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iMovie vs FCP X - which is best?

iMovie vs FCP X
(Image credit: Image Credit: Pio3 / Shutterstock)

Whether you’re an individual or large business, utilising the right video editor can transform your creative output. In an hyper-competitive online environment, where attention is scarce, it can also help you reach a larger audience.

Two Apple video editors, iMovie and Final Cut Pro X, have impressive offerings. However, unless you have experience with editing software, it might not be immediately clear which option is best suited to your aims and budget.

In a bid to make things clearer, we’ll compare the two programs across several criteria, including their features, performance, support, and pricing, before delivering our final verdict.

Features

IMovie vs FCP X

iMovie provides a selection of title presets (Image credit: Apple)

Both iMovie and Final Cut have a large selection of built-in text titles to choose from. However, iMovie provides few options to subsequently customize these after they have been added to your video. Whilst editing titles on Final Cut is less intuitive, it allows you to frame, time and visually alter text in almost any way.

Apple has a storied track record of producing software that is incredibly easy to use, and that’s no different with Final Cut and iMovie. However, the latter is specifically pitched at those with less video editing experience, and is therefore the more intuitive of the two programs.

That’s not to say Final Cut is difficult to use. Whilst it certainly has a steeper learning curve, it is arguably the most intuitive of the professional-level editors available on the market. 

iMovie has all of the features a more basic video project might require, including transitions, sound effects, speed adjustment, and photo overlays. 

However, Final Cut’s roster of effects far outstrips this, and can be combined in a multitude of ways to achieve stunning results. For example, one can exactingly adjust frames using the color inspector tool and keyframes feature. Final Cut also offers a huge bank of preinstalled effects, but allows users to import their own if needed.

Final Cut Pro X ticks all the boxes when it comes to features, allowing users to achieve almost any desired outcome. However, if you’re looking for a more accessible option for a simpler project that doesn’t require, for example, complex effects, iMovie will suit your needs.

Performance

IMovie vs FCP X

Final Cut Pro features four panels: imported media, editor, timeline, and effects (Image credit: Apple)

Like most video editors, Final Cut and iMovie feature a clip selector, editor, and timeline. In both instances, the latter is designed to be “magnetic,” allowing users to rapidly move connected clips to different locations at the same time.

Final Cut has a much larger array of tools and features than the free iMovie, and so its interface features an additional effects bar. This houses audio and video tools—everything from an alien voice effect to a “film noir” color grading—that can be dragged and dropped onto individual clips —or your entire project.

iMovie and Final Cut are both Apple-only programs, meaning they are highly optimised to macOS and offer very impressive processing speeds. Both import footage directly into the project, which can lead to large file sizes on your device, but this approach also enhances load times and playback during editing. 

When compared to non-Apple competitors, both editors process incredibly quickly. We exported a project in Final Cut and Premiere Pro, for example, and the former completed the rendering process several minutes faster.

However, iMovie’s incredibly lightweight design—indeed, it is also available on Apple’s mobile devices—make it the faster of the two. 

iMovie requires at least 2GB of RAM, but 4GB is recommended—the minimum required for Final Cut. If you’re editing in 4K, Apple suggests having 8GB of space for Final Cut, but our tests still found this occasionally slow, so aim for 16GB to avoid any problems. 

To download their latest desktop versions you’ll need macOS 10.14.6, as well as 3.8GB of disk space for Final Cut and 2.2GB for iMovie. 

Whilst iMovie is incredibly powerful for a free program, Final Cut pulls ahead in this category with its high level of customizability.

Pricing and plans

IMovie vs FCP X

Final Cut Pro costs $299.99 (Image credit: Apple)

Apple pitches iMovie and Final Cut Pro X to different types of users. The latter is aimed at those with at least some editing experience and who desire a professional result, and is priced at $299.99. However, Apple does offer some discounts, for example the Pro App Bundle for educators, where it is included with a selection of other creative programs for just $199.99. It also recently extended the free trial period for 30 to 90 days, so you can try before committing to a purchase.

In 2013 Apple began including iMovie free with the purchase of a new Mac or iOS device, and since 2017, it has been available to all users free of charge.

Support

IMovie vs FCP X

Apple offers several channels of support, including message boards and online chat windows (Image credit: Apple)

As both programs are made by Apple, the quality of support is the same—and impressive. The company hosts a huge bank of online articles, message boards and user guides to help get you up to speed. If that is insufficient, it also offers extensive daytime phone support, Monday through Sunday, and online chat rooms with Apple specialists.

Verdict

There’s no doubt that Final Cut Pro X is massively more powerful editing software than iMovie. In terms of features and effects, it offers a higher degree of detail and customizability, whilst not sacrificing too much in terms of ease of use and interface. However, this is intentional—Apple has pitched Final Cut and iMovie as its premium and beginner programs respectively. Which editor is best therefore depends on the needs of the user, and iMovie is certainly a great option for those who aren’t aiming for a complex end product.