Speed Up Post Production with RPG Keys

App Reviews January 4th 2010 7:18 PM 11 Comments

lightroom-rpg-keys-post-production-2As photographers, we are always looking for ways to spend less time in front of the computer and more time in front of the camera. The fact is that post production is probably the largest portion of a workload in a professional photography studio. So, anything we can do to reduce the time we spend in front of the computer will allow us to focus our efforts on marketing, advertising, shooting and more. The first part of this review will hit on the big questions such as efficiency and value, while the second component will discuss more details into the testing and the workflow.

If you are looking for an investment to significantly increase your workflow efficiency, than look no further. RPG Keys will without question improve your workflow efficiency significantly. Now, when I say significantly, I am not talking about a 10% or 20% improvement. I am talking about cutting your post production time in half or even more once you get used to the entire system. Many of you know that we have been working on creating a review for the RPG Keys by Tim Riley. We have been taking our time because we wanted to collect a good amount of data to support our final review, which we have now completed!

While the results are no surprise to us, I think all you photographers out there will be quite surprised.

Click here for the official RPG Keys Website

The Numbers

Before we discuss the workflow process, testing procedures, or even the features of the RPG Keys, let’s talk about exactly how much quicker can we post produce by using RPG Keys. The numbers below include the amount of time used for culling, i.e. sorting, as well as developing the pictures.

Ave Time Per Photo
Without RPG Keys: 18.65 seconds per photo
With RPG Keys: 7.6 seconds per photo

These averages were based on approximately 30,000 total photos in each sample set. Meaning by using RPG Keys we are roughly 250% more efficient than without! Much of the improvement in overall time is based upon the change in the overall workflow which I will discuss below.

A Detailed Look at RPG Keys

First off, lets take a quick look at how it works. Here are some of our favorite functions of this keyboard.

lightroom-rpg-keys-post-production-3

From the picture above, we see the bottom portion of the keys where 90% of the magic is going to happen. You will notice that the center section of the image above contains virtually all of the primary Lightroom adjustments centered around a Last and Next button. This allows you to keep your left hand on navigation keys while having access to every necessary adjustment without moving your hand. This center section is available in both Library and Develop modules.

Our favorite button, probably has to be the Paste Last/SYNC button which allows you to copy the settings from the prior photo to the current one. This means that as you go from one photo to the next, you either Reject the next photo, or you Paste Last which copies over your post production settings from the previous photo. If your images are consistent in exposure and settings, then you can just fly through each photo without making additional adjustments.

On the left side of the keyboard you will notice the Blue presets labeled from 1 – 24. These are Library module preset shortcuts, while the Red presets on the right are Develop module presets. You will note that each button has a 1. /2. //3. Meaning that if you hold /OPT2 while pushing a Red or Blue preset, you will activate the /second option, or //third option if you were to hold //OPT3. So, while there are only 8 buttons, you can have up to 24 Library and Develop presets to instantly activate.

Keep in mind though that if you are in the Develop module and you press a Library module preset, then you will need to wait for Lightroom to switch modules, then you will need to press the button a second time to activate the preset.

lightroom-rpg-keys-post-production-4

This shot above shows the top of the RPG Keys keyboard showing the additional commonly used functions which are available in any module. Rather than having to access the regular PC keyboard for functions such as Escape, Undo/Redo, Black and Whiting and more, you can just simply press one of these buttons without moving your hand far from the center navigation area.

Now that we have covered the basics, let’s get on to the details of our testing and workflow.

Testing Setup

For our review, we used RPG Keys on 10 different full wedding shoots and compared the efficiency results to production times on 10 typical weddings prior to using RPG Keys. We are big efficiency nuts, so yeah, we do keep track of all this wacky data =). For our testing we used the standard 58 key Lightroom and Photoshop Combo Keyboard which sits at about 8  wide, 9  deep and 1.5  thick at the top and around .75  thick at its base. The keyboard definitely has some size and weight to it making it feel quite sturdy.

Our computer used for all testing was a Dell XPS PC with the following hardware:
Processor: Intel Core i7-920 2.66Ghz
RAM: 12GB
Hard Drive: 1TB Western Digital
Video: 512MB ATI Radeon HD4670
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium

Workflow Comparison

Standard Workflow – Our standard workflow prior to RPG Keys would be to first cull (rough edit) the photos by rating them from 1-3 stars. This rating consisted of the following:
1 Star – Trash photos that will be deleted
2 Stars – Photos that are OK and may be needed in the future, but are kept in case they are needed, such as a mediocre shot of a grandma that may be delivered if a client asks, “do you have any more pics of my grandma. 
3 Stars – Photos that are deliverable and will be post produced
4 Stars – After the 3 Star photos are post produced, they are increased to 4 Stars to show completion.
5 Stars – 4 Star shots that would be used for portfolio, blog, slideshow purposes.
So, once we initial rate all the photos from 1 – 3. Then we would go back through, delete all the 1s, and develop all the 3s. Thus, we are doing 2 passes to complete the photos.
RPG Keys Workflow – Our workflow with RPG Keys is significantly different from that of our prior Standard Workflow.

Rather than rating first, all the photos in the wedding are selected and then flagged as “keepers.  From that point, we are now just “rejecting  images that will not be delivered and post producing those that will be. So, with this system we are only doing a single pass to cull and produce the images.
Once the images have been completed, we would make a quick pass through the final post produced images and mark any blog, portfolio or slideshow images with 5 stars.

Pros + Cons

Overall Pros
- 100 – 250% increase in post production efficiency.
- More time focusing on your business
- Your sanity
- Great product support through RPG Keys
Overall Cons
- $600 Price tag for the full 58 key Combo Keyboard
- Designed more for function than form

Having the actual Lightroom functions mapped to keys makes RPG Keys already immensely useful. However, the additional workflow changes of being able to cull and produce in a single sweep is what really improves overall efficiency. The reason that it is not possible to do a similar single pass workflow without RPG Keys is due to the fact that all of your functions to rate, flag, and edit images on a standard keyboard are so far apart that you are better off focusing a single pass on culling and sorting functions, and then another pass on developing the actual photos. Attempting to both in one shot would mean that you would spend much of your time just moving your hands around the keyboard and swinging the mouse around to use all the functions necessary to cull and produce the images.

Conclusion

While RPG Keys does have a fairly heavy price tag for the full 58 keys version, it is an investment that you cannot afford to skip. (RPG Keys does also come in smaller setups which are less expensive than the full 58 key keyboard) We estimate that in the course of one year, we save approximately 275 hours or nearly 7 work weeks worth of time for every 30 weddings we shoot. What would you do with 7 more weeks of time each year? When you compare the amount of time saved to the cost of the investment, it simply is a no brainer. If you have questions, or if any of you have used RPG Keys and would like to comment on their experience, please add your thoughts or questions in a comment below.

By: Lin and Jirsa Wedding Photography, Los Angeles and Orange County Wedding Photographers. Also, authors of Lin and Jirsa Blog

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Pye

About

Pye (AKA Post Production Pye) is a founder and the Managing Editor for SLR Lounge. Pye is also a Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography, an Orange County based wedding, engagement and portrait photography studio. Connect with him on Google Plus

11 Comments

  1. Chandler Photographer
    Chandler Photographer

    Great article. I was looking for ways to get my hands out of post production and 3rd party services are just too expensive.

    Do these ever go on sale?

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  2. Emily Landry
    Emily Landry

    Thanks for the great review!

    I hope to get one of these soon for my studio. I think I spend around 20 hours per wedding currently. I hope to cut down on this to improve my sales, marketing, and seo.

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  3. Sam's Photo

    Wow, I have heard of RPG Keys, but I had no idea they were this effective. Definitely going to have to look into this, thanks guys!

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  4. Tim Riley

    Wow… What a super review! I love that you took the time to actually count up the hours you saved using the keys.

    Enjoy the keys and happy editing!

    Tim from RPG

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  5. Carla Gates

    I saw this a wppi, was thinking about getting one but wasn’t sure. Thanks for clearing that up for me! That data is incredible, sounds well worth the investment.

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  6. dorfl

    If you are not afraid to try free software with less expensive hardware, check out wwww.paddy-for-lightroom.com

    I essentially wrote a script to map any key that’s rarely used to almost anything in Lightroom, including presets, sliders, and shortcuts. Still a bit under development, but the source code is open and the software is free, so I hope to get some help.

    95% of what’s in RPG keys I can do. And the software supports the XKeys Professional keypad (Xkeys.com), which has the exact layout that RPGKeys uses.

    In other words, for $170 and a bit of software for free (but not commercially supported I haste to add), you can map any key to anything you want. 95% of what’s above is supported by this, and I am working on the rest.

    Again, it’s not a professional solution, it’s a project, I have no commercial interest in the hardware, RPG also works for Photoshop I think (mine only works for LR) – but it’s about 1/3 of the price…

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  7. Peter D

    I bought both of the RPG Keys keyboards and love them. I’ll write up more info about my experience, but wanted to acknowledge that this is a great review of the shortcut keyboard.

    It all started for me with the “exposure” adjustment shortcut missing.
    http://www.weddingdarkroom.com.au/2010/09/03/what-is-the-lightroom-keyboard-shortcut-for-exposure/

    Cheers

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  8. Chris Adval

    I’m an efficiency nut as well, but I assumed you guys would go apple just for the boast in speed and smoothness. If you guys plan to or already did go apple, can you make similar tests showing the boast in speed when you go apple? I’m sure there is a boast cause apple is famous for being much more efficient for video and photo processing.

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    • Pye
      Pye

      Chris, Kudos to Apple for still leaving this impression on the market, however this has not been the case for several years now. It is true that at one point in time Apple was using better hardware, video cards and faster processors, and it is also true that a lot of video and photo editing software was optimized for running on Apple machines. However, this hasn’t been the case basically since Apple switched to using Intel processors and consumer end video cards. Apple has made it completely clear that they are no longer targeting the professional market, but rather the consumer market. In fact, try putting together a Mac Pro, you can no longer even purchase pro 2D or 3D cards with your system. 

      Instead, Apple is going mainstream consumer. We were using Apple originally, and actually switched to PC for the additional hardware and speed. I haven’t seen a single studio that can match our efficiency, and our PCs are blazing fast with Dual Quad-Core processing, 16GB of ram, high end video cards, and dual to quad SSD drives. Each one of our systems, if Apple sold them, would cost over $6k easily, in PC they cost around $2k to build. Presently, applications like Premiere and Photoshop are optimized for specific video cards and hardware which puts PCs on the same playing level. Now, if you want OSX and applications that only run on OSX such as Final Cut, then you still will want Apple. But, as of late, buying Apple means you are getting a well built and aesthetically pleasing machine, not speed. We still use the MacBook Pro, iPad and Apple TV for display and presentations. However, all of our workhorse machines are PCs. Hope this helps dispel the myth ;) 

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  9. Info

    I do not for the life of me understand why there is a monthly payment?

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  10. Interview with RPG Keys - WPPI 2011

    [...] is no secret that we are big fans of RPG Keys. We even wrote a full review on their product not so long [...]

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