Lockdown has opened our eyes to different ways of making and showing art. Over at The New Fringe, we’ve already had one online exhibition and we’re getting ready for our second. But as artists, it’s testing our technical skills somewhat!
Editing a video for the first time can be a little like your first experience in the bedroom - if done right, it can be very satisfying. But frankly it’s more likely to be off-putting and disappointing. And just like it’s important to find the right partner, it’s also important to find the video editing program that suits you best.
The factor that influences your choice the most is - which device are you using? It’s possible to edit videos on most of them these days, including phones, tablets, and computers. Just to complicate things further, your operating system also winnows down your choices. Generally, you get more options on a computer, and so more chances to be creative. These are the ones I’m covering below.
The basic process for all video editing apps is quite similar - import the video clips, images, and audio files that you want to use, trim them down to just the bits you need, and arrange them on a timeline. Some editors then allow you to add things like special effects, transitions, and text, to give your video a polished look. You can generally save your project while you’re still working on it, but once finished, you usually need to “export” it, which makes a video file that you can share online.
I tried out several free programs for Windows, Mac, and Linux - read on to see the verdict.
Shotcut (Windows, Linux, and Mac) 🎥🎥🎥🎥🎥
After trying out several apps on my laptop, this was by far the one I preferred. It has an easy and intuitive layout, and lots of creative options like filters and transitions. The app neatly arranges all these options along icon-based menus, which didn’t leave me scratching my head or Googling for help at any point.
The import process - where you bring in all your bits of video and other things to edit - can be a stumbling block in some apps. In this one, it’s simple and it’s fast. That’s one of two main reasons this app gets my vote. The other one is the filters. Now they’re using the word filter to mean all kinds of different things here - size, position, rotate, brightness, text, fades, colour filters, and even audio effects. You can apply these filters to individual clips, or the whole track on the timeline. Speaking of tracks - it defaults to just one, but you have the option of adding more, so this qualifies as a multitrack editor.
Video Editor (Windows 10 only) 🎥🎥🎥
This is the standard video editing app that comes with Windows 10 computers. If you’re running an earlier version of Windows, you’ll probably have its predecessor, called Windows Movie Maker, which is quite similar. It’s not available for Mac users I’m afraid, but you’ve got iMovie instead.
I’ve used Video Editor for a few projects before, and it has the advantage of being incredibly simple and user-friendly. If you’re hesitant around technology then I’d suggest this as the one to go for. But of course, it doesn't have the advanced features that you can get in the more sophisticated programs. For me, the main drawback of Video Editor is that you can’t seem to crossfade between clips or images. The audio options are also pretty basic. But for a free app that comes with your PC, it’s not bad at all.
Da Vinci Resolve (Windows, Linux, and Mac) 🎥🎥🎥
When opening up Da Vinci Resolve for the first time, two things struck me right away - one, this is a more sophisticated app than any others, which makes it a steeper learning curve too. The second thing is that although this version of the app is free, they’ve clearly put a lot of effort into ‘selling’ this program, so I’m wondering what the limitations are of the free version, and how aggressively they’re going to try to upsell the paid version.
You can get around this app using either icons or menus, both of which are very small. I have good vision and I’m struggling, so if I had even the slightest impairment I’d be put off by this plethora of tiny options.
This app isn’t for me, and it’s frankly beyond my skillset to explain its features, so the tutorial video here is just one I found on YouTube. But if you’re a serious filmmaker with high technical skill, and you’re looking for a free app that can rival Adobe’s Premiere Pro, I think this might be a contender. Personally though, I’m sticking with Shotcut.
OBS Studio (Windows, Mac, and Linux) 🎥🎥🎥🎥
OBS gives you a way to pre-edit before you even make your video, and to save a template for doing that. So, if you want to make multiple videos, it can really cut down the time it takes to do that. If you’ve ever seen people going live on Facebook or YouTube, but somehow it looks like an edited video, chances are, they’re using OBS to make that happen. It’s definitely worth a look.
Bandicam (Windows only) 🎥🎥🎥
This one is great for artists that make digital work, because you can use it to record whatever is on your screen, as well as recording your voice and the audio from your computer at the same time. The free version does have some limitations, though - you only get ten minutes of recording time, and a watermark will appear on your videos. You can remove this with a one-time payment, which is currently $39 USD (about £31 in June 2020). Note that you can do the same thing in the free OBS Studio (above), but Bandicam makes it simpler.