Tom's Guide Verdict
Lightworks version 2021.3 offers a solid feature set with room to grow into more advanced editing.
Basic and advanced features
Active user forum
Cross-platform (Mac, Windows, Linux)
Export options limited to 720p and H.264/MP4
Steep learning curve for newcomers
No built-in Help
Paid upgrade for certain features
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Lightworks is a free video editing software package for Mac, Windows and Linux with an option to upgrade to a paid Pro version.
OS: Windows 7/8/10; Mac OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) and higher; Linux Supported RPM Distros: Fedora 30 and higher; Linux Debian: Ubuntu/Lubuntu/Xubuntu 18.04 & higher, Mint 17 & higher
CPU: Intel i7 chipset or faster, fast AMD chipset
RAM: 3GB or higher
GPU: PCI Express graphics card (NVIDIA or AMD) with 1GB or higher and support for DirectX 9
Misc: Separate media and system drives (these can be internal or external as long as the the interface is suitably fast; compatible sound card
HDD space: 200MB for Lightworks installation
The software has a strong heritage in filmmaking, with Pulp Fiction, Jerry Maguire and The Wolf of Wall Street just a few of the many movies that have been edited on it. But don't go thinking that long list of award-winning film credits means it's for professionals only: the free version of Lightworks is generally consumer friendly and will be more than enough for most basic editing tasks.
What's more, those experienced with non-linear video editing will find plenty of advanced features to produce a polished video, even in the free version reviewed here.
While we were impressed with the software’s feature set given its “price,” the biggest drawback is its maximum 720p export limits. Still, there’s a lot to like about Lightworks, now on version 2021.3, and it's a worthy inclusion in our best free video editing software list. Find out if it's the right video-editing tool for you in our full Lightworks review.
Lightworks review: Price and availability
Lightworks (LWKS) is available as a free download from the official Lightworks website. The current version is 2021.3, and there are regular updates to keep it fresh. Another big plus point is that it's available for Windows 10 (and even Windows 7/8), Mac and Linux operating systems.
For more advanced editing options, you can subscribe to the Pro version. This costs $24/month, $240/year or $390/outright (the latter also adds Boris FX compatibility).
Lightworks review: Interface and ease of use
Installation is quick and easy, although you need to register to activate Lightworks. It’s a non-intrusive process that only requires a name and a password.
The software opens to a clean interface with a project browser — a grid of tiles that holds your projects. It’s here that you create a new project, or open one you’ve already started.
Four tabs at the top of the main window provide access to LWKS’ main workspaces: Log, Edit, VFX and Audio. Each provides its own unique set of tools and options.
Log, for example, allows you to enter additional metadata, adjust timeline settings, work with cue markers and more. Edit is self-explanatory and you’ll spend most of your time in this workspace. VFX provides access to a variety of effects (fades, presets, etc.), as well as color adjustments, text and more — all very useful for practical and creative fine-tuning.
Audio delivers a wide range of sound controls. As you explore the interface, a series of tooltips introduces the various components and features with brief but useful explanations to get you started. (These can be turned on/off in settings.)
There are numerous drop-down menus for a variety of tasks. Your best bet is to visit the LWKS.com community and read through the guides or head over to YouTube and watch one of the many helpful videos. LWKS was updating the Forum at the time of this review and while they have an excellent beginner’s video tutorial on YouTube, you may have to wait for them to produce more advanced tutorials for the latest version. I wish there was a Help option within the software, though.
Lightworks review: Video editing features
Once you figure out where everything is — which may take a little time — you’ll discover a well-rounded set of features, from the timeline and audio options to helpful tools to keep your assets organized.
LWKS offers a number of ways to import assets into the program. In the Libraries section, you have access to a variety of cloud services including Dropbox and Google Drive. Naturally, you can access your local files from local drives as well. If you need additional video or audio clips, you can import them directly from a trio of sources, but have your credit card ready to purchase; Amazing Music Tracks, Audio Network and Pond5 offer a wide variety of options for your video project and though you can incorporate the watermarked clips into your project, you'll have to purchase them before export.
The program also has “bins” to organize your internal clips into folder-like sections, which makes it more convenient to grab one or more topical assets when you need them.
Keyframes are available and I was impressed with some of the audio controls above and beyond the standard equalizer and other adjustments (hum removal, boost treble). For example, if your subjects are speaking, there are special adjustments for vocal sounds such as reduction of female or male sibilance.
LWKS offers a lot of drag and drop simplicity, even for more advanced tasks. I did find using brackets to set in and out points on the timeline a little clunky, but the program’s “mark and park” using the I and O keys (for in and out points) is much easier.
There’s a lot to explore in this program and I hope that LWKS soon offers advanced tutorials to help its new users take advantage of all this software has to offer.
Lightworks review: Export
Well, as one would expect, there’s a limit to how much you get for free. And while Lightworks provides more features and performance than I initially expected from a freebie, there are limits. While you can choose a variety of options for playback (including full frame and UHD 4K as well as fps), there are strict limits on exporting files: 720p (maximum) in H.264/MP4. The Pro version, however, opens up 4K export options.
The good news is that LWKS provide direct uploads to YouTube and Vimeo with a choice of frame rates. But, again, your choices are limited: 240p, 360p, 380p, 480p and 720p.
Lightworks review: Performance
I tested the software on a 2019 Apple MacBook Pro running Catalina 10.15.7 with 64GB RAM and a 2.3 GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 processor with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M graphics card. The program ran smoothly and quickly, even when rendering.
Like any video program, you may experience minor lag time with larger files (this happened only occasionally with this system). But since the free version only outputs a maximum of 720p, there’s really no reason to load up the program with high-res files. And that means you can get away with the minimum system requirements (see box above for details) rather than a super-powered machine.
I was a little taken aback that there was no File>Save drop-down menu. That’s because LWKS saves your work regularly in the background — unobtrusively and without any slowdown. It’s a feature I really appreciate for reasons that will go unmentioned here, if you know what I mean.
Lightworks review: Verdict
This free software program has a lot to offer and provides the user with a wide range of tools to create pro-looking videos. It may take a while to discover all of LWKS’ options but the essentials can be mastered relatively quickly with only a basic familiarity with how video editing works.
While the export limitations may be a dealbreaker (and not worth the paid upgrade to the Pro version) for some people, if you’re posting online only and want to keep file sizes small, this may fit the bill — especially with the program’s direct output to YouTube and Vimeo.
Lightworks doesn’t take up much space on a hard drive and downloads and installs fairly quickly, so you won’t sacrifice anything other than a little time to see if it's the program for you.
- More: The best video-editing software right now
Theano Nikitas is a freelance journalist and photographer. She's been writing about photography for more than 20 years, contributing countless reviews of cameras, lenses, accessories and software packages to Tom's Guide. Her work has also appeared in dozens of other magazines and websites, including CNET, DPreview, PopPhoto, Professional Photographer and Shutterbug.