HitFilm 4 Express, for Vlogs and Indie Film
Its time to talk about HitFilm 4. Specifically the free version, 'HitFilm 4 Express'
HitFilm is one of the best... possibly the best, free video editing platform available. There's a paid 'Pro' version too, with greater features & capabilities, but surprisingly, the free version has about 90% of the features as the pro version. Aside from being quite a capable editor, HitFilm is also a really powerful 2D & 3D Compositor thats able to work with multiple layers & also 3D models & animations. Before I get into all the good, I'll state its shortcomings.
There are a few limitations to the free version, & I'll mention them up front. 1080p output only (& 720) but no 4K. You can import 4K to work with, but not export. If your primary delivery is Internet & TV thats really not a Problem.
I work on PC, & it doesn't seem to export MOV files. It only offers MP4, AVI & Image Sequence. I'm used to many more finite options & settings during export on higher end platforms, 8 bit vs. 10 to 32 bit for example, but truthfully if your not aiming for broadcast or theatrical distribution you might not need these settings.
HitFilm 4 Express does not import some fairly common file types. In Fact, although it exports AVI, I dont think it imports them directly. It also doesn't import AVCHD, I'm not sure about DNXHD & some others. It does import MOV files & MP4's. As far as Audio Files, it will not process MP3's natively either, it prefers WAV's. The simple work around for this is file converters. I use a few free ones, & I can recommend 'Freemake Video Converter' & 'Freemake Audio Converter' for quick batch transfers.
Finally, there isn't a proper 3D tracker included in the free Express version, but there is a basic point tracker for stabilization & VFX. You can also do double point tracks for more complicated orientation & position plots. You can also do multiple tracks to multiple layers for different elements in a scene.
So, those are basically all its limitations, but lets address their solves. Instead of a full upgrade to 'Pro' (which is really quite affordable at only 360$ for the full suite) you can purchase much smaller upgrade packs for specific things. For Example, Mocha Tracking for HitFilm Express can be purchased for only 50$, which will give you the ability to plot camera moves & complicated solves. This is one of the most expensive Addons offered. Starting at as little as 15$, there are plenty of other options for expanded performance, such as Audio & Video codec upgrades to work natively with your preferred file type, & there are many other affordable options and upgrade packs to expand the 'Express' workflow.
Now lets talk about all the really 'Good' points. In fact, the 'Great' points.
It's an intuitive & easy to use/learn editor. Its comparable to other editors like Premiere, Final Cut & Vegas but its really quite easy to get the hang of & the work flow is fast. Its a very stable platform that performs well without lagging or crashes.
It's a layer based editor & compositor similar to After Effects and AVID. I commonly suggest & refer it to filmmakers & VFX artist as 'After Effects Jr.' I have a decent amount of experience with After Effects & feel that HitFilm offers approximately 85% of the AE platform. Truth be told, I really haven't pushed it as far as I could. In AE theres some intricate options for parenting complicated layer behavior & 'Bone' or 'Driver' functions. In AE there are also some more advanced painting, cloning & brush options. Aside from these features, the rest of the platforms functionality is quite similar. In fact if you purchase HitFilm Pro, the entire effects library (I believe about 170 effects) plugs in directly to the AE platform as 'HitFilm Plugins'
Another point to mention is the delightful interconnection of the Editing time line & the Compositor. They are essentially seamless.
First of all, most of the effects can be applied in the Editor directly, similar to AVID & most modern NLE work flows. Things like color correction, time remapping or stretching, Chroma Keying, audio levels, can all be done simply & directly on the Editing time line with plenty of layer space. Same for Audio.
Secondly, HitFilm works, & always has worked the way Adobe wants Premiere & AE to work. The difference is that HitFilm does it without any snag or hassles. If you have a clip in your Editor that needs some complicated VFX compositing, theres no switching to other programs, or complicated 'PreRenders'. You simply open the Compositor for that clip. It easily switches modes & windows. You then have a new, related, but also separate and independent 'Composite Project' that stays in your Editor time line & Media bin. So basically you can work that 2D or 3D Composite, with complicated Tracks or VFX, & with a simple click, come right back into your editor to complete the full scene. Its a dream, its easy & its stable.
Now for the included 'Effects'. HitFilm 4 Express comes loaded with 140 free VFX Effects & 3D Elements. Things like Muzzle Flashes, Explosions, Fire, lightning, Clouds, Light Flairs, Particle Systems.... all sorts of stuff. It just pops out of a folder & its ready to go in 2D or 3D space. There are plenty of control options to get each effect seamlessly integrated into your shots. Brightness, color, size, speed, intensity, all sorts of finite adjustments to really sell your shots & story. Of course, you can pull layers from your personal files, & you can also integrate other 3D sequences or models from other programs, but the basic effects included in HitFilm will definitely speed up & add to your overall production process & capabilities.
Theres a strong community of HitFilm users. In fact theres even some pretty famous VFX artist & Filmmakers of the past decade, that have emerged out of the HitFilm forums. The actual, real 'Help' section on the website will deliver a pretty quick response to technical or operational questions, & theres plenty of good tutorials online to master its various functions.
One of the better resources I've discovered & actually took part in last year was an online class from 'Future Learn'. I'll link: "Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers" here, & recommend it to anyone wishing to master the HitFilm compositor. The class kicks off about 2-3 times per year, is run with an instructor who answers questions & other students who follow the 4 week program. If you don't like a 'live' course thats scheduled, don't worry. Theres no requirement to 'keep up' & once you're in you always have access to the files & lessons, so you can complete it all at your own pace.
All & all, Hitfilm is not a platform to dismiss.
Sure, its important to know the strengths & weaknesses of various tools & systems. There's a couple things I probably wouldn't use HitFilm for. A 20-100 million dollar studio Feature Film, or say, an Episodic TV program, going to air in 18 days. A large client's big TV Advertisement Campaign for National or Global Broadcast. For these, I'd be working on AVID & Nuke, or probably at the very least, the Adobe Platform. You know, 'Industry Standard's' & such. I wouldn't use it solely for an Indie Feature Film I'm intending to screen & sell at a large Festival. I'm pretty sure I'd need a proper 'Digital Cinema Package' for any of those venues, & I'm not sure I can export that out of HitFilm.
That being said, I'll tell you what I would, & do use it for effectively. Small Short Films & VFX segments. Micro budget Feature Films, who's intended self distro is primarily online. Internet Ad spots & Content Creation. Vlogs & YouTube Videos. Weddings & Events. Corporate Video. The free version of HitFilm Express is plenty for these projects. It is absolutely capable of delivering high quality, realistic & professional results for you as a filmmaker, & for smaller end Client & Corporate work.
In the past few years, since upgrades from 2 & 3, HitFilm 4 is a platform I rely on more often, & recommend consistently to Filmmakers & VFX artist of every level. From beginners to seasoned & experienced masters, HitFilms accessibility, portability & over all functionality makes it a valuable tool in any creative's kit. If you haven't downloaded & cut with it yet, its a good time to start!