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Like to edit videos? Here are some of the best low-cost options.

Article posted on 7/23/2020

My first experience with any kind of video editing was in college. I had a camcorder (man when's the last time you called anything THAT?) and I wanted to do a creative project for a class. So, I gathered a bunch of friends, slapped them in costumes (it really didn't take much convincing, we were all a bunch of fun-loving nerds), picked a peppy song, and took a bunch of footage. Then I lugged my gear to the Mac lab to teach myself how to edit together a video.


An ancient shot from an ancient video that's, well...ancient. If circa 2003 is ancient, anyway.

Once I got over the initial hurdles of "WTF am I looking at?" and "Where the heck do I even start?" it wasn't so bad. Final Cut Pro (I don't even know what version it would have been at the time, this was over 10 years ago) was fairly intuitive for me, even if using a Mac wasn't (I've always been a PC user). The tools were straightforward and easy to access, making it easy for an amateur like me to put out a decent product. That video currently lives on YouTube, but there's no way I'm subjecting anyone to that. 

Final Cut Pro remains one of the best options for Mac users (at $300 it's hardly cheap - but at least it isn't a subscription model!), although the much less expensive Adobe Premiere Elements for PC & Mac can offer a lot of the same features for a third of the cost. These days, I use Adobe Premiere Pro for editing video clips, short ads, VODs, and other such things, but I get it through a work subscription. Although $20 a month (that's JUST for Premiere, not the rest of the Creative Cloud) isn't necessarily bank-breaking, I really don't use it enough personally to make it worth it. 


Adobe Premiere Pro

Fortunately for me and other casual video editors, there are plenty of good free or low-cost options out there. 

For starters, let's take a look at Vegas. This program has several versions ranging from affordable to "yikes." The Vegas Post software will put you out about $1000, while the Vegas Pro software comes in around $599. Unless you're working on high-end projects with lots of demand for special effects, rendering, etc., you probably don't need that much. The VEGAS Movie Studio software is much affordable, coming in at $49.99 for the basic version (which will cover most of what a casual creator would need) and $139 for the Movie Studio suite. 

Another low cost (and free, actually, if you want to go that route) option is Lightworks. You can download and install Lightworks for free on Windows, Mac, and Linux devices. If at a later date, you decide you want to invest in an improved experience, you can upgrade to Lightworks Pro (monthly for $24.99 or own outright for $320). With this upgraded version, you’ll be able to export your projects in different formats and upload straight to YoutTube. 

One more totally free option is Adobe Spark, but you'll have to be OK with your video having a watermark on it. More advanced editing tasks are also hidden in the pro version, so you'll need to pay up before having access to all of that. 

Lightworks has a bit of a steep learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes one of the better free options out there. Other free options include Shotcut, Hitfilm Express, and VSDC. All of these free programs will do the basic trick, but have lots of additional features hidden behind a paywall. The nice thing about having the free versions is being able to test what it is you like and get an accurate gauge of just how much power you'll need for whatever projects you're wanting to do.

Next time, I'll talk a little bit about the couple of programs I find extremely helpful when I'm doing my editing - namely, Groupy and Multiplicity. Being able to sort things into multiple tabs is a godsend when I'm trying to find files, and working easily between two computers with one doing the heavy lifting while I work through my creative vision on the other is great for my productivity.

Do you do any video editing? What's your preferred program for it?