DaVinci Resolve: free version limitations

I’m publishing a series or articles about DaVinci Resolve, because of my upcoming workshops in Berlin: DaVinci Resolve Berlin Workshop: Editing and DaVinci Resolve Berlin Workshop: Color Grading.

Follow the links if you want to find out about dates, full workshops program, and further info.

All my workshops are 20 hours, 4 hours a day, Monday to Friday, in small groups (7 students maximum).

They usually sell out, so, if you are interested, register soon!


As many of you know, DaVinci Resolve 15, the standard color grading software, can be downloaded for free here: Blackmagicdesign.

It’s really incredible we can access for free one of the most innovative and sophisticated editing and post-production softwares out there, and many independent filmmakers and artists benefit from this.

I myself have edited and post-produced several projects with the free version of Resolve.

Some of my students are very surprised by this fact.

How can that be?

Well… DaVinci Resolve, the free version, has some limitations. The good news is: those limitations are not going to affect you and your projects in most cases! The majority of my students use it, and they get everything they need.

Still, if you plan to start editing and grading with Resolve, you need to be aware and understand what you don’t get in the free version.

The good news continue: if there is a moment where the limitations are affecting your needs or workflow, you can always pay for the whole version, DaVinci Resolve Studio 15, which costs only 299 Euros. One payment, and you have it forever, including future updates.

So! Here are the most relevant limitations of the free DaVinci Resolve.

Note: Resolve updates often, so, some of this could change in the future!

1. Maximum resolution: Ultra HD (4K).

Resolve allows as maximum resolution in your projects Ultra HD (4K), so exporting is also limited to that size.

Ultra HD is 3840 pixels horizontal by 2160 pixels vertical. In other words: it’s more than enough in most cases.

We can export HD, DCI 2K (very common mastering format in film projects), and Ultra HD (4K), which is, so you understand, the usual domestic and broadcast 4K format (not technically 4K, actually, but slightly smaller).

You only need the paid version of Resolve if you need to master and export DCI 4K, or higher resolutions. This, even today, is not that common, and only high end productions and big budget movies do it.

But! Important: the limitations only affects project resolution and export, but you can still import, edit, and grade media in higher resolutions (4K, 6K, 8K). Those higher resolutions will be scaled down to the target project resolution (lower), which is anyway what we normally do…

This limitation won’t affect you much, in most cases!


2. No collaboration tools.

Collaboration tools are not included in the free version of Resolve.

They’re only available in the Studio version, which allows multiple editors, colorists, and audio editors to access the same project, share media, and collaborate.

As you can imagine, not a lot of projects need this, specially if we work the indy way…

Only big film and TV productions need and use this, and in any case, if you have an editing studio with multiples machines, workers, and media servers, paying for the Studio version shouldn’t be an issue for you!

Again, most filmmakers have enough with the free version.


3. No noise reduction.

We don’t get it in the free version.

This will be important depending on various factors.

If you like to push the ISO on your cameras to the max, and shoot a lot in the dark, you might need noise reduction.

Some color grading processes might increase the presence of noise in your image. For example: if you shoot with Log profiles, like C-Log, V-Log, or S-Log, noise can be an issue if you are not careful.

That said, there are other solutions: control the presence of noise on the camera, expose properly when shooting Log to avoid problems, use another software to reduce noise (like After Effects), etc..

I have to say noise reduction in DaVinci Resolve is the best I’ve seen. It really works wonders. If your footage is noisy, this is the way to go!


4. No Face Refinement FX.

Available only in DaVinci Resolve Studio.

This tool, part the OFX FX library, analyses and registers the movement of the different elements that form a human face: eyes, lips, chin, eyebrows, etc.. All that, automatically, and without the need of masks or color-range grades.

Once the clip is analysed, the effects allows you to make corrections in any of this separate areas, individually, and with very accurate parameters to achieve a realistic and convincing result.

This is a tool that basically saves you time.

If you use the free version, the solution for you is to grade your faces with the usual secondary correction tools, combining masks (called Windows in Resolve), tracking, color-range grades, etc.. You can get the same results, and once you know the tools, it doesn’t take that long.


5. Some FX, not available.

The free version of DaVinci Resolve doesn’t include the whole library of video effects (OFX FX).

The most sophisticated ones are reserved for paying customers: Camera Blur, Lens Flare, Film Grain, and a couple others.

You can also do all those effects with, for example, After Effects.

This limitation will affect you depending on your needs.

Are you the kind of filmmaker who likes to add lens flares to all your shots?


6. No Lens Correction.

A very simple tool we find in the Inspector, in the EDIT tab: Lens Correction.

It’s designed to correct distortions produced by extra-wide cameras and lenses, like GoPros, etc..

The tool analyses the shot, and a simple slider allows correct/increase the distortion on the borders of the image.

Se hace un análisis del plano, y un sencillo deslizador nos permite corregir/aumentar la distorsión de los bordes del plano

7. No 3D stereoscopic tools.

Self explanatory.

The free version can’t do 3D conforming, post-production, and grading of content created in stereoscopic 3D, using 2 cameras.

You only need this if you are the new James Cameron, or the new Werner Herzog (the guy directed a 3D documentary).

NOTE: I reader pointed out that there are now the 3D stereoscopic capabilities inside Fusion (now part of Resolve). I still wonder if we get access to the stereoscopic tools in the Color tab.

8. Panasonic GH5, 10 Bits.

This is a big one, specially If you use the Panasonic GH5, like I do!

DaVinci Resolve works beautifully with media coming from the GH5, and if you use V-Log, the LUT’s to convert to Rec.709 work very well, and images are really easy to grade. It’s a pleasure to use.

Now comes the “but”: the free version doesn’t support clips from the GH5 recorded in 10 Bits. 8 Bits clips from the GH5 will import and play nice. 10 Bits clips will not import.

So, if you record 10 Bits with the GH5 internally, you will need the Studio version, where clips will import. You will also need a powerful computer (Mac or PC), so, then again, an extra 299 Euros wouldn’t be that much to add!

The alternative if you use the free version is: use another software, like Adobe Media Encoder, to transcode the 10 Bits clips from the GH5 to another codec: DNxHR, Apple ProRes, Cineform.  It’s an extra step, and takes time, but you’ll be able to import your material into Resolve, and the transcoded clips will work perfect.

If you have a question or doubt about the limitations of the free version of DaVinci Resolve, write a comment below!

You may also subscribe to the blog, to get notified when new articles are published.


Find out more about my upcoming workshops in Berlin, DaVinci Resolve Berlin Workshop: Color Grading, and DaVinci Resolve Berlin Workshop: Color Grading.

Registrations are open!

Happy grading!


4 thoughts on “DaVinci Resolve: free version limitations

  1. Dear Dave: of course your are right Ultra HD is slightly smaller than 4K. But, as I’m sure you know, this is just a naming convention, and Ultra HD (4K) is the term most used to refer, for example, to displays and TV’s. It’s just the way it is, commercially. In the article, I say you can export Ultra HD (4K) with the free version, and I also say you need the Studio version if you need to export DCI 4K. I think the term Ultra HD (4K) is now used because now we also have Ultra HD (8K), which, again, is slightly smaller than proper 8K, and we need a way to identify both “close to” 4K and 8K resolutions. So, yes you are right, can be confusing. But it’s not my fault. I’m using the terminology in used by the industry. In my classes, I always explain explain this to my students: Ultra HD, frequently refereed as 4K, is not technically 4K, etc..


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