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