When I first started thinking about creating a sewing vlog two years ago, I assumed that I’d buy Premiere Pro. After all, at the time, that was everyone’s natural choice for video editing.
However, I found a pleasant surprise! Instead of having just one (expensive) option, many options exist! Not only that, some of them are free! That makes me want to try them all.
So much misinformation!
Although many websites list out free video editing software options, you must check their accuracy. For example, some of them claim that Filmora is free, when it is actually a free trial with a watermark. Or else, they claim that DaVinci Resolve is suitable for beginners. Furthermore, I felt so cheated that Hitfilm Express is now putting text editing behind a paywall, when so many people have said it’s free!
After finding so much misinformation, I want to counter it. Hence, I’ve been writing recommendations in Quora. In order to write more substantially, I decided to pit three programs against each other this week: Shotcut, Kdenlive, and VSDC.
1. Shotcut – A beginner’s dream?
In theory, Shotcut looks as if it is the iMovie for anyone who doesn’t have a Mac. Firstly, it is open source and completely free. Secondly, the interface is less cluttered than most software and therefore beginner-friendly. Thirdly, it’s easy to trim and delete clips in the timeline with single mouse clicks.
Since I’ve been recommending Shotcut (because, free!) as an economical choice for beginners, I decided to try editing Pandas for Productivity with it.
- It doesn’t ask you for the resolution and frame rate when you set up a project, and instead pulls this information from the first clip.
- Easy approach to cutting clips in timeline – you can either click on icons, select options when right-clicking on clips, or use keyboard shortcuts. The right-click menu shows the keyboard shortcuts for each item – useful for learning how to edit with the keyboard!
- Doesn’t intimidate you with too many items in the interface.
General good points for everyone:
- Just push one clip into another on the same track to create a transition. The automatic transition is a cross-dissolve. Subsequently, you can right-click to select other transition types.
- The “Colour” tab has a full range of colour scopes, and these work with the default Windows back end (DirectX).
- There’s an audio peak meter in the “Edit” tab, giving you instant feedback if audio is saturating out.
- Render speed was the fastest of the three software, using Nvidia hardware acceleration.
What’s not user-friendly:
- The audio waveform is not as precise as Kdenlive’s or VSDC’s, so my video was always a few frames off sync with my audio. For context, I record my audio in Audacity and then sync with my camera footage by matching hand claps at the beginning and end of each clip.
- To adjust audio volume, you need to go to Filters -> Gain / Volume. This is the least intuitive workflow of all the three software.
- Not all Properties boxes are editable, so you can’t get to frame-accurate editing easily.
- Editing text / titles is a little clumsy, as you need to go to the Plain Text filter and remove the default selection (the time code) before editing. It’s also not easy to animate text.
Additional beginner survival tips:
- You must enable proxies to prevent Shotcut from crashing. Otherwise, it will crash as soon as you try to zoom into your timeline.
In short, Shotcut is a great free learning tool for anyone who is editing their first videos, as long as they pay attention to the survival tips and details above. With only 350 MB of disk space consumption, it isn’t going to take up much of your resources. In essence, Shotcut is for you if you want to practice the basic steps of video editing, using tools that will translate over to more advanced software, without needing too much precision.
2. Kdenlive – The budget, low-spec alternative to Premiere or Resolve?
As a next step up, Kdenlive is free and open-source, with more advanced features than Shotcut. In fact, it was one of the first viable options for Linux users to do intermediate to advanced video editing. Furthermore, it’s lightweight enough to run on a Raspberry Pi. However, it isn’t beginner friendly at all. I started using it earlier than Shotcut, and took a long time to get familiar with the interface and functions.
- Audio mixer panel allows you to change the relative volumes of different tracks with a single mouse stroke.
- You can ripple delete across all tracks, so on a multi-track project everything still stays in place when you cut something in the middle out. For my Pandas for Productivity workflow, this was the fastest way to remove bad takes.
- The audio waveform appears on the clip monitor when you mouse over it, so you can set in and out points according to the waveform.
- Proxy workflow is more stable than Shotcut’s and allowed smooth playback even with drastic changes to clip speed.
- You have different options for the bitrate (quality) of the exported file, ranging from around 7mpbs to 32 mbps.
- Allows frame-level setting of a clip’s start point and duration using a right click and “Edit Duration”. You can also choose between timecode (hours: minutes:seconds:frames) or frame numbers to measure time on your project viewer and timeline.
What’s not user-friendly:
- Editing titles is the most painful compared to Shotcut and VSDC. You need to create a title clip and then edit the text on a transparent background. Moreover, it crashes when you make the text clip too big or complex. I couldn’t complete all the fine-tuning for my video overlays because Kdenlive crashed.
- To create overlays that fade transparently (not to a grey box), you need to use “Composite and Transform” instead of the fade handles. If you resize and reposition the item in addition to creating a fade, you need to key in the coordinates and size in “Composite and Transform” — you can’t resize it on the screen.
- Resizing an overlay is a two-step process as you need to drag and drop the “Position and Zoom” effect on it. Since you can’t combine “Composite and Transform” and “Position and Zoom” without the two effects conflicting, you must use “Position and Zoom” to get coordinates and sizing, copy it down, then remove the effect. Thereafter, you key the data into “Composite and Transform” when building the fade.
- Colour scopes do not work immediately on Windows. After some research, I found out how to change the backend from DirectX to OpenGL for them to work.
In summary, I like the visual elements of Kdenlive; it’s the most fun to use of all 3 options. However, the crashes when I overdid the text boxes are a deal-breaker for Pandas for Productivity. Also, you cannot nest timelines, which means that my H Can Hack timeline can become complex and disorganized.
3. VSDC – Effective and affordable, but geeky
VSDC was actually the first video editing software that I chose, because it has a built-in screen recorder. So far, it has been the most reliable, intuitive and stable of my three choices, but is less fun to use because of the geeky workflow.
- Handles text overlays efficiently and robustly, with Powerpoint-like text boxes. You can apply transitions to text box overlays using the Video Effects menu. Supports different colours and fonts within the same text box.
- Nesting of timelines using Sprites — you can create multiple overlays, then clean up your main timeline by combining them into a Sprite.
- Sprites are also useful for combining many short clips and then applying the same effect (e.g. colour correction) across all of them.
- Efficient options and pre-sets for simple colour grading.
- You can access the frame number of any clip easily and therefore edit precisely to frame level. However, be prepared to do a lot of arithmetic!
- Scenes help you organize a long-form project into smaller pieces.
- Export preview lets you know exactly which part of your video is currently being rendered.
What’s not user-friendly:
- Piecemeal approach to importing media – you must separate video, audio and images, and can’t import more than a couple files at a time.
- You can’t adjust the in and out points of a clip on the timeline by pulling the side handles.
- No colour scopes.
- To edit audio volume, you need to go into the Properties Window of the clip; no audio peak meter.
- You can accidentally create a blank Scene at the beginning or end of your project, which will appear as 5-10 seconds of black space.
- Properties menu in the Export tab can be confusing, you need to manually set many parameters of your export (resolution, hardware acceleration settings) to get exactly what you want.
- Longest render time of all the 3 software, though bitrate settings are optimal (16 Mbps).
Thus far, every single video I’ve posted to my YouTube channel has gone through VSDC at some point. Even though I want to diversify, I haven’t been able to get Kdenlive or Shotcut to produce output that exactly matches my vision. Despite its reliability, I wish VSDC could be more visual and tactile, rather than text-based. However, I know that this is a trade-off which enables it to bring video editing to very low-spec computers – which is a good thing that I want to support! That is why I always give a callout to VSDC on the videos that I make with it, and also bought a Pro subscription.
The saga continues…
After this weekend, I uninstalled Shotcut. In general it is a very good tool, but unfortunately, I had outgrown it by the time I tried it out. Actually, it is not the right tool for me because I need frame-level accuracy to make my overlays look presentable on Pandas for Productivity. But it could still be the right tool for many beginners making fun videos that don’t need to be as accurate.
Now I actually am at week 10 (backlog building up now that work is getting busy!) and the plot thickens. There is a Humble Bundle deal where I could buy Magix Video Pro X11, Vegas Movie Studio 16 Ultimate, and Sound Forge 13 for just $25. That is the same as a month’s worth of Lightworks Pro, and I can own them for as long as I want! Over the coming weeks, I will test them against Kdenlive and VSDC, which I still want to use. So, be prepared for much more polygamy ahead!