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Best Free Video Editing Software for Mac

| Doug Walker | July 25, 2022

IN THIS ARTICLE:

The world of video editing has changed dramatically. What was once rarified and only available to professional editors using platforms like AVID, LightWorks, and Adobe Premiere is now pretty much available to everyone. Once upon a time, of course, editors had to sit with Steenbeck machines, film reels, and grease pencils, but now anyone with a MacBook (or even an iPhone) can make a well-produced, slick piece of film, TV, or video content.

Some editing platforms are completely free, while others offer different tiers, with enough value in their free introductory tier that they provide a complete service to editors, at least for most functionalities. Whether you’re a beginner or a more advanced editor, chances are that there’s some free editing software for Mac that’s right for you. Here we’ll walk you through the options.

Best Free Editing Software for Mac for Beginners

iMovie

The simplest free Mac video editing software is the one that comes with every MacBook and MacBook Air, namely iMovie. It’s got an easy-to-use drag-and-drop approach to putting media in the timeline and allows users to add soundtrack music, as well as captions and transitions. Some of the transitions can look a bit amateurish to professional eyes, like star wipes, but there’s no obligation to use them, and editors could still employ iMovie to create a professional-looking video, so long as their needs are on the simple side. If you’re importing footage from your phone and just want to cut some shots together to make it more streamlined and appealing, iMovie could be the right platform for you.

Where it doesn’t do such a great job is where you have to make sense of more complex footage, add complex layers of sound, or work with more sophisticated needs like color correction or audio mixing. But iMovie is a good, consumer-level piece of editing software that covers all the basics.

DaVinci Resolve

DaVinci Resolve started as color correction software for professionals (it’s probably been used on some of your favorite Hollywood films). But then it also became a non-linear editing (NLE) platform, as well as an audio editing and mixing platform. And it’s a really good editing platform. It may not be for absolute beginners, but if they have time to watch some YouTube how-to videos and are the find it enjoyable to dive in and learn some great features on the fly, DaVinci may be the right platform.

There is a paid “upgraded” version, but that’s more focused on color correction, and the free software is really good enough to stand on its own.

One of the biggest advantages of DaVinci Resolve is that editors can easily hand their output to a color corrector, knowing that it will be compatible with their software. That’s assuming they even need a more advanced color correction system, since DaVinci’s free color correction is actually very good (though maybe a bit advanced for a novice).

Otherwise, DaVinci boasts features like:

  • An intuitive, elegant interface
  • An editing icon that automatically toggles between kinds of edits, depending on the context
  • Easy-to-organize editing bins
  • Excellent audio tools in Fairlight, so editors can mix, EQ, and essentially do everything audio-related on one platform
  • Easily output in different formats

Unlike software like iMovie, DaVinci allows editors to easily stitch together multicamera footage. It also offers an array of good-looking transitions like fades and dissolves, which can give a professional-grade sheen to projects if used judiciously. It also makes it easy to add titles (including subtitles).

DaVinci is made by Black Magic, and so is naturally easy to use if editors are working with raw footage shot on a Black Magic camera. DaVinci also easily imports and is compatible with a wide range of other formats, though.

The drawbacks? DaVinci Resolve takes up quite a lot of CPU, so if editors using it on their Macbook Air should be ready for it to work a bit slowly. It will be necessary to plug in an external drive, though if you’re working with a lot of footage, you may be doing so already.

However, since DaVinci allows editors to work directly with original media, saving time and storage space as users aren’t transcoding and rendering, it can make better use of space than other similarly powerful systems (generally, the theme emerges that DaVinci is a perfect midpoint between really high-level software and beginner-friendly platforms). Editors can also see their work more or less as it’s going to look, as it allows for editing in high resolution.

Most users find that DaVinci Resolve works smoothly, but as it is complex software should be aware that it can occasionally freeze or experience glitches. Editors should be aware of the need to back up frequently anyway.

More Advanced Use of DaVinci Resolve

DaVinci doesn’t come with a help section, but there’s a passionate fanbase that posts extremely helpful YouTube videos online, which offer a wealth of tips. DaVinci Resolve is software that can be well-used across all skill levels. Beginners may not be able to craft VFX, but DaVinci Resolve nonetheless has 3D capacities, and a motivated editor could probably learn the basics.

The more advanced an editor’s skills, the more they can make use of DaVinci’s powerful features. For example, speaking of FX, recent advances in AI have allowed DaVinci to implement an accurate facial recognition tool. That makes it so much easier for an editor to add pixelation or a face mask to a moving character. This feature can also be used to help sort media — for example, compiling all the footage featuring one character in one bin. Similarly, DaVinci Resolve features Automatic Cut Detection, which can save an editor much-needed time and bandwidth when they are importing pre-edited footage.

DaVinci uses a “node” system for some FX features, which is different from some other editing platforms on the market, like Adobe. Most editors can adjust quickly — and in any case, for beginners, this should not present an issue. DaVinci is actually a good platform to learn editing on.

The paid version of DaVinci is $295, so editors may be wondering what the free version lacks? Well, the free version of DaVinci Resolve does not include more advanced features like noise reduction, and other high-end broadcast features and audio effects. But the absence of these elements will hardly be felt by all but the most advanced professional editor.

Bottom line: DaVinci is also an increasingly popular editing platform, which isn’t surprising, given how relatively easy it is to use, for such sophisticated software. That popularity itself is a big plus as it means editors can easily share cuts with one another, as well as (as mentioned above) easily plugging edits into DaVinci color correction.

Blender

DaVinci started as a color correction system; Blender began its life as 3D VFX software, widely used in the industry for modeling and compositing. But it added an editor to expand its functionality, and the editor in Blender is simple, easy to use, and good enough for a short film or a music video. It offers the capacity to cut and splice video and, like the other platforms on this page, is a good non-linear editor. Blender’s interface takes a bit of getting used to, but ultimately it is a largely enjoyable, bug-free experience to use.

Blender’s VFX origins can be seen in the ease with which users can add layers, transitions, and filters. Blender may represent a good option for editors working with not too much footage, but who want to give it a professional polish. If the next step is to hand it off to an FX creator or editor, it may be an advantage to already have the footage in Blender.

InVideo

InVideo is a good option for specific editing needs — that is, if the point is to create a video for YouTune or Facebook (for example) according to specific templates. InVideo is basically the equivalent of graphic design software like Canva, but for video. It offers over 5000 readymade video templates, and over 8 million stock images in its standard media library. So, while it’s not very helpful for traditional editing needs like cutting original videos, it could be very helpful for editors working in social media or marketing.

It offers additional features for premium subscribers, but the free version is highly functional. Users just drag and drop their images into the preexisting template and can then create videos in over 70 languages (this is important since many of the video templates, like most Facebook or Instagram commercials, are graphics-based). InVideo boasts that it only takes 15 minutes to put a video together. So again, while it can’t be used to edit conventional projects like short films, it can certainly save a ton of time and graphics creation if the project involved is a video for social media or slideshow. It even has music in its library that users can add for a soundtrack.

InVideo isn’t completely without choices for editors to make. These include font and text and which transitions to make — and of course the spot’s message. It does allow editors to trim and crop video, as well as edit or loop audio. Editors can also add voiceover, to personalize the templates. Purists may feel that these templates are formulaic, but the truth is that most social media ads are formulaic, and these give graphics capabilities to beginner that would otherwise be beyond their reach. The animations themselves are engaging, well-crafted, and colorful.

In short, for some very specific marketing and social purposes, InVideo is a great app to try.

OpenShot

OpenShot is a popular choice among free video editors for Mac. Some editors find it easier to work with than DaVinci Resolve, and it may indeed be easier to cut together a short film or promotional video in OpenShot.

It allows for a wide array of input formats (AVCHD, HEVC, WebM, etc, etc), as well as output formats. It’s geared toward the high-end amateur and prosumer editor, offering free built-in effects and animations. OpenShot supports 3D titles. OpenShot allows editors to create unlimited layers to add effects (as well as audio tracks). It also offers:

  • Frame accuracy when editing
  • Compositing and watermark capability
  • Clip resizing, scaling, trimming, snapping, rotation and cutting
  • Digital video effects like brightness, gamma, hue, greyscale, and chroma capabilities
  • Speed up or slow down video clips with ease.

OpenShot has preset effects, making it easy to add filters and animations to quickly whip up and post videos on Facebook or Instagram. It also visualizes audio as waveforms, making it easy to edit with precision.

OpenShot’s video transitions have real-time previews, saving editors valuable rendering time. OpenShot works across platforms, so editors can share their work and collaborate regardless of whether they are working on Mac, Linux or Windows. And it comes with powerful key frame animation framework, allowing editors to set key frames and then make animations or create visual effects, accordingly.

OpenShot is (as mentioned) open-source software, launched in 2008. That means that it constantly updates with fixes and improvements. Although over the years there have been issues with crashes and bugs, by now most of the kinks have been worked out. Since it’s free and open source, users can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License. While it started as Linux software, it’s 100% compatible with Mac (OS 10.5 and later).

As with much open-source software, there is a community component to OpenShot, and their blog is updated fairly regularly with news of updates and fixes. While OpenShot was a market leader for quite some time — the idea of a free, powerful editing platform for home use was a novelty — competition has become fiercer, with more and more sophisticated features more commonly available. That’s reflected in recent reviews, which ask questions like whether OpenShot has all the features an editor needs and complain of frustration with some features not working and a difficult workflow.

OpenShot’s interface is fairly similar to other programs, with a clip bin on the left, a preview pane on the right, and timeline on the bottom, so that won’t require much adjustment on users’ parts. The title tool is not universally beloved, looking a bit more amateurish than the options given by DaVinci Resolve, and the audio editing features are not as powerful as Fairlight’s.

Ultimately, users will have to decide which program makes the most intuitive sense to them.

For projects with simpler needs, OpenShot is a good option, even if it’s lost some of its luster recently when compared to the competition.

PowerDirector Essential

PowerDirector Essential is a fairly new program that offers free and subscription packages. The free version of PowerDirector is well-reviewed, but of course, the paid version adds extra bells and whistles. Among the cooler features of PowerDirector Essential are its excellent Mask & Blend system, which allows editors to layer, shape and blend layers to create interesting effects; its green-screen capabilities; its AI-enhanced motion tracking, so that editors can add text and graphics that follow the motion of objects, giving videos an extra polish. Using key frames allows editors to set in and out points for easy addition of motion effects or camera moves that can be added in post.

All this adds up to a sense of freedom and experimentation in editing, making videos more dynamic and engaging. After a little work in PowerDirector, videos come out looking a lot more expensive and striking. PowerDirector Essential even comes with LUTS (preset color styles), which can add a lot of pizzazz and allow editors to play around with different aesthetic styles in post. It’s certainly easy to see how canny use of PowerDirector could help make an ad or web short stand out.

The titles made by the PowerDirector Essential title tool look polished, as do the video effects, and PowerDirector also features some truly handy functions like lens correction, audio denoise, color adjustment, and lighting adjustment. The last could be a boon to editors working with footage shot in different lighting conditions, which needs fixing and evening-out). Many of PowerDirector’s features are geared to makers of videos for social media or digital marketing purposes, where editors are constantly trying to grab the attention of viewers. But a savvy editor could certainly use PowerDirector Essential to make a short film, music video, or documentary with plenty of visual panache. Additionally, GoPro users recommend PowerDirector Essential for editing GoPro footage.

Other Good Options for Beginners

The market is getting increasingly crowded, but these three stand out:

  • Wondershare Filmora supports a wide range of video formats and lets editors do all the usual cuts and splices. It allows for some color correction and offers advanced video editing tools like Motion Tracking, Tilt Shift, Face-off, Mosaic, and Jump Cuts. It provides up to 100 audio and video tracks when editing, and offers a pretty good audio editing, mixing, and equalizing package.
  • Avidemux is another basic video editor, which distinguishes itself with its present color correction filters, making it easier (and akin to adding a filter on Instagram, rather than having to make manual adjustments, as in some other programs). It’s compatible with many formats but takes a while to export.
  • HitFilm Express has all the usual features but also distinguishes itself with 180 special effects. Its compositing tools are handy, and it supports 3D video. Its interface is a little trickier than some others on this list, and users have to post that they’re using it on social media, but it could certainly be used to create some higher-end social media content or perhaps even an FX-heavy short.

Best Free Mac Editors for More Advanced Editors

The truth is there is some overlap between categories. DaVinci Resolve, for example, could easily fit inside into the “more advanced” category. Experienced editors will simply find more functionalities they can use, as well as keyboard shortcuts. There are other good options, too.

LightWorks

LightWorks provides capabilities that have been used in hundreds of Hollywood movies. It is a slightly harder interface to get used to, and the free version is not as expansive or offer nearly as many functions as the paid one. Still, LightWorks offers a nice interface, and doesn’t take up too much RAM. As it’s geared more to professionals who are likelier to use other software or resources for effects and titles, these are fairly limited. LightWorks offers access to great tutorials, something many other programs don’t, expecting editors to just dive in and muddle through with help videos on YouTube.

LightWorks is professional-grade software, created and used by Hollywood legends. It’s been used to edit movies like Wolf of Wall Street (at least in its professional, paid version). Legendary film editor Tariq Anwar (American Beauty, The Kings Speech) says, “I have an almost evangelical enthusiasm for Lightworks. I’ve edited with all the other systems, so I can say — from experience — that Lightworks is a far superior editing tool.” That all means it’s been designed with the needs of editors in mind, though some less experienced editors find the interface a little confusing at first.

Still, LightWorks allows users to import any format and video at any framerate, a very intelligent feature considering how much footage editors these days have to deal with and how many formats they’re likely to encounter. It also allows for simple export to social media formats — so it’s not just built with the needs of Oscar winners in mind! It autosaves projects (again, a very helpful function), and makes use of background processing so that editors don’t have to put their projects on hold and wait while effects are rendering or cuts exporting. Rather, the program handles all that while editors keep working. All of these are the kinds of thoughtful inclusions that professional editors would think of, mindful of how time and frustrations can easily pile up, robbing the editing period of critically important enjoyment and creative exploration.

LightWorks’s storyboard bins feature is unique among editing platforms allow editors to pre-edit sequences inside bins by moving content around to create new sequences. LightWorks’s powerful timeline is designed to be responsive and fast, “to help you edit as fast as you can think,” according to LightWorks’s own website. Editors can share projects, and store material in the cloud, freeing up a lot of storage space. It also offers proxy workflows, that is, using low-resolution video files that also free up storage space and RAM on computers.

In all, LightWorks is extremely responsive to the needs of editors, since it’s built by editors. The only drawbacks are that not everyone loves the interfaces, and the paid versions are indeed more packed out with useful features than the free version (for example, a metadata output tool which is a lot faster — helpful when editors are working collaboratively).

Kdenlive

Kdenlive (KDE stands for “Kool Desktop Experience”) a free editing platform developed as OpenSource software, which means that on the one hand it’s been very responsive to the needs of its users and their fixes — but on the other hand can be beset by bugs (user experiences differ vastly). Editing software, in spite of its increasing user-friendliness, involves very complex computing systems, so it’s unsurprising that it’s prone to crashing. Kdenlive, initiated in 2003, is built on the MLT Framework. In democratic open-source fashion, Kdenlive involves configurable interface and shortcuts, allowing users to arrange their interface as they wish. It allows users to create 2D titles with some effects, and also allows for color correction and transition. It’s also versatile, supporting unlimited multimedia files.

For more advanced users, they can make sure their footage is correctly balanced as monitor its audio meter, histogram, waveform, vectorscope and RGB parade. Like LightWorks, Kdenlive allows for proxy editing. It also lets users set keyframes in order to create video and animation effects. Its stripped-down aesthetic is appealing to more technically minded editors who maybe possess more understanding of computers than users of DaVinci, say.

However, Kdenlive also offers an extremely helpful, comprehensive manual that includes examples of basic workflows, as well as specific tutorials. So, there’s no reason for users to be intimidated. Indeed, Kdenlive has a passionate fanbase. It’s only come to Kdenlive recently (Oct, 2021), so it may yet require more testing in order to be considered completely stable.

Best Mac Video Editors On-The-Go

There are not that many options for on-the-go editing (unless you include adding filters on Instagram,) but for editors who want to edit on the go, there is InShot. InShot allows users to trim video, cut out the middle of any video, or split a video into multiple parts, as well as adding filters and effects. Of course, InShot is very far in terms of functionality from all the platforms discussed above (even iMovie), but it’s got the basics for on-the-fly editing and allows for simple improvements like adding stickers and texts, as well as stock music. It’s a good, fun option for quick vlog post-type content.

Best Free Video Editing Apps for iPhones

Of course, it’s not quite the same looking at footage on your phone as on a nice, big monitor, but there are some good basic choices to edit on your iPhone. And, truth be told, that’s where many videos are watched, these days, so why not edit on it, too? Most iPhone video editing apps recognize that the end goal is to share on social media like Instagram, so offer aspect ratios that make sense (like the square 1:1).

DJI Fly App

The DJI Fly App was originally designed to help edit drone footage shot on the DJI Fly app. Still, it can also be with other footage, and it’s surprisingly fun and intuitive. Editors can trim and add music, and there are many transitions available to use. With good footage to work from, the DJI Fly app can produce a nice little video with:

  • Extra filters and pre-set color correction looks
  • Transitions that include good-looking flash cuts, dissolves, and fades
  • Changing footage speed and direction (editors can easily reverse and speed up footage)
  • Titles

Editors wouldn’t cut features on their iPhones, but may be surprised at how good-looking the end product can be with the DJI Fly App.

iMovie

Just as on Macbooks, iMovie is also a great choice on iPhones. Its simplicity works as a virtue on the phone, and allows users to add narration, as well as built-in sound effects and music. 10 different filters provide an array of looks. iMovie on iPhone is not radically different from its desktop version and allows users to share movies in 4K or 1080p at 60FPS. It does however make use of Multitouch touchscreen technology. So, editing with iMovie on iPhone or iPad could actually be more intuitive for some than using a keyboard, as edits can be made with finger gestures: scrubbing through the timeline now involves using a finger to swipe through. (There are also icons that editors can use to play and pause, just like on the Macbook version).

It also has a fun preset tool that allows editors to create trailers from one of 14 presets.  iMovie in iPhone can import and edit video captured in Cinematic mode on iPhone 13, and also add ProRAW images to movies and trailers.

If editing a movie rather than a trailer, users can trim clips, speed them up or slow them down, and split one clip into multiple shorter clips, so as to intersperse titles or other shots. Clips can also be duplicated. Transitions like dissolves, wipes, and fades are also easy to add.

Among the cooler visual iMovie features is its ability to alter focus points and modify the depth of field effect in video recorded in Cinematic mode. That really gives editors a canvas in which to make great improvements to raw footage and give it extra sheen.

iMovie, unlike the following three options, is 100% free without an upgraded subscription version, so it may be the best choice of the bunch.

PowerDirector

Also available on iPhone, PowerDirector remains an excellent option, only losing points because its free version is not nearly as good as the subscription one. However, PowerDirector’s iPhone iteration features a great stabilizer to help fix shaky phone footage, as well as a green screen editor, and easy compatibility with social media.

FilmoraGo

FilmoraGo is also geared to make it as easy as possible to create videos for social media sharing, including royalty-free music and sound effects users can employ, and some cool filters.

Magisto

Magisto is geared entirely to social media and employs AI to create short videos by theme (paid versions allow for longer videos). It’s not for pros, but for families looking to package their memories and share them quickly, it may appeal.

Some other choices like KineMaster and Videorama offer interesting features, but come with a watermark unless users upgrade, so probably won’t be of interest to most prosumer editors (well, prosumer editors looking for free software).

iPhone editors naturally tend toward the basic and functional, so iPhone users could employ a little creativity in using other programs as part of their approach.

For example, while not an editing platform per se, Hyperlapse is a great tool that allows users to create timelapse videos, which can then be imported into any of the above programs for great production value. Similarly, Snapseed is a photo and video editor that can add the kinds of filters editors would find in desktop editors like DaVinci (almost), with names like “Drama” and “Grunge”. iPhone editors can then plug these tweaked images into their editors to produce visually striking videos. They can also save themselves the effort and rely on filters in programs like iMovie, which are quite good on their own.

Bottom Line: Even without the software limited in their free iterations, iPhone editors are quite powerful and capable.

Free Editing Software for Mac FAQs

Can I Create Professional-Looking Videos With Free Software?

Yes, and in fact some of the options listed above don’t even have paid options. And many professional or semi-professional editors use the free versions of DaVinci, LightWorks, and OpenShot.

Is There Support for Free Editing Software?

Yes, though it’s mostly in the form of user forums and YouTube tutorials. Some platforms, like Kdenlive, include excellent manuals, too.

Can I Share My Work Across Platforms?

For the most part, yes. iMovie only works on Mac and Apple products, but programs like DaVinci, Kdenlive, Blender, and OpenShot are designed to allow cross-platform collaboration.

Best Free Video Editing Software for Mac: Conclusions

The best free video editor for Macs and Apple products is… ultimately the one that serves your needs. If editors are more technically minded, there are options out there (Kdenlive, OpenShot). If they just need something simple to get started, iMovie or Blender may be right for them. LightWorks, PowerDirector and DaVinci are good choices in the middle.

With the above as a guide, the best way is to get started, and for editors to give a few platforms a quick trial, to see which has the most intuitive interface for them, and the options they actually need. And when editors have their rough cuts ready and are set to add music, Tunestock is a great resource to help video editors come up with their most creative work, with a great library of compelling and moving music by the best in the business.

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