Video editing apps head to head review
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
The first response came from VLLO with a very nice email thanking me for my feedback and noting that they will investigate and fix the bug.
I've had a couple of messages from Kinemaster. They suggested that a bug (presumably the editing not working) was reported by lots of users and was fixed in the latest version. I tested it again, and it wasn't. They asked me to record a video of slow motion issues, but I can't do that until they fix basic editing. It's a bit like asking if you could check the tracking on a car, when only 2 of the wheels are currently attached.
I haven't heard anything from Adobe on Premiere Rush yet.
Regarding the Filmic Pro white balance lock bug, I haven't heard anything from FilmicPro yet, other than an automated response to the email I sent.
In this blog post I'm going to do a hands on review of mobile video editors with a focus on usability and getting something that *just works* without any bugs!
If you're reading this and don't know my background, I attach my phone to a spotting scope to film close up videos of wildlife. I shoot lots of slowmo, and I do a lot of video editing on iOS.
I used to use the fabulous Splice app for editing, but the owners re-vamped it and completely destroyed it a couple of years back. The user friendly interface was completely changed, and the result was a buggy mess (and a change to a costly subscription charge). So in recent times I've been forced back to "good" old iMovie. But new apps have been appearing, so surely one of them *just works*? Let's find out...
Most reviews I've seen focus on features, but it's useless having reams of features if the app isn't usable and bug free. The three criteria for my testing will therefore be as follows:
1) Easy to use
2) No choppy output
3) It works without obvious/annoying bugs
This doesn't seem like a tall order. Does it? For apps you pay for? Surely they should just work and do the absolute basics without any problems?
I'm going to look at the following apps and compare them based on my review criteria:
Lumafusion is a great app with every feature you could possibly want, but the downside is a complex user interface so I'm not even going to consider it here. If anyone has other contenders that they think might be worth a try, I'd love to hear about it!
I'm running iOS 14.01 and all the apps are up to date as of this week..
First up it's Kinemaster. For each app I'm going to run through a really simple edit of a single video clip, and I'll repeat this same operation in each of the four apps to get a comparison of ease of use and general function. So here we go:
So it's not looking great for Kinemaster. Of the four apps this performed the worst for refresh speed while editing and the worst for usability. Compare me dragging the start of the clip in Kinemaster (where it goes horribly wrong) with the same action in my comparative test drive of iMovie (below). In iMovie, the playhead jumps to the start of the clip as you drag it - this makes perfect sense. Kinemaster, the paid for app, doesn't do this. They haven't even managed to duplicate the effective design of iMovie, never mind improve on it!
I persevered with Kinemaster and tried a much more complex edit, where I loaded a 12 minute slowmo clip (of Redstarts flying in and out of their nesthole in a tree) and edited this down to 6 short clips of action. I saved the results, came out of the app, viewed it in Photos, then went back into Kinemaster, and my last few edits had been lost! There is nothing more frustrating than losing your work. All trust in the app disappears! Here's the before and after shots:
What it looked like in the finished edit, with all my edited short clips ready to go...
...and when I went back into the app, some of the edits have been lost, so there's one of several really long clips showing on the right there (which I had edited, but those edits had been undone). Hair pullingly annoying!
I reported these bugs to Kinemaster on twitter, but they ignored my message (but if you check their timeline, they do respond to tweets when it suits them. Thanks Kinemaster).
I also encountered other issues with choppy output, and sometimes slowmo clips when loaded into Kinemaster were defaulting to not quite the right speed setting. Which was unhelpful if not the end of the world.
And I got stiffed for a years subs...
Which was another tweet they ignored.
So all in all it's a big thumbs down for Kinemaster. Onwards and upwards...
This is an interesting product with the capability to upload an edit to the cloud and continue working on a desktop computer. I'd love to have this option, but I tried the app a year ago and it was really buggy and pretty much unusable. I reported some of these issues on twitter and it seems like things have improved. So how does it perform with a simple edit?
So Premiere Rush still seems to have problems. I thought initially this was just tied to videos that have been edited in Photos first, but that doesn't seem to be the case (as in the example above). So there are bugs to iron out. I've had a few twitter conversations with the Adobe/Rush people and they seem interested to help.
However, regardless of these bugs there is a major showstopper for Rush. As I mention in the live review above, Rush uses a whole number percentage to make a speed adjustment. In other words, if you want a clip to play at half speed, you set it to 50%. But 240fps played at 30fps requires a setting of 12.5%. Which Rush does not offer. In conversation with them they said:
So I tested this out. Here's a short clip of a Buzzard shot in 240fps. Large flying raptors are perfect for checking video output for any choppy playback as any missing frames show up as a flicker in what should be the beautifully fluid movement of the wings.
There are two clips in this short sequence, the first is set to Premiere Rush speed "12" the second clip to "13". They both drop frames. This is actually what I would expect if the speed setting was rounded up, despite what @AdobeCare say above. So unless Adobe change this dysfunctional way of setting the speed of a clip, Premiere Rush is a complete non-starter if you want to edit slow motion videos (at some frame rates such as 240fps). Of course, 240 is the highest fps you can film at on an iPhone, so its an important one!
Another issue with Premiere Rush is performance. When you edit a short clip (as above) it's fine. But if you load and save out anything of a decent size it is seriously slow. Loading a 12 minute long slowmo clip took minutes - this massive slowdown doesn't happen in the other apps reviewed here.
So in conclusion, "Premiere" Rush looks to be heading for relegation. The refresh speed in the app is decent, and usability is ok. But it's still pretty buggy. The design flaw leading to choppy slowmotion output is a complete showstopper.
Finally it's the turn of VLLO. This is relatively new app that I only discovered recently through Justin Brown's reviews on Youtube (he does excellent how to guides for mobile video stuff). Lets VLLO a go...
This is quite exciting! The refresh speed when paging through a clip is excellent. The main bit of user interface where you edit clips, is slick. It works really well with a minimum of clicks to do an edit. It's intuitive. The buttons for moving forward/back by one frame are awesome and make it precise. And best of all - THERE ARE NO BUGS! Yes, VLLO works. Or does it?
I set about giving it a more thorough test with the example I showed above which Kinemaster failed on. This is the output:
It's almost all ok, but the second clip where the female Redstart takes off at the 15 second mark is choppy! Disaster! A few other tests I've performed have had mixed results. Sometimes the output is smooth, sometimes there are short sections that are choppy. So none of these apps can consistently save out an edit of super smooth slow motion footage. Which is the whole point of slow motion footage! I wonder what the iPhone designers would think about this, after spending all that time coming up with an amazing camera to film really high quality slowmo. Which gets destroyed when you try and edit it.
VLLO looks like the pick of a bad bunch. It's great to use, has a super fast refresh rate, but in some specific circumstances the output is choppy. For the most part it does work. Here's a clip of a Brown Shrike I edited in VLLO and the output is fine in this case (and it even got an outing on TV):
Which leaves us with....
So with the paid for apps failing to show their worth, I thought I'd throw in a comparison with the good old faithful: iMovie. Feature poor, scrappy, iMovie. Surely this free app that comes with iOS isn't better than all these paid for apps....?
Well you guessed it, iMovie still does the business!
This is a really poor show from the paid for apps. There seems to be a lack of any real testing, particularly Kinemaster which often gets plaudits in reviews for it's features, but was completely unusable for me in practice. Premiere Rush could make the mark if they have a serious go at squashing bugs and change their slow motion feature to work in a logical way. VLLO is almost there. Its so close to getting me shouting superlatives and making recommendations to everyone I chat to about this stuff. The design is very simple and isn't as flashy as an app like Rush. But don't be misled by the lack of gloss on the way this app appears at first glance. It's *really* great to use. I hope they'll look into the issue with the choppy output, and if they're reading this I'd be pleased to help. Otherwise, I'm back to using iMovie. Give me strength!
Some suggestions to the video editor devs...
On the off chance that I catch the eye of a video editor dev or two, here's some other simple suggestions for what I'd like to see in their apps:
1) Validate output by counting the number of frames in an imported clip, and how many frames (plus what's been edited out) in an exported clip. If they don't match, there's a bug!. Admittedly gets tricky if there are speed changes, but should pick up a lot of bugs if implemented for edits that don't change the speed. This might make VLLO *perfect*. Test driven development FTW.
2) Most apps don't allow you to pinch zoom out very far. So if you edit a long clip it takes ages to scroll through it. This can be fixed very easily by scaling the amount you can zoom in/out to the length of clips currently being edited. This is a super easy change for big user impact.
3) Selecting videos from camera roll or albums is difficult if you've got lots of video clips. Please make this easy for the user! Order the clips in the same order as the Photos app - this will make it easy to go back and forth between the two. Double check that edited videos appear in the *same order* as in the photo app. Eg. duplicate a video from half way down camera roll - does it appear next to it's duplicate or at the end of the camera roll as in photos? This is so time consuming for the user when its wrong. Add an icon for slowmo clips. Use text for the duration of the clip that is readable whether the background is light or dark. Basic usability stuff, that none of the paid for apps do. Show the length of a clip in seconds with the same rounding used in the Photos app. Again, this makes it difficult to go between the two, if they show different numbers!
4) Test, test, test your product with different kinds of footage, filmed in different apps, at different frame rates and resolutions. Test clips that have been edited in Photos. Test edits with multiple clips.