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Gear & Apps

3 Modular Lightroom Controllers To Suit Your Post Processing Needs

By Kishore Sawh on July 8th 2015

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Ahh, aren’t we always in search for a way to optimize our post processing. In the unrelenting quest of moving forward, of advancement, photographers and retouchers are always eager to find the next ‘best thing’ to make retouching quicker, smoother, more precise, and for some, more painless. Generally speaking, we make edits to our images using a standard stable of software and make adjustments through the graphic interface with a mouse click. There’s little organic and tactical about adjusting in this way, and there’s great appeal to find a method that sort of bridges that barrier between pixel and pointer, and that’s where modular controllers come in.

A company called Palette has recently, after years of raising funding for R&D, released their tactile modular control interface aimed squarely with photographers and retouchers in their crosshairs. It’s a pretty little modular control system that connects various sliders and dials with magnets and looks like something you might imagine Apple would’ve designed in the 80s, in a good way. The main objective is to improve your retouching with the precision afforded by physical touch versus tangling with on-screen digital controls.

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The system is powered using a USB cable up to 16 modules, and if you use more than 16 (it can handle up to 32), you’ll need separate DC power. Still, I’d imagine 16 is more than enough for most. You can arrange all the modules in any way you’d like, and the software detects their location on the fly. Within the same software, you then assign inputs to software functions using either presets or doing it manually, so it’s all rather customizable.

You can further save the settings as user profiles, and each module can be lit in a specific color for better identification. This all sounds great and even better when you consider that Palette has also been designed in conjunction with software you already use, like Lightroom and Photoshop. Add to that, you’ll receive a 20% discount on the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan with purchase of a Palette kit. You get 1 Core, 2 Buttons, 1 Dial, and 1 Slider for $199 and up to $499 for the 15 module kit.

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Sounds great, and you and I both want one right? Well, not so fast. There’s little novel at this point about tactical modular controls for photo editing software as many other options exist. Also, Palette does seem to have a rather major flaw at this time, and that’s the fact the modules aren’t motorized. This is problematic because it generally means a lack of precision, which means more fiddling, and that means a slower workflow. It also would appear that the values would need to be zeroed between each edit, as the sliders in Lightroom will adjust automatically to where the Palette slider/knob is as you move to the next image. That would seem annoying, and perhaps there will be a software fix for this to come.

Can you wait, and should you, are questions you’ll have to answer. If either are a ‘no’ I’ll understand because here’s what I would do instead: buy a Pfixer Controller for Lightroom & Photoshop. With Pfixer, you get a more solid and motorized MIDI controller, fully customizable, and software that integrates directly with Lightroom and makes set-up rather easy. You can also use software like Knobroom or Paddy to use if Pfixer’s software isn’t perfect for you. A great thing too is the panel itself is a Behringer BCF-2000, and you can get it from B&H here. If you already have one, just buy the Pfixer overlay for $20 to see the controls as you should.

[REWIND: CTRL+CONSOLE FOR LIGHTROOM | IS THIS THE BEST WAY TO CONTROL LIGHTROOM?]

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You can get the Behringer BCF-2000 with 8 fully customizable motorized faders, 8 encoders and a host of buttons allowing for access to 116 of LR’s presets, functions and brushes for $299 and $99 for the Pfixer software, or get the bundle for $359. The comparable 15 module kit from Palette will run you about $500 – and its not motorized, and has less functionality – though it’s prettier and possibly more mobile.

And, of course, if you have an iPad and want something truly portable, then you may do well to keep up with the CTRL+Console Lightroom Controller, which should be hitting stride. We reviewed a preview version a few months back. Find it here.

So there you have it…take your pick. I’ve made mine.

It should sort of go without saying too, that if you’re going route, you should really, REALLY have a deep understanding of Lightroom. With a deep knowledge of LR under your belt and a system like this, you would be an utter post processing monster. If you want to feel that power and see what can be done with it, our Lightroom Organization and Workflow is about the best resource to take you past what you thought you could do with Lightroom and become a power user. You can learn more about it here.

Source: Palette, Pfixer

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jeremy Fratkin

    Palette charges way to much for what it is. Those are basic knobs, sliders, and buttons which cost nothing. Their profit margin is incredible. The price for those should be cut in half. 

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  2. Dan Doran

    I’ve never used a control surface before. What is the benefit of having it motorized? Does it just feel better? Are there downsides? (Harder/more expensive to fix?) Thanks for your help!

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  3. Carlos Thomas

    I wish someone would mention the operating system requirements for each system as there are some limitations there, sadly.

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  4. Ralph Hightower

    I saw the Palette announcement earlier and that looks interesting. But as others have commented, I also don’t have the desk space.

    I went to the Pfixer website and they are Mac only, so that would be useless for me.

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  5. Jonathan Boshoff

    I use a product called VSCO Keys which is a keyboard shortcut control system for Lightroom that I find really useful and is also fully customizable for the way you prefer to work. So you don’t need extra keypads/controllers on your desktop, its all done on your existing keyboard. It’s also reasonably priced in my opinion. Disclaimer! I am not sponsored by VSCO, do not receive any payment from them, nor do I have any interest in the company at all – I am just I satisfied customer!

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  6. Gabriel Rodriguez

    Thanks Kish for this cool article!

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  7. Kane Mitchell

    I use the Behringer BCF-2000 with pFixer and it has changed the way I post process.

    I have saved around 2 hours of time per wedding since updating to this in the middle of last year. If I’m editing more than 50 photos, this is a must.

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  8. Paul Hennell

    I tried using the korg nanokontrol (very cheep USB sound controler) with lightroom once. It worked ok, but without motorized sliders it’s only really useful for a ‘first bash’ – any subsequent editing requires either starting again or controler value maths.

    Why you would make a thing designed for LR without motors seems crazy to me.

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  9. Graham Curran

    I don’t think that my desk is big enough for one of these.

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  10. Ben Vigil

    Thanks for the kudos Kishore!

    If you’re looking for something more comprehensive than CTRL, you can use your iPad as a MIDI controller alongside PFixer. Our favorite app for that is TouchOSC, which allows you to build your own interface, plus you get all the benefits of PFixer’s LR control.

    Thanks again!

    Ben Vigil
    Pusher Labs

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    • Adrian Gojan

      Pfixer can not function. I have tried many ways to synchronize, hopeless.
      If you know a way, it would be good to do a detailed tutorial. Otherwise they’re just talk.

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  11. Barry Cunningham

    As a software engineer in the 1980s I spent a lot of time moving controls into software so users wouldn’t have to deal with tons of keys, switches, dials, and other clunky hardware interfaces that might or might not be adapted to the task at hand.
    I’m still glad to be rid of them. They’re not coming back to my desktop.

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  12. J D

    People who need this must do A LOT of Lightroom work. I have never felt that the mouse/Wacom tablet combo I use has ever slowed me down at all. And IMO adding more things like this to your workflow, is just adding something else that can break. It is neat however, to see the ideas that people come up with and make a reality and that is never a bad thing even if the idea in question is not for me.

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