This the first time I have ever written a review on a piece of equipment mainly due to I seldom purchase a piece of equipment that has just hit market and hasn’t already had a gazillion reviews written on it. The Loupedeck was different so I wanted to share my experience as I un-boxed it and used it to edit a full wedding for the first time. I should note I not affiliated with Loupedeck in any way nor have I been asked to write to this review. It’s just my honest opinion of this product. Sorry it got a bit long.
A little over a year ago I read about some free software called midi2lr which would let me map most any Lightroom keyboard shortcut to a midi controller allowing me to minimize the use of a mouse while controlling all those adjustment with a button, knob or fader. After more research I decided to order me a Korg NanoKONTROLS2 midi controller and download the software. The software is really nice and for the most part works really well. However even after a year of use I had trouble remembering what button I programmed for what and which layer I was using as each button could be programmed to perform many functions.
Then along comes Loupedeck, a Finnish company offering a editing console built specifically for Lightroom that started from a very successful Indiegogo campaign. Note I said specific to Lightroom, it does not work with ARC, Photoshop or any other program, at least not at this time. There are already some other interesting options out there other than the Loupedeck to consider if you are looking for a better way to edit. Midi2lr as mentioned is free to download and entry level controller will run you around $60. There’s Pfixer which has it’s own branded software sold with a couple versions of midi controllers ranging from $159 to $379. There is also Pallete, a series of magnetic interlocking cubes each containing dials, buttons, and sliders for control. The Palette sells for $199 for the very basic entry level basic kit to $499.99 for pro kit. So Loupedeck definitely wasn’t the first to think of moving the Lightroom sliders off the screen and into a physical controller, but I believe the first to do this with a keyboard look full of nicely laid out and labeled knobs, wheels, and dials and being priced at $299 it fits in middle to the upper price range of the current offerings.
Overview: The Loupedeck controller consists of a large dial dedicated to cropping and rotating your images, 12 smaller dials, eight wheels for HSL control, 26 function buttons, and 10 programmable buttons. I should note you have limited options to what you can program into the C1, C2 & C3 buttons. We think loupedeck will adding to these options in a future software release. The 8 buttons across the top when used in conjunction with the function key allows you to program 16 of your favorite presets for quick access. They come pre-programmed with a set of presets provided by Loupedeck.
First impressions: As I un-boxed the unit the first thing I noticed was magnificent packaging. Reminding me a lot of the packaging that my beats solo3 came in last month. Matte black, raised letters, very stylish with an upscale look worthy of the $299 price tag. After removing the controller from the box it felt fairly solid. It is plastic, but didn’t really feel cheap to the touch. As far as size it measures 15.75” by 6.25” or just slightly narrower than a normal keyboard, but a bit deeper. So while it is about twice as large as the Korg midi I was using it is not as large as some of the other midi controllers that some are using. If you have the real estate to add a second keyboard to your work enviroment you will have room for the Loupedeck.
Set Up and installation: This could not have been easier. Take the controller out of the box, now I know you are anxious to get started but hold off before plugging in the USB cord and go download and install the software first from the Loupedeck website. Ok, now you can plug the controller in and start programming all your buttons. It’s that easy! My install went without a hitch.
Putting it to use: While the Loupedeck does have the ability to rate (both with numerical rating or colors as well a “Pick“ button) I don’t really use Lightroom for culling. Lightroom is way to slow when culling a few thousand images from a Saturday wedding. For that I use a nice little piece of software called FastRawViewer, surprised you didn’t I? You thought I was going to say Photo Mechanic. I hear that is great piece of software itself, but just way more expensive than FastRawViewer. Now I do use the color rating some to further cull the images once more as I take a second look at them while moving through images in the Lightroom develop module. This was where I noticed my first issue with the Loupedeck. Moving through the images I would tap the yellow button to mark the image as reject then hit the right arrow button to move to the next image. What I noticed was if I didn’t give the Loupedeck a second to apply the color rating and hit the arrow key too soon, it would apply the rating to the next image. Not sure if this is a Loupedeck issue or a Lightroom issue. On my next go round I think I’ll try using smart previews to see if that helps any.
While using the knobs for adjusting exposure, highlights, shadows, etc. operation was very smooth without any hesitation. The dials allow for very precise adjustments. Now one of the trade offs of having very fine adjustments is that you have to turn the knobs 360 degrees several times to go from 0 to full scale. I have read this will possibly change or we will be given the option to change the action in future software updates, although personally it didn’t bother me all that much the way it is.
The preset buttons worked very well and seem to be solid quality. Nothing really fancy here. Press a button, apply a preset. Hold the function button down and press the same button and apply a different preset. Now speaking of buttons, (here comes issue #2) For some reason the up, down, right, and left buttons feel a bit on the cheap side. While I use the right and left buttons a lot moving through the filmstrip images in the develop module, about the only time you would use the up/down buttons is in the library module using grid view to move around the images. I may have only pressed the up button 4 or 5 times while working through this wedding and it is already sticking. You press it down and it doesn’t pop back up.
Many people seldom use the HSL adjustments within Lightroom. I am not one of those and having a row of small rollers that is activated by a button and a light showing which HSL value is activated is awesome. The rollers, like the knobs, allow for a very fine adjustment providing precise control over the values you are dialing in. Only issue I noticed is that you can press the rollers down and it will return that value to its 0 state. However, a couple of times while using them I would accidentally press a bit too hard and reset it and have to start over. I think this is something that I will get the hang of and will not be much of an issue going forward.
Cropping: Need to crop an image just press the large crop button down (it’s not programmable) to bring up the crop grid. Now If are working in a real library you will probably be asked to leave. For some reason this button is loud. It almost reminds me of the sound those old board games that had the dice sealed in a plastic bubble in the middle of the board, you pressed it down and it popped back up causing the dice to go bouncing around inside the bubble. Yeah, it’s almost that loud. Once pressed you can then rotate the knob to straighten horizons, etc. Want more precise control press the function key down while moving the knob allows for very fine rotating of the image. However if you need to crop in on the image you will need to grab that mouse and drag it. Still much quicker than using the mouse to open the crop menu and perform the whole operation.
Copy/Paste buttons: Want to apply the setting of one image to another other? Press the copy button to copy those setting then press paste when you are ready to apply them to the next image. Now when I first purchased the Loupedeck it would copy every setting applied to it. The crop, any image transformations and apply everything when you hit the paste button. Seldom is this ideal, well Loupedeck listened and released version 1.2.0 which corrected this. Now it only copies the basic settings you would want to copy while leaving the crop and image transformations alone. One thing I do wish the Loupedeck had was the ability to paste from last image. Hopefully coming in a future release! Also added in the latest update is the ability to hold the function key down and press the right or left arrow key and select that image. Keep pressing till you have all the images you need selected then paste setting across all of them.
Other Features: A few of other buttons that won’t get a lot publicly, but deserves a mention is the “Brush” button which with a press brings up your adjustment brush. Yes you will now have to use your mouse, but the dialog box was already opened for you. There’s the “Full Screen” button. Press it to see your image full screen, press it again to return to normal viewing. There’s a “Clr/BW” button that all you to view your image in BW when pressed (their preset, not yours) press it again to return to your color version. I wish I could program my favorite BW preset in there as that would free up one of the other buttons for something different. There is also a pair of “Undo” and “Redo” buttons as well as a “Before/After” button which brings up a split screen showing both versions of your image. You can press the “Zoom” button to quickly zoom in on your image. Honestly, I could do without the zoom button as you have no control over where it zooms to. If you have not used your mouse to zoom in on an image it will zoom to direct center. Take your mouse and select a point to click and zoom. Then the next time you use the zoom button even if it is 10 or 20 images later it will zoom into that area on the new image. Finally, once your all done editing press that “Export” button to bring up the Lightroom export dialog.
Wrapping Up: For me I loved using the Loupedeck much more than my small midi controller. I find the locations grouping and spacing of the buttons and dials to be well thought out and spaced where even people with large hands can use it without issue. The controls are very well labeled and it didn’t take me long till I was moving between them seldom looking at the Loupedeck to confirm I had the right control, but spending more time viewing the changes taking place on my monitor.
I am always hesitant to purchase a version 1 of any product, but talked myself into this and really glad I did. Is it perfect? No, but Loupedeck is listening and more changes are coming soon. One function I really miss that I had programmed into my midi was the open image in Photoshop button. I wrote Loupedeck and was told that was in the works with a release coming in a couple months. So they do respond to your requests.
Is the Loupedeck worth the $299 price tag? Well I guess it depends. If you’re a novice or casual user of Lightroom and don’t spend hours in a dimly lit room all alone editing till the wee hours of the morning, maybe not. However, if you’re like me and spend a lot of time going through thousands of images weekly it is certainly something to consider. For me it speeds up my editing time fairly significantly and time is money! It also relieves some of the stress on the wrist from constant mouse movement. Most importantly it really makes editing images much more hands on and dare I say fun. Ok fun may not be the right word but more enjoyable. There’s just something nice about the physical acts of moving a slider or turning a knob to make adjustments vs the scrolling up and down through Lightroom modules and then attempting to make fine adjustments with the mouse. Will the Loupedeck eliminate the mouse, no not at all. Like mentioned earlier there are several times you will still be grabbing for that mouse, applying gradient filters, using the spot removal tool, cropping and using the adjustment brush. However, you can quickly open each one of these options with a quick press of a button!
Due to the sticking of the up arrow I will be returning mine and hoping the new one has no new issues. I suspect it won’t. Time will tell the longevity of the unit, but for now I am going to. enjoy it and look forward to what Loupedeck has in store for fine tuning this unit in future upgrades.