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06 Dec

Why I love Lightworks

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Professional Lightworks user and occasional RedShark contributor Fran De Souza explains what it is about Lightworks that made him chanage from his previous NLE

Some people say everything comes to you through the eyes, and with Lightworks, that was definitely true.

Double click the shortcut and, wait for splash-screen, enter the workspace aaaand... nothing! Nothing except the toolbar, the onscreen console, and the project card (now called the import  panel). So clean and minimalist. Oh, and the shark. A shark!  That did it for me.

Even its name, Lightworks, as if it were a reference to "Lumière" (I thought it was a French NLE, since I found it through a French site) was seductive and appealing.

I can’t deny it: it wasn’t easy at first - but that was  because my of previously-learned habits. Yes, I struggled with the Shark, but it was worth every stumble.


I remember a post by Lightworks Forum user JWRL: "I would suggest sitting in front of LW and trying things out. It's  supremely logical software, and it doesn't have heaps of special  effects tools. That's not what it's designed to do. It's designed  as a tool for a competent editor to tell stories with."

JWRL was right; it is extremely logical.

What’s not so logical - and this happens with every other NLE - is for a video editor to have to follow a mouse pointer all the time instead of keeping his or her eyes on the main output monitor.

At first I didn't realize how good Lightworks was because I had become used to “drag and drop” editing, and I wanted Lightworks to be the same.

But eventually I remembered that when I was still editing tapes, I rarely took my eyes away from the program monitor because I had memorized the positions of the  buttons and controls of the VCRs and other machines in the editing room - and I was much more focused on my work.


It’s when you come to trimming on the timeline that you fully realize the difference between Lightworks and other NLEs.

Editing in Lightworks is like putting your hands on a real roll of film or a videotape, even if you don't have a Lightworks Console (like me). Using the keyboard and the mouse, you also can feel the "organic" thing; the  real thing, like using a VCR's shuttle control, the play/pause buttons, and so on.

In other NLEs, your clips on the timeline just look like rectangles that you resize or stretch, almost like in graphic design programs. But in Lightworks, when you are in trimming mode, you can virtually  see the film tape moving, appearing and disappearing at your edit-point while you trim. This is a great innovation by the Lightworks developers and is helped by the "curls" and the millimeter scale that  displays the clip in the timeline - all moving according to our  trimming actions.

"Tools - they're just there"

But apart from the visual aspects of the interface, there is also a very practical difference between LW  and the rest. Just give a close look at  LW's toolbar. What do you see? Real tools: record, print to tape, bins, racks, calculator, etc.
The toolbar of other NLEs I know, apart from the time stretch tool, mostly display different editing tasks: ripple edit,   slide, slip, etc. I don't see those as "tools" but as trimming  operations, and in LW those functions are always at the tip of your mouse's pointer: there’s no need to looking for and selecting these tools - they're just there. It just depends on which part of the clip you click on. And, as usual, you always have a keyboard  shortcut to these "tools" to make your life easier, and your  editing faster and smoother.

One fun thing that I do when cutting an interview is to put an empty cut at the beginning of the  section I want to remove, unjoin the right side of the cut, and then hit Play, until the playhead reaches the point I want to re-engage  the subject's dialog, and finally join the cut. I let Lightworks trim while I sip my coffee! That's what I mean when I say that editing in Lightworks is fun! Of course, I do this only when the  undesired section lasts a few seconds because I don't like wasting time. If it’s too long, I fast forward it!

Tactile relationship

And that leads me to one of the things that first fascinated me when I started with Non Linear Editing, which was the ability to access any  part of my clips randomly, without having to run the tape forward or backward. I could also switch the order of my clips on-the-fly without having to redo all my work. But that came at a cost: in a way I did lose the tactile relationship with with my footage that I had been used to, working with tape.

But Lightworks has the advantage of combining the best of both worlds.  We can do all the above, but also see exactly what is happening with our editing. We can trim our footage while playing the clips, and this is great, because it makes us rely in our "feel" while we edit, and this is a good thing, creatively.

Another advantage of Lightworks over NLEs that rely on drag-and-drop functionality is the absolute precision of the combined use of Mark-and-Park and the clipboard.

Trying to move a section of your edit to another point in the  timeline by drag-and-drop can result in frame inaccuracy if you are too zoomed-out, even with the "snap to" feature enabled (and if you are too zoomed in, it's a potential recipe for disaster). In LW, just Mark-and-Park the section you want to move, delete it (it goes to the clipboard), place the playhead at the new location and insert the content of the clipboard by pressing a button or hitting a  key.

Definitive drag-and-drop

Lightworks now does have drag-and-drop, and the LW guys implemented it in a smarter way which is absolutely more useful and time saving. They way they’ve done it takes drag-and-drop a step further than with other NLEs because it combines speed with precision.

Finally, keep one thing in mind: LW is an NLE. It’s storytelling tool that will excel to its full potential if there is a story behind your project. I say this because many other NLEs have extra features such as compositing, motion graphics, special effects, etc, which often supplant the true function of an NLE. LW is not a Swiss army knife that tries to do everything, but is the best scissors for cutting your stories.

Well, I think I've said enough for now.

One more thing: if you want to learn LW, don’t be discouraged if at first it seems difficult.

Stay with it. It will be worth it!




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  • I'm trying to like Lightworks; I really am. But I find it anything but intuitive. The difference between this and the Blender UI is that Blender has huge amounts of tutorials as well as reference manuals and books. I haven't been able to find the same for Lightworks. Here's an excellent opportunity for someone with a bit of knowledge to go out and write the Lightworks for Dummies book. Please!

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  • Have a look at the previous post. There is a lot of advice on the forum on as well.

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  • Pretty poor article if Im honest. I know both Final Cut and Media Composer very well and I saw nothing here that actually separates Lightworks from either, unless you are using those programmes inefficiently. I never drag and drop in either. Every feature described here is available in both those programmes as far as I can tell.

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  • Andrew McKee: I know both Final Cut and Media Composer very well and I saw nothing here that actually separates Lightworks from either, unless you are using those programmes inefficiently. I never drag and drop in either. Every feature described here is available in both those programmes as far as I can tell.

    Precisely what I was thinking. I have no idea how anyone could go through their editing career and not learn how to edit 'by feel' rather than the clunky drag & drop. This isn't an exaggeration to say that I could go for a whole day in FCP without touching the mouse. The only thing I regularly use it for is scrolling through bins and timelines. I suppose the one positive for LW is that at least the manufacturer isn't plugging drag & drop editing as an improvement!

    For me, the biggest improvement of NLEs of late (i.e. Premiere) has been the ability to maintain playback whilst other tasks are performed. I think they refer to this as 'in context editing' whatever that's supposed to mean.

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  • I don't think this was trying to make the point that drag and drop is the best thing for editing; just that if you have come from an NLE that uses it a lot (like Vegas, for example), then Lightworks now does drag-and-drop quite well now context of editing. Don't forget that Lightworks was the NLE that set the pace as far as hands-off-mouse editing was concerned.

    Also, don't forget that this is one user's opinion. It doesn't mean that other users can't have other opinions too.

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  • David Shapton
    I don't think this was trying to make the point that drag and drop is the best thing for editing

    No, I agree. My point, and I think the point that Andrew makes as well, was that the article appears to suggest that it is unusual for an NLE to not rely heavily on the mouse. It is completely normal to not use much of the mouse in any NLE once you've got used to it.

    I know that there are a lot of LW users out there who swear by it, but for those of us who need convincing this particular article (and any other I've read previously) isn't really giving us any reason to give it a go. Personally I'd really love for someone to convince me that LW is the best/fastest NLE, but I'm yet to see anything that suggests it's any better/faster than what's out there already.

    All the same, I'll definitely be giving it a try when it comes to the Mac.

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  • I think that's the point, Alex - you need to try it. Sometimes what keeps you using an NLE is some aspect that you want to shout from the rooftops, and sometimes it's so personal that you can't put it into words. Do let us know how you get on with it (I know you have to wait for the OS X version!).

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  • It seems that I have unintentionally sparked a small storm here ;)
    I was invited to write about Lightworks, and I did it from the perspective of who I am: a former editor of videotape, then a user of Premiere for over a decade who switched to Lightworks.
    I did not write the article to make someone else switch to Lightworks, I just wrote about how LW significantly improved my experience as an editor.
    I can also edit in Premiere with minimal use of the mouse (and I do), but not with the same efficiency and speed that I edit in LW. (may also be the case that I'm a lousy Premiere user, who knows? ;) )
    The text I sent was minimally corrected, but in a part where it said "other NLEs", that was replaced with "the rest", and that little detail may have led to some misunderstanding.
    Sometimes I use Edius Neo, wich came with a camera we have here, and I know other NLE, but I've never worked with them seriously. I don't know FCP as I don't own a Mac, and I really would like to learn Media Composer someday, because I think it's important. However I have seen many tutorials, product presentations and have read some manuals, and from what I've seen, I think I would still stand with LW, but that is a personal choice.
    I'm sorry if I gave the impression of being underestimating and disparaging other NLEs, that was not the case.
    Finally, thank you all for the comments.

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  • Thanks for sharing, Fran. I found your experiences very interesting.

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  • Thanks, Barry!

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