Part of my job which I enjoy enjoy immensely is incorporating 3D animation and visuals into and a part of my motion graphics. I have been working with 3D since about 1992 and I have been using Lightwave 3D for the last 10 years or so.
I started using it on version 6.5 having moved from Softimage 3D (now Softimage DS) as I couldn't afford the astronomical price tag of the high end 3D apps. Strangely when I first started using LW I was amazed at how steep the learning curve was in comparison to Soft.
Softimage seemed so natural and easy to learn doing something fairly complex wasn't ever further than 3 clicks away. The modelling functionality felt natural and on a powerful machine it often felt like you were immersed in a virtual 3D world and many hours would go by and before even realising it you'd worked all the way through the night. It really was a pleasure working in Softimage.
Moving to Lightwave was a bit of a downgrade and a bit difficult but after much research I found the renderer was the closest thing I was going to get for a downgrade to as high an end 3D program that I was going to get on a Mac (at the time).
Lightwave is a funny program in that it has an extremely loyal following, it has an impressive array of VFX awards and blockbusters behind its name (a lot of Avatar was built in LW - but then again so was Softimage and Maya) despite the fact that it is the only 3D program I know of that is split in two distinct applications. Layout and Modeler, yep you model in one program then animate, light and render in the other, I know - odd, but once you get used to this it really isn't much of an issue.
I recently upgraded to version 10 and wow - finally after 10 years I really think Lightwave has now come into its own and can now punch above its weight and status within the heady realms of high end 3D animation packages. Having a powerful machine at your disposal with a good graphics card of course helps. It really does now feel like Softimage used to way back then.
Real time viewport rendering is a fantastic addition (however it eliminates the cash I laid out when I paid for a very expensive plugin called fprime from Worley Labs). This gives you a real time ray traced update of your scene which not only saves time but allows you to change surfaces and textures on the fly.
Immersive Tools is another great addition which is truly impressive stuff - apparently developed for use on Avatar - basically it allows the user to plug in an external (specialised 3D) physical camera that controls the software's 3D camera. Entitled Virtual Cinematography - Its difficult to explain but when you see it it really does knock any 3D user (especially game developers) sideways with the possibilities. If you're interested - and I suggest you should be - check out the following link... http://tv.newtek.com/player_siggraph3.php
There are a number of other additions but these two are probably the most outstanding aspects I have come across so far. It's not the easiest program in the world to learn in comparison to Softimage or Maya. but despite its quirky nature and way of doing things, Lightwave does have an impressive array of tools for its price tag and it really is becoming a high end application - Im pretty sure however that if I was offered Soft again I'd probably grab it with both hands before the offer left the table - but in the mean time 'til that happens Im very happy with Lightwave. its a great 3D application and the price tag of course helps too.