By Brady Betzel
There are more NLE choices for editors these days than ever before: Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, Autodesk Smoke, Blackmagic Resolve 11, Sony Vegas… and Lightworks. Remember that one? It has (quietly) been around for as long as Media Composer, and thanks to Editshare it has been given a new life.
Lightworks has been around and in use by some for approximately 25 years! For me it’s been that elusive NLE that I’ve occasionally heard about but have never used and have never seen any other editors use (although it’s the tool of choice for Martin Scorsese’s editor Thelma Schoonmaker), so when asked to review it my interest was piqued.
Recently, Lightworks (@ESLightworks) has been doing a free public beta test for its forthcoming version 12.0.i on the Mac (smart idea to let its users do the R&D for them and it seems more and more companies are going this route as well). As of this review, it is also available in beta versions 12.0.i for Windows as well as Linux.
Lightworks Pro has been aggressively priced as a monthly subscription for $7.99, yearly subscription for $79.99 and outright for $279.99. There is also a free version which is packed full of useful features especially if you only need to output a QuickTime at 720p. I kind of like the pricing model options of being able to buy or “rent” a product. If you are an editor that needs to use Lightworks but doesn’t want to commit to a $279.99 investment, you can rent it for pretty cheap and drop it when you are done. There is an important caveat to those prices, however — if you need the ability to import or export Avid DNxHD encoded material then you will need to purchase the DNxHD license for $65, this cannot be purchased on a monthly or yearly basis.
So what really is the difference between the paid and free version of Lightworks? Lightworks Pro gives you the ability to pinpoint your exact project location (external drive, folder, networked drive, etc.); advanced project sharing; stereoscopic output; third-party hardware support (Aja, BlackMagic, Matrox I/O); Timeline rendering; Lightworks console support; and exporting H.264/MPEG-4 files above 720p, as well as all other export options.
Lightworks Free gives you almost all of the Pro features except for those listed above. It limits your output to an H.264/MPEG-4 QuickTime at 720p or below, and you can’t render (so if you have any effects, you will need to upgrade). Still, a great value for the price of free, if you ask me. Not many other free NLEs can handle professional formats like Lightworks can.
Over my 10 years of experience in a broadcast post production environment, I’ve seen few NLEs that break themselves away from the pack of the big three: Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro (7 for those counting at home) and Adobe Premiere. And, personally, I don’t feel like Lightworks has upstaged any of these NLEs with this release. Yes, it’s got a few features I wish Media Composer would add — like resolution independence — but it’s also in its infancy with multi-camera workflow and support.
First off, I got the feeling that Lightworks is trying to be the digital equivalent of an old-school cutting room, using terms such as bins, racks and rooms. I felt this immediately dated the software, but once I dug deeper, I really liked the idea of “rooms.” You can think of it like different “User Profiles” or “Views” in Media Composer but with the added ability to have different bins or edits open and switch between them easily. If you are in a scripted or feature workflow I feel like this may help in editing different scenes.
Second, I was intrigued by Lightworks’ use of bins and racks. Bins can be thought of as traditional bins where you can put your media for reference, while racks are basically folders with the limited ability to have 15 items inside, including other racks or bins, plus a special type of bin known as the sync group. A sync group is essentially how Lightworks labels a group of clips with additional multi-camera editing ability. One interesting perk is that it allows for multiple frame rates within a single group, a handy feature especially when you get clips from multiple shooters.
The sync group is like a bin that simply connects the clips, so when edited you can switch cameras. I’m so used to the way Media Composer handles groups that it is engrained in my brain that once you create a multigroup from nine (or more) cameras with two (or more) sets of isolated audio containing eight tracks each, all with no matching timecode, you are pretty much set, so don’t mess up. However in Lightworks you have the ability to go back and adjust the sync point and add cameras or audio tracks without having to re-group.
On the flip side, I couldn’t figure out how to create true split to work with multi-cam footage in an edit. Usually I like to watch the quad or nine-way split while performing multicam edits, somewhat mimicking a “live switch.” Instead you have to open all of the clips viewers individually or watch them in the bin; it’s a little clunky.
One feature that has been really well constructed inside of Lightworks is its search function. You can search for clips by bins and multi groups or strictly by multi group. In addition they have some FCP X-type metadata filters such as “Everything,” “Recent,” or you can even create your own using a standardized labeling like “ECU.” The search feature was set up to be fast and intuitive, one of my favorite features inside of this NLE.
In the end, Lightworks is a standard professional-level NLE package. It is resolution, format and codec independent, it features a standard multi-channel audio mixer, realtime waveform and vectorscope, and even a library of color correction and effects. It has an in-depth metadata management search feature and even the ability to edit audio down to the ¼ frame, which is a really awesome feature to be packed into such an aggressively priced, full-featured NLE.
For $279.99 (or $7.99/month) you get an NLE that supports native Red footage (up to 4K) and has all the options an NLE really needs. It’s simple and effective.
If I had to use Lightworks in a professional environment I wouldn’t be upset, in fact its search features make me want to use it! I was able to get up to speed with Lightworks pretty quickly using their Video Tutorials.
If you are looking to change your NLE gears or are an enthusiast who is looking for an all-in-one professional solution to rent as opposed to purchase, then Lightworks might just be for you.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Avid Media Composer, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.