Video Editors: Which is Best?

Video Editors: Which is Best?Microsoft’s Movie Maker was my introduction to the struggle of creating an interesting and coherent video. This is a good piece of software, but once you get the idea of a storyboard presentation versus the time line, then the limitations of Movie Maker become burdensome. So I looked for alternatives. Finding the best video editing software bothered me for a long time. I tried several packages.

An early version of Sony Vegas was on sale at Fry’s either for free or cheap with rebates. So I tried it and was very impressed. I also came to the immediate conclusion that true video editing was not for the faint of heart. If you simply want to edit out some scenes and add titles, anyone with a bit of practice can do it, and you are well-advised to avoid procuring powerful software. But if you want to create a video that will be interesting to more than the immediate family of the person who shot the raw video, then you must be prepared to invest some time learning the language and the techniques. After sometimes painful practice, I made passable productions and concluded that I was spending 10-20 times the play time of a movie editing it, and the results did not always show that level of effort.

Maybe I had not found the best software. Sony’s software had some good features. For instance, the DVD of sound effects that came with Vegas has been extremely useful in sweetening several movies I made with other software, but that is getting ahead of the story. The bottom line is that learning how to edit video sufficiently well that strangers might enjoy it is not just a weekend project. When Movie Maker essentially promises instant gratification, it works, but it comes at a price. So I experimented with Muvee and Adobe Premier Elements, which I also bought on sale bundled with Photoshop Elements. Again, both are fine pieces of software, but neither seemed to fit me — although I still think Photoshop Elements is great for organizing and editing still photos. Time was running out. Patricia and I were planning a five-day trip to Baja Mexico to witness the whale migration. Video would be a big part of our trip.

Again on sale (sales really work for me), I purchased my first copy of Pinnacle Studio. Perhaps by gaining experience with the alternatives, I was able to more easily use it. Or maybe it is better than the alternatives — maybe not. As I remember, I was impressed by its boast of having won an Emmy. So I dug in and quickly learned how to use the title-making features, correct for bad lighting, and select from the numerous fades and wipes available. My first creations had different fades and wipes for every scene. It was great fun to do, but terrible to watch. The main problem was that my P4 computer with limited RAM could be easily brought to its knees by the demands of editing any reasonably sized video. Time passed. Computers developed multiple cores and six GB of RAM is not a big deal. I am now using Pinnacle Studio HD 15 without difficulty.

All of these software packages have three basic functions:

1. import video
2. edit video
3. make a movie

The last step can include storing a digital movie or burning a DVD. The first step might be opening a digital file or converting incoming live video to a form to allow editing. Steps one and three are easy and relatively quick. Most work is done in editing. (Note: with some limitations, video files can be converted from one format to another by omitting the editing.) All packages have a low-resolution view screen to watch progress.

All video-editing packages display the video being edited in either a timeline or storyboard. The timeline can be stretched or shrunk to suit the work. Sometimes you need to select a given frame to either grab and store or delete. Timeline presentation is good for that. Timelines are also good for adding and manipulating sound tracks. There is more to adding pleasing sound than selecting background music from a limited menu. Editing the audio tracks is a whole subject by itself.

To see how the final movie is organized, one uses a storyboard presentation where the first frame in every scene is shown in small format as the order they will appear in the movie. In practice, one switches back and forth frequently. Storyboard is also useful for inserting still frames — a useful technique, as Ken Burns has shown.

Finding the best video editing software no longer bothers me. I conclude that there is no such thing as the best software. There is the best software for you at the level where you are and where you want to be. Other people might present strong arguments why their favorite software is better than what I use, but I like Pinnacle Studio and have invested sufficient time learning how to use it that I am unwilling to explore alternatives. This is not a new phenomenon. Millions of people use Microsoft Word simply because that is what they were introduced to and they do not want to invest (the relatively minor) effort it takes to use a different word processor. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

Some of you make your own movies. What software do you use? Why?

Anyone want to see a short video of us legally petting whales in Mexico?

CC licensed Flickr photo by loop_oh

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  • Blaine Millet

    What about Roxio? It has a basic package in the Pro version that does movies, pictures, music and audio. Did this make your list of alternatives?

    • sdeforest

      Oops, you caught me. Yes, I did have an early version of Roxio and thought it was pretty good. Maybe I did not do it justice, but ultimately one needs to settle on a choice to really learn and that choice can within limits be rather arbitrary Think about how you choose a new car. There is no such thing as the best car. Some are better than others at some things. Same way with software.

  • DigitalAurora

    I use Premiere Pro, the biggest reason why is use premiere is that the integration with both after effects, soundbooth and the other adobe application is awesome :)

    • sdeforest

      As I mentioned above, I have great admiration for both Premiere and Final Cut. They are both too pricey for me. If I were to advance beyond intermediate amateur, I would like invest in Premiere Pro.

  • DigitalAurora

    I use Premiere Pro, the biggest reason why is use premiere is that the integration with both after effects, soundbooth and the other adobe application is awesome :)

  • Guest

    Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro are the only good editors.

    • sdeforest

      I googled on Premiere Pro and found an old version (CS5.5) on Amazon for $799. The newer versions are more. Pinnacle Ultimate retails for less than $100. Therefore we can expect Premiere Pro to be much better and have more features. That does not mean it and Final Cut are the only good ones. The whole point of my piece was to point out that good depends on what you want and the effort you are willing to put into learning. The mistake I made was omitting including the price one is willing to pay. I assumed that I was writing for amateurs of limited means. For you Final Cur and Premiere are the only good editors. I agree. Where we might disagree is whether they are the only good editors for everyone.

    • Ryan Matthew Pierson

      You obviously don’t do much video editing, then. They’re good, but they’re not the “only” good editors. Heck, most Hollywood feature films aren’t edited on either of them as a primary.

      • sdeforest

        It comes down again to what is “good” and what is “best”. Within limits, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What we are familiar with is often better than a newcomer regardless of merit.

  • orbitly

    Final Cut Pro 7, Premiere Pro, Avid.

    • sdeforest

      Final Cut costs about 4 times what Pinnacle Ultimate does. More money does not always equal better quality, but in this case it does. Final Cut and Premiere are not in the same class as the editors I mentioned.

  • Curtis Coburn

    I started with Pinnacle Studio. My computer was barley powerful enough to handle it, and when things got intense, I would get the green screen in the video viewer, and then it would crash. That’s what happens when your computer has below the spec requirements needed. But I liked it, and when I get a new computer, I might just get the pro version of Pinnacle Studio, just because I’m already similar with the software.
    Good post.

    • sdeforest

      That is my point exactly. We tend to go with what we know, as long as the basic job gets done–and that is all right. Why waste time and money chasing an optimum when no such optimum is well-defined?

  • RenderThis

    I use Sony Vegas Pro 11 mostly because it does 1080p 3D HD editing, but I started Vegas Pro when it was version 8.0. I did like Pinnacle Studio, but it kept crashing everytime you make complex effects no matter how fast of a computer you have. So I tried out Sony Vegas Pro 8.0 instead. I was very shocked how stable it was using the same effects as I would on Pinnacle Studio. I’ve been eyeing Premiere Pro but the high price of $800 kept me away even though Vegas Pro was $700.

    This might be off topic, but it does relate to video editing time line. If you ever tried using Adobe Edge (Flash Animation using HTML5 and Java Script), they also use the time line like any video editors. I’ve never done Flash animation, but using Adobe Edge made it so simple. You can use .mp4 video in your time line. Now I see why Adobe abandoning Flash Player on all platform (besides of Apple disliking Flash performance). HTML5 animation time line editing is the way to go.

    Bottom Line: If you can’t render this…it’s not you that suck, it’s your video editor!

    • sdeforest

      I agree with you last line! So maybe I should give Sony another try. Early versions of Pinnacle crashed occasionally on me, but the combination of the latest version and a fast machine seems to be stable.

  • Ken

    I have tried several of these editors over the years. Pinnacle seemed to get a lot of hype by I found it much less intuitive than the others. After further research I found that was a common feeling regarding Pinnacle. from all my testing I found that Cyberlink Power Director was the most flexible and easy to use. PD also has a huge community repository of free media sources such as custom transitions, etc. PD is the one I recommend to friends and relatives. I have actually settled on (Vegas Pro currently v11) because I found all the cheaper ones being to limited and restrictive. There isn’t anything you can’t do in Vegas and there’s a wealth of tutorials on their web site and YouTube. PD also has many tutorials.

    Wander on over to for some comparisons I’ve made.

  • John McKinlay

    I thought I’d add my 2cents. I’ve used Premier Pro CS 3,4,5,6 and Elements (forgotten what version, Avid, Sony Vegas and Cannopus Edius. I loved Edius but it was a little too complicated for my liking. They are all good fun to play around with.

    • sdeforest

      Yes, when you get beyond simply stitching together scenes and adding canned music, it gets complicated real quick. I have not used Edius. Maybe I will try it–Grass Valley has a good reputation, but it is probably to rich for me.

  • Mel-Geek Semper

    I use Imovie and final cut pro. it works good for me. I guess mac got me spoil…:D

    • sdeforest

      My son uses iMovie and is generally Mac person. It works for him.