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HitFilm Express 15.1 review

Dive into video editing with this free and impressive software

HitFilm Express
(Image: © FXhome)

Our Verdict

HitFilm Express has a price that is hard to beat, with a selection of tools that make you wonder why you should try any other free video editor. Definitely give this one a try, and maybe throw some money the developers’ way: they deserve it!

For

  • Professional-grade software for free
  • Great selection of online tutorials
  • Welcome updates
  • Highly extendable (for a fee)

Against

  • A bit of emotional blackmail before downloading the installer
  • High system requirements
  • Steep learning curve

If you look through our list of reviews, you’ll learn to be wary of very cheap, or even free video editing software. Sometimes it’s crippled until you pay for additional extras, and other times, well, it’s best to move on and not look back.

So here we are, taking a look at HitFilm Express 15, the free, pared down version of its bigger brother, HitFilm Pro. How does this app for Windows and Mac fare? Read on to find out.

Pay What You Want

You’re asked to pay for this software, but drag the slider to the left to get it for free - if you can cope with the crying emoji should you do that (Image credit: FXhome)

Getting started

There is one downside to downloading the app - you kinda have to go through emotional blackmail in order to get it. Click here - to reach a ‘Pay What You Want’ page, with a slider, controlled by an emoji. Drag the slider to the right to pay more, and get a really happy emoji, or to the left to pay nothing at all, and have that emoji cry.

We do agree and totally respect the fact that developers need to be paid for their work, but this feels a little underhand. Charge for your work, or don’t, but don’t manipulate people like that.

Still, if you offer to pay something, you will get free packs as a thank you. For the sake of this review we had a look at the pack-free version.

Welcome Page

The Welcome page is a smorgasbord of options from tutorials to paid-for packs, but click on ‘New’ or ‘Open’ (top left) to start editing (Image credit: FXhome)

Having gone through this little hurdle, you are presented with a fully functioning advanced video editing package, which includes more than just trimming away unwanted footage, tweaking colour levels, and exporting video to a new format. This is a full edit suite that can be used to work with filters and special effects, as well as a selection of 2D and 3D composition tools. While the emphasis of the program’s web site and tutorials is on creating Hollywood-style movies, it's also a great utility for anyone uploading to social media.

HitFilm Express’ main selling points, includes advanced cutting tools, audio and video filters, layers and masking, compositing tools, keying for green screen effects, and support for 360˚ video.

Flexible Layout

The layout of these windows and panels is so flexible you can move them around, turn them into floating windows, and dock them pretty much anywhere (Image credit: FXhome)

User experience

If you've used a video editor before, you'll find that there are few surprises when it comes to getting started with HitFilm Express. The interface is broadly similar to other comparable tools, with a section for imported material and a timeline to arrange it. Some tools are in different locations, of course, but it’s not something that will grind your progress to a halt - at least not for long.

If you feel lost, there are a vast number of video tutorials to help you master HitFilm Express. However, you can also learn by experimenting with effects, dropping clips onto the timeline, and trying out the composition tools. Those on offer are genuinely impressive, and include high-grade animation options that are simply not available free in most other places.

Workspaces

HitFilm Express offers a good number of preset window arrangements to give you the best workspace depending on the work you’re doing (Image credit: FXhome)

The interface is also incredibly flexible - there are a number of preset workspaces available, such as Audio, Colorist, Compositing, etc, which reorder the windows in a way that’s more ideal for the job at hand. However, you can also totally customise it to your liking, moving windows around, docking them with others, closing them, turning them into floating panels, the choice it yours - whatever suits your working habits. Such flexibility is great to have.

Premium Add-Ons

Not everything is free, and the most advanced tools come at a cost, but developers gotta eat, right? (Image credit: FXhome)

You will find however, that not all tools are available to you. The same applies for filters. As you scroll through the Effects menu, you’ll come across a fair number that are greyed out with ‘Add On’ in reddish orange to their right. But to be fair, as long as you’re working in traditional 2D media, you can build an edit, even a relatively complex one without those add-ons. They are nice to have, but they’re not crucial, and that’s a big point to the developers of HitFilm Express, who created a great app that is a very useable editor and rivals almost all other packages in its price range.

New features

Being free doesn’t mean this software is antiquated and over the hill: it keeps getting updated. The latest improvements aren’t earth shattering, but they’re definitely nice to have.

Some of the features include a Crop/Pan and Zoom tool which allows you to pan across a photo or video clip over time. It’s something competing products have had for years - if not decades - so it’s nice to see it finally added to the roster.

Another overdue improvement is the ability to export audio using the WAV format;

Some nice additions we liked include the Track Select Tool - which lets you highlight everything to the right or left of your selection. Even better, you can choose to select either the audio or video, depending on where you clicked.

Shapes

You can really have a lot of fun with the Shape tool now (Image credit: FXhome)

Shapes are now much more versatile than they used to be, enabling you to create anything from a basic rectangle, to really complex polygon shapes, and is bound to be a lot of fun to use.

Text Options

The new text option of adding multiple outlines is simple, yet very effective (Image credit: FXhome)

We also liked a clever addition which made us wonder how we managed to cope without it before: the ability to add multiple outlines to text. So simple to use and so effective to boot, we enjoyed playing with that feature as well.

And of course, there are the usually additional presets and templates.

Final verdict

HitFilm Express is most impressive. A multi-platform, stable, and full featured video editing software which you can use without having to shell out for its premium add-ons (although those are definitely welcome should you need them).

When we see the quality of other free or very cheap alternatives, it’s hard to come up with a reason why you should give those the time of day, when HitFilm Express offers so much in comparison.