Loupedeck review

Lightroom gets physical with Loupedeck, the “keyboard” just for photographers

Navigating Adobe Lightroom with a mouse is like controlling a camera with just your index finger. Sure, you could access all the settings — eventually — but the process wouldn’t exactly be enjoyable. So what if Lightroom had just as many physical controls as that pro-level DSLR?

The Loupedeck is a photo editing console (think keyboard alternative) designed just for Adobe Lightroom (specifically, Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom 6). It came to life by way of a very successful Indiegogo campaign and the product is now ready to ship to customers. Imagine what it would look like if a DJ’s mixing board and a computer keyboard had a baby, and you have something pretty close to the Loupedeck. Where a standard keyboard has keys, this console has an abundance of dials, wheels, and buttons. This is the photographer’s equivalent of something like Blackmagic Design’s control panels for video colorists.

So what happens when Lightroom gets physical? Can a dedicated photo editing console really speed up postproduction? We find out in our Loupedeck review.

Getting set up

The Loupedeck isn’t quite plug-and-play, so you’ll need to install the driver first (available for both macOS and Windows). The software displays a graphical representation of the console, and controls light up on-screen when you turn a dial or press a button, making it easy to learn what’s what.

While most of the labeled controls cannot be customized, the Loupedeck does have a custom dial and two custom buttons. You also have a couple of options for the Export button, so you can choose to bring up the full export dialog window or automatically apply an export preset.

While we would have appreciated a wireless option, the Loupedeck’s long USB cable makes it easy to use in a variety of environments. Just keep in mind it will eat up one of your spare USB ports, as it doesn’t replace your keyboard, it merely augments it.

Dials and wheels and buttons, oh my

The Loupedeck has three types of controls: dials, wheels, and buttons. All three are labeled and arranged in groups. The console itself is about the same size as a standard keyboard. It is largely constructed with plastic, but the controls feel sturdy enough to last.

The Loupedeck is about what you’d expect if a DJ’s mixing board and a computer keyboard had a baby.

Again, the controls are largely not customizable, but this allows everything to be clearly labeled and intelligently organized. The bottom left is where you’ll find rating and selecting tools, while the opposite side houses the library navigation controls. Exposure adjustments are grouped towards the bottom middle with color controls above that, flanked by a crop dial on the left and a handful of other shortcut buttons along the edges.

Each dial is wonderfully dual-purpose — turn it to make an adjustment, press it to reset it. Nearly every Lightroom slider becomes a physical dial with the Loupedeck, and if you go a bit too far or grab the wrong control, a quick press restores the adjustment back to the original position.

The dials’ sensitivity is just right — turn slowly, and you can adjust each option one point at a time. Turn quickly and you can easily make more drastic changes.

Loupedeck Review
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

The smaller dials control contrast, clarity, exposure, shadows, highlights, blacks, whites, vibrance, saturation, white balance, and tint. A larger dial functions as a straightening tool. Pressing it will also bring up the crop tool, but this is where you’ll have to switch over to the mouse to adjust the crop.

The color controls at the top represent the eight colors in Lightroom’s hue, saturation, and luminance (HSL) sliders. You can jump from hue to saturation to luminance with the press of a button, and a light indicates which mode you’re in. If you spend a lot of time in Lightroom’s HSL module, this is where the Loupedeck can really start to save you time.

Each dial serves two purposes. Turn it to adjust a slider, press it to reset it.

The Loupedeck’s buttons mimic common keyboard shortcuts, but they offer one-touch control for improved efficiency. For example, Lightroom’s export option is a three-button keyboard command, but this becomes just a single button in the Loupedeck.

While much of the Loupedeck is ready to go under the default (and labeled) options, there are a few custom controls. A C1 dial can be custom set to sharpness, noise reduction, dehaze, or the horizontal or vertical transform tools. Two custom buttons below the color wheels can be set to a number of different options, including activating the radial or graduated filter tools.

Loupedeck also includes eight buttons just above the color wheels for toggling Lightroom presets. You can start with a preset with one tap, then refine your adjustments using the rest of the physical controls.

A fun spin on photo editing

The design and layout of the Loupedeck is excellent for most Lightroom workflows. As you turn the dials, the screen changes so that whatever you are changing is visible inside of the develop module. Adjust the Luminance sliders, and the screen will scroll to the HSL panel, even if that control wasn’t visible before. The feature isn’t quite perfect — adjusting noise reduction moves to the top of the sharpness panel, putting noise reduction just out of view, at least on some monitors — but for the most part, you can see the exact values change on the screen as you adjust the dials.

Loupedeck Review
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

We also didn’t notice any delays in how quickly the image updated to reflect our adjustments made with the Loupedeck. Performance is therefore equal to what you’d expect by dragging adjustment sliders with the mouse.

The actual efficiency gains of the Loupedeck can probably be measured in milliseconds for any one command, but it adds up over multiple commands and hundreds (or thousands) of photos.

Adding physical controls to Lightroom makes editing more enjoyable, easier, and often faster.

We found the fastest workflow was to use the Loupedeck on global edits first, then go back over the images with the mouse to use the healing tool, adjustment brush, or crop. We would have liked to see the crop dial do more than just straighten the horizon, but oh well. Yes, in some cases you’ll need the mouse to move that crop box anyways, but the dial could have been programmed to crop the same amount off each edge, leaving just non-centered crops up to the mouse. Even just being able to toggle through the various preset aspect ratios with the dial would have been nice.

Beyond speed, however, there’s no question that editing photos with Loupedeck is more fun. It gives Lightroom the same kind of tactile controls that we appreciate on high-end cameras, and it’s simply more comfortable than squinting at on-screen sliders.

Is the Loupedeck worth it?

The Loupedeck makes photo editing more fun for the same reason kids always argue with their siblings on who gets to push the elevator buttons. On some photos, it even offers significant efficiency improvements, while on others the speed gains may be more modest. Still, we always preferred using it over a software-only interface.

It isn’t quite perfect, but it’s close enough that many photographers will find it a welcome addition to their workflow. Furthermore, this is still a brand new product — we imagine Loupedeck will build off it to make better versions of the console in the future, perhaps with wireless connectivity.

Overall, this is an excellent tool for photographers who use Lightroom on a regular basis to adjust a large number of photos. Like any tool designed to save time, the fewer photos you tend to work with, the less important an accessory like Loupedeck becomes. At $299, the Loupedeck is targeting enthusiast and professional photographers, and it’s a fair price for those users. The closest competitor is probably the Palette Gear, which is modular and customizable, but only includes two buttons, three dials, and two sliders in its $299 configuration.

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