Professional-level video editing software is traditionally expensive, so to take advantage of the best features available you typically have to dig deep. Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve are the three best professional video editing programs available, but DaVinci Resolve has a neat trick up its sleeve – there’s both a free and a paid version of the software available.
You may be asking yourself if you read that correctly, but yes, one of the industry-leading video editing programs can be yours for the princely sum of zero. And to put this into context, some of the biggest Hollywood movies and TV shows are edited using this software. Well, these use the paid version, but it’s still impressive that you can use essentially the same software and incredible colour grading tools as industry professionals, but for free.
DaVinci Resolve Studio is certainly one of the best video editing software products for professional users, but its remarkably powerful free version is definitely the best free video editor – but only if you're ready for a pretty steep learning curve.
Of course, the free version isn’t as fully featured as DaVinci Resolve Studio, which is the paid version of the software. But what you do get is most of the tools you need to edit your videos, which is perfect for enthusiasts. Professional videographers would undoubtedly purchase a license for DaVinci Resolve Studio to access all of the advanced features, but even this isn’t as expensive as you’d think. So, let’s take a look at some of the key differences and similarities between the two versions of the software to see which is best for you.
• DaVinci Resolve 18 free: free to use
• DaVinci Resolve Studio 18: £306 / $295 / €354 / AU$479
You may be wondering why we’d begin with cost because one version of Davinci Resolve is free while the other comes at a cost. Simple, right? That kind of is the case, but it’s not quite as simple as that because while one version is completely free to use, albeit with reduced functionality and features, the Studio version is arguably the most competitively priced professional non-linear editor (NLE) available.
If you require the features and functionality not available in the free version, some of which we’ll cover here, Davinci Resolve Studio is less expensive than Adobe Premiere and only slightly more expensive than Final Cut Pro. But there’s an important point here, the Studio version costs £306 / $295 / €354 / AU$479, and this is for a lifetime of updates. So, once you have a license you can enjoy updates forever, making it the best value for money professional NLE over the long term.
• Incidentally, a DaVinci Studio license is included free with many Blackmagic products, including cameras.
• DaVinci Resolve 18 free: Enough features for most enthusiasts
• DaVinci Resolve Studio 18: Advanced professional features available
With the free version of DaVinci Resolve, you get all the tools you need to edit your videos with transitions and some Resolve FX/filters available. You also get access to Resolve’s industry-leading colour grading tools, as well as Fusion for creating special effects (similar to Adobe After Effects) and Fairlight for recording, mixing and editing sound. These are both advanced features and may not be necessary for beginners, but they are there if you need them.
The Studio version includes all available features and functionality, including Object Mask and Depth Map for automated selections of elements within the footage, but with the free version you still have access to all of the tools you need to edit your videos with the Cut tab and the Edit tab. Cut has been likened to editing in software such as Apple iMovie, so this area of the software may provide a great starting point for new users of the software.
3. Resolution and frame rates
• DaVinci Resolve 18 free: Up to 4K at up to 60fps
• DaVinci Resolve Studio 18: Up to 32K at up to 120fps
The free version of DaVinci Resolve has a limitation on resolution and frame rates, but these aren’t as bad as you might think and are still much better than many consumer-level video editing programs. The free version is limited to up to 4K resolution (3840 x 2160) at up to 60fps. This is fine for the majority of people, with only high-end film and television productions requiring higher resolution and frame rates.
DaVinci Resolve Studio supports up to a whopping 32K at up to 120fps with advanced HDR delivery. Just writing this is eye-watering, and it’s safe to say it’s far beyond the requirements of even many professional videographers. But it just goes to show how powerful the Studio version is, at least if you have a computer powerful enough to support such high-resolution footage.
4. Lens Correction
• DaVinci Resolve 18 free: Not available
• DaVinci Resolve Studio 18: Manually or through image analysis
Lens Correction, as you’ll know from software such as Adobe Lightroom, is an extremely useful feature for removing optical distortions including barrel and pincushion distortion. In the free version, like with other features that are unavailable, a DaVinci Resolve Studio watermark appears over the video in the image window when trying to use this feature. But you can still see how effective it is within the window.
The Studio version includes this feature and this alone could be a good reason to upgrade, especially if you find that your lenses suffer from distortion. An alternative is to turn on lens corrections within the camera menu so they’re applied at the point of shooting if the feature is available. This, however, isn’t always as effective as applying lens corrections during post-processing.
5. Noise Reduction
• DaVinci Resolve 18 free: Not available
• DaVinci Resolve Studio 18: Temporal and Spatial Noise Reduction
Noise in video can be hugely distracting for viewers, and it ultimately reduces image quality when shooting at high ISO settings. Of course, much of the time you will be shooting video in bright conditions or you’re able to use brighter artificial lighting to keep ISO settings low, but there will be times when cranking up the ISO is the only option.
For casual/enthusiast shooting video, you may never need to raise ISO levels above 400 so this feature may not be a necessity. But for more advanced videographers and professionals, having the ability to apply noise reduction using Temporal and Spatial algorithms will be invaluable. For Studio users, noise reduction can be applied as a Filter in the Edit tab, or as a Node in the Color tab.
6. Color grading
• DaVinci Resolve 18 free: Color controls available
• DaVinci Resolve Studio 18: Color controls and more available
DaVinci Resolve is renowned for its color grading tools, and if you’re using the free version, you’ll be pleased to hear that these are available for you to make a wide range of adjustments to your videos including brightness, contrast, shadows, highlights, white balance, apply LUTs, import LUTs and much more. The possibilities for adjusting videos here are incredible, and you can easily balance and match the adjustments made on one clip to others.
The trickiest part of the Color tab is that adjustments are made using Nodes. They look complicated and do take a little getting used to, but if you begin to think of them like Photoshop Layers, where a single adjustment is made to the layer, they quickly begin to make more sense.
There are some elements of Color that aren’t available in the free version, such as some of the Resolve FX /filters and advanced features such as Magic Mask, but everything you need to optimise and color grade video is available.
7. Fairlight & Fusion
• DaVinci Resolve 18 free: Both are available
• DaVinci Resolve Studio 18: Offers additional functionality
DaVinci Resolve is clearly aiming to be a one-stop video production solution that includes all of the tools you need to create professional-grade videos. So, within the software, you get Fusion and Fairlight.
Fusion is where you can create visual effects and motion graphics, in 2D and 3D. It’s like a reduced version of Adobe After Effects, but within the software you’re using already.
Fairlight is audio post-production software that’s integrated into DaVinci Resolve with the ability to record, edit, mix, replace dialogue, clean up and repair sound, equalise, process dynamics and master soundtracks. It’s incredibly powerful and allows you to remain within one software program.
Both the free and Studio versions of the software include access to these powerful features, although as you’d expect the Studio version includes additional functionality.
8. GPU acceleration
• DaVinci Resolve 18 free: Supports one GPU
• DaVinci Resolve Studio 18: Supports multiple GPUs
DaVinci Resolve, like all video editing software, loves power; the more powerful your computer the smoother video playback will be and the more effects will be available because your computer is capable of rendering them. The free version of Resolve only supports one GPU (graphics card), so although you can enjoy GPU acceleration, it’s not anywhere near what’s possible with Studio.
The Studio version supports multiple GPUs so you can enjoy greatly improved performance. Plus, you get over 30 additional GPU and CPU accelerated Resolve FX including lens flares and sharpening. Plus, you can also enjoy beauty and retouching tools for improving the appearance of people in videos and removing unwanted objects. Think of it as Photoshop for video, but not as complicated as it sounds.
DaVinci Resolve free vs Studio: conclusions
The differences and similarities covered here aren’t definitive, but they’ll give you an idea of which version might be best for you. It’s safe to say that for the majority of enthusiasts, the free version of DaVinci Resolve 18 provides everything you need to edit your videos, and much more.
It’s complicated software to use so you’ll need to spend some time reading parts of the PDF manual and watching tutorials on the Blackmagic/DaVinci Resolve website and YouTube tutorials. Using the software at a basic level isn’t difficult, so you can get up and running fairly quickly, but more advanced features available in the free version, such as color grading, naturally take longer to learn.
If you require any of the features such as Lens Correction and Noise Reduction etc. you’ll need to buy a license for the studio version. But at £306 / $295 / €354 / AU$479 for a perpetual license and lifetime updates, it’s not expensive at all. And remember, because it's a lifetime license, it's a single one-off payment.
Professional videographers will undoubtedly require the full Studio version to take advantage of all of the features, functions and performance advantages available. What’s more, buy the DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor (mini editing keyboard) which comes with a copy of Studio included, and it only costs a fraction more than the software alone – perfect for advanced users and professionals.