I was asked to take a look at Palette Gear's Lightroom control system. When I first saw their advertisement, and then their online video, I was super intrigued. This could be pretty cool.
This product, however, is cool like Apple iPhone cool. It is expensive, sleak and well-built. It's got the right amount of shine and sheen. I like the interconnectivity. They also do a fantastic job integrating with some other products. That's a good start.
Unfortunately, it is quite simply not the best tool. My conclusion (spoiler alert) is that you could do an incredible amount more for an incredible amount less. To work with a program such as Lightroom, you really do need to start with the Pro version of Palette. This will get you about 4 sliders, 4 buttons and 6 knobs (14 total control points) all for the low low price of $499. There is some capability to add more - at a pretty hefty additional cost.
The Palette option is similar to midi-controllers that have come before and that have been out for a long time. I'll just focus on 3, each made by Behringer. I picked these three mostly because they are extremely economical and incredibly capable. The Behringer units are not as sleek as Palette and are not all that well-built. That said, the solid BEHRINGER X-TOUCH MINI is about $60 and is a very well-regarded piece of gear (just check out the YouTube videos). It has 8 rotary encoders and 16 buttons, but multiple layers give access to for more than this.
My Behringer B-Control Fader BCF2000 offers 8 faders, 8 rotary encoders and 20 buttons on its interface, and a simple push of a button offer another 24 rotary encoders for a total of 32 encoders, along with the 8 faders and 20 buttons for a total of 60 amazing controls at your fingertips. Moreover, the faders are motorized. My choice to purchase this piece of gear included not just Lightroom control, but audio control for lots of other software - so the motorized faders were important. For around $220, this is an incredible deal with much greater capabilities than the Pro Palette option.
The last piece of gear is one that I'd recommed for anyone who is just doing Lightroom work is the Behringer Rotary BCR2000, with its incredible number of rotary encoders and buttons, both on its face as well as in separate groups easily accessible. This is an incredible piece of gear for around $150.
The Palette faders/sliders are at a further disadvantage as they are not motorized and their relative placement may differ from their actual value. In other words, if you move a fader to a value of 80, then change photos and move that fader to a value of 20, when you return to the prior photo, the fader will still be at 20 even though it's value is 80. This is not ideal. The Behringer option does not have this limitation as the faders actually move.
The fact of the matter is that the Behringer gear is not made like a tank. Some care needs to be taken to avoid damage, and the accidental damage warranty is one that I recommend.
These midi-controller mixers are super simple. They plug into the USB and just work. Actually, to be more specific, mine did not work until I downloaded the updated driver. Don't forget to do that.
The software you need is free as well. I use Midi2LR. It is simple and awesome. Of course there are a few things I would tweak, but this software is worth far more than its weight in gold. Also, Paddy (PC) and Knobroom (Mac) are both free options as well. Then, your mixer will work perfectly with Lightroom and you're off and running.
When compared to the Palette Gear system, there really is no comparison when it comes to functionality. Ask yourself this... what are the things you consider doing for every single photo? How will you do this faster?
The things I do is rate (flag or rate) my photos. Then I always (as needed of course):
- Flag or Rate the Photo
- Zoom to Check Sharpness
- Straighten the Photo
- Adjust the Exposure
- Adjust the Contrast
- Set Black and White Points
- Adjust Highlights and Shadows
- Consider Clarity, Vibrance and Dehaze
Notice that this is already 15 items that I consider to be mandatory. I do use other functions as well on almost all the photos. I like to see the Auto Tone options. I often create virtual copies. i have a reset settings button as well. In my real estate work I do like to adjust perspective.
In the case of the Behringer units, all of this is still on the original buttons and sliders. In the case of the Palette, this is already beyond its capabilities.
From there, I do lots of other things as well. I may adjust color balance (saturation and color luminance), test out a gray scale image (and adjust colors and filters) and more. These options too are easily accomplished with the Behringers. Simple simple.
Of course there are a number of functions that are not ideally suited to the controllers, such as local adjustments and cropping. That said, I am able to decrease my editing time per photo by a tremendous margin. No more scrolling around or needing to pay close attention to the slider bars. Now I play the mixer like a musical instrument - and the flow is completely natural and lighning fast.
This does require a little bit of time to set up. Your particular workflow is easily set up. I did need to download the updated Behringer driver, download Midi2LR and install it, and then map my buttons, encoders andfaders. I took enough time to ensure that I did this right. Don't forget to save any changes you make.
One important thing is that buttons can either be toggle (push once for on, again for off), or instant (push and a signal is sent). In general, the standard for buttons is toggle. There is almost no reason to use a toggle button in Lightroom. You'll probably want to "edit" the buttons to turn the toggle off.
Here is a little video of this. Hope it helps:
To reiterate, the Palette is well built and Apple-cool. It wins by far in terms of style points. It does not, however, come close to the capabilities of a ton of sliders, buttons and encoders all at my finger tips.
Let me know if you have any comments or questions. Thanks! - Mark