In video editing, as in other creative media arts, there’s a much-noted preference for Apple’s Mac computers, as opposed to Windows, Chrome OS, or Linux–based PCs. This no doubt results from Apple’s longstanding emphasis on design and creativity. And Apple itself has long been at the forefront of producing excellent video editing software, with Final Cut Pro for professionals and iMovie for consumers, but there are plenty of capable third-party choices, too, as our guide shows.
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Why Do Video Editors Choose Macs?
The preference for Macs for video editing seems largely based on the fact that nonlinear video editing on personal computers started with Macs—all the way back on the Apple Macintosh II, to be precise. It persists despite the fact that Windows systems have long afforded more choices in editing software and more upgradeability in hardware, including for CPUs, GPUs, storage, peripherals, and touch screens.
That said, Apple has its own inducements, most notably terrific screen options with accurate, wide-gamut colors, not to mention exclusive access to the previously mentioned Final Cut Pro software. Some Mac laptops include a partial touch screen known as the Touch Bar, which may be useful for some video editing procedures, and you can use an iPad as a touch-screen peripheral via the Sidecar feature.
Some iMacs in recent years let you upgrade RAM, but once Apple moves everything to an Apple Silicon architecture, you won’t be able to do that. Nor will you be able to upgrade the hard drive (meaning the SSD), though that’s long been the case for MacBooks. Because of this, you should be generous with yourself when buying a Mac for video editing: It’s an activity that requires both a lot of memory and storage.
Who Can Use Mac Video Editing Software?
There are three tiers of video editing software for the Mac: the entry, enthusiast, and professional levels.
The best-known entry-level video editing application for macOS is Apple’s own iMovie. It comes with Macs for free and it’s impressively capable. iMovie ties in very well with the iOS version of the app too, letting you pick up on the Mac where you left off with the iPhone. Other entry-level options (not yet tested by PCMag) are Lightworks and Movavi.
At the enthusiast level, the old standby is Adobe Premiere Elements, which offers a clear, simple interface and great tutorial content for getting that special effect you’re looking for. A recent arrival in this space is our longtime PC Editors’ Choice-winning video editing application, CyberLink PowerDirector. The program tends to offer the best support for new formats and technology, and it was the fastest at rendering our test project of any software included here. Other choices at this level include Wondershare Filmora and the free, powerful, and open-source Shotcut.
The professional level is where choices on the Mac shine, particularly because that’s the only platform you can run Apple’s excellent Final Cut Pro. Adobe Premiere Pro has taken over much of Final Cut’s market share usage by professionals after Apple completely revamped the traditional Final Cut interface. The new version is a boon to enthusiasts and those moving up from iMovie, however, as its trackless timeline and simplified interface ease the transition. Don’t think that means Final Cut Pro isn’t professional level, however: It can match and even beat Premiere Pro on deep editing tools, format support, and performance.
For more on these two higher-end apps, you can read Adobe Premiere Pro vs. Apple Final Cut Pro: What’s the Difference?
Other (so-far unreviewed) pro-level editing software available for macOS include the far more expensive and complex Avid Media Composer ($1,299) and DaVinci Resolve ($295, with a limited free version available).
All the apps in this category except Final Cut are available on Windows, too, whose users have a couple more choices as well, including Magix Pro X ($399) and Sony Vegas Pro ($399). We focus on the more consumer software that appeals to a general audience rather than these niche products; that said, we include Final Cut and Premiere Pro among our reviews, because they’re of interest to enthusiasts as well as to professionals.
What to Look for in Mac Video Editing Software
The basics of video editing—joining, trimming, and splitting video clips and then outputting the result as a single file—are possible in all the software here. But there’s so much more that you can do with your video. Adding transitions between clips, text titles and captions, and fun effects all come in limitless variations. Picture-in-picture, motion tracking, and chroma keying are further possibilities in the medium.
The entry- and enthusiast-level programs include templates that help you arrange your content for a compelling, coherent presentation. iMovie’s Trailers and Premiere Elements’ Smart Trim tools and templates are standouts among these capabilities.
And then there’s audio: Most Mac video editing apps let you add background music, voice-over narration, and effects and adjustments to your clips’ audio. Want to make it sound like your video was recorded in a concert hall or stadium? The software can do that.
The final stage of editing is not to be ignored: Output. Does the program make it easy to format your project for your intended output? For most hobbyist video editors these days that means online social video—Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, but you may want to share an HD or 4K file privately or to a more professional output like Vimeo, as well as embed it on your website, in a presentation, or a Zoom session. You may even want to create a DVD or USB key with your video to share as a physical gift or promotion.
The video editing software you choose must be able to output to your specifications, whether that’s a smartphone screen or a wall-size 4K TV. Maybe you even want to output for VR headsets. Whatever the output, you don’t want to be waiting around for long periods while the program processes your project, and that’s what our next section discusses.
How Does Video Software Perform on macOS?
Rendering a project with all your media, edits, and effects, is one of the more computationally intense processes today’s computers can perform. If you want to create complex videos that are more than a few minutes long, you need a powerful computer with high-end components. Better video software enlists your GPU to aid in rendering, and the results show.
To test rendering, we use a five-minute project consisting of a mix of 4K, HD, and SD clips, with a consistent set of various transitions and render it to H.264 1080p at 15Mbps, 60fps, using H.264 High Profile. Audio is output at AAC 192Kbps. We tested on a 2017 MacBook Pro with a 3.1GHz Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus graphics, and 8GB RAM running macOS Big Sur—on the low end of power for video editing. Look for tests using an M1-based MacBook in the future.
CyberLink PowerDirector, which is newly available for macOS, blew away the competition, taking just 57 seconds in our rendering test, compared with 2:31 for Adobe Premiere Pro, 3:55 for Final Cut Pro, and 7:31 for Premiere Elements. Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on your hardware, the format of your source media and output settings. PowerDirector on macOS even beat out a Windows PC with a stronger Core i7 CPU, taking 1:32 compared with that 57 seconds on the MacBook. The Adobe software did, as expected, produce faster times on the PC, with Premiere Pro taking 1:40 and Elements taking 4:01 compared with 2:31 and 7:31.
Make Movies on a Mac!
Though there may be more video editing applications available for PCs, Apple’s computers have more than enough support from top software in the field at their disposal. Even if you only use the free iMovie on the entry-level end or Apple’s reasonably priced but mega-powerful Final Cut Pro X, you’re likely to be pleased with the experience on the Mac. More software is gaining support for the platform, too, with CyberLink’s PowerDirector the most prominent example of late.
If you’re wondering which operating platform is best for you, check out: macOS vs. Windows: Which OS Really Is the Best? In that feature, we compare the two operating systems point-by-point to help you choose. If you have or intend to switch from one to the other, read Windows 10 Tips for Mac Users or macOS Tips for Windows Users, depending on which direction you’re heading. Finally, feel free to chime in in the comments section below if you have thoughts on video editing software on the Mac.