Complete Set of Robust Filmmaking Tools
Complete Set of Robust Filmmaking Tools

Editor's Choice AwardBlackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 15 offers a variety of tools for professional video editing and color grading along with a built-in visual effects toolset and robust audio editor. It’s got a remarkable price of free, with the option to upgrade to DaVinci Resolve 15 Studio for $300 to unlock the full toolset. Blackmagic Design is known for disrupting the marketplace, and DaVinci Resolve 15 does just that. It packs in lots of strong real-world tools, and they’re giving it away for free. Only a hardware company that wants to sell you hardware could do that. But the coolest thing is that you don’t need the companion hardware to use DaVinci Resolve at a professional level.

Think about if you could have all of the video related programs from Adobe in a single program — Premiere Pro, After Effects and Audition, without the need to round-trip from program to program. That’s basically what Blackmagic Design is doing here with DaVinci Resolve. Resolve offers tools for editing and color along with Fusion for visual effects and motion graphics and Fairlight for your audio needs. But unlike Adobe, it’s free — with a catch. More on the catch later.

Fusion and Fairlight

Built directly into DaVinci Resolve, Fusion is a 3D workspace with tools for keying, compositing, stabilization, tracking, vector paint, rotoscoping, text animation and even particles. Fusion works with Apple Metal, OpenCL and CUDA for faster graphics processing. Blackmagic Design also offers a more robust standalone version of Fusion Studio for $300.

Though not new to Resolve 15, Fairlight audio has been dramatically updated in this version. It has new ADR tools, audio normalization, 3D panners, audio and video scrollers and a searchable sound library database. There are also new plug-ins like reverb, hum removal, vocal channel and de-esser. The ADR workflow now has much more depth, allowing you to import a cue list or make one in-program. You’re now also able to change the view of your timeline to show the corresponding video channel, and to be able to follow what you’re currently working on, there is fixed playhead mode. This makes it so the playhead is always at the center of the work area.

Improved audio tools
Improved audio tools

Blackmagic Design calls each part of the program a page. For example, when you are using the Fusion toolset, you’re accessing the Fusion page. Along with the workspace changing, the tools you have to work with also change. This design is very strong when compared to using multiple programs to do the same thing. Throughout our testing, the program was very stable. During the public beta testing, crashing was a common problem. All of that public beta testing paid off for them.

What’s new in DaVinci Resolve 15?

In this version of DaVinci Resolve, you can now have multiple timelines open in tabs, much like Premiere Pro. This is a great feature and makes navigation much easier. Additionally, Blackmagic Design added stacked timelines so you can look at both timelines at the same time. This is helpful when trying to manage multiple revisions on a single project.

In the new LUT Browser, you are able to preview a LUT before applying it. A cool aspect of this feature is that you can change the preview thumbnails to show the footage you’re working on. It makes is much easier to choose the LUT you want. Sometimes LUT application can be tedious, but with this new feature, it’s a much more creative experience.

LUT Browser allows for easier LUT preview
LUT Browser allows for easier LUT preview

The next new feature stood out to us right from program startup. If you desire to use the keyboard shortcuts from another editing program, you can do that. DaVinci Resolve 15 offers Final Cut, Premiere and Media Composer keyboard shortcut programming. This is a great feature. As you use any program you will begin to gain muscle memory. Instead of needing to train for the switch, you can stick with what is familiar. Moreover, you are able to customize your keyboard shortcuts for each Media, Edit, Fusion, Color, Fairlight and Deliver page, in addition to the Global shortcuts that are the same across the pages.

For those who shoot in high frame rates, DaVinci Resolve now supports frame rates up to an impressive 32,000 frames per second. However, some frame rates are not available for some resolutions with the free version. You’ll need to buy DaVinci Resolve Studio for the most complete support.

Getting to it

Because DaVinci Resolve 15 is free, the installation process is pretty painless. During the download installation process, it asked for our information and email, so there is a cost, just not a monetary one. Still, there’s a lot of value coming from something that just required some contact information. The download is a little over a gigabyte, so if you don’t have a fast internet connection, be ready to wait a bit. Once installed, we were ready to start using the program

Getting started editing was easy as well. The program by itself is very snappy. It was quick to load and its responsiveness within the program was great as well. That hasn’t always been true for past versions of DaVinci Resolve. We opened the program, and after designating where the project file would be saved, we were ready to import our assets. With footage from just about every camera released over the past three years, we had a lot of different formats to work with. As we imported footage, we found that all 8-bit video worked fine in 15, however, 10-bit is a different story. You’ll need DaVinci Resolve Studio in order to edit your 10-bit footage, so Panasonic GH5 and GH5s shooters, take note.

From first use, Face Refinement will improve every video you shoot

The standout feature for us is Face Refinement, available in DaVinci Resolve Studio. From first use, Face Refinement will improve every video you shoot. Consider if you had a high-quality track mask for a face so you can do macro changes to a subjects face. Brighten up teeth and the whites of the eyes, or maybe to remove a blemish — regardless of how you use this tool, you will be able to fix and fine tune any face.

Nodes

If you aren’t familiar with nodes, before you get started, make sure to read our article Nodes vs. Layers. It will give you a basis of what a node is, how to use it and how it compares to the more common layer. DaVinci Resolve and Fusion are both node-based. This is a different way of thinking for some and has strengths and weaknesses depending on what you are trying to do. Nodes are not intuitive at first; however, once you get the basics down, they give you a lot of flexibility and power.

What comes in Studio?

Of course free programs usually come with a catch, but in this case, it’s not huge. If you find that you need more than DaVinci Resolve 15 can offer, you can upgrade for $300 to DaVinci Resolve 15 Studio. That may sound like a lot compared to free, but if you’re a pro, a robust editor, motion graphics program and audio program will easily add up to $300. Additionally, some Blackmagic Design camera models come with DaVinci Resolve Studio for free.

There is also a 3D camera tracker in Fusion that is not only robust but works automatically, as well. There is nothing more tragic than putting in the effort to track a shot or camera movement and have a few frames off. These new deep tracking options are very impressive. One track can easily be applied to any other element you want to place into the scene. If you work on a team, upgrading to DaVinci Resolve Studio also adds collaboration project sharing.

Finally, there are many more formats and metadata available in DaVinci Resolve 15 Studio. On top of being able to work with HDR, inject HDMI 2.0a metadata and de-interlace images, there is also HDR10+ support and HEVC decoding. DaVinci Resolve Studio also allows you to export Sony XAVC renders and use a timeline and render resolution higher than UHD and greater than 60fps.

Marketplace

Blackmagic Design is quite savvy in the positioning of DaVinci Resolve 15. They have successfully made a free program that can do everything its pricier competitors can. The biggest battle they face is getting someone to commit to learning a new program that functions differently than most on the market. Even though it’s free, it might not make sense for someone well-versed in another program to give up the time to get proficient in it. There will be a learning curve, though it’s much easier now than it ever has been. To make a change this large takes full commitment.

If you’ll need the tools in DaVinci Resolve Studio, comparisons get a little easier. DaVinci Resolve Studio offers four programs in one, roughly equivalent to Adobe Creative Cloud’s Premiere Pro, After Effects and Audition. Though they are three separate programs, Adobe has made it very simple to round-trip between them. The Adobe Creative Cloud costs $53 a month and also gives you a dozen or so other programs. With the addition of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and more, even at $53 a month, someone making money from these programs will easily be able to justify the cost. If you’re not making money from the software, a perpetual lease is much more painful. Currently, Adobe offers no way of buying their programs outright.

Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is a great program but also suffers from working a bit differently than you’d expect. This caused many to leave Final Cut Pro after version 7. Today, however, the program has more similarity to Premiere Pro than ever before in X’s history. On top of being a great tool, Apple has given every update free to those who own the product since 2011. At about $300, it lines up well with DaVinci Resolve Studio. What you don’t get with Final Cut Pro X is a VFX editor. Though you can do a lot of the same work in Final Cut, it doesn’t get even close to as deep.

That last major editor we are going to talk about is Avid Media Composer. It’s been an industry standard in Hollywood for a long time. Media Composer is built so that editing can be done in the most efficient way without needing a mouse. Avid, like Adobe, leases their software for a monthly or yearly cost. At $20 a month or $200 for the year, it’s slightly less expensive than the Creative Cloud. On top of that, you will need other programs like Avid Pro Tools and a VFX editor to match the capabilities of DaVinci Resolve.

Final Thoughts and Recommendation

If you don’t currently own an editing program, you cannot beat DaVinci Resolve 15. It’s free, has tons of capabilities, and once you grow to need more, the upgrade is only $300. If you’re currently using a different editor, there is a different calculus needed. In any case, it’s very hard to look past Resolve, even as just a free editor. Now, Blackmagic Design has developed it into an extremely powerful filmmaking tool. Maybe try it out. After all, what do you have to lose?

Blackmagic Design

www.BlackmagicDesign.com

PRICE:

Davinci Resolve 15 – $0

Davinci Resolve Studio – $300

STRENGTHS:

  • It’s free
  • Timeline tabs

WEAKNESSES:

  • No 10-bit video in free version

SUMMARY:

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 15 is a robust program that offers almost everything a pro needs for free. You’ll just need to know how to use nodes to harness DaVinci Resolve’s full power.

RECOMMENDED USES:

  • Narrative Filmmaking

TECH SPECS:

Blackmagic has an extensive list to help in the configuration of most systems. It can be found here: Resolve 15 Configuration Guide

Chris Monlux is often forced to switch between editing platforms. He’s also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.

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