Digital Storytelling – Video Editing Software options

After my recent post on low-cost video equipment I thought it might be helpful to follow it with a similar one on editing software.  This isn’t intended as a comprehensive guide to all available editing software, both Open Source and commercial, for that the best guide I have found is this Wiki page; rather it is a simple guide to some of the software packages I’ve used at one time or another.  

In general it’s worth noting that you get what you pay for, even for a terrific Open Source/Freeware system like Lightworks (see below) it’s worth, in the medium to long-term, upgrading the basic open package to get additional resources.

If you’re using Apple products, either iMacs or MacBook Pros, you have iMovie and Final Cut Pro X (FCP X).  iMovie comes supplied with most new Macs, otherwise it’s available from the App store for approximately £10.  You should check system requirements for the latest version since you may also need to upgrade to the new Mavericks operating system.  FCP X retails at £199 from the App store and, again, check system requirements.

I am currently a heavy user of FCP X which, despite the wave of complaints that greeted its arrival a year and a half ago, I have found to be intuitive and easy to use. iMovie is also designed for ease of use and is deceptively powerful for a “basic” editing package. If you are a Mac user embarking on editing video for the first time and have the option of iMovie I would encourage you to use it.  To help first-timers, check out these introductions to editing with iMovie from Vimeo.

VideoPad from NCH Software is a package I have dabbled with and one I know people have found to be a very helpful starting point. However you may wish to upgrade fairly quickly.  The website does offer, under the FAQs page, a free download so you can try it out and see if the package is for you; there’s also a video to help get you started.

Lightworks is probably the best Open Source/Freeware editing project available, anywhere.  It is incredibly powerful and, prior to it’s Freeware/OS models, has been used extensively in the feature film industry.  There are a series of videos to introduce new users to the basics of Lightworks, and the ability to upgrade to the Pro Version for more features.  Currently Lightworks is available for Windows and Linux systems only, though a Mac version is due to soon.  I have used this on a Windows system and loved it, but as a day-to-day Mac user I’m patiently waiting for the Mac version to become available.  [UPDATE: Public Beta testing for Macs begins on June 11th 2014, according to a recent announcement form EditShare.]

I probably wouldn’t recommend Lightworks to those starting out editing video for the first time, but once you have some experience and confidence, for example using VideoPad, you may find  Lightworks the logical next step.

One huge benefit of Lightworks and, to be fair, many other packages, is that the user community has created many, many helpful You Tube videos that address issues from getting started, basic editing, working with sound, creating captions etc, all of which make it relatively easy to solve problems you encounter.

Adobe have two commercial editing packages that are well worth considering: Premiere Elements and Premiere Pro, these work on Windows and Mac systems.  I am currently getting to grips with Premiere Pro as I may, for work purposes, move to this system.

However the fairly recent decision of Adobe to move to a monthly rental strategy with Premiere Pro Creative Cloud package, instead of allowing a one-off purchase, is one thing you will need to consider.  You can still buy Premiere Pro CS6 (the version I’m using) on the web, though the cost of the package may be prohibitive.

Premiere Elements is, like iMovie, a powerful editing package that will give you everything you need to edit video content for your website.  Adobe also donates software to Technology Trust’s tt-exchange programme enabling charities to purchase software at a much lower cost, this includes Premiere Elements.  However you will need to check with Technology Trust that you qualify for the discount and that the package is currently available.

Before choosing any editing software consider what kind of videos you want to produce, who the audience will be and where they are going to be seen.  If you want to produce video content for broadcast then you will certainly need to buy a professional editing package.  But if your goal is to create videos for You Tube and your organisation’s website you don’t need to spend a lot of money to achieve great results.

In the end what will make your video work is not the hardware or the software, but your ability to think through the stages of the digital storytelling process from the planning, to the shooting, to the editing.  To that end you may find the following videos from the Grow You Charity Online initiative from Google, Media Trust and Technology Trust, of interest.

Video on a Shoestring

An Introduction to Video Editing


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