When we last reviewed OpenShot (opens in new tab) – the open source, free video editing software – we thought it was promising. However, in our opinion, it was not yet ready for prime time.
Finally, during our time with the editor app, we felt it “shows potential, but it hasn’t really received the number of updates we expected after two years.”
But that was then. Are OpenShot’s new developments finally living up to the promise it showed two years ago?
First, a caveat: While OpenShot is a cross-platform piece of software that can run on Windows, Macs, and Linux, the latest official version doesn’t really work with Macs right now.
This has been especially damning since version 2.6.1 was released on September 6, 2021. You can, however, download and install Daily Builds. We had heard that this issue was fixed a few months ago and the latest build we tried (from June 22, 2022) launched perfectly.
Some people may be hesitant to go with a daily build as opposed to an official release, but if you’re on a Mac, this is the only way to get a version that works with your computer for now.
The interface doesn’t seem to have changed much since we last tested OpenShot. But that’s certainly not a bad thing, because it’s incredibly versatile and flexible.
Not only do you have options for simple and advanced viewing (the former limits the number of panels to simplify the interface), you also have the option to move panels around and add and remove them as you see fit. You even have the option to turn them into floating windows.
This flexibility is very welcome as it allows people to customize the interface exactly the way they want, which can only be a good thing.
Changes and improvements
However, it is not all immutable. There are also major improvements.
For starters, you’ll notice a new Zoom Slider tool just above the timeline. This gives you more control over where you are within your project. You get an overview of your entire timeline and you can drag the section highlighted in blue to the left or right to change the section you can see in the larger section below.
In fact, that blue part has handles on either side. Drag them in or out to zoom in or out on the timeline. It’s a great and intuitive way to navigate your project.
Snapping is also greatly improved. It’s a feature enabled by default that allows you to place clips side by side without overlapping. If you drag one to the other, you’ll see it ‘click’ when it gets close enough, kind of like a magnet snapping to another.
There are many uses for this feature, including resizing a clip to match the duration of another above or below it. This takes out any potential guesswork, is a great time saver and in our experiments it worked flawlessly.
You’ll also find that the clips’ transformation tools are much easier to use than before, improving the software’s animation capabilities, although they can still be confusing at times.
We struggled to find a way to move across the timeline frame by frame. You can usually do this with the arrow keys on the keyboard, but not in OpenShot. It seems that the cursor is the only way to do this, although there is a handy keyboard shortcut to jump from one keyframe created to another.
We were disappointed with the low number of effects present in the previous version. Fortunately, OpenShot 2.6.1 has a handful of new ones that offer useful tools – though they’re unlikely to compete with the best VFX software (and if your productions require high quality visual effects, pair the free video editor with Adobe after effects or the best After Effects alternatives to bring glasses to the screen).
OpenShot’s two new video effects are Stabilization and Tracker.
The first analyzes your clip and softens its movement. We’ve found it to work quite well, but of course the end result will always depend on the quality of the original footage: if the clip is already quite stable, the analysis will improve and smooth out the motion with confidence. However, if the shot was too jittery, a computer algorithm can only do so much. As always with such tools, what you get out of it is highly dependent on what you put into it.
The latter allows you to isolate an object on the screen, which OpenShot then tracks over the course of the clip. You can then attach another object to that data and make it move in sync with the tracked object.
You will also find nine new ones audio editing Effects. These are pretty standard rates, like ‘Compressor’, ‘Expander’, ‘Distortion’ and ‘Delay’, but they weren’t available before, and when they are finally included it can only be seen as a bonus.
You’ll find one more new addition, though other than novelty value, most editors might not make much use of it: emojis. OpenShot has integrated the vector-based designs from the OpenMoji project into their app.
They’re just as easy to use as any other clip: just drag one into your project and it will appear where you drop it (as well as be included in your project files). You can resize, move, move, treat it pretty much like any other clip.
The main difference is that they have no limitations on their duration: because they are still images, they can be as long or as short as you need. They also have a transparent background, which makes it easy to place them over other clips in your timeline.
If you create social media content, are looking for a free video editor app for Instagram and other visual platforms, or just simple vector graphics, you can use this new feature a lot. It’s a pretty simple, eye-catching way to add character – figuratively and literally – to your videos.
OpenShot has received a lot of small improvements and new features since 2020. But there are still aspects that are not easy to understand, especially when they are first discovered.
Take transitions for example. You can overlap two clips and a cross-fade transition is automatically added between the clips. You can also drag a transition and add it to your project. It seems that since you can drag it, you can place it anywhere and the effect will work as expected.
Except it doesn’t: place it between two clips and OpenShot will ignore the first and create the transition between a black frame and the second clip.
For the transition to work as expected, you’ll need to drag one of the clips over the other to create that cross-blur. Then remove the cross blur and add one of the other transitions available over that overlap. This is complicated and too complicated and confusing.
It’s always great to see open-source, free video editing software improve over time. OpenShot has been refined in some places and improved in others. New welcome features have been added. That said, however, it can still be a confusing video editor to use.