Like many photographers, I tend to prioritize my time spent with a camera in my hand, rather than the time spent in front of a computer processing the results. While I enjoy the creative process with the digital darkroom, I am always looking for ways to streamline my workflow.
Adobe’s Lightroom plays an increasingly large part in most photographer’s workflow. Its power, both as a sorting and editing tool, has incrementally increased as new functionality has been added since its release. Certainly, for many photographers, taking images into Photoshop is no longer that common.
Whilst this additional functionality is undoubtedly to be welcomed, Lightroom’s editing adjustments consist largely of sliders that are (typically) accessed with a mouse over. In fact, Lightroom’s control interfaces have largely stayed with the conventional keyboard and mouse. Whilst keyboard shortcuts and gaming mice make controls more user friendly, for some time people have sought alternate control surfaces. The Lightroom Queen added a (slightly dated) round-up of some options on her blog.
Loupedeck is a photo editing console specifically designed for Adobe Lightroom. It consists of a stand alone control surface, about the size and depth of a standard keyboard with 36 buttons and 21 dials. These give access to the majority of adjustment and sorting controls in Lightroom’s Library and Develop modes. The idea is that these buttons and dials replace most mouse, keyboard or pen driven slider controls.
Within the (very attractive) packaging that the Loupedeck is supplied in, is a link to a page on Loupedeck’s support site which allows the user to access and download the device’s software. There are versions available to download for Windows® 10, to Windows® 7 and Mac® OS 10.13 to 10.10. The control panel itself is platform agnostic although it does require Lightroom CC2015/6 or later.
Once the software is installed, the Loupedeck can be attached to the computer via USB. Mine is connected via a USB 3 port, and the supplied plug is USB A. I have not tested it with a USB C port but if you plan to do so, a USB A to USB C adaptor will be required.
Once the software is installed, it adds an icon to the menu bar (Mac) or system tray (Windows). This icon gives access to the console’s user guide and customization screen.
Setup is straightforward and simple. Start up Lightroom and a welcome message (“Loupedeck thinks you look great today”) appears onscreen. It is important to bear in mind that its edit controls only work within the Develop module. The Quick Develop options in Lightroom’s Library mode do not work with it.
Loupedeck has quite a few customizable options. Essentially, there is one rotary dial and two buttons that can be set to a variety of editing functions and there are 8 user assignable buttons that can apply presets. Loupedeck are actively adding additional customization options (Stop Press: See notes about version 1.3.0.) These are all set up via the Loupedeck Application.
Once set up, Loupedeck changes Lightroom’s Editing and Library module from being a mechanical process to a visual one. The physical movement of a mouse on a slider or tapping a keyboard control requires some focus which detracts from the experience of viewing the effects of the edits onscreen. Loupedeck allows for an entirely visual experience. Inevitably, there is a short learning curve while the user develops the muscle memory that is required to access the correct control without a visual feedback, but once this is mastered, the workflow seems a lot more natural. The learning curve is eased by the device having clear labels on each control. I think that it not only speeds up the editing process, but it also enhances the results.
Since the unit was supplied to me, I have processed 3,791 images taken during the Wetpixel Whale Sharks Expedition, along with two major commercial shoots of several thousand images.
Working in the Library mode is quick. I tend to work rapidly through the images, viewing them in Loupe View and assigning 1 star ratings to any images I want to work further on. Loupedeck has four direction navigation buttons and star rating/color flagging buttons, so this is quick and efficient. I also tend to Rejected flag to select images for later deletion. Sadly, the Rejected flag requires the use of Fn+Pick combination. I found that I tended to revert to the X key on the keyboard!
In terms of edit controls, the ability to fine tune white balance in terms of color temperature and tint makes it easy to achieve pleasing overall effect.
The dials control all the major exposure controls, namely Tone and Presence.
I feel that the visual approach encourages more experimentation with controls and effects. It is precise, accurate and creative. This means that the editing process is easier, faster and, subjectively, more enjoyable. There are Undo and Redo buttons to roll changes backwards step by step. To reset an image, Fn+Undo does the trick. In addition pressing the color or control dials resets their individual values.
Loupedeck offers the option of opening the local adjustment tools, but once open, the Radial Filter, Gradient Filter, Red Eye Reduction Spot Removal and Brush tools (the latter has a specific button) still require the use of a mouse or the input device.
Other (for me) critical controls have their own dedicated buttons. The include Zoom, which will zoom to the selected level, copy and paste for adding settings to a series of images, a Color/Black and White button and a large dial that straightens images when it is rotated and, when pressed, accesses the crop mask.
I find that I use the HSL panel to edit hue, saturation and luminance a fair bit. Loupedeck has specific dial that affect each color and a series of buttons that control the HSL selection.
The latter is a feature that I find really useful. Visual color editing is incredible powerful.
As mentioned above, Loupedeck offers customization options. I have set them as follows:
- C1: Dehaze
- C2: Library/Develop Toggle
- C3: Rotate right
- C1+Fn: Noise Reduction
- C2+Fn: Toggle Spot Removal Tool
- C3+Fn: Cycle Info display
I tend not to use presets a great deal, so the P1-P8 buttons are simply set to their default .
Loupedeck is actively adding new functionality to their software and this includes new customization options. At the time of writing, the current version for Mac is 1.3.0.
It added a specific vignette, the option of configuring the export button, and customizable dial and scroll tuning. In terms of the specific controls, it added the option of adding an image to a quick collection and the combination of Full Screen+Fn hides all panels except right.
I’ve haven’t got there yet, but I do anticipate changing the custom option settings to suit particular tasks or shoots.
I feel that the visual approach encourages more experimentation with controls and effects. It is precise, accurate and creative. This means that the editing process is easier, faster and, subjectively, more enjoyable.
I frequently work in a pretty dark environment, to try and ensure a repeatable color workflow. Loupedeck’s controls do not illuminate, so, especially when learning to navigate the device, I was forced to use more light than I would normally chose to. Staying with color calibration for a moment, in general, monitor calibration is fairly important in ensuring consistency.
It is important to note that for those images that still need to be worked on in Photoshop, Loupedeck does not offer any functionality. Don’t throw away your keyboard and mouse just yet!
Loupedeck both enhances and accelerates the editing process. Whilst it is true to say that workflow varies and the standard control options may not suit everyone, the company are actively updating and enhancing customization options which allows for more flexibility.
Loupedeck is available now and retails for $299/Euro 369. This price point does mean that it will largely appeal to those that spend fairly large amounts of time in Lightroom! For those that process large numbers of images and work to deadlines, Loupedeck is an excellent investment. I have found that the console expedites my image processing workflow, provides improved results (or ones that my clients and I are happier with)
Loupedeck was supplied for the review.
Please click here for Alex Tyrrell’s part 1 of the review.