With iPhone cameras shooting incredibly high-quality video these days, it's a shame to leave all that footage sitting in your Photos library. Yes, you could assemble a short film on your device (see Best video-editing apps for iPhone), but why deal with small screens when you've got a MacBook or iMac?
If the potential cost of video-editing software is holding you back, then have no fear. We've gathered together a list of the best free or cheap apps you can use on your Mac. For advice on the hardware side of things, see Best Mac for video editing.
Best mac video editors
iMovie has been the entry level for many would-be video editors, home movie enthusiasts and schoolchildren for years. If you've not come across it before, then we have a complete guide to using iMovie on the Mac to edit video..
Today's version is a slick, powerful app that makes it easy to put together professional-looking videos with a minimum of fuss. The best part is that it's completely free to download from the App Store.
Apple has continually updated the app to keep in step with advances in both cameras and formats. One obvious example is UHD: now that all modern iPhones are able to record up to 4K, iMovie includes support for these Ultra-HD resolutions. In fact, the iMovie home page has an example 4K film which was edited in the app.
Apple also added support for the new HEVC format as well, which should help keep the size of projects down.
Much like with Garageband and Logic Pro X (see Logic Pro X vs Garageband), Apple has standardised the interface across its video editing apps, making it easier to upgrade to the more expensive version without needing to learn whole new workflows.
The dark interface isn't cluttered with buttons, and thus enables you to really focus on working with your video footage. It follows the same library approach to storing your videos as its bigger brother, Final Cut Pro X. You could use one big iMovie library to store all your videos in different events, similar in nature to your Photos library, or you could create new libraries for each "production" you might be working on.
It's very easy to move footage around between events and libraries, with iMovie copying the source files as necessary, so you don't have to remember where you're storing everything.
As well as importing content from a variety of consumer cameras and your hard drive, you can also import photos and videos directly from your iPhone, iPad or Photos library, plus audio from your iTunes library - all accessible from within iMovie. You can also import any projects that you'd been editing in iMovie for iOS.
Skimming the footage is great fun, especially if you're using a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar, as you can quickly review the your recordings by waving your mouse pointer or finger across the filmstrips. Surprisingly, iMovie also supports common video-editing shortcuts for playback that most professional editors will be familiar with - try using J and L on your keyboard to play footage backwards and forwards. (And K will stop playback if things get out of control!)
Ranges can also be applied across a portion of footage you want to edit using I and O keyboard shortcuts and these can easily be marked as Favourites so you can find them again quickly when you need to, or Rejected so that they can be hidden if required.
It's easy to add and reorder footage within the timeline. Again, keyboard shortcuts exist for the different editing operations such as insert and connect, mirroring those in Final Cut Pro X, and it's easy to simply trim a portion of video to make it longer or shorter. Double-clicking any edit point brings up the Precision Editor for precise, frame-by-frame control of your edits.
Audio mixing is just as intuitive. Audio can be faded in and out by dragging on the fade handles available on every clip. Individual clip levels can be easily adjusted in the timeline and you can see how your adjustments are affecting the audio by the size of the waveform.
A voiceover feature allows you to record your own commentary using either the Mac's built-in microphone or an external USB mic. Music that overlaps this voiceover automatically lowers but you can also easily "duck" the music when other people are talking by option-clicking the volume bar to add control points, just like in Final Cut Pro X. Unfortunately there's no audio metering in iMovie, so audio mixing can only really be done by ear.
iMovie comes with a large selection of ready-to-use audio files (including royalty-free sound effects and music beds), a reasonable selection of titles and backgrounds that should be suitable for all but the most specific of occasions (including the animated maps and globes that are always a big draw for the holiday movie), and a good choice of transitions - all of which can be easily previewed by skimming.
For its price and the user level it's aimed at, iMovie is a highly competent video editor that works well and intuitively.
Adobe Premiere Elements
In the same way that iMovie has its sibling in Final Cut Pro, so Adobe's Premiere Elements is often seen as baby brother to the professional-level Premiere Pro.
Premiere Elements has some advantages over iMovie in that it can import a wider range of file formats. Unfortunately the process is not as slick as in iMovie, where one import option covers most eventualities. In Premiere Elements there are different options whether you are importing from different cameras, folders from your hard drive or photos.
There is the Elements Organiser that installs with the application, but if you're using Photos for this task, then the lack of integration means you'll have to manually copy files around your system.
Among its features are Candid Moments (which creates still images from video), and Smart Trim (which searches for scenes that match the style of the ones you're already using).
There are three main ways of using Elements. The "Quick" option simply grabs your selected media on import and strings it together in a basic timeline. From here you can easily trim the clips, reorder the shots, add titles, music and record narration. You can add further shots as you go along and adjust the video and audio of the different clips in the timeline to add volume changes or colour correction.
It's all relatively straightforward, with a list of options on the right of the interface in sections such as "Fix" - where you'll find options such as Shake Reduction and Smart Fix that'll quickly correct any major problems it detects - "Edit", which allows for more manual control over your shots, and "Add" that allows you to populate your movies with various titles, music beds and jolly graphics.
Much of this content has to be painstakingly downloaded and won't necessarily be suitable for all uses. However, the music scores are worth checking out as they can be adjusted in intensity and length to fit the tone and pace of your movie.
The "Guided" option for editing is just that - on screen prompts take you through guided tutorials on using the software, pointing out where you'll find transitions and how you can adjust your clips. This could be useful for someone new to video editing, or someone who's returning to the software having not used it for a while.
Adobe has increased the purview of this mode by adding a few extra features, which include being able to freeze a frame and then have animated titles appear over it. This is great for intros or just adding a layer of professionalism to your movies.
There's also now a way to reduce shaking in action-cam footage, quick ways to create titled clips for social media, and the bounce-back feature which essentially rewinds the action so you can create funny moments of people jumping out of water or skiing up hills.
The final option is "Expert", which allows you to fully explore what the software has to offer. Here you're faced with a timeline that allows you to add additional layers - we managed to add an extra 100 tracks! This view also gives you a better view of how you are manipulating your audio and you can edit the audio and video portions of the same clip independently to create split edits.
The whole experience, however, just feels much more clunky when compared to that in iMovie, especially when you are prompted to render your effects for smoother playback. Nevertheless, many of the controls are more flexible than those in iMovie. With Premiere Elements you can create picture in picture effects with precise control over size, position and rotation, and add your own keyframes for custom animations.
Expert mode also give you better control over your source media, allowing you to import it into a Project Assets pane before editing it - you can move it into a separate folder if you want, or even double-click a clip to open it in a separate player to add in and out points - but these windows open over much of the interface and become annoyances quite quickly.
There are also a variety of wizards available to help you create your movies, from instant movies for birthdays and weddings, to video collages, all of which contain their own theme elements.
When it comes to sharing your videos, there are the usual export options for uploading to Vimeo, YouTube and Facebook, or outputting to DVD or Blu-ray discs (something which cannot be done in iMovie). There are also options for exporting at resolutions up to 4K UHD or creating your own custom export options if none of the default settings fits your purposes.
Overall, Premiere Elements offers a step-up in controls from iMovie. However, this does come at a cost in terms of the price tag and complexity. If you're someone who finds iMovie a little too restrictive you may welcome the additional flexibility offered by Premiere Elements.
There are a number of video editors out there that occupy the middle ground between iMovie and Premiere Elements. Filmora by Wondershare is a prime example that's aimed at the iMovie user who needs a bit more flexibility.
The application is simple enough to get to grips with. Video, audio and photos can imported into notional "folders" from your hard drive, supported cameras, Photos and iTunes library, and even your Facebook, Flickr or Instagram accounts.
Once imported they can be added by simply dragging and dropping to the timeline or clicking the plus symbol on each clip, then can be easily rearranged in a manner similar to iMovie. You'll also need to do all your trimming here. Simple controls allow you split the clips and chop out the bits you don't want.
The timeline itself doesn't work in the manner of other timelines we've looked at. Storyboard View allows you to simply arrange your clips in the order you want, whilst still giving you control over effects, whilst a somewhat familiar Timeline View allows you more control over trimming and titles. Dedicated tracks are available for your video clips, with separate tracks available for titles and music.
Additional clips can be layered to created cutaways or composited picture-in-picture effects, though they have to be placed below the main video track, making for a slightly bizarre way of arranging your timeline. Moving back and forth along the timeline is also rather frustrating. You have to actually grab hold of the red playhead (or time indicator) to drag through the timeline - miss it and you'll end up zooming your timeline instead.
Despite its reverse method of working, Filmora does have some nice controls that can be adjusted in real time. A simple Video and Audio Inspector window gives you some intuitive controls not unlike those in iMovie, whilst more advanced tools give you further control over the colour - including a series of LUTs and presets with names such as "Game of Thrones", "House of Cards" and "Star Wars".
Sadly these can only be applied to clips in the main video track, not the lower compositing tracks. Additional filters and overlays can also be applied to a separate filter track meaning that you can quickly change the look of your whole film with one effect.
A familiar array of transitions is available with basic controls (again, sadly available only to clips on the topmost video track), along with a series of animated titles. What's interesting about these titles, however, is that they can be customised not just in terms of the text, but in the entire animation.
Double-clicking a title opens it in its own inspector where you can add or remove elements and change the animation of each element. You can also save these as your own presets. In fact, the Filmora Effects Store offers additional collections, either for free or to purchase, so you can expand the default offerings.
The current version does have plenty of built-in effects worthy of note, though. These include up to 100 video tracks on your project, with compositing effects available, enhanced video stabilisation for removing the shake from original footage, adding camera shake for action scenes, new aspect ratios that will work with social media sites (essentially creating portrait or 1:1 boxed videos), fine speed adjustment controls, plus the ability to add up to 10 music tracks to a production.
For exporting, Filmora gives you simple to follow options for logging into and uploading to YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook, making a DVD or a file compatible with everything from iPhone, iPad and Apple TV through to PlayStation and PSP. Or you can output a standalone file as QuickTime .mov, MP4, GIF or even WMV in various resolutions up to UHD and 4K, depending on the format.
Filmora definitely has its quirks and may take some getting used to. However, most of the bases seem to be covered in one way or another. Nevertheless, grab the free trial to see how you get along with it.
Lightworks holds a venerable position in the history of non-linear editing, as it was used to edit many feature films, TV dramas and commercials following its initial release in 1989. These include Pulp Fiction, LA Confidential, The King's Speech and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Owned by several different companies throughout its history, in 2009 it was acquired by EditShare who announced that they would make it available as open source. Today, Lightworks is billed as "the professional video editor for everyone" and is available as a free download for Mac, Windows and Linux systems.
Actually, Lightworks is available as two licences. The free version we're interested in is a seven-day renewable licence that you can activate immediately once you've registered and installed the software; you just need to sign in and you can start editing. The second type of licence is for Lightworks Pro and is available as a monthly or yearly subscription (which includes new version updates), or as a single one-off payment for an Outright Licence for the current version.
Both licences support importing of a full range of video, audio and still image formats (including the professional, high-end formats such as Apple ProRes, RED R3D and Cinema DNG). However, whereas Lightworks Free can import and work with high-resolution footage (up to 5K in this case), one of its limitations is that you will only be able to export up to 720p HD, with optional upload to YouTube.
This limitation aside, Lightworks Free offers some powerful editing features generally only seen on expensive, professional editing systems; including realtime effects, titles and even multi-camera editing. The familiar process of adding in and out points is more efficient in Lightworks due to the software's "mark and park" feature and there is a fully-featured GPU-accelerated three-way colour corrector and green screen keyer.
A recent addition is the ability to import variable frame rate files such as .mov .mp4 and .m4v which will make working with footage from smartphones a lot simpler.
Titles are straightforward to create and edit and are great quality, avoiding some of the silly templates we've seen in other applications.
There are two down sides to working with Lightworks, though. Firstly, it has some fairly high system specifications. Please check out the list of tech specs and make sure your system is up to the job, especially with regards to the graphics card you're using.
Secondly, we should never forget that although the software is available as a free download, it's a full, professional video-editing package. As such, there are many more options here than the casual user will ever need. Also, it's not like other user-friendly macOS applications you may have used in the past.
The interface, tools and menus are distinctly un-Mac-like, so it does take some time to get used to it. However, there are plenty of video tutorials available on the Lightworks website and YouTube to help you get to grips with the software. We would sincerely suggest going through these tutorials before diving in and swimming with the sharks.
Similar to Lightworks, DaVinci Resolve has been a familiar name in the high-end film production world since its release back in 2004 when it was originally designed as a dedicated colour correction system for film production. However its destiny was changed in 2009 when it was acquired by Blackmagic Design, who have spent the last few years developing it further and adding some sophisticated editing features.
Today, much like Lightworks, DaVinci Resolve is available in two "flavours"; as DaVinci Resolve Studio (available for £299.99/$299.99 on the App Store) and the completely free DaVinci Resolve 16. Both versions are available as either downloads direct from the Blackmagic website or via the Mac App Store.
One difference from the free offering from Lightworks, however, is that DaVinci Resolve is a complete package, not hobbled or restricted in any way.
Of course, there has to be some differences between a piece of software that available for free and its £300/$300 sibling. Indeed there are; but briefly compare the offerings and you'll see there's more in common between them than not - and where there are discrepancies it's usually for the high-end stuff that you're unlikely to need unless you're working in a Soho post production facility.
It's worth noting that the Mac App Store versions are slightly different to the Blackmagic downloads due to restrictions imposed by Apple, but for the purposes of this review these differences are negligible.
The casual user may be quite overwhelmed when they first open DaVinci Resolve. There are no helpful, on-screen guides pointing out what you should do or where to start. Opening the default project reveals an interface that might look a little intimidating. However, the processes are the same as in most video editors.
Different "Pages" help to divide the editing process into different steps. In the first of these pages, you can bring footage into the Media Pool of available clips. DaVinci will handle most of the footage you can throw at it; even the high-end stuff - that what it's designed for.
There are some powerful organisational tools such as Power Bins, Smart Bins and comprehensive metadata support. Delightfully, you can also preview your media by skimming across it, in a similar manner to iMovie.
Editing in the timeline is slick and easy. The Edit Page features a two-monitor setup. Clips from the Media Pool can be opened, reviewed and marked with in an out points before being added to the timeline. Reordering clips isn't as intuitive as in other applications - additional keys need to be held down - and trimming also has its own quirks unless you enter trim edit mode.
Resolve also now has a Cut Page, which is a streamlined editing process designed specifically for 'editors working on high end fast turn around work such as television commercials and even news cutting'. The emphasis is very much on speed, with all tools grouped together for easy access.
There are some lovely touches to the interface, though, that would be highly prized on other professional NLEs, such as the ability to display a "mini waveform" in the source monitor. Audio mixing can be achieved both in the timeline and through either the clip or track mixers. There is also the excellent Fairlight Audiopost production tools collection. These allow you to record, edit, mix and polish multiple tracks with precision and industry-level control.
There are a reasonable number of effects available in the Edit Page. You can choose from a generous amount of transitions, a few basic titles, a selection of generators and the host of AU plugins available by default on your Mac. But the Open FX list remains stubbornly empty.
This is because most (but not all) video effects in Resolve are added in the Color Page. This is probably where most people will be at a disadvantage as, although Resolve has some of the industry-leading tools for colour correction, grading, keying and stabilising, the ability to just drag and drop effects on to clips simply doesn't exist and you'll need to get to grips with the intricacies of the Color Page if you want to affect your clips beyond simple scaling, rotation and speed changes.
That said, if you do take the time to learn these tools available - and there are several excellent online resources for this - it will pay off in the long run as many of these features are second to none.
Moving to the Deliver Page, Resolve provides the now familiar export options - from outputting your own customisable file, to presets for uploading to YouTube, and Vimeo (but no Facebook as of time of writing). It even has good interoperability with other professional editing systems such as Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro and Avid, all up to UHD resolution without any restrictions.
Like Lightworks, DaVinci Resolve is not for the faint of heart, but it is an incredibly capable editing suite that is easily the best in this group. Free too!