Video Editing Software
This page provides an overview of the main video editing software options for beginners through to mid-level professionals. I have used a combination of my own experience and the word I hear from other editors, reviews, forum postings, etc. Video software is largely subjective and some people will disagree with some of my opinions and observations. As always, it pays to get lots of opinions so don't limit your research to mine.
Windows Movie Maker
Before Windows 7, Windows Movie Maker had the advantage of being installed by default on most Windows PCs. Despite being a very limited program, it was a good way to experiment with video editing and learn the basic concepts.
Since the launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft abandoned development of Windows Movie Maker in favor of the new Windows Live Movie Maker. The new offering is extremely light on useful features and not recommended for editing at all.
iMovie is the Macintosh equivalent of Windows Movie Maker, in that it is a free low-end application shipped with the operating system. However it is much better than the Windows version. Suitable for beginners and amateurs with modest goals. It's also available for the iPad.
Apple Final Cut Express
Final Cut Express is a low-budget version of Final Cut Pro. It is capable of producing moderately challenging videos and should be sufficient for most amateur enthusiasts. Students and professionals may be able to get by with this product, depending on their requirements, but most professionals will need a more feature-rich application.
Apple Final Cut Pro / Studio
Final Cut Pro gained a lot of momentum from the late 1990s to become the most popular choice for mid-range video professionals. For many years it was something of an industry standard, or at least a widely-accepted and familiar application. This made it very useful for compatibility, ease of transition for new staff and different production houses, etc.
Unfortunately, in 2011 Apple released the infamous Final Cut Pro X, a pretty-looking application that was largely useless for professional editors. Since then Final Cut has struggled to be taken seriously and professionals have abandoned it in droves. It is, however, a viable option for amateurs and semi-professionals.
Adobe Premiere Elements
Premiere Elements is low-budget version of Premiere Pro. Like Final Cut Express, it should be sufficient for most amateur enthusiasts. This is a very good all-round budget option.
Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Bundled Products
Premiere Pro is roughly equivalent to Final Cut Pro and offers a similar feature set. Premiere has a long history and was once king of the mid-range editing world, but lost a lot of ground when more products became available from the late 1990s. In particular, FCP took over from Premiere on the Mac.
On its own Premiere is a powerful, fully-professional video editor. It does lacks some advanced audio and graphics features, because Adobe makes other products to handle these things. If you want maximum functionality you need to use additional Adobe products such as After Effects, Photoshop, Speedgrade, etc. These are all provided as part of the Creative Cloud subsciption.
This is a nice user-friendly application that holds it's own against more expensive products. I only tested it briefly in early 2007 but I found it to be intuitive, fun and useful enough to produce professional videos. The effects and transitions were especially nice to use. However it lacked the advanced features of other programs, and I doubt whether serious professionals would prefer this over Final Cut Pro or Premiere.
ULead Video Studio, Media Studio
It's been a long time since I've used this software so I can't comment too much. As far as I can tell it has maintained it's position as a viable alternative to Adobe and Apple products, but doesn't quite come up to their standards. Still a fair choice, just don't expect it to be the best.
Avid is a respected force in the video and television industry and many professionals are familiar with Avid products. Initially known for producing high-end editing solutions, Avid now also offers software for the budget-conscious.
Again, it's been a long time since I've worked on an Avid and I have no experience with their low-budget applications. All I can say is that Avid is worth considering, but you should look for a particular reason to buy their products rather than one of the more widely-used options.
OpenShot is probably the best all-round option for Linux and it's currently being redeveloped for Windows and MacOS. It's free, open-source.
Virtualdub is a popular free utility, mainly used with AVI files. Not a powerful editor but does have some useful applications.
VSDC Free Video Editor is used by some of our members. We haven't tested it ourselves so we can't vouch for it.
See also: Adobe Premiere vs Final Cut Pro