If I'm trying to edit relatively simple videos, what is a good editor that has these features available on Windows?

  • trimming video clips, playing one video clip after another (basic functions, not required but would be nice)
  • ability to insert images or audio at arbitrary points on top of an already existing clip, like an overlay (required; this is the focus of the question)
    • ability to overlay video as well would also be nice
  • previewing the video before exporting it (ability to play/pause video to find places to insert things)
  • preferably free (this is somewhat important, low cost is ok too) and relatively straightforward to use (less important)
  • no specific codec required

10 Answers 10


I like the Vegas family of video editors (formerly from Sony, now owned by MAGIX). I have the most experience with Vegas Pro, their higher-end video editor, but they also offer a consumer-end video editor called Vegas Movie Studio, which works exactly the same as Vegas Pro, but with fewer features and a much better price.

Vegas Movie Studio is a multitrack video editor that should do everything you want it to do. I find it very easy to use. With any video editor, there will be a learning curve, but I find it much more intuitive than Virtual Dub or any other video editor I have tried. It is much more powerful than something like Windows Movie Maker.

Movie Studio screenshot With a multi-track format, you can put your primary video on one track, then you can put other video clips or still pictures on other tracks, and fade back and forth between them. If you have still pictures with transparency or video clips with chromakey (green screen), you can display more than one track at a time. You can pan and zoom a video track so that it only takes up part of the screen, and another video track shows up behind it. Or you can choose from various transitions to switch back and forth between tracks. Even with the least expensive version, your project can have 10 video tracks and 10 audio tracks, so you've got a lot of flexibility there.

Vegas also has demo versions of all the products, so you can try it before buying. I believe the demo versions are limited to 30 days, and I don't know if they add a watermark to the output or not.

I don't know what the end use for your videos are, but if you are planning on making DVDs, I recommend that you spend a little more and opt for Vegas Movie Studio Platinum, which includes DVD Architect Studio, a very nice DVD authoring program.

Your requirements:

  • It is easy to trim and transition between video clips.
  • You can add video clips, still photos, and audio clips anywhere on the timeline you want.
  • An Instant preview window shows you your changes immediately, without having to render the entire video first.
  • Not free. Movie Studio lists for $50 USD and Movie Studio Platinum lists for $80 (both available cheaper online), and either will do everything on your list. If you need more features, there are other versions available. Here is a comparison chart of all the Vegas Movie Studio video editing products.
  • Supports a wide range of formats and codecs. See Movie Studio supported formats here.

Blender (free) has a powerful built-in video editor that's pretty straightforward to use. You load content in as strips and then you can adjust these on the timeline, it has a real-time preview window and also has effects that you can overlay on your video. Minus the couple minutes that it would take you to learn the ins and outs, it performs all you ask.

Blender UI

Here is a quick video tutorial to get up to speed and for any further questions, you could follow up on the relevant stackexchange site.

  • 1
    Blender is the emacs of digital content.
    – iKlsR
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 18:52
  • 7
    Is that a pro or a con?
    – Bernhard
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 19:25
  • @Bernhard Definitely a pro, "Any Emacs veteran would tell you, Emacs isn’t an editor, but a system that can handle text buffers and windows, and run LISP code to manipulate those. Therefore, it can do everything, and you can practically live in Emacs, as some do, using the underline OS just for bootstrapping it." I use Blender to edit videos, view images and even watch movies, it's a powerhouse.
    – iKlsR
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 19:27

I have recommended Virtual Dub on another question asking for a tool for efficiently cutting movies. Virtual Dub meets each of the requirements specified but how it handles images is a little... different.

Virtual Dub effortlessly provides the following functionality:

  • trimming video clips
  • combining multiple clips
  • previewing the video before exporting it
  • and, it's free

It allows you to import images as well, however, it is primarily a video editing tool, and it deals with frames (of which there are however many frames per second that you're rendering at, defaulting to 25). To import images for title screens or at arbitrary points during playback you would need to do the following;

  • insert the image
  • browse to the frame containing the image
  • copy the frame and paste it as many times as you need it (25 frames for one full second at 25 frames per second, for example)

For fading between whatever the image/title card is for and the video, you'd have to use plugins.

  • Wow! I remember using this almost 10 years ago for ripping DVDs. I didn't even realize it was still around. Good call!
    – Juice
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 15:25

I think Windows Movie Maker can accomplish what you want.

It can:

  • Trim clips.

  • Add Transitions and visual effects.

  • Combine clips.

  • Provides a good preview feature

  • Easy uploading to cloud services, including YouTube, Facebook and SkyDrive.

  • More...

Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to add clips on top of other clips yet (i.e. overlays), so that is one requirement it doesn't satisfy.

Windows Movie Maker UI with a video loaded


I just answered a question on screen recording, went on to browse the rest of this site and found this question. Though I guess it's not meant for video editing (I'd prefer Sony Vegas, but that's not free), ActivePresenter should also be able to fulfill most of the requirements.

First up, though: how to get started. Normally in ActivePresenter, you get video into a project by screen recording, but you can apparently also just insert a blank slide into a blank project, and just drag a video file in there. Tested it and works just fine.

On to the requirements:

trimming video clips, playing one video clip after another
ability to overlay video as well would also be nice
previewing the video before exporting it
Here's a screenshot of the basics:

ActivePresenter layer editing

There's the typical "Play" and "Stop" buttons, hitting those will preview the end result.

The arrows point towards Cut-, Copy-, Delete-, and Crop To Range options.

Dragging a second video file into the project adds a new layer with that movie. You can cut/paste ranges as you please, as well as show videos side by side, picture in picture (by resizing one of them), etc.

ability to insert images or audio
You can add audio, video and images by just dragging them into the project (or inserting them from the Annotation menu). On the timeline you can use the trimming tools mentioned above to determine when they are displayed. In addition, you can place and resize them to your liking.

Here's a screenshot with a main video, inserted picture of a pony, and inserted second movie clip as picture-in-picture:

ActivePresenter overlays

preferably free
There's a free version (which I used) that has abovementioned features, as well as a standard and professional edition (which I haven't tried).

and relatively straightforward to use (less important)
This is somewhat subjective of course, but I found this tool quite easy to work with. First 10 min screencast cost me about 2 hours of work, but after that things start to speed up. Disclaimer: I've used Sony Vegas quite intensively so I was somewhat used to video editing concepts (which helps a lot with the learning curve, probably).

any codec
This is the only one I'm not sure on. It's probably quite limited compared to Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere, etc.

For exporting you're stuck with FLV, AVI, WMV, MPEG4, WebM (docs).

For importing clips I couldn't find any documentation, but the "Select a video file..." dialog says:

Video Files (*.mp4;*.mkv;*.wmv;*.flv;*.avi;*.webm)

I guess you'll have to have a go at it to see if your particular clips are supported.

As a bottom line, to repeat my earlier remark: ActivePresenter seems to fit (most of) your requirements, but isn't really meant as a video editing tool. Even so, it might just work for your case.

Good luck!

  • Sorry, by "any codec" I meant "no specific requirement; it can work with any one." I edited to clarify. Thanks, this just might work!
    – Doorknob
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 22:13
  • 1
    Registered for this exchange just to say thank you for this recommendation. I wanted the ability to add book covers to youtube videos and this did the trick admirably. Now to figure out how to get the evening back I sunk in to figuring out Lightworks... Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 21:05
  • @syntheticbrain Hah, your comment is well-received, tyvm. Glad it helped.
    – Jeroen
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 21:21

After Effect is a software which largely fits your needs (excepted your gratis option, but a 30-days free trial is available).

  • Trimming and combining any videos with very customizable effects. Idem for audio tracks independently or not of the video. A time bar is provided to easily see when your tracks are starting, ending, fading, or anything else.
  • You can insert images, drawings, texts, and a lot of other objects (like 3D one's I think) where you want into the flow. You can also move the camera and a tracking tool is proposed on last versions.
  • A real time preview from RAM is available before exporting. And for the creation step a no-real time preview allow you to work extremely precisely (frame by frame if you want).

The AfterEffect time bar :

AfterEffect time-bar

But before you test I want to warn you:

  • AfterEffect is a too powerful, and a too heavy software if you need a video editor for an occasional use (weeding animation, holiday video, ...). Learning it will discourage you.
  • But if you are very interested in improving yourself at video editing, AfterEffect is a very interested software, the video editing equivalent of PhotoShop.

Adobe Premiere Pro is a very powerful video editing software, which allows you to do the same actions as After Effects, but is, in my opinion, easier to learn at first. It allows

  • Cutting videos to smaller pieces and removing the unneeded parts
  • Editing audio separately from video
  • Overlaying with video and images (really easy, drag into the sources and then drag into the timeline, resize from effect controls if needed)
  • Modifying the video and audio with effects (changing timescale, applying basic filters and such)
  • Simple image editing within the program and interaction with Photoshop
  • Supports a ton of different codecs

But it isn't free of charge. While After Effects has the powerful visual effects and focuses on details, Premiere does the bigger scale editing better.

Here's a screenshot of it during a normal project to give a better idea:

Effect Controls, Preview video\Source files, Timeline

(There's a preview of the video in the top-right corner on the grey area, but my screen capture somehow hid it)


OpenShot Video Editor is a free, open-source video editing software with all the features you described. It is quite easy to use and the community is active and helpful.

The image below is taken from the OpenShot website.

OpenShot screenshot

All you need to do is to import your image, video or sound files. They will then appear in the top-left section of the screenshot. You can then drag them on to the timeline below. The video preview is on the top right.


Lightworks offers a free version.

I found it was more capable than Windows Movie Maker

  • Has a free version that is limited compared to the pro version.
  • Ability to import existing video files and edit them
  • Ability to add music (I recorded talking with Audacity and was able to add that so adding music should be possible.
  • I use windows 7.

I did have to watch some of the tutorial videos in order for me to figure a few things out. I apologize if it doesn't meet your other requirements I'm not sure on some of them.


Filmora definitively has the function you want but it costs $60 to be able to export files without the watermark.

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