Video editing is complicated. Unless you are already a video editor using a program like Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro, most video editing tools are a mystery to most people. From compression settings to storage considerations and much more, it can be overwhelming. To create great videos, all the elements have to work together, which makes editing all the more difficult. The good news is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to video editing. That’s why I’ve compiled the most important factors to consider, as well as some options and the most suitable solutions for different use cases and budgets.
Why You Need a Good Editing System
Great movies and videos are made in the editing room. The fact is that good editing can save bad rushes (raw footage), but bad editing doesn’t make for a good movie, even with good footage.
If you want to produce something decent for your videos and have an efficient video production workflow, you need a good editing setup.
When you first start making videos, you probably don’t think about what kind of editing suite you need. But if you want your videos to look professional, you need to take the time to get a system that works well.
Not All Computers Are Created Equal
You can edit video with almost any computer, but not all computers are created equal. Some have better features than others, and some have better options when it comes to editing software or different types of hard drives that offer more storage space for videos.
So before you think about making videos and actually start, make sure your editing software can do it. If it doesn’t, you won’t end up being able to produce a quality video because it just doesn’t have what it takes.
When you’re editing professionally, every second counts – but even if you’re just shooting video at home, those few seconds are precious because they help you keep your inspiration and editing decisions close together, and lead to better movies.
That’s why it’s important to get the best video equipment you can afford.
The Most Important Things You Should Consider
The most important things you should consider when choosing equipment for video editing are:
Editing Apps Overview
A typical video editing workflow involves loading footage into a project, creating sequences and rough cuts with that new footage, playing the timelines multiple times, adding transitions, effects, titles, sound effects, and music, rendering the timeline with the actual, unprojected footage, and finally exporting to an MP4 file.
If you want to edit a video, you need editing software. This software decodes the data stored on your camera’s memory card. It also does the actual editing of the footage, based on the effects and color gradations you use.
You’ll need to install video editing software on your computer and make sure it’s up to date. Deciding which editing software to use depends in part on what type of computer you’re using and what specifications it requires.
Note that the default settings of most video editing programs allow for basic editing, while more advanced options usually require a more powerful computer.
Make sure that the software version you aim to use is compatible with your operating system.
Specific Editing Apps to Consider
Choices include programs like Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, and others. It’s important to find software that works for you and the type of movies and videos you want to make.
In the professional world, most editors and editing suites continue to use Avid. Filmmakers who make short films or corporate films may use Final Cut or Premiere Pro. Debates continue in the editing community about the pros and cons of the various editing programs.
Vimeo is a good place to learn about independent filmmaking and see the equipment used for the films you see there.
An important factor to consider is whether you do the color correction and sound mixing yourself or whether you pass that off to a post-production company. Make sure your system can export the files in the formats that an outside post-production company needs before you start editing!
An interesting option these days, especially if you’re using a less powerful computer, is cloud-based editing. This uses web-based software that runs on a remote server.
Cloud Based Editing
For internet video, I personally use Flixier. It’s not as powerful or detailed as Final Cut Pro X (my other main editing program), but the general workflow for rendering to Vimeo, YouTube, Dropbox, etc. makes it a good choice for editing and uploading videos to the web.
Choosing the Best Computer for the Job
Video editing is much more computationally and memory intensive than photo editing.
Your editing program consumes a lot of memory and hard drive space during the editing process. So the better your video editing computer, its graphics card, RAM and hard drives are, the better. You should consider an internal hard drive of 1 TB or more, and plan on external hard drives for editing and storage – maybe even a NAS (Network Attached Storage) if your needs require it.
If you’re a gamer, your computer may already be powerful enough for video editing. The games from VR in particular are very demanding – and require a lot of RAM and large hard drives. Make sure your computer has a good graphics card – it should at least support 4K video decoding. You should definitely not use an older computer just because you have a small budget.
Keep in mind that 8k is now around, and will probably become the main professional format in the future. Although the actual editing will be done with proxies.
Make sure the computer you choose has enough ports to connect the drives and peripherals you need at a high enough data rate. Today’s standard is Thunderbolt 3, for example.
The most important factor affecting the video editing performance of your computer is its processor (CPU).
Processor speed is measured in gigahertz. You should make sure that your computer has enough power to complete your editing tasks in a reasonable amount of time.
This is especially important if you’re editing longer videos such as documentaries. Editing for the web isn’t like editing documentaries or music videos, so you don’t need a computer with the fastest processor.
Think of it this way: The more “media” your computer has to process in an editing project – in terms of size and number of files – the heavier the load on its processor.
It’s a good idea to get the best CPU you can afford, not least in order to future-proof yourself.
The new range of M1 Mac processors – the M1, the M1 Pro, and M1 Max – are very good, but do not necessarily have the best performance in all areas for video editing.
Note that Avid does not currently support these chips.
Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
Most GPUs today consist of multiple “cores” that do one task at a time (albeit at high speed).
At least 4 cores per CPU is usually the minimum to handle video editing, along with as much high-speed memory as you can afford. Premiere Pro, for example, can handle up to ten cores without sacrificing performance.
Aim for 16 cores if you can afford it.
It’s usually a matter of balancing your budget with your needs and finding a mix of computers, drives, peripherals, software, etc. that offers the best value.
Encoding, previewing, and rendering put a lot of strain on your computer’s hardware, including the cores.
After CPU, RAM (Random Access Memory) is the second most important factor. It’s responsible for loading files and programs – a super-intensive task in video editing.
Memory is where temporary data is stored, and since video editing often involves creating and rendering large video files, you’ll need a fair amount of high-speed memory RAM. You can usually add additional RAM modules as needed, up to a maximum amount specified by your computer.
You should have at least 8 GB and ideally 16 GB or more. You may need to buy RAM and add it to your computer. This is usually more complicated and expensive for laptops than for desktop computers.
The third priority is your computer’s internal drive. In general, you’re better off with an SSD (solid state drive) than a hard disk drive. An SSD is much faster than a hard drive and uses less power. They’re expensive but well worth the investment.
If you’re familiar with the concept of RAM, SSD, and HDD, you already have an idea of the differences between SSDs and hard drives. An SSD also runs much quieter – no sound of HDD movement can be heard. Since SSDs don’t move, they don’t wear out and are more reliable overall than traditional HDDs.
Note that you usually don’t want to store the project media (the footage and other items like images, audio tracks, etc.) on the internal drive.
External Drives and Storage Options for Video Editing Configurations
One of the most important issues in filmmaking is keeping your video content safe and secure at every stage of production. This means that you’ll usually want to try to back up your rushes to internal drives, external drives, and online storage accounts as soon as possible (services like Backblaze B2 can be very useful as a cloud solution).
If you’re working on location and need to take your hard drive with you, look for a USB3.0-compatible laptop. With that, you can plug in your external hard drives and get started.
Once you return to your editing suite, you should set up hard drives for daily edits and find a solution to create regular backups of the “project file” – the data that tell the editing application where each shot, sound, effect, etc. is placed on the timeline – as well as backups of the media (footage) that the project accesses.
Professional and Semi-Pro Storage Setups
Traditionally, editing companies have used RAID as the main storage for media and backups.
However, nowadays there are also good solutions using NAS (network-attached storage) devices. These are storage devices that connect to local computer networks and act like external hard drives. Or you can use wired hard drives to store your projects on-site.
Much depends on your budget and the scope of the project or projects you’re working on. Remember to always keep at least one backup copy of your project media on an external drive. I suggest that you also use an online storage (e.g. Backblaze B2). That way your backups are safe where they’re without taking up too much space on your hard drive.
This is a no-brainer. You absolutely need to protect yourself from power surges that can damage your devices. Look for surge protectors that are appropriate for your type of device. And be sure to check the wattage!
Video Editing Laptops
Laptops aren’t the best choice for shooting and editing video in the long run. Battery life and heat can become an issue, especially if you’re using a laptop all day long. A desktop computer with a separate monitor and external speakers is a much better choice.
Of course, the biggest advantage of using a laptop for video editing is the mobile aspect. If you only need to edit short video clips, you can put your laptop in your bag, go off and record, and start editing when you get back home. Some laptops can also be used as a portable screen, making a studio setup easier if you have a TV or a projector.
Many editors opt for an Apple MacBook Pro as a second or sometimes even main computer for editing.
Some people do get away with using a MacBook Air; personally, that would not be a choice I would make, given its lower overall performance and lack of peripherals slots.
One of the main drawbacks is the size of the screen, which may not be large enough for larger projects where you need to view multiple tracks on the timeline. You can use smaller screens that connect to laptops, so you don’t have to buy another monitor.
Also, be aware that your laptop’s RAM and graphics card are limited, which can make your editing process slow.
A useful workaround for laptop speed limitations is to use cloud-based editing programs like Flixier. However, these don’t give you as much control as a locally installed editing app like Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premier Pro.
Video Editing Desktops
Most traditional editing studios use desktops because it’s much more convenient to control everything on your computer when you’re using it than on a laptop. Plus, you can connect external devices like 4K displays, graphics cards, and audio interfaces to desktop monitors, which can be difficult if your laptop doesn’t have enough ports.
Desktops, of course, take up more space than laptops.
Depending on the type of desktop, you can usually upgrade RAM, graphics cards, internal drives and so on. This is very useful for editing projects that require a lot of graphic design or intensive video editing, such as rendering 4k footage or adding motion effects.
Personally, I use a 27-inch Apple iMac with Final Cut Pro X and other video editing programs like ScreenFlow. Although my iMac is from 2015, it works perfectly for editing projects. The computer has an internal 1 TB SSD that I installed to replace the built-in drive. This makes the computer much faster and quieter.
One great thing about the iMacs is the screens, which are very bright and clear. The resolution you get is more than enough for editing programs.
If you have the budget and are happy to go with the Mac ecosystem, then a Mac Pro has the advantage of that you can easily swap components to upgrade it. Otherwise, the new iMac Pro might be a very good choice.
People are using the Mac Mini with success also, often after upgrading the RAM.
Mac or PC
In the past, Macs were mostly used in the video editing industry because Windows video editing programs and hardware weren’t as sophisticated. However, that’s changing. More and more sophisticated laptops have Windows built-in rather than the Mac, which offers more video editing power.
So which laptop has the software power you need? Check out the table at the end of this article for some suggested operating systems and computer specs.
In a world where remote work is becoming more common, a computer needs to be connected to the Internet. Every year new programs come out that improve video editing, and they need to be updated.
If you’re working in a team, there’s a good chance someone will be uploading or downloading the video. A good internet connection and fast upload speed will make your video editing process run much smoother.
Sharing and discussing edits is also much easier when you have a fast connection.
Maybe you have a cloud-based asset management system to send files back and forth and store backups. In this case, a good Internet connection is important to keep your system running smoothly.
Part of speed depends on mechanics and ergonomics, as these factors last the longest, often longer than the devices themselves.
Since you spend a lot of time at the computer, you’ll need good monitors, comfortable mice, keyboards, and other accessories.
You don’t want to try to make fine adjustments to the timeline with a clunky mouse, a misaligned keyboard, or a dull monitor.
Even if you’re only working on a laptop screen, you need to be able to see every part of your video clearly and with sufficient contrast. When in doubt, choose a large monitor. If the resolution of the monitor is sufficient, you’ll be able to see more of the timeline and parts of the image in more detail, and you won’t have to scroll through the video for as long.
The higher the quality of the monitor, the better your cut image will be.
Although you’ll likely be using proxies with high-resolution footage (such as 4k, which is becoming the norm these days), you’ll need to be able to see the footage in high resolution at various stages of your editing process – especially when rendering a working or final project.
Color-accurate editing monitors are an important tool for creating videos with good color. If the monitor you’re working with isn’t color accurate, the colors in your video may be distorted. Some software can fix this problem, but it’s much better if it’s taken into account during the editing process.
It’s important to have high-quality audio when editing so you can tell when there are problems with your sound. If your desktop or laptop has weak or no speakers, the cheapest and easiest way to get good sound is to hook up a pair of speakers. Even with speakers, sooner or later you’ll need a pair of good headphones. Personally, I use a pair of Sennheiser HD25s that have been faithful to me for years.