Free Video Editing Software: Intermediate to Advanced
What is the best editing software at the intermediate to advanced levels? Our nominees for this category:
- DaVinci Resolve
Let’s begin by taking a look at Olive.
Olive is a free and open-source software project that is available for Windows, Mac, and various Linux distros. The design and feature set imply Olive is striving to become a free version of Adobe Premiere Pro. This is a fantastic goal because there are very few free editors that show similar signs of such ambition.
However, Olive has a long way to go. As of this writing, the editing software is currently in an Alpha stage of development, which is traditionally the first phase of testing - well before a stable release.
To its credit, Olive does not attempt to hide this from the end user. From the first window you see, it is clear this software is in the early stages of development and you should only use it at your own risk.
We wish Olive the best going forward and hope to see stable releases in the near future. If you would like to help Olive reach its goals, give it a try with a low-stakes test project. Then provide the development team with honest feedback as a filmmaker. This is how successful open-source software works, a community gets behind it and makes it better. And you don’t necessarily have to be a software developer to contribute.
Olive can be safely downloaded at olivevideoeditor.org. The official website also provides several methods to contact the development team - should you have any constructive feedback to share.
Speaking of successful open-source software, Kdenlive is an all-around solid alternative to many commercial editing applications on the market today.
Probably because Kdenlive started many years ago as a Linux only project, true to a long-standing Linux tradition, Kdenlive has excellent support for older, more limited hardware.
In our testing, when running Kdenlive on a moderately powered computer from 2016 without the benefit of discrete graphics, it provided a smoother editing experience than nearly all of the commercial alternatives on this list - this includes DaVinci Resolve which is generally praised for its high level of performance. As we will get to shortly, this only holds true when Resolve is running on fairly substantial hardware.
Out of all the free editing software we have featured in this series - when running on low-end hardware, iMovie is the only application that provides a smoother playback and editing experience than Kdenlive. This is most noticeable when working with 4K material where iMovie remains buttery smooth while all others drop a substantial number of frames - stuttering playback. This is due to Apple’s impressive software optimizations for media playback and manipulation.
But it is important to note that Kdenlive supports proxy workflows, which greatly improves performance on any computer. It works by creating low resolution copies of your media for editing, and then links back to the original high-resolution media when exporting the final video. This proxy or online/offline workflow is usually only found in professional editing software. Kdenlive gives you these powerful workflow options for free.
Due to its use of FFmpeg libraries, Kdenlive can natively work with a very diverse set of video codecs. This means it can edit the vast majority of common consumer to professional-grade video formats without transcoding.
Kdenlive also supports traditional multi-track editing, the ability to create bins that improve media management, a highly configurable interface, 2D titling with fine control over just about every parameter, template support, dozens of effects and transitions - including color correction complete with video scopes.
Bottom line, Kdenlive is approachable enough for a beginner to use while having enough advanced features to still be a valuable tool for intermediate filmmakers and videographers. All of this earns Kdenlive our 2021 top recommendation for free editing software at the intermediate level.
Anytime you are downloading free and sometimes even commercial software, be very careful to only use trusted sources. A lot of malware and spyware is distributed through illicit software downloads.
If you are on Windows, the most trusted source is the project’s website: kdenlive.org.
On Linux it is even safer and easier because your distribution’s package manager most likely already has Kdenlive ready to install. Check the website for details regarding your particular Linux distro.
While Kdenlive and its supporting MLT media framework can compile and run under macOS, I would not recommend this unless you have experience compiling applications from source code.
There are macOS install packages available from the MacPorts project but sadly, these are quite outdated. If you are a developer interested in bringing better Mac support to Kdenlive, volunteers are encouraged to contribute to the project.
This is why for all intents and purposes, as of this writing, I only recommend using Kdenlive on Windows or virtually any Linux distribution.
Now if you are an intermediate to advanced filmmaker on any platform that is looking for free editing software that goes beyond Kdenlive or any of the ten previous recommendations we have covered in this series - then our final recommendation might be for you.
DaVinci Resolve began as a high-end color correction and grading tool. But over the past few years, DaVinci Resolve has expanded into a full featured video editor, visual effects compositor, and digital audio workstation or DAW. Blackmagic Design, the company behind DaVinci Resolve, is trying very hard to compete with the long-established leaders of this industry Avid, Apple, and Adobe.
Blackmagic’s business strategy is to produce high-quality software and give a large portion of it away for free. On the surface, that might not sound like a wise business plan - but so far it has been successful in gaining market share and raising awareness of the Blackmagic brand. Since they also sell a wide variety of audio-visual hardware, this free software strategy could prove very profitable over the long-term.
But this isn’t meant to be a business class. DaVinci Resolve is very powerful professional-grade video editing software that is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux - although at the time of this writing, only Red Hat and CentOS are supported.
These distros are great for servers and enterprise use, but most desktop Linux users that I know choose distros based on Debian, Arch, or Fedora, which is upstream from Red Hat and CentOS. If Resolve is serious about supporting Linux, it needs to expand its support to more commonly used Linux distros.
Another word of cation regarding Resolve. You need a fairly powerful computer with a decent graphics card for Resolve to run well.
A decent Intel Core i7 CPU is a minimum, but Core i9, AMD Ryzen or Threadripper are the best choices. 16GB of system RAM is a minimum but 32GB is recommended if you can afford it.
Assuming those points are covered, then a discrete Graphics Processing Unit with at least 4GB of dedicated memory - 6 to 8GBs if you can.
And of course, the fastest Solid-State Drive that you can afford with enough capacity for the type of projects typically work on.
If you have a computer with that kind of power or are willing to buy or build one that does, then Resolve should run well. None of the other software titles covered in this series require so much hardware for a reasonable editing experience.
And those hardware requirements should give us some insight as to whom Resolve is designed for. Certainly not hobbyists or beginners. But filmmakers and videographers of intermediate to advanced skill levels.
To be clear, it’s not that Resolve can’t be used by a beginner. The Cut page introduced in version 16 is certainly an innovative attempt to simplify the traditional dual monitor edit interface found in many professional editing applications.
But because Blackmagic has packed so much advanced functionality into Resolve:
- A media ingest and organization interface.
- Two editing interfaces as we just referenced.
- Advanced node-based compositing.
- Advanced color grading.
- A complete Digital Audio Workstation.
- Plus a dedicated export interface, I think it is easy for a beginner to feel overwhelmed. Not knowing where to start or how the different interfaces should be used together.
Between this and the hardware requirements that are out of reach for many are why we only recommend Resolve to more experienced creators. But when you are ready for it, DaVinci Resolve is by far the most feature-packed free video editing software available today.
Download DaVinci Resolve
Resolve can safely be downloaded for free from blackmagicdesign.com and in the Mac App Store. Again, I would not trust any other sources - especially for well-known software like this.
On the website you will notice there is DaVinci Resolve and DaVinci Resolve Studio. The free version includes everything we have been discussing. The paid Studio version adds even more advanced functionality and effects.
Thank you so much for visiting our website and until next time, I wish you the very best with all of your filmmaking endeavors!