how to choose video editing software

How to Choose Video Editing Software

Editing and post-production has been the major focus of my career. Though I work as a producer, in documentary and reality television that means I am sitting at an Avid machine, cutting 44 hours of footage into 44 minutes of story, and then handing these “string outs” to editors to do shot selection, music selection, and generally clean up.

Editing is also how I first became introduced to video production. My first video was a gaming video made from clips of the game Counter-Strike and edited together using a program called Sony Vegas Pro. I quickly fell in love with the editing process and, when I found out that my high school offered a video production class I signed up, mostly so I could edit more stuff, but that class opened the door to shooting video in a variety of settings and really inspired me to continue learning and growing.

Even though I found myself shooting videos often, my strength and passion was always in editing. In college, when I was shooting music videos and concerts, graduation and wedding videos, promotional videos, and even a documentary, I enjoyed the editorial process the most. Something about taking a bunch of raw footage and shaping it into a cohesive story appealed to me then and still appeals to me today.

And, though I’ve worked with just about every editing software on the market, there are some clear winners in my mind. My goal here is not to sell you on the most expensive editing software or brag to you about the work I’ve done in each suite, but to provide enough information that you can make an educated decision and choose something that offers the most bang for your buck.

How to Choose Video Editing Software

When you’re first starting out, it’s fine to learn on a free or cheap software like iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, or Wondershare Filmora, all of which have the basic features that will allow you to make decent videos. But, if you’re trying to elevate your work it’s important to have the right set of tools.

A few years ago I tried learning guitar for the fifth time and I was given a key piece of advice: it’s more fun to learn on a higher quality instrument and they’re actually easier to play. It’s so true. I was committed to learn so I picked up a better guitar and very quickly I noticed a few things. The strings were closer to the fret board (low action), they felt like they had less tension, and the instrument sounded great even though my playing sounded horrible.

I think, to some degree, this advice can be applied to video editing software. The reason some video editing software has become industry standard is because they have a wider range of tools and they are more intuitive to work with. Intuitiveness is what you are looking for in video editing software. Editing can be a tedious process and the last thing you want is for the software to get in your way, slow you down, or even prevent you from accomplishing a task.

The other benefit to learning how to edit with higher quality video editing software, much like learning guitar, is that you are preparing yourself for professional success. It may seem obvious, but how much easier do you think it’s going to be to get a job editing in Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere Pro if you already know how to use the software? Few people are going to want to pay to train you, so it’s important to be proactive and learn how to use this software on your own time.

The way I see it, if you’re looking to move up to a higher quality video editing software, you have three options.

avid media composerAvid Media Composer. Avid Media Composer is by far the most widely used video editing software in the television and film industry. Since I moved to Los Angeles and started working in television, I haven’t seen any other editing software used in a professional capacity. I’ve heard stories of people working in Premiere and Final Cut on shows but I haven’t actually experienced it. The reason for this is twofold. First, Avid offers some of the best networking in video editing. This is especially useful for television shows that have six story stations and twelve editing stations all hooked up to the same server, accessing the same projects and the same footage at the same time. Second, Avid started dominating the professional space in the early days of non-linear editing and hasn’t relinquished control since. That said, its top competitors, Premiere and Final Cut, are slowly creeping into their market share by offering good networking and features at a more affordable price.

I personally love Avid Media Composer. Its interface is a little old school and clunky, and it definitely feels more analog as you have to learn keyboard shortcuts to truly be effective at it, but it’s a solid editing software. I started using it at an internship in college and have used it exclusively at work for the past few years. Now that I understand the interface and keyboard shortcuts, I find the workflow to be relatively fast and smooth. My biggest gripe with the software though, and why I don’t use it for personal projects, is that there are a limited amount of tutorials and forums available for it online. Why is this important? Imagine for a second you’re in the final hours of a project and you get an unexpected error. You restart the software, same error. You restart the computer, same error. Unless you have an editor or IT person working down the hall from you, who’s going to answer your question? Both Premiere and Final Cut have better communities available online that can and have probably already answered your questions, and that’s a big selling point if you ask me. Still, though, I will continue using Avid at work and enjoying it, and I would recommend the software to anyone looking for a career in television or film in Los Angeles or New York, as the software is standard and you will lose work to people who are already proficient in the software if you are not. Check out Avid Media Composer on Amazon to see some of the deals currently offered.

adobe premiere proAdobe Premiere Pro. What can I say about Adobe that hasn’t already been said? Chances are, if you are interested in creative work, you are familiar with Adobe. Their product suite is incredible. From Photoshop to Illustrator, Premiere to After Effects, they offer a software suite that allows you to accomplish anything and everything you can imagine digitally. Adobe Premiere Pro is one of their best pieces of software, in my opinion. It is rich with features, has a beautiful and intuitive interface, and works incredibly well with the other Adobe programs. You can quickly import and manipulate files from other Adobe software as if they are native to Premiere, which can be a huge time saver. It has a ton of stock plugins that allow you to accomplish most things. It allows you to work with keyboard shortcuts, or by pointing and clicking with your mouse, whichever you prefer. The best part? There is a huge community of Premiere users online sharing free tutorials to help you learn or to help you answer any and all questions that may come up while you’re using the program. This community has also created a virtually endless number of plugins and presets that you can use to upgrade the audio and visuals of your projects. You’d think that all of these things would cost a fortune but, because Adobe recently moved over to a subscription model, you pay a low monthly fee for access to the software and in return you are always using the latest version. Don’t need to edit for a few months? Cancel your subscription and re-subscribe when you need it, saving a ton of money. All of this makes Adobe Premiere Pro my software of choice at home, and I am pleased to hear more and more professional editors talking about Premiere. The software is making its way into the television and film industry in a big way, and for good reason. Check out Adobe Premiere Pro on Amazon to see some of the deals currently offered.

final cut pro xFinal Cut Pro. I have a complicated and lengthy relationship with Final Cut Pro, starting in high school when I was first introduced to the software. I started using Final Cut in my first video production class and used it almost exclusively throughout college, with the exception of the internship that required me to learn and use Avid. I grew really fond of Final Cut for many of the same reasons I now love Premiere. There’s a huge online community for it, tons of plugins and presets, and it’s relatively intuitive to use. It offers a decent suite of tools, too, with Compressor (which helps with exporting or converting video to different filetypes) and Motion (which is the low-rent competitor of After Effects and helps with motion graphics and animations).

One of the biggest problems with Final Cut is that it is exclusive to Apple, which locks users into paying way too much for hardware, and alienates a whole userbase that prefers PC products. There are some performance advantages to the current version of Final Cut, which may render and export faster than Premiere using equivalent hardware, but what you gain in performance you lose in versatility. In my opinion, the ability to jump between Adobe products, from Photoshop and After Effects for graphics and animations, to Audition for audio editing, makes the suite a far better sell. Both softwares will accomplish the same goal, offering great non-linear video editing, so it’s a matter of taste. But, since I think it’s helpful to be able to work fluently in a variety of professional programs, I prefer to work in the Adobe suite and familiarize myself with their interface (which is pretty consistent when you move through their different programs). If you disagree with my reasoning and want to go down the Final Cut route, I still think you’ll end up with a great editing software that is able to accomplish pretty much everything you want to accomplish. Check out Final Cut Pro on Amazon to see some of the deals currently offered.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Choose

I wanted to wait until the end of the post to say this, just to drive you completely insane, but it doesn’t matter which video editing software you choose. As long as you are choosing between Avid, Premiere, and Final Cut, you’re going to end up with a quality software that is used by a ton of professionals and allows you to make cuts, move clips around, and even have fine control over your video and audio using a number of effects and transitions.

Too many people spend too much time debating over video editing software and I think it’s a mistake. The software is only the means to the end, the end being a creative and compelling video. Telling a good story is more important than having a good camera or using a good editing program. When it comes down to it, a good editor can work with any editing software and still make a great video, because the basics of video editing are always the same. You import footage, you add it to a sequence, you make cuts, you rearrange clips, and you export a finished video.

It’s really that simple.

But, if you’re looking for more, don’t worry. In my next post I’m going to explore video editing and explain how to edit a documentary.

In the meantime, go out, shoot stuff, come back, edit stuff, and repeat this cycle until you’ve mastered the craft. All of this theory is worthless if you don’t practice!

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2 replies
  1. Grant
    Grant says:

    Have you heard of Forscene the cloud editing system by Forbidden Technologies. I’ve heard you can edit from anywhere, using only an iPad.

    • Jonathan Craig
      Jonathan Craig says:

      I haven’t heard of it, sounds promising. Also seems like a feature one of the major editing platforms will be adding soon.


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