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Adobe Alternatives: Video Editing Applications

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This post is part of a series called The Complete Guide to Adobe Alternatives.
Adobe Alternatives: Vector Applications
Adobe Alternatives: Pixel Art Applications

The gap between Adobe Premiere and its alternatives is harder to bridge, I feel, than with any of the other applications in the Adobe suite. Premiere truly is a standout among its peers. However, depending on how you use video editing software, there are still other options out there that may prove valuable in your workflows, or take them over completely. This is something that will depend very much on the specifics of what you do, i.e. the exact individual tools you rely on.

For example, I use the frame hold functionality in Premiere constantly so I look for some kind of freeze frame in alternative software, and if it’s not present I’m unable to use said software. In another example, I listened to some feedback from a YouTuber who switched from Premiere to DaVinci Resolve solely for how it handles S-log. I’m sure similar points of focus exist for you too, and while I can’t list every single feature in every application, I will try to give you my best indication of the type of functionality you’ll find therein.

Note: Final Cut Pro isn’t covered in this article, but that’s not because it isn’t a valid alternative video editing application. On the contrary it’s typically the only other software mentioned in the same breath as Premiere. Rather, as I mentioned in the introduction to this series, it’s because we’re keeping our focus on low cost or no cost applications.

Every editor in this list is either fully free or has a free version, and I’ve personally tested those free versions to make sure they are still feature rich and useful software. Further, we’re only including applications that have the option to secure a permanent license.

And as another interesting side note, just as we found in our list of photo editing applications, options here are strong for those who aren’t Windows users. All but one application runs on Linux (HitFilm Express), and all but one runs on Mac (Kdenlive).

1. Lightworks 14

Lightworks is a video editor that has been used to edit a long list of Hollywood feature films over its twenty year lifespan, including The Wolf of Wall Street, Pulp Fiction, The Kings Speech, 28 Days Later, Braveheart and a number of others.

The editing methodology in Lightworks is at first quite different to what you might be accustomed to because it’s designed to be very minimal, to get out of the way so you can get the job done. At first, confused, I thought it was just missing the tools I needed because I couldn’t find what I was used to on the interface or in any menus. I also didn’t recognize the terminology in Lightworks. Later, I came to understand what I wanted was there, it was just different.

For example, in Lightworks you don’t set “in” and “out” points, rather the terminology is “mark” and “park”. When you “mark” a blue playhead is placed on the timeline. You then “park” your regular red playhead at the other end of the segment you want to work with. The cool thing is though, if you “park” your playhead after your “mark” it’s automatically treated as your out point, but if you “park” it before your “mark” it’s automatically treated as your in point. You only need to set one point; you “mark” then “park”.

There’s no razor tool, you just place the playhead where you want to make a cut and hit the delete or x button. As long as there are no frames selected you’ll make what’s referred to as an “empty cut”, hence splitting the clip. There are no slip, slide and trim tools, because you just position your mouse in particular positions relative to a clip and it all happens automatically.

There’s no “ripple delete” function because any segment between your “mark” and “park” points will automatically close the gap when you press x or delete. If you do want to leave the gap open you just press z instead. And if there is a gap somewhere on the timeline you want to close you just right click it and choose close gap.

It’s a different editing paradigm, but once you wrap your head around it it’s quite smooth. On top of the editing system, Lightworks also has built-in functions for color correcting, blurring, sharpening, shaders, mattes, masking and node based compositing.

Common transitions are easily added. You can right-click the joining point between two clips and add a dissolve from the context menu (few editors provide dissolves between clips on the same track). Or you can park your playhead at the point you want to add a transition, hit the Add Effects button and choose the transition you want. You also get the choice of where you want the transition to be placed, selecting from centering it, starting it at your playhead’s parked position, ending it at the park position, applying it to the whole clip, to matching clips, or between a mark and park position.

And another excellent feature that provides peace of mind while editing is its auto-save and auto-backup system. It saves every action you make as you go along, and it also incrementally saves versions. So if you have a power outage, or an unplanned system restart, or any issue at all your work will be preserved.

All in all, Lightworks is an excellent editing program from people who have been in the field a long time. It can be easily overlooked due to its being different to most editors, but the fact it does its own thing is its biggest strength.

  • Website: https://www.lwks.com
  • Price: Free for 720p with direct upload to YouTube or Vimeo. “Pro” version required for 1080p and local export ($437.99 outright or $24.99 p/mth).
  • Platforms: Linux, Mac, Windows

2. HitFilm Express

HitFilm Express is a free video editor for Windows and Mac. Probably its greatest strength is that it combines editing and compositing / VFX in one application. Check out an example of what it can do in this Star Wars fan film, replete with AT-ATs, phaser beams and The Wilhelm Scream.

HitFilm Express’ pricing model is that you get the base software for free, which can edit up to 4K, with the option to purchase plugins as required. Plugins range from $10 to $50 for things like additional formats, additional color grading tools and plug-n-play visual effects. If you want all the plugins at once, some extra features, and editing up to 8K you’ll need the paid “Pro” version.

Note: to get the free download you do have to give them a Tweet, Facebook mention or Google+ share in return.

On the editing side of things the familiar tools you’re used to are there, like the slice tool (equivalent to razor), slip, slide, ripple edit, roll edit and rate stretch tool. Our own David Bode covers all the basics in his Introduction to Video Editing course, which uses HitFilm.

By the way, so far this is the only application other than Premiere I’m yet to find with a rate stretch tool included. There’s an extensive list of transitions and effects included by default, that can be deployed easily by dragging and dropping them on to clips as required.

HitFilm Express doesn’t have quite as many editing tools as Premiere, nor the ability to customize keyboard shortcuts, but all the essentials are available. In my experience using it with an Nvidia GTX980ti and 16GB RAM it sometimes struggled on projects with a high number of clips, more so than Premiere does on the same machine with the same material. If you run into this problem you may be able to work around this by using proxy clips if appropriate for your projects, or by compressing your source clips using Handbrake.

A massive perk of HitFilm Express is the in-built compositing functionality, making this something of a Premier and After Effects alternative all wrapped up in one. It supports 3D compositing, (though working with models and particles requires the paid version), chroma keying, masking, keyframing and a long list of effects to help the process along.

Other than the issues with lag on large projects, I found HitFilm Express to be an excellent video editor. I’d summarize it by saying if you’re interested in creating visual effects as part of your video editing process, or doing things like motion graphics and motion comics, this software might be right up your alley.

  • Website: https://hitfilm.com/express
  • Price: Free, with up to 4K editing and optional paid plugins available. HitFilm Pro required for 8K editing, all plugins included, $349.
  • Platforms: Mac, Windows

3. DaVinci Resolve 12

DaVinci Resolve was originally solely a color grading application, and a very well respected one at that, but as of version 12 it has had an NLE integrated into it. It has fully functional free versions available on all three platforms.

Essential editing tools like splitting, trimming and the like are all easily accessible and straight forward to use. Its four-in-one trim tool is particulary useful as it allows you to ripple, roll, slip and slide without switching tools.

Adding fade transitions is very easy in Resolve, something I appreciate given it’s such a common task. To fade to or from black there is a little handle at the top corner of each clip, and you simply drag it inwards to create a fade of your desired length. Cross dissolves can be done by right-clicking the point between two clips and choosing how many frames you wish your transitions to be.

Out of the box with version 12 on an AMD RX480 and 16GB of RAM I was surprised to discover I had fairly significant lag on the main playback monitor when scrubbing the timeline over a one minute 720p screen capture clip. Some preferences tweaking and use of the “Generate optimized media” function didn’t seem to clear up the problem. I also set Resolve to cache my clip, a process that took about six minutes to complete on my one minute clip, which did greatly reduce the scrubbing playback lag but didn’t entirely remove it.

That said, I’ve heard plenty of other people say that with these types of optimization methods in place the editing experience is just fine for them. It costs nothing to try out Resolve and see how it goes for you, and might gain you your new favorite video editor. It’s also important to note that version 14 is currently in public beta and according to the Resolve website:

"The new playback engine dramatically increases responsiveness with up to 10x better performance for editors."

I would have loved to test version 14 and tell you all about it, but twice I tried to download it and the installer was corrupt each time. That’s two hours of downloading on my bodgy Australian internet so fresh attempts will have to wait. But I will definitely come back and give it another shot later because it really does look like the team at Blackmagic Design have put a lot of effort into eradicating lag and adding interesting new features:

Even with the evolving NLE, I feel the real strength of Resolve comes from the fact it gives you immediate access to its color grading tools. If you are a film maker who needs top tier color grading application with a solid NLE included, then DaVinci is probably going to be a great fit for you.

And though I don’t need to use audio syncing for my own video editing, I have heard multiple mentions of this function working very well in Resolve, and I get the impression it can be a primary driver for people to use it.

One thing is certain, the quality level being provided by DaVinci Resolve in a free application is extremely high. With the NLE still being quite new and under ongoing development, and the upgraded version 14 on the way, this may well grow into the video editor to beat.

4. Kdenlive

Kdenlive is one of my favorite video editors. Being primarily for Linux right now, (though a Windows version is in its early stages, it won’t suit everybody just yet. However it has a great UI, excellent toolset, is highly customizable, and has the bonus of being free open source software. Kdenlive is part of the KDE project, just like the excellent graphics application Krita.

In my experience, Kdenlive gives me the highest number of equivalents to the tools I most like to use in Premiere Pro, as well as some extra perks I haven’t found elsewhere. With Kdenlive I can:

  • Lift or replace sections between in and out points
  • Use a hotkey to split clips
  • Completely configure hotkeys for everything
  • Always get smooth playback
  • Get extensive, fine grained control over exporting parameters
  • Customize all my toolbars, placing one-click shortcuts right above my timeline for my most commonly used tools, transitions and effects
  • Easily add cross dissolves by clicking in the bottom corner of a clip

For my workflows I find Kdenlive gives me a stronger toolset than all the other applications I’ve tried, and typically better performance too. On the downside, and this is where it stings, it can also have more stability issues than the other software. I find I can go months without a crash, but then an update comes out and crashes are suddenly a problem. On the flipside, though, they normally go away again on the next update. So it comes down to weighing up features vs stability; I personally choose features and hit my save hotkey like it’s going out of style.

Kdenlive supports chromakeying, rotoscoping, color correction, artistic filters, masking and various other effects:

The dev team have just released their first couple of builds on Windows, however this is still very early in the piece so it will take a few more releases before it’s really ready. For now the best way to use Kdenlive is in a Linux environment, ideally on a distro using KDE’s Plasma desktop environment like KDE Neon, Kubuntu, OpenSuse, or my personal favorite Manjaro.

A big perk for those who like to tinker is that with Kdenlive being open, things are very accessible for tweaking. For example, if I want to create a new version of a given effect or transition that uses different defaults I can just change some numbers in an XML file. I also have full access to a massive array of render settings, any of which I can combine into my own custom render profiles.

You also get complete control over your keyboard shortcuts, something I love. Whichever NLE I’m using I like to get all my shortcuts lined up on the keyboard so common actions for my workflows are directly adjacent to each other. Only in Kdenlive can I do this to the same degree I can in Premiere (blender also has shortcut customization, but not the same tools for which to setup shortcuts).

If you’re on Linux, Kdenlive is one of your best, easily setup video editing options. And if you’re on Windows, give it a little more time to find its feet then take it out for a spin.

  • Website: https://kdenlive.org/
  • Price: Free
  • Platforms: Linux. Early Windows builds (stability on Windows may vary for a little while).

5. Blender VSE (Video Sequence Editor)

You might be surprised to learn that Blender is not just a 3D application, it actually has a fully fledged NLE built right in, named the Video Sequence Editor or VSE for short. It’s part of the software because Blender is designed to allow 3D artists to create entire films from start to finish all in a single program. You can see this in action in this short film Tears of Steel that had its editing, VFX and compositing done entirely in Blender:

Blender VSE might have been made with 3D artists in mind, but it is available for everyone, 3D artist or not.

Learning to use Blender for video editing is a lot like learning it in any other capacity, by which I mean you’re probably not going to sit down and be able to figure out what to do by looking at the interface, you’ll likely need some guidance. But once you do get oriented it’s incredibly powerful, to a degree with which few other fully free applications can compete.

It has an incredibly sophisticated node based compositing system that allows you to do advanced color grading and visual effects. It also supports camera tracking and chroma keying. And of course if you need to do anything requiring 3D, you’re in the right place.

To get started with Blender video editing you’ll almost certainly want to do a little setup. There is a precreated layout for video editing but by default it’s probably going to be too far removed from what you’ll have come to expect from other NLEs:

The default Blender VSE layout

I recommend this excellent video that guides you through setting up the interface to be more like Final Cut Pro, after which it will look like this:

Blender VSE layout modified to be a little more familiar

The video also provides advice on setting up a collection of keybindings that are more appropriate for video editing as opposed to 3D work.

All the essential editing basics are there with the ability to split clips, adjust their lengths, move them around the timeline and so on. It is missing other common tools though like ripple deleting for example, however plugins to add features are often available.

Transitions are available but in some cases the process can be a little slower than in other applications. For example, if you want to do a fade from black transition there’s no drag and drop effect - you need to add a clip of solid black that you “gamma cross”, (like cross dissolve), with your track.

So in summary, Blender is a very powerful video editor which a huge range of functionality for a totally free and open source application, you just might have to work a little longer or harder to reach your desired results.

To get across the basics of video editing in Blender check out this series on YouTube. And for more on doing VFX in Blender take a look at this playlist.

Video Editing Software at a Glance

Now we’ve had a chance to look through some of the detail on each of the applications in this article, let’s boil it all down to an at-a-glance summary.

Lightworks

Used to cut an impressive list of Hollywood feature films, with some great testimonials from well known editors. An editing workflow that is different to other applications, but very smooth once you pick it up. Fully cross platform. Free version is great for YouTubers, though other editors will likely want to pick up the “Pro” version.

HitFilm Express

An NLE and VFX package in one. Solid set of editing tools and an interface that is comfortable to use. Envato Tuts+ intro course. Can struggle with large projects, but there are workarounds available. Great for people wanting to get into VFX and motion graphics / motion comics. Free with the option to by plugins to add extra features. “Pro” version available.

DaVinci Resolve 12

An NLE and high level color grading application in one. Highly usable editing tools with a handy four-in-one trim tool. Version 12 may have lag issues, but version 14 is said to have “up to 10x better performance”. The currently active development on DaVinci Resolve may see it turn into one of the best NLEs available. Free and cross platform, with “Pro” version available.

Kdenlive

Linux only at present, but Windows support in early stages. Feature rich application, full kit of editing tools, highly customizable. Can suffer from stability issues. Fully free and open source.

Blender VSE

A very powerful video editor, built into Blender, with the ability to do VFX and compositing. Can yield amazing results, but may require more steps to reach the same point as in other applications. Can be awkward to learn, but with a lot of potential pay off. Fully free, open source and cross platform.

Up Next: Pixel Art

So far in our series on broadening our software horizons, we’ve covered alternatives to Adobe software for photo editing, digital painting, vector art and video editing. Our first two articles were a look at areas of specialty that commonly use Photoshop, and now there is one more we want to dive into: pixel art.

Pixel art is a very exacting discipline, and it requires a set of precision tools that afford you the kind of tight control needed to achieve pixel perfection. In the next article we’ll look at some fantastic Photoshop alternatives that will provide you with a whole stack of excellent pixel art perks.

I’ll see you there!







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