DaVinci Resolve’s Evolution
Before we get to the business end of what’s the difference between the free and studio version of DaVinci Resolve, it’s worth looking at its evolution. Around 2009 DaVinci Systems was acquired by Blackmagic design who made DaVinci Resolve their focus for development. At this point, DaVinci was still the domain of high-end film productions and very, very expensive. It was focused on color grading only and not fully featured as we know it now. Soon the price dropped and development changed. Eventually, a free “lite” version for Mac was released. Suddenly this legendary color grading suite was available to anyone.
Development continued, a Windows version was released with more features continually being added while the interface was overhauled to be more user-friendly. Then Blackmagic Design started to add more editing features, opening up the possibility of it becoming a viable video editor. Davinci Resolve became free, not just lite. Fusion was acquired and fully integrated as well as Fairlight.
From version 14 onward, DaVinci Resolve became not only a viable editor but a full post-production suite and best of all it is free. It’s not a trial, it doesn’t have a watermark. It’s free and includes editing, visual effects (Fusion), audio post-production (Fairlight, a DAW) and professional color grading. DaVinci Resolve is free and has another version called DaVinci Resolve Studio that has a number of enhanced features that you need to pay $295 for. We’ll cover more on that later.
Version 16 introduced the cut page to speed up the editing process. While version 16 was already full-featured, the release of DaVinci Resolve 17 brought even more (over 300) new features like the color warper, HDR controls, Fairlight audio engine, and support for the new Apple M1 chips.
**To learn more about the fascinating history of DaVinci Resolve watch this video from Learn Color Grading**
Free vs. Studio?
So with DaVinci Resolve being free, what do you get when you pay the $295 for DaVinci Resolve Studio? What’s the difference between DaVinci Resolve Free vs. Studio? Well, with the studio version you get everything the free version can do plus...
Media & Delivery
DaVinci Resolve 17 Free can output up to 4K UHD at up to 60fps while the paid studio version can do up to 32K at 120fps with advanced HDR delivery. While few of us need to deliver 32K, 4K UHD can be limiting. That’s 3840 x 2160, so it’s not possible to do DCI 4K 4096 x 2160 which may be a deal-breaker for some filmmakers.
60 frames per second shouldn’t be a problem for most as the majority of projects wouldn’t require any more than that. The studio version is also capable of playing back more formats including AVCHD, AVC-Intra (all-I) and also 10-bit formats like the H.264 10-bit 422 from the ever-popular Panasonic GH5.
One of the key advantages of the studio version over the free version is its use of GPU acceleration, including being able to use multiple GPUs. The studio version has GPU accelerated encoding and decoding of the widely used H.264 and H.265 formats that can greatly speed up editing and rendering performance.
This was the feature that made me get the studio version. Shooting with a micro four-thirds camera, often in low light situations, DaVinci Resolve Studio’s advanced noise reduction capabilities can be a lifesaver. It offers both temporal and spatial noise reduction options that are very good at getting rid of the noise.
If you own an action camera or extra wide-angle lenses you will love this feature that is only available in Studio. Lens correction analyzes the distortion in your footage and corrects it automatically or you can adjust it manually. It is a great way to reduce or remove that fish eye effect from wide lenses.
With more access and use of the GPU comes more visual effects bringing you over 30 additional Resolve FX like lens flares, lens reflections, dirt removal, analog damage, face refinement, patch replacer, film grain and de-flickering. These types of effects normally come as expensive add-ons so to have professional effects like these included is probably worth the $295 price for DaVinci Resolve Studio on its own. I often use these effects, especially de-flickering can be great for time-lapses and when you don’t get your settings right in camera under certain types of lighting.
Another feature that only the studio version has is the DaVinci Neural Engine. It uses deep neural networks and machine learning for many of Studio’s exclusive features. Examples include facial recognition for organizing bins, increasing the resolution of footage, speed warp re-timing, the new magic mask, object tracking, scene cut detection, object removal and a number of other features. While you can get by without many of these features, having them just makes life a lot easier.
DaVinci Resolve is famous for its legendary color grading capabilities, and all are included in the free version. Studio just adds more. You can make use of professional HDR scopes to provide detailed information for ST.2084 and HLG images, interactively work across the world with remote grading and even grade stereoscopic 3D projects.
There are many more advanced features in the studio version like scripting and automation, colorspace transform language and workflow integrations plug-ins, 3D audio etc. If you are wondering about these sorts of things then you probably need the studio version and this is a moot discussion.
Frequently asked questions about DaVinci Resolve
Is DaVinci Resolve totally free?
DaVinci offers a completely free version that packs amazing features, such as color grading tools, a compositing program called Fusion, and an audio editing program called Fairlight, and even multi-user collaboration. There is no expiration date like a trial or watermark on your export to limit your work.
What are the DaVinci Resolve Studio license terms?
For $295 you get a lifetime license with 2 cross-platform installs. It includes future upgrades as well. I purchased my license back at version 14 and now I’m at 17.3 with not a cent more spent.
What’s the difference between DaVinci Resolve and DaVinci Studio?
The main difference is DaVinci Resolve’s free version does not work with 10-bit footage and you are limited to the 4K UHD (3840×2160) output. It is also important to note that the free version can only use some GPU acceleration for playback but for rendering it relies on the CPU.
What’s the current price of DaVinci Resolve Studio?
The paid version offers one-time payment and costs only $295. Extremely affordable if you compare it with other professional video editing software!
What are the latest versions of DaVinci Resolve as of today?
The latest versions of DaVinci Resolve as of February 2022, include 17.4.3 and 17.4.4. The most recent update added support for Blackmagic RAW 2.3, security improvements for Dropbox and YouTube, as well as smoother playback for clips.
The free version of DaVinci Resolve 17 is amazing. It’s crazy that a fully functioning post-production suite can be available for free. It levels the playing field for content creators, filmmakers, videographers, YouTubers, artists or whatever we want to call ourselves. With the free version, we have the tools to create amazing content limited only by our creativity.
If you haven’t used Resolve yet, click here to download the free version. It’s a great choice for beginners or maybe you are considering changing from Premiere Pro? Just scroll to the bottom where it says “Two Great Versions” and click the “free download now” button. This will give you the choice of version 16.2.8 or version 17 as well as your operating system. Choose one and start learning how to use DaVinci Resolve.
If you would like to go straight for the paid version you will need to find an authorized reseller, it’s not a purchase and download scenario. When you buy it (online or not) it comes in a box with a license card.
New versions for both the free and studio version are regularly added to the Blackmagic Design support page. You can download either from here but will need a license key for the studio version.
Johan Kok is passionate about visual storytelling and loves the outdoors. He runs his own small video production business in Auckland, New Zealand doing mostly corporate and event work. When he has time he gets involved in local short films and other productions as well as running a small outdoor YouTube channel on the side.