What makes a YouTube video good? The most important element is obviously you, the creator. Your personality, ideas, and unique viewpoint are what will make your content special and turn viewers into subscribers.
The next most important thing – even more important than the camera you use – is editing.
Editing a YouTube video doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it should be simple. Your focus when you’re perfecting your video should be on that ‘most important thing’ we mentioned earlier – your creativity. Editing for a YouTube video should be art, not mechanical engineering.
Below is a list of the top free video editing software ranked according to how appropriate it is for YouTube videos.
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OpenShot completely lives up to the claim that it was designed to be ‘easy to use, quick to learn, and surprisingly powerful’.
The first time you use OpenShot there will be helpful tutorial notes to guide you through the program. The interface is intuitive enough that you may not always need them, but having them should erase any confusion.
All of the basic editing features, like cutting clips up, are easy to access in the timeline. You have unlimited tracks, and it’s easy to drag your clips between them. There’s a helpful magnet feature that fits clips together if you slide them together, but which still allows for blank space if you choose to leave it.
Most other functions – setting volume levels, adjusting the speed, adding movement/zoom effect – are accessible simply by right-clicking on your clip in the timeline and choosing what you want from the menu that pops up.
Is OpenShot Video Editor good for YouTube?
OpenShot is a great, free, choice for YouTubers at any editing skill level.
Beyond simply ordering your clips, OpenShot includes text and transition options within the program. You can even animate the text, and access Animated Titles if you use OpenShot in tandem with a free animation program called Blender. Titles and transitions are vital to a lot of popular YouTube styles.
OpenShot does not provide the same level of detail as the runner up, Shotcut, when it comes to color correction or audio editing. However, the features it does have (volume levels, control of saturation) will satisfy most YouTubers.
Shotcut delivers a smooth, detailed, editing experience for free. It is not as easy to jump into as some of the other programs on this list, but it still only takes a half-hour or so of playing around to understand it well enough to make a video. There are also tutorials up on Shotcut’s site that can help you.
You can edit using multiple video tracks in Shotcut, making it easy to combine multiple clips, and basic functions like splitting or copying clips are as easy as clicking the right icon on the toolbar.
All of the video and audio effects, including things like chroma key, you might want to apply to your video are found under the Filters menu. It will look empty when you first open it, and you have to click the plus sign to see what your options are. If you want to create a color tint (like what you might think of as an Instagram filter) then you can do that through the Color Grading option. If you want to do something like invert your colors or add an ‘old film’ look, you’ll find that here as well along with all of the audio editing features (balance, bass and treble, and gain to name just a few).
Is Shotcut good for YouTube?
Shotcut is a great choice for YouTubers. It allows you to do some advanced editing, and it’s easy to learn compared to a program targeted at professional editors.
The only complication with Shotcut for entry-level editors who will primarily use the program for YouTube might be that animations – like moving text – are not available through the program (you can add and customize text, but it just sits there). You can get them from elsewhere and use them in the program (Shotcut has an alpha channel), but it’s a bit more involved a process than simply customizing something that’s already provided.
Its main strength is FX, but you only get a couple for free. Most have to be bought separately.
Hitfilm Express Review
Hitfilm Express is the best free editor if you want to add special effects to your projects. OpenShot’s alpha channel will be enough for most people, but if you think of yourself as an aspiring filmmaker then it’s hard to beat Hitfilm’s range of functions.
This is an editor designed for people who want to make movies, and it’s a lot more intuitive than most professional-grade software. Film-quality FX (lasers, explosions, etc.) are available through Hitfilm Express for a reasonable price ($10-$50, depending on what you want), and even without paying extra for the packs, there’s a lot you can do to give your video a ‘film look’ using compositing layers and the multitude of customizable effects provided through the program.
Another highlight of Hitfilm Express is the extensive selection of tutorials and helpful information they have available both through YouTube videos and their User Guide. You will need those because this program can be overwhelming. It has so many functions and areas you can customize that it is easy to get lost.
That said, basic editing in Hitfilm Express is not difficult to jump into. It’s only when you start getting fancy that things get dicey.
Is Hitfilm Express good for YouTube?
Yes. It will not be the best option for everyone, but it’s not a bad option for anyone either.
If what you want to make is a vlog where you have a series of clips, and intro, and maybe a couple of title effects, then Hitfilm express might be overkill. You don’t want to have to master compositing just to add some text.
If what you want to make is a vlog that’s interrupted by an alien invasion and turns into an action sequence with lasers and falling debris, it’d be hard to do better than Hitfilm Express.
VideoPad Video Editor is an extremely easy to use program. It may be the easiest program on this list to jump into, which you could also realistically create your entire video inside (there are easier programs, but you can only do some of your work in them). Part of its simplicity comes from not being as feature-rich as the programs ranking higher than it on this list, however.
You do not get the same range of functions with VideoPad as you do from the top 3 free editors, but it has enough to satisfy people who are just starting out. Creating moving text effects is easy, you have huge audio waves to work with while you’re syncing, and effects like transitions and filters are easy to find.
VideoPad does suffer a bit from being dated. This program is no longer being worked on, and the interface doesn’t look particularly modern. This is a bit more than a cosmetic issue because some features, while not difficult to find, are placed a bit oddly compared to other editors.
One slightly annoying feature of VideoPad is that it will prompt you to buy the commercial version sometimes (the free version is only for non-commercial use). There have been reports of exports being blocked in the free version, but I exported several times for the sake of this review and the issue never came up.
Is VideoPad Video Editor good for YouTube?
VideoPad makes a decent YouTube editor. You can jump right in and start making cuts, adding filters, and ordering your clips. If you have the kind of channel where voiceovers are important (like in gaming or makeup), then you’ll be happy with the size of the audio waves you have to work with for syncing.
The thing about VideoPad is that you’re probably going to outgrow it quickly as you become a more capable editor.
Difficult to learn compared to other free software
On their website, Lightworks claims to have an ‘intuitive interface’ and ‘easy timeline editing’. This is true if you compare it to other professional-level editing suites. Compared to the other programs on this list, Lightworks is complicated.
The first thing I attempt when I review this program is to simply split a clip, and it took me a ridiculous amount of time to figure this feature out in Lightworks (a more advanced editor could have found it faster, but these reviews are meant to help people with less experience). Lightworks does have a whole tutorial series on using the software, so if you are interested in learning to use it there is ample material out there to help you.
Lightworks has a wide range of functions (i.e. detailed audio editing and color correction), and it has been used for big movies like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. It is the most professional program on this list, and it’s a great free alternative to something like Adobe Premiere Pro.
Note: there is no time limit on the free version of Lightworks, but it will ask you to renew your free license every 7 days. When it says your license is 'expired' it isn't kicking you off the free version, you just need to renew.
Is Lightworks good for YouTube?
Whether or not Lightworks is right for your YouTube channel depends on your goals as a video editor.
If what you want is to jump in and start making YouTube videos quickly, Lightworks might not be a great choice. It’s not an easy program to just jump into, you’ll have to either take time to learn it or accept that it’ll take some trial and error to get the hang of.
If what you want is to become a professional-level video editor, then Lightworks is a great program to start on (although, Hitfilm Express may still be better). Taking the time to learn it could certainly pay off in the long run.
However, if one of your priorities is for your YouTube channel to come across as professional, then the free version of Lightworks does have some disappointing limitations. You can only export videos in 720p, which is lower quality than viewers on YouTube expect (you probably want at least 1080p). Your output format is limited too. The royalty-free audio and video content Lightworks offers are also not free; you can just buy them through the program.
Paid features show up in the free version, but they’re blocked
Review of VSDC Video Editor
There’s a lot to like about VSDC Video Editor, but you have to do a lot of work to uncover any of it. Accessing even the most basic features is confusing.
One of the first things I tried to do as I tested the program was make a jump cut (where you cut out part of a video so the playback ‘jumps over’ the deleted segment) and, while I was able to do it, it was not an intuitive process. There is a multitude of toolbars and icons surrounding your preview window in VSDC, and none of those icons was for making cuts to your clips. To make any cuts you have to find the ‘cutting and splitting’ option under the Editor tab at the top of the page, which will open a second window in which you still cannot make any cuts. Instead what you can do is place markers, and when you click ‘apply changes’ to exit the window cuts will be made where you placed markers. There is nothing in the window to explain what the markers are for.
Other basic functions, like adding text, are just as complicated.
Is VSDC Video Editor good for YouTube?
I would not recommend VSDC for YouTube. It ranks higher than two other items on this list because they are, do to functional limitations, unable to create full YouTube videos without the support of other programs (at least realistically). You certainly could create your full YouTube video in VSDC, but it’d be a headache.
Machete Lite claims that you’ll be able to edit your videos “within a few minutes after downloading the program, even if you’ve never edited a video before”, and that is true. It might even be better if you haven’t edited a video before because the interface is slightly awkward if you’ve come from a program with a more traditional timeline setup. Machete Lite is easy to use for the most part, but it doesn’t work like most other editors and that can be awkward to navigate around.
Instead of seeing a timeline with all of your individual clips, Machete treats your entire video as one clip. You will only be able to see where you have inserted a separate video clip or cut out a portion of the video by watching the video back or jumping through it (Machete Lite does allow frame-by-frame scrolling). You won’t be able to see this information at a glance, and you won’t be able to adjust the lengths of clips you’ve added separately.
To take out any portion of your overall video you’ll need to find a keyframe at the beginning, set that as the beginning of your selection, then find a key frame at the end and set that as the end of your selection. You will then be able to delete that selection. This will not work if the frames you have set as the beginning and end are not considered keyframes by the program, so it can be difficult to be precise, but since the program allows you to jump through keyframes it’s not difficult to find a point that works.
Is Machete Video Editor Lite good for YouTube?
Machete Lite is not a good choice for YouTubers unless it is used in combination with another program.
It doesn’t work as a YouTube editor because you cannot edit or swap audio, the transition between clips, or create layers of videos and images.
However, the thing Machete Lite is really good at is cutting out clips from longer videos. You can create a selection of a part of your longer clip and then export it (with no quality loss) as its own video file.
This is what the Machete Lite toolbar looks like when you’ve created a selection. Tools like cut and copy which were greyed out before are now available, as is the save icon on the far right. If you click the save icon, you’ll be able to save that selection as its own video.
You can’t create a complete YouTube video in Machete Lite, but you can harvest clips to use in a different program.
Avidemux is not an easy program to jump into. I almost wrote that it couldn’t do anything besides make cuts to a clip before I saw a YouTube tutorial about how to find the contrast and brightness tools. If you decide to try it out, remember that you have to choose your output format before Avidemux will let you access tools like Hue/Saturation and Contrast (click Filters under Video Output to find them).
There are no official tutorials for Avidemux you can access from their site, so you’ll have to rely on the forums and tutorials from users if you want to learn it.
You can import multiple clips into Avidemux, but you have to import them in the order you want because you can’t drag them around the timeline after. Everything becomes one big clip.
Is Avidemux good for YouTube?
No. It has more functionality than Machete, which is ranked higher on this list, but the difference is that Machete is excellent at one thing. They both suffer from the same main weakness – you could not complete your full YouTube video either (at least not without a lot of trouble). Machete could still be useful to a YouTuber, though, because it allows for the lossless exporting of segments of clips. You can use it to harvest clips for your larger project in another program.
In theory, you could do some picture editing and snipping in Avidemux and then put your project together/add titles in another program, but your other program can probably do all that just as well if not better. Avidemux isn’t a bad program, but it doesn’t excel at anything. There are a lot of better options which are also free.
What has your experience with free video editors been like?
Richard Bennett is a writer and a lover of all things video.
Follow @Richard Bennett
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