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
1. DaVinci Resolve 17 - Best overall
Pros: Intuitive Cut Page for editing; professional video editing available for free; massive training resources available
Cons: Lots of settings that will take time to understand; no direct import from cameras
In public beta at the time of writing, DaVinci Resolve 17 is the latest release of Blackmagic Design's professional all-in-one video post-production application.
It's probably easier to list the TV shows and films that don't involve the use of DaVinci Resolve, as evidenced by the product's impressive showreel. But the point that this software is used for Hollywood blockbusters is worth bearing in mind.
Following an enjoyably animated Welcome Tour, the user is first brought to one of the seven different 'Pages' that Resolve uses to separate the different stages of post-production: the Cut Page. This is one of two pages, together with the Edit Page, where you can edit footage and is probably the most easily accessible place to start.
Resolve supports a wide range of video formats - from iPhone footage to the high-end cameras made by Blackmagic Design itself - and can be imported by dragging the clips directly into the Media Pool. However, you should transfer the footage to your Mac first before importing.
Whilst the Edit Page follows a more traditional method, editing on the Cut Page is much more intuitive. You can simply drag clips to the timeline, trimming, splitting, deleting and reordering easily. Functions like Smart Insert and Append exist to help you edit efficiently; there's even a Close up option to quickly add a zoomed-in view of a clip that's already in your timeline.
Multi-camera editing is possible by syncing the different angles together into a Sync Bin where you can choose to edit in a different camera seamlessly using the Source Overwrite function. And the dual timeline view, where the upper timeline provides a bird-eye view of the whole of your edit and the lower provides a zoomed-in view of where your playhead is, seems to work well for all but the most complex edits.
There is a wide range of transitions, effects and titles to choose from, all of which can be previewed quickly by hovering the mouse over it, before dragging it to your timeline. And while a limited set of adjustments can be displayed in the bottom of the viewer by clicking the tools button, a more comprehensive set of controls for adjusting video, audio, titles and effects is always available by opening the Inspector.
A small menu at the top-right of the viewer allows you to choose from a standard HD timeline, portrait, square or UHD timeline, but getting your footage to work with the different aspect ratios may involve a trip into the often bewildering array of settings.
The Quick Export command allows you to choose from a few options - including uploading directly to sharing platforms YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter - without having to worry about complex settings. A limitation of the free version of Resolve is that it only allows exports up to UHD resolution, but this should be more than sufficient for the vast majority of users.
However, beyond the Cut Page, DaVinci Resolve is definitely not for the faint of heart. This is a fully featured professional editing system with the ability to do a huge amount in terms of visual effects, colour grading and audio mixing, but with lots of settings that are easy to get wrong. And even though this is all available for free, the real cost could be calculated in the time needed to learn how it all works.
2. iMovie - Best for home movie enthusiasts
Pros: Free video editing application for macOS; easy to edit and add video and audio effects
Cons: Limited effect controls; restricted sharing options; no custom video sizes for social media platforms
Originally debuting in 1999 with the iconic iMac DV, iMovie has been the entry-level video editing software for many people over the years and is probably still the natural choice for many Mac users, especially as it's now available for free. If you've not come across it before, our complete guide to using iMovie on the Mac will offer plenty of pointers.
Creating a new project in iMovie is easy. The only choice is whether you want to create a new movie from scratch or use a trailer template.
Adding media from your Photos or existing iMovie libraries is straightforward as those locations are automatically listed. You can also connect a USB camera (including your iPhone or iPad) and use the Import Window to copy the clips to your Mac for editing. Alternatively, you can use the same Import window to bring across supported files from any location on your Mac, or drag those files directly into the Media Library.
Once you have the clips imported, you can quickly and effortlessly skim through the clips, choosing which ones to add to the end of the timeline by clicking the + symbol. You can quickly drag a range with your mouse to choose just a portion of the clip to add. There's also a helpful Used Media Ranges indicator you can enable to show which clips you haven't used yet.
Changing the order of the clips and trimming works nicely too, although the zooming function in the timeline can get a bit fiddly.
Adjusting audio levels is a simple task of raising or lowering the volume control on each clip, and you can even Option-Click the line to add control points to raise or lower different parts of the audio. Or you can tell iMovie to automatically lower the volume of other clips so speech won't get lost with music playing at the same time.
There are the usual plethora of titles and transitions to choose from, which can be previewed by skimming across them. There is also a library of royalty-free sound effects available to enhance your soundtracks, and a selection of backgrounds, including world maps where you can specify the start and end destinations - perfect for holiday videos.
There are controls above the viewer for basic colour correction, camera stabilisation and audio noise reduction, and a series of Instagram-type video filters and audio effects, although you can't adjust these once they're applied. Other tricks include creating a keyed effect using footage shot in front of a blue or green background, and you can record your own commentary using your Mac's built-in microphone.
When outputting your masterpiece, you have very few options to choose from and, as of the 10.2.2 update, you can no longer upload to video sharing platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo directly, but have to save the video to your Mac and upload manually using a web browser. Plus, the lack of flexibility in creating portrait or square projects means its videos are probably best viewed in their original aspect ratios.
3. Lightworks - Best for film students & trainee editors
Pros: Great pop-up tips to guide the new user; good range of video tutorials
Cons: Interface is not user-friendly; exports limited to 720p HD
Lightworks has been used to cut many feature films over the past 30 years, including Pulp Fiction, LA Confidential, The King's Speech and The Wolf of Wall Street, and it's available as a free download.
Actually, the free version is a seven-day renewable licence that you can activate once you've registered, and while it works perfectly well, there are a number of important limitations. The full set of features is only available if you pay for a Lightworks Pro licence (£143.99/$174.99 for a year).
One of the major limitations of the free licence is that you'll only be able to export up to 720p HD H.264 files.
This aside, Lightworks 2020 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 marking a clip using in and out points is more efficient in Lightworks due to the software's 'mark and park' feature and there is a fully featured colour corrector and green screen keyer. Title templates are somewhat basic and are slightly trickier to work with than in other applications. However, the helpful pop-up tips are a good way of becoming familiar with different aspects of the software as you use it.
The biggest downside of Lightworks, though, is its interface. The tools and menus are distinctly un-Mac-like, so it does take some time to get used to. However, there are plenty of video tutorials available on the Lightworks website to help you get to grips with the software and we would strongly recommend new users work their way through these before diving in and swimming with the shark.
4. Wondershare Filmora 10 - Best for advanced home users
Pros: Motion tracking; customisable keyframe animation
Cons: Licensing is monthly or by the current version - no upgrade pricing available
The application is simple enough to get to grips with. Media can be imported from your hard drive, supported cameras or your iPhone, which even allows Live Photos to be imported. Filmora will also automatically create lower-resolution proxy files of high-res videos clips to make editing easier on your Mac, although creating these proxy files sent the fans in our MacBook Pro into overdrive.
Once they're imported, you can select the clips to view before dragging and dropping to the timeline. The timeline itself does feel slightly old-fashioned. Moving back and forth is 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 this, Filmora does have some nice controls that can be adjusted in realtime. Double-click any clip in the timeline to show its properties - including controls over video, audio, colour and animation, where you can choose from a few motion presets or create your own keyframed animations.
And hidden among the familiar options for stabilisation, chromakeying and colour presets is Filmora's ability to perform motion tracking; that is, you can have the software analyse the movement of an object through the shot and then quickly apply the same movement to a graphic or piece of text. In our tests, the results were pretty good.
There's a good choice of transitions and other effects, with more choices available to purchase with a Filmstock subscription.
For exporting, Filmora gives lots of options for different video formats, with lots of options for customisation without going too over the top, or simple presets can be used to output for a specific device such as iPhone, iPad or Apple TV. You can also log in and upload directly to YouTube and Vimeo, or even burn a DVD if you have any blank discs hanging around.
Filmora definitely has a lot going for it. However, the overall feel of the application, with its timeline, options, buttons and controls, is of a video-editing application with one eye on the past. That said, a lot of people may feel more comfortable with this than more modern software.
5. Adobe Premiere Rush - Best for social media influencers
Pros: Seamlessly move from one platform to another; excellent support for Social Media producers
Cons: Available through subscription only; designed for sharing of short-form video clips; many features focused on online creators
Adobe is obviously known for its professional creative applications such as Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere Pro. The company also keeps plugging away with offerings like Premiere Elements, as well as dabbling in mobile apps like Premiere Clip and Spark Video. So it was a little surprising when Adobe announced yet another video-editing app in 2018: Premiere Rush.
What sets Premiere Rush apart is the fact that you can start editing on one platform and seamlessly move to another at any point.
It's made possible by utilising Adobe's Creative Cloud platform, a subscription-based service. If you already have either of the subscriptions that include Premiere Pro, you'll already have access to Premiere Rush. If you don't, there's a free starter plan available that limits you to 3 exports and 2GB of cloud storage; after that you need to keep paying the minimum subscription for Rush to continue using the service. (Here are details of the plans.)
Projects are created locally and you have a choice of simple presets covering different aspect ratios: 16:9, 9:16, 4:5 and 1:1. There's also the opportunity to automatically reframe any clips that have a different aspect ratio to the project.
These 'mismatched' clips will automatically be adjusted in order to keep the most important part of the shot framed; the software uses Adobe Sensei, Adobe's AI and machine learning framework, to help achieve the best results quickly. In our tests it worked very well, although you can manually adjust the framing if necessary.
You also have the option of choosing to sync your project with your Creative Cloud account. This is the secret to being able to move between different devices and platforms. However, be aware that this uploads all the clips associated with the project, so make sure the project is fully synced before attempting to open it on another device - otherwise you might get missing clips.
Once Premiere Rush has prepared the media for the project, you're then presented with a timeline with all the media laid out, where you can delete, swap, split or trim the clips as required.
In terms of effects, Premiere Rush has a limited number of looks and transitions. While you can customise the looks and save your own presets, it seems you can only add transitions to the start and end of a selected clip, not just to one edit point. This is slightly frustrating.
Audio mixing couldn't be simpler, though, as each audio clip is tagged as Voice, Music or Other so, when " is enabled for music clips, Rush will automatically dip the audio under Voice clips by the specified amount.
There's also access to royalty-free graphics and audio from Adobe. There seemed to be a good assortment of music files to use with projects, but the titles and graphics were somewhat disappointing: you have to actually add them to your project in order to see if they are appropriate or not.
Once you've chosen a graphic, there are plenty of ways to customise it. Rush includes a number of overlays that are designed for social media users, with plenty of emojis and animated calls to action.
You can share to multiple platforms at the same time, but there's a limited choice - just YouTube, Facebook and Adobe's own Behance services allow direct uploads. The option for sharing to Instagram just advises you to save the file and share it using the Instagram app on your phone!
All in all, while it's still relatively early days, there's much to like about Premiere Rush. But you may want to weigh up if the subscription costs are worth it.