
There were a few video editors that caught our eye but either don’t qualify as free, or don’t seem to be actively under development any more. You might want to check them out though:
- Filmora — free to try, simple to use, cheap enough at $70 for a lifetime license.
- ZS4 — free to use, unclear as to whether it’s still under development. Emphasises “chaos over order” and compositing.
- iMovie — Apple’s own entry-level video editor, used to be free but now costs $22.99. Mixed reviews but simple enough to use.
Judging by the available software, the reputation that Apple’s desktop and laptop computers have earned as all-in-one video editing stations has a lot to do with the commercial software available. With all the money, time and development resources the respective companies have to throw at their video products, it’s no wonder.
Da Vinci Resolve is surprisingly feature rich, Blender is open source and powerful but complex, and the rest provide some free and open source alternatives that will never quite match the might of Adobe and other creative powerhouses.
Which video editor do you recommend for Mac?
Image credit: Gustavo Devito (Flickr)