Hesitant to throw down $50 a month to pay for an Adobe membership? Here are all the NLE alternatives available to you—both free and paid.
While Adobe may be the top choice of NLE for most indie filmmakers, production houses, beginners, and even the choice for large-scale productions such as Gone Girl, the steep $50/month subscription charge is enough to drive some people away from this highly-rated editing suite.
There are many choices out there that are either free to use or require an up-front cost. Tons of creators turn to these alternatives when looking for their preferred NLE.
Today, we’re going to dive into all the choices you have on the market—their pros, cons, and price—so you can decide for yourself if you want to make the switch.
DaVinci Resolve 17
I’m starting with DaVinci Resolve because this is my absolute first choice for a free, incredibly powerful, and intuitive NLE. There’s a significant shift going on in the indie circuit when it comes to Resolve. Due to its availability and reliability, we’ve seen a huge uptick in creators switching over to Resolve. And, of course, let’s not forget that the premium studio version of the software ships with almost every Blackmagic product.
Prior to 2015, Resolve was primarily known for being a color correction and grading platform. It’s by far one of the top three choices for professional color graders.
However, come 2016, Blackmagic put a primary focus on Resolve’s edit page, making it more fluid and responsive with numerous new editing features that could look to rival Premiere Pro.
Then, year by year, Blackmagic started to introduce several new pages. From a fully-functional suite of Fairlight studio to a lite inclusion of Fusion for VFX and motion design.
Every year, they continue to populate the software with numerous new features. I would wager that Blackmagic updates Resolve at a far greater capacity than other vendors update their NLEs.
Version 17 of DaVinci Resolve keeps providing a plethora of new features, updates, and adjustments to make it one of the best, well-rounded, full-production packages available on the market.
If you want to learn more about DaVinci Resolve and actually learn it, download the program for free and follow along with our multiple tutorials by Lewis McGregor to get yourself acquainted.
- Incredible industry-standard color correction and grading software within the program
- Gives you all the tools you need to make a professional edit in one program
- No monthly subscription or upfront cost
- Steep learning curve, and sometimes hard to understand UX
- VFX program does not match up to After Effects
Ahh, Avid—the one NLE that student editors love to hate. I trained in Avid in college, and as much as I hated slogging through the textbook and the old-fashioned features of the program, I weirdly grew to love it.
It’s incredible at feature-length handling projects, and the organization tools inside the program are hard to match. It won’t blink at high-resolution video, or shy away from a monster timeline. It’s the workhorse of all of the NLEs out there.
If you’re serious about becoming an editor for a post house or grinding your way to entering the ACE guild, Avid is the right choice. It’s still the overwhelming choice of NLEs for most Hollywood-level productions due to its enterprise and project-sharing abilities.
I will say, after the upgrades in the recent update, it looks a lot friendlier and more modern compared to the block-y gray blob it used to be.
A free version called Avid Media Composer First gives you everything that the main version offers but with some notable limitations. There are only four video tracks, five bins, and six audio tracks, plus not being able to export 4K footage (but, you can import 4K footage).
That isn’t too bad for anyone who wants to give the software a go without putting down money into a subscription.
- The choice of NLE for major productions and union editors
- Incredibly powerful software that can handle feature-length projects
- New, updated UX that’s cleaner and easier to understand
- Incredibly difficult learning curve (seriously, you might have to buy a textbook)
- Not as user-friendly as the other NLEs
- $23.99 Monthly Subscription
Final Cut Pro X (10.6)
Final Cut Pro X is historically Premiere’s top competitor in the indie NLE market. During the heated battle between Final Cut and Premiere users, I was brought up in the editing world. It was a gruesome battle between editors—I almost got fired from a gig early in my career for arguing with my boss about using Final Cut over Premiere.
Even though I may be committing a cardinal sin amongst Premiere users for suggesting Final Cut over Premiere, I’m going to write this with as little bias as possible.
Final Cut is a solid, simple editing platform. It may be considered “iMovie Plus,” but it’s got some serious horsepower behind its simple, friendly exterior. One of my favorite parts about Final Cut is its ability to take complicated editing tasks and condense them into an incredibly easy-to-use, drag-and-drop effect.
I started doing a few projects within the program this past year, and there were times that I was able to use effects that took me thirty seconds, which would’ve taken me five minutes in Premiere to execute.
They’ve put the work in to make it a professional-level NLE, and its motion and audio editing platforms within the program are easy-to-use and incredibly clean.
One of the main problems I have with Final Cut. though, is its organization flow. The project and clip window are a mess and hard to organize. But, it’s by far the fastest way to get a clean edit for a small project.
- Easy to learn and pick up for beginners
- Incredibly clean and intuitive UX
- Nice for getting out a project fast
- Only available on Mac
- Untidy organization for scanning through clips and for large scale projects
HitFilm Express is probably the closest program to Premiere that you’ll find. It’s simple, extremely intuitive, and best of all, it’s FREE.
HitFilm Express is the go-to choice for many editors who like Premiere’s simplicity, but don’t want to pay the monthly tithe to Adobe. It’s got some serious punching power for a free program, and it’s also pretty good for a simple edit.
It may not be at the level as the other programs on here. Still, it’s one of my first recommendations for an editor just getting into the game, who doesn’t want to drop a bunch of money on an editing program or doesn’t have the time to get acquainted with Resolve.
HitFilm also offers its pro version for $299, which provides a plethora of different effects and programs. If you want to learn more about HitFilm, they have an extremely active YouTube channel with tutorials and walkthroughs of their program.
- Free-to-use, fun editing program—perfect for beginners
- Ability to do some really interesting and professional-looking effects with guided walk-throughs from FXHome
- Not as professional-grade as the other programs, not very applicable to corporate or post-house level editing
- Pro version costs as much as some other high-caliber editing programs
- Express – Free
- Pro version – $359
Vegas Pro 19
Vegas has always been the scrappy little brother in the fight for the top NLE. It’s never really taken a chunk out of the market share, but it’s still loved and adored by its hardcore fans and users.
I’ve found with NLEs that you usually stick with the one you learned. For most folks who were editing Call of Duty screen captures for YouTube in the early 2010s, Vegas was the editor of choice.
Now, Vegas is a fully-fledged NLE with all of the features that you need. But, to be honest, even with their new update, it still looks like it was stuck in 2015. The UX is clunky, and the program’s design looks a bit outdated. Still, it’s used around the world as a go-to editor.
The price point is pretty steep for a more minor program (especially when you have Resolve available for free), but it’s still a solid option when shopping around for your new program.
Vegas Pro 19 is now available in three packages—Edit, Pro, and Post—all of which can be paid via a monthly subscription or bought outright. Each of the packages targets a specific type of filmmaker/editor.
Below is a breakdown of what each package offers . . .
Vegas Edit: $12.99 / $249 Full License
Aimed towards new video editors or aspiring filmmakers. Vegas offers the basics of everything you need to get you started.
If you choose the subscription option, you’ll get 20GB of cloud storage and twenty royalty-free video or audio clip downloads per month.
Vegas Pro: $19.99 Monthly/ $399 Full License
Smack bang in the middle is Vegas Pro, offering more professional tools. Its target audience is online content creators, influencers, and filmmakers.
You’ll get 50GB of cloud storage, unlimited access to Vegas royalty-free videos and audio library, plus access to Primatte chroma keying software. Choose the subscription method of payment.
Vegas Post: $29.99 Monthly/ $599 Full License
The most expensive and highest tier in the lineup. Aimed towards professional filmmakers and editors. This is the full package.
Not only does it offer everything from the Pro package, but now 100GB of cloud storage (available with a subscription), 4K royalty-free video and audio, Vegas Effects for visual effects and composting, Vegas Image for raw image editing, and Vegas Stream for live production.
The most recent update brought to Vegas 19 is the interface’s simplifications, interesting color adjustment tools, support for Blackmagic RAW and Text to speech, all of which have helped improve and update Vegas into a much more well-rounded software package.
- Optimal program for legacy Vegas users
- Intuitive color grading programs
- Clunky, outdated UX
- Not as feature-heavy as the other NLEs in its category
- Steep price point
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Cover image via Sutipond Somnam.