The overall theme of this site is to try to simplify the process of how to choose video editing software and how to get started in both shooting and editing your footage.
So in this section of the site I have outlined what I believe is an effective strategy anyone can follow when trying to decide on which video editing software is best for you.
This page will give you a good overview of the existing scene but if you want to explore something more completely then just check the sidebar menu or the links on this page for further reading on a particular feature.
There is also a menu to the right of this page titled, “How to Choose Editing Software” with the individual subjects listed.
The competition in this market is pretty fierce and there are many choices available to you.
For you the consumer this is a good thing but downside is that trying to cut through the rubbish products and the rubbish marketing to get to the right product is becoming almost impossible.
Before I get into the process itself let me lay out a few basic marketing facts to arm you more effectively towards making a good choice rather than an emotional choice.
After all, at some point you will hit the marketing of these products and if you know what they are doing you will be less likely to be swayed by it.
A simple yet effective definition of marketing I like to use is: The Creation of Desire.
Once you become aware of a product (promotion / advertising / word of mouth etc.) the job of the marketing department is to create within you as the potential buyer, sufficient desire so that you make a purchase.
We would all like to think that we only ever purchase things we need and that we base those purchases on hard facts brought about by a thorough examination of the features on offer.
The truth is that we tend to have our choices “modified” by common sense and hard headed thinking but ultimately, the final decision will come down to an emotional response (desire) to the product and how it has been presented to us.
Once you know that and once you realize that as a human you are subject to those forces then choosing the right software, or anything for that matter, gets easier.
Essentially all you need to know is which features of the product are being presented to you because they are useful and which ones are being presented to you because they have a “wow” factor evoking that emotional response.
Choosing the Right Editing Software
The main video editing software makers have been locked in a game of “catch up” with each other for some time now so there is very little to actually distinguish one product from another.
They are all offering features that a few years ago were only available at the “prosumer” or professional level so now is a great time to get on-board.
If you carefully examine the top choices you will discover that feature for feature they are almost identical and that separating them out and rating them accordingly only comes down to a few points.
The key to making the right choice for you is being able to know exactly what it is that the software maker is offering with each feature and realistically how important that feature is to you.
As I mentioned earlier it is easy to get distracted by by the amazing effects and “whizz-bang” features only to realize later that they are things you rarely or never use or worse still, you have purchased something you don’t really like.
With reference to all of this, here are some of the most prominent features offered by the best brands and my opinion based on my experience of them regarding their importance or usefulness.
Like just about any purchase in life it is a good idea to get an overall picture of the market and isolate what segment you realistically fall under.
Currently there are about 4 divisions within the video editing market as delineated by price. The old saying is true that you get what you pay for.
In the sub $70 range you have very basic video editors with limits on output types and the range of features offered.
Above that and going up to around $150 there is the range of fully equipped products for the consumer that carry just about everything your little heart would desire.
The next range, if it could be called that, consists of semi-pro or “prosumer” products coming in at the $400 to $500 mark.
Finally there are the fully professional products that range upwards of $800 to anywhere around $3000.
The User Interface
Most of the better consumer level video editors pack a whole bunch features and capabilities these days and it is quite a task for designers to keep the interfaces simple and intuitive while at the same time allowing access to advanced settings and controls.
Don’t be put off or surprised if you open some video editing software and the interface looks totally foreign!
They ALL look that way because they have no real world equivalent that you will be familiar with.
It’s easy for a word processor to mimic the real world by starting with a virtual blank sheet of paper.
Not so in the case of a video editor interface, so regardless of your choice don’t place too much importance on the interface because they will all look unfamiliar.
As you use the software not only will you become more comfortable with the interface but you may even begin to see the logic that lead to the design in the first place.
This is a vital point to check when choosing software. Most offer compatibility with a wide range of video file formats but these days there is an astounding number of video recording devices and sources.
Make sure of exactly what video file formats you will be using depending on your source files or the devices you will be using to record your raw video footage.
Then check to see that the video editing software you are looking at can handle that exact video file format.
Capture – Import
Again you need to carefully check that your device or method of video file import is supported by the video software in question.
The most common form of standard definition video is the old DV AVI but it has all but disappeared from the market these days.
If you have old tapes lying around that you want to import, all video software I know of will capture from the camcorder with no problem so is no cause for concern.
The real dangers here are the many camcorders, still cameras and mobile devices that can take video footage but do so in a wide variety of ways.
Be certain to check for your specific device or type of device and make sure it is compatible with the video editor along with the specific video file type that it produces.
To be honest this is no big deal!
Now I know you would think that if you are choosing video editing software, the software’s ability to edit would be rather important!
The bottom line here is that the competition in this field is so intense that no-one can put out a video editor that can’t edit well… they wouldn’t last 5 minutes.
I could ramble on here for a while and get all technical but what’s the point… they all cut slice and dice just fine so don’t sweat this point too much!
This refers to the number of tracks that are available to you for when you are editing. Some offer infinite tracks which I guess would mean something if you had infinite things to place on the screen all at once. But let’s get real…
- You need the main video track.
- You need possibly two tracks for video overlays but more likely only one in case you want to do “picture-in-picture” or insert mask effects
- You need another two tracks, one for still images and one for… I don’t know what for but let’s just throw it in for good measure anyway!
- You need a title track for your titles.
- You may need a track for subtitles.
- You need a music track.
- You need a voice-over / narration track.
That’s a total of nine tracks and believe me if you had a video clip with all tracks filled with something simultaneously then you would have created a seriously hot mess!
All the better video editing suites have more than enough tracks to play with so this is also a low priority feature but one to check just to be sure.
Watch a few movies and TV shows, notice this: The most common transition between shots is NO TRANSITION at all!
It’s a little thing the pros like to call a “cut!”
Ok I am being sarcastic here but I hope you see where this is going.
The main reason for creating a video in the first place is so that people can watch it… and when I say “it” I mean the video… not a bunch of twisting, spinning, twirling and flipping images in between every shot.
One of the main points upon which any video editing software producer will try to seduce you will be with “cool” looking wizzbangery (yeah, I made that word up!) like canned transitions.
The video transitions you really need are:
- No transition, just a straight cut from one shot to the next.
- A cross-fade or dissolve. Allowing the shot to smoothly transition from one to the next.
- Fade to black. This can be a soft fade through black into the next scene. A fade to black to end the video or to mark a major end point. A fade from black that opens a new scene.
All other transitions should be approached with extreme caution!
I personally wouldn’t even look at the transitions as a deciding factor as I know all the known video editing software producers have WAY more than enough and they all offer a high degree of control over each individual transition.
Special Effects and Filters
I tend to look at these with a similar attitude to video transitions and they are the second point where the video software makers will try to distract you with the shiny stuff!
There are basic effects that you will need and are quite effective and/or useful.
They all have them because everyone else has them.
Most of the huge number of effects they try to tempt you with will remain totally unused.
I used to not even bother with this because none of the main players were particularly strong in the area.
However they are all getting better and this may very well be a point on which you can separate two seemingly equal video editors.
Make sure you look for Dolby 5:1 capability and whether it is included in the purchase price.
Check out the degree of control they offer but don’t worry too much about audio file compatibility as the variation here is markedly less than for video file formats.
File Output – Distribution
With the introduction and resulting popularity of online video hosting services such as YouTube and Vimeo and the new breed of portable playback devices this area has widened remarkably over the past few years.
Previously it was a matter of choosing to go with DVD or a highly compressed video file format for computer playback.
Now the range is much wider including tablets and phones on top of the existing formats like DVD, Blu-ray or online.
Have a clear picture in your mind of all the possible video file formats you may want to produce as well as all the possible media you may want to produce to.
E.g H.264 video files for YouTube for best quality in addition to DVD or even Blu-ray.
One of the best ways to work out where to start with video editing software is to realistically judge where you want to finish!
Some of the software companies deal exclusively in the consumer market, some go from consumer to semi-professional or “prosumer” and others cover the entire range from newbie to pro.
Take a look at the range of products on offer and the upgrade path that applies to you or at least what you think applies to you.
It is also a good idea to take a look at the upgrade pricing whether it be for going to a higher level product or to the latest release of the software.
Check how many versions back they go and still allow a discount for previous owners.
There are two things I look at when considering the stability of the software I am considering.
The first is the actual operating stability of the video editing software on my computer as opposed to the stated compatibility on the box.
No matter how good the product looks, no matter how perfectly the product fits in with what you want from it, do not move until you have tested it on the computer where it will be used.
There are literally millions of different computers in the world each with their own individual hardware and software setups.
Video editing is a demanding and resource hungry activity and you will have no idea what will happen with any video editor until you actually run it on your machine.
Check the minimum requirements of the software against the specifications of your computer.
Make sure you have more than what they suggest and in the case of RAM… Double it!
Always take advantage of the free trials and if the software maker doesn’t offer a free trial then move on to the next brand.
The second point is that of the stability of the company that makes it.
Video editing software, video file formats and video distribution methods are changing constantly and they are changing fast!
When you choose a video editor you need to be sure that you are connected to a manufacturer that has been around for a while and will continue to be around for a long time in the future.
In this way you are as much as possible, future proofed against this relentless drive forward in the technology and it’s related fields.
Help and Free Trials
If you have read any of my reviews on this site or, for that matter, anything where I refer to software I go on and on about using the free trials of any software before using it… so use the free trials!
The bottom line is that if a company is not willing to risk you using the free trial version of the software then they obviously have no faith in their own product so just in case you missed it the first time… use the free trials!
The subject of Help and Customer Service comes up quite often and it really is a good point to keep in mind when making a choice.
However the reality of these modern times is that the ability of software companies to provide customer help has diminished.
The alternative to it seems to have become the online user forums so take a look at this post on Forums to get a clear picture of the situation and go into it with eyes wide open.
Well I think that’s about it so… Good luck with your choice!