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Lightworks 2021 review

Lightworks is the most powerful free video editor out there right now, but is it ideal for you?

Lightworks 2021 review
(Image: © Lightworks)

Our Verdict

Lightworks is a powerful yet free video editing tool which gives professional look to work which is fast and easy to carry out.

For

  • Advanced tools
  • Real-time effects
  • Free version will suit many users

Against

  • Powerful interface might be a lot for newcomers
  • Free version limited to 720p exports

Lightworks 2021 is in the review hotspot because, quite frankly, it's one of the most fully featured editors out there, yet it's largely free. Surely there's a catch? That's what this review aims to find out.

Spoiler alert, Lightworks has made it onto our best video editing software list already. It's hard not to when it features professional grade tools, is easy to use with a fast workflow layout and costs not a dime for home use.

Helpful features like output profiles let you upload to your chosen media platform of choice easily, making this a breeze to use from start to finish. Of course some of those more complex tools may be a little intimidating for new users but aside from that there's little to fault. Well, the limit on quality output is one thing, but more on that below.

Lightworks: Features

Lightworks is a cross-platform service working on Mac, Windows and Linux devices. On each platform the workflow is similar with a focus on ease and clarity.

There are plenty of effects for both visual and audio editing. But it's the format support that makes this work so well. That means no matter what device you've recorded a video clip on, Lightworks will more than likely support that. 

To name a few, it supports, NLE. MXF, Quicktime, AVI, ProRes, Avid DNxHD, AVC-Intra, DVCPRO HD, RED R3D, DPX, AVCHD, H.264, XDCAM EX / HD 422 and more. So this is very much a professional level platform that won't require transcoding to get you started.

We really enjoyed editing in Lightworks

(Image credit: Lightworks)

Lightworks is social, meaning it exports clips in a format that is very easy to share. You can automatically have the video files rendered ready for YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook or Instagram upload, with direct uploads in the case of YouTube.

Lightworks offers background rendering meaning you can import clips while working on your current part of the project, without having to stop and wait for the upload. This also applies in exporting, where you can export two file formats at the same time, for example.

You also have support for multicam editing, powerful trimming functionality, realtime effects with built-in presets, Boris FX, group project sharing, hardware I/O support and a customizable interface. That said, there are different levels of the program available with features missing in the free version which may be available in the paid ones – more on that below.

Lightworks: Performance

Lightworks is a pleasure to use. You start by picking the framerate of the clip you're importing, without the worry of deciding the export format resolution at this point. A great thing for getting started but it covers a fatal flaw – exports for the free version are limited to 720p only. This is where another free video editor, DaVinci Resolve, has an edge over Lightworks.

When editing you have multiple layers allowing you to preview clips, set in and out points and more. We enjoy the ability to hover over clips to have handles appear at either end with the highlighted portion on the internal or external side of that end. This means easy selection and dragging to edit the end or start point.

Lightworks is free and easy to use

(Image credit: Lightworks)

A gripe is that when you move a video layer it won't automatically move the audio too, even if the audio and video are linked. A little frustrating but something you can work with when you realize it works that way.

To use effects it's as easy as selecting the option and dragging that onto the clip. You can then alter parameters, and even have them change over time with keyframing.

Transitions work well, applying to the entire clip when used so you can then access the Graph section to change duration as required.

Exporting is great. Lightworks automatically saves your work – a nice touch. So no worries there. For exporting you'll get a selection of options but the easiest is picking H.264 and either having that sent to YouTube or Vimeo. As mentioned before, this will be 720p unless you're paying for a licensed version of Lightworks.

How much does Lightworks cost?

Lightworks is free for home use and has more than enough features for most users, but there are advantages in going for a paid version.

The most obvious is exporting in up to 4K quality, in all three levels of the paid versions. Other extras in the $24.99 per month Pro version include export to all formats, user definable project locations, advanced project sharing, 3D output, AJA, Blackmagic, Matrox and Mackie Mixer support, timeline rendering, Lightworks console support, AVID DNxHD Codec support.

Go for the annual Pro version at $174.99 per year and you also get Boris Graffiti thrown in. There is an option to pay outright to own Lightworks, charged at $437.99 and this also gets you the Boris FX included.

Lightworks is free for home use, but lacks some features

(Image credit: Lightworks)

Should you buy Lightworks?

Lightworks is a fantastic free video editing option for anyone that wants a fast workflow and a professional finish to their output. That said, it is limited to 720p and many of the more professional features are, as you'd expect, in the paid for Pro version.

With a huge level of input support, multi-platform options and easy export and auto saving, this is a hugely powerful, easy to use and even fun program that is well worth a try, even if it can't outperform our top pick, Adobe Premiere Elements.

Luke Edwards

Luke is a veteran tech journalist with decades of experience covering everything from TVs, power tools, science and health tech to VPNs, space, gaming and cars. You may recognize him from appearances on plenty of news channels or have read his words which have been published in most tech titles over the years. In his spare time (of which he has little as a father of two) Luke likes yoga, surfing, meditation, DIY and consuming all the books, comics and movies he can find.