Shotcut: Powerful Video Editing Without the Hassle

I love making videos, but I don’t love editing them together. I always have the best of intentions at holidays and birthdays and family gatherings, but it all falls apart once I’ve gotten the footage onto my Mac. I just never seem to do anything with it, and I’m the first to admit that a big part of my problem is my video editor.

I recently tried out Shotcut, a free and open source video editor. I’m no video professional, but then, most of us aren’t. Let’s see how it works out for a layperson just trying to put together some family videos without pulling out her hair.

The Edit Bay

Drag your single video or a bunch of them into the Shotcut window. You can also use the Open File icon in the toolbar or choose it from the File menu. Whatever you do, just get your files into Shotcut. If you’re only opening one file, it won’t immediately appear in your playlist, but a bunch of files will find their way there so that you can easily move around in them. If your aim is to splice your videos together and cut out the bits you don’t want, you can definitely do that in Shotcut. While pretty simple to use once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s not necessarily the most straightforward thing in the world.

Select your clip and click the menu button at the bottom of the playlist.

Select your clip and click the menu button at the bottom of the playlist.

Select the video clip you want to edit in the playlist, click the menu icon at the bottom, and choose Open As Clip. You can then move the sliders around and select the part of the video you want to keep. When you’re done, click the menu icon at the bottom of the playlist again and choose Update. Maybe you want to keep the beginning and end of your video, but not the middle. Create your first selection, but this time, choose Insert Cut from the menu instead. Now you can return to your original clip and make your second selection, saving it with Update.

Use the Undo and Redo buttons to fix any recent mistakes, but those aren’t going to help you if you realize you made a booboo five minutes ago. For that, you’ll need to open the History browser. You can step back your changes, or select an edit from way in the past. This is great to recover work when you think you’ve gone astray or if you just want to review what you’ve done and compare the outcome to the original.

The Properties window gives you information about your video.

The Properties window gives you information about your video.

The Properties window is just what it sounds like. You can view the audio and video encoding and make limited changes. Shotcut will also give you access to the file’s metadata, if available. You can add comments to your video file in the Properties window, too.

To make real changes to how the audio and video are encoded, you’re going to have to save your project as a new file.

Movie Extras

There are some included filters, but these aren’t going to make your video look old-timey, at least not without some effort. Far from Instagram-type filters, these include blurs, mirroring, and saturation adjustments. Sure, if you adjust the heck out of the color on your video clip, you can get something that looks like an old Super 8, but that’s not what these filters are for. They’re really there for color and lighting correction, to help you get the most out of your video and make up for minor mistakes during recording.

History helps with Undo and Redo.

History helps with Undo and Redo.

There aren’t any transitions currently. Yeah, that’s kind of a bummer. If you edit two clips together, they just sort of jump, with no fade or anything. It wasn’t near as jarring as I would have expected, so that’s something, but I still really missed seeing transitions between my clips and I know some of you are going to see that as a deal breaker. The developer is actively working on it, though, and transitions are on his roadmap for this year, so hopefully we can look forward to good things soon.

Saving and Encoding

When you’re ready to save your changes, you can do one of two things. Either save your playlist as an XML file, or create a new video from your playlist. To do the latter, click the Encode button up top. Choose one of the presets or customize how your video will be saved.

Encode your new video using a preset or custom settings.

Encode your new video using a preset or custom settings.

There’s a bunch of stuff there, and I hope there’s enough to please people who really know what they’re doing, but I’m not one of those people. I’m just making videos of Christmas to watch next Christmas, so all of the presets are helpful, because I can look out for the formats I recognize and know will work for me. If that’s not what you need, though, there’s a lot going on here, and you have a lot of control over encoding.

Final Thoughts

There are definitely some good things about Shotcut. I’ve got a cheap and cheerful little HD Flip-style camera that isn’t at all compatible with iMovie. If I want to edit my videos in iMovie, I have to first convert everything to something iMovie likes in an app like Miro Video Converter or Handbrake. That means all my videos from last Christmas and the one before are still hanging around waiting to be dealt with because it’s just too much of a hassle to get them into iMovie. Shotcut, though, just took them all in and didn’t look back. There was no conversion required.

I don’t know what format you’re using, so I can’t promise you’ll have the same good time as I did, but Shotcut seems at least somewhat more accepting than iMovie. The flipside is that it’s not quite as user-friendly as iMovie and doesn’t have some of the fun features we hold so dear. There aren’t currently any transitions to make your video look more polished, and you can’t add text as far as I can tell, having scoured both the app and the Shotcut website. Shotcut also doesn’t hold your hand the same way iMovie does, and you have to figure some stuff out yourself.

All that said, it is fairly easy to use once you get going and doesn’t seem to slow my system way down the same way iMovie can. It’s also free, which is pretty nice, and the developer is responding to users in the forums and working on adding features right now. I was definitely pleased with what I found in Shotcut and surprised with how well it worked. If you’re not getting what you want from the video editor you’re using, this is definitely one to download.


Great video editor with lots of compatibility, but missing a few minor features.