Are control consoles the future of photo editing? DIYP reviews the Loupedeck+

Aug 19, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Are control consoles the future of photo editing? DIYP reviews the Loupedeck+

Aug 19, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Since Adobe switched from perpetual licenses to a subscription model, I’ve been trying to make my photo and video workflow as Adobe-free as possible. As a result, I don’t use Lightroom. So I never really had a need for the original Loupedeck.

But when the announcement came for the Loupedeck+ with support for Skylum Aurora HDR and Capture One, and more software support coming in the future, I thought it was time to take a more serious look at it. I’ve been using the Loupedeck+ for a few weeks now, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s won me over.

Opening up the box

Let’s start at the beginning. When the Loupedeck+ arrived, it came in a particularly sexy looking box. Black with an embossed logo covering the entire top surface. This immediately made me feel like I was getting a premium product. While the packaging obviously doesn’t affect the usability of the product, the packaging is important as it sets the user up for the experience they’re about to receive.

On opening the box, there was little inside besides the Loupedeck+ itself. There was a “Legal Guide” and a card below it telling me to go the Loupedeck website to download the software before plugging in the device.

So, that’s what I did. My first attempt to set up the Loupedeck+ was with my desktop, which runs Windows 7. The Loupedeck website does state that it’s compatible with Windows 7, so I downloaded the software and set the installer going. I also did the same with my Windows 10 laptop.

While that was happening, I took the Loupedeck+ out of the box and placed it on my desk. It’s a similar sort of size to my ASUS Strix Tactic Pro keyboard, but without the numeric keypad. The finish and build of the unit, like the packaging, screamed quality.

One feature I spotted underneath the Loupedeck+ looked, at first, pretty useful. There’s a couple of small channels underneath into which you can push the USB cable.

It’s not a particularly unique feature. Many computer keyboards also offer similar setups depending on whether it sits to the right or left of your actual computer. But it turned out to be not quite as useful as I’d first thought as the cable keeps falling out of it. The only way I found to keep the cable in there is to cover it with a piece of gaffer tape. A nice idea, though.

Setting up the software

Once the software downloaded to my Windows 7 desktop, I ran it, and it eventually completed. It did run quite slowly, though, stalling for a couple of minutes at one point. But it did complete. Upon plugging the Loupedeck+ into an available USB port, though, this happened.

I thought it odd that it had been detected twice, and only one instance was marked as “Ready to use”, but I fired up Skylum Aurora HDR 2018. After it loaded, I brought in an image from a shoot earlier in the week and started fiddling with knobs and dials on the Loupedeck+. Nothing happened.

I check the Loupedeck+ software, it seems to show that it’s detected it, so I flick back to Aurora HDR. Still nothing. Completely unresponsive to anything I do with the Loupedeck+ controls. I then check the Loupedeck+ website, and it suggests simply uninstalling the software completely and reinstalling. So, I went one better. I uninstalled, rebooted, disabled all my antivirus software (just to be sure it wasn’t conflicting) and then reinstalled. Still nothing.

I don’t know if the Windows 7 compatibility isn’t quite as good as stated on the Loupedeck website or my machine was just having issues, but I gave up on it and moved over to my ASUS ZenBook Pro laptop instead, which runs Windows 10.

Note: I have since learned that I need to hit F8 on boot and disable driver signature verification in Windows 7 if I want the Loupedeck+ to work. Then it has no problems. The same thing happened with the Wacom Intuos graphics tablet. Anybody know a way to make it permanent so I don’t have to hit F8 every time I reboot?

This time, in Windows 10, it was very different. The Loupedeck+ software installed very quickly. The only issue during the install was a warning that Windows 10 had prevented it from automatically running, and had “protected my PC”. I told it to run anyway.

From here it was plain sailing. Plugging the Loupedeck+ into one of the ZenBook’s USB ports detected it with no problem.

It was at this point I realised I hadn’t installed Aurora HDR on my laptop, so that was next, and upon completion of the installation, I ran it and loaded up the demo file.

Immediately the Loupedeck+ software said it was making the connection to Aurora HDR and when I started fiddling with those knobs and dials again, my image started to change.

SUCCESS!

Working with Skylum Aurora HDR

With the software now working, I set to playing with Aurora HDR 2018. The Loupedeck+ also has preliminary support for Capture One and, like its predecessor, Lightroom.

Aurora HDR 2018 has received some significant performance upgrades in the last couple of versions, which has made using it a much more pleasant experience than it used to be. Using the sliders with the mouse in Aurora HDR is now very responsive. And I saw the same responsiveness when using the Loupedeck+.

The big difference, though, is that the Loupedeck+ offers me a lot more control. Well, ok, that’s not entirely accurate. Everything I can do with the Loupedeck+ I can do via Aurora HDR’s native UI with the mouse.  But the Loupedeck+ allows me to do everything more quickly, as I can literally just twiddle a dial or press a button. So, let’s say it offers more efficient control.

And those buttons have some pretty useful features. The one I’ve found myself using surprisingly often is the split screen before & after function. Sure, I could click an icon on the screen to do it, but then I have to grab my mouse, move the cursor, click it, and then do it again to turn it off. With the Loupedeck+ it’s just on or off at the press of a button.

There’s also a button to toggle between full screen and windowed mode. This is very handy, as when using the Loupedeck, you don’t really need to see the sliders. You can bring up your image full screen and concentrate solely on how it looks rather than what the numbers say.

Again, it’s not that it offers more control, just more refined, accurate control. And it lets you do it without even seeing the controls on-screen. So, there’s less time sitting there with the mouse flicking between tabs and trying to toggle a slider between two numbers to hit the exact one you want, and no clicking boxes to type in a number.

As far as its primary function of letting you process your photos quickly, it does its job very well. Of course, the original Loupedeck did its job rather well, too, so one would expect the same of its successor.

Working on the go

This is where the Loupedeck+ really shines for me. Sure, it’s a bit big and unwieldy and it may only just slip into a backpack, but when I’m working away from home with just the laptop, the Loupedeck+ is extremely useful.

Being able to quickly access all the dials right there in my hand makes life a whole lot easier. I don’t have to deal with a small trackpad to hit on-screen sliders perfectly, and I can throw the image up full-screen to really get a good overall view while I work.

The Loupedeck+ has become a very valuable mobile editing tool.

Customising the Loupedeck+

When I plug the Loupedeck+ into one of my computers with the software installed, it comes up saying that it detected it. When I load a piece of supported software like Aurora HDR, it knows what that software is and just works. Bringing up the Loupedeck+ software, it shows me that it recognises it.

From here, though, I can customise things. I can click on one of the highlighted buttons or dials and a screen pops up asking me what function I want to make that button or dial do. But Aurora HDR and Capture One support are still in their very early days. So, while it does work, the options for reconfiguring buttons to do other things is a little more limited than they are for Lightroom.

The fact that the Loupdeck+ supports non-Lightroom software at all, though is a big deal – at least for me. It shows that there are other big players out there in the RAW processing software world, and that hardware manufacturers are planning to support them. I’m sure that more customised functionality will be added as the Loupedeck+ software, along with the image software it talks to, sees updates.

Aurora HDR vs Luminar 2018

There are a few drawbacks for using Aurora HDR with the Loupedeck+ for me. The first is that Aurora HDR itself is a little awkward for me as there’s no digital asset manager (DAM) and not every version of Windows supports every type of camera’s raw file preview in Explorer. So, I still tend to stick with Bridge & Adobe Camera RAW for a lot of my quick raw processing on the desktop.

I also don’t want to HDR process all my images. Sure, you don’t have to ramp things up to 11 just because it’s HDR software, but I do prefer Luminar 2018 over Aurora HDR for raw processing. Skylum has told me that Loupedeck+ support for Luminar 2018 is coming at some point. Luminar 2018 also has a DAM coming soon, which will make the whole setup much more powerful and streamlined – a bit like working in Lightroom or Bridge.

The final difference is a big deal for me, and that’s ColorChecker profile support. Luminar 2018 now supports DNG colour profiles (it’s almost like they heard me). So, that means it supports the ColorChecker Passport (using the standalone X-Rite app). And it works very well, too. Easily as well as it does in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW.

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for that Loupedeck+ support to come to Luminar 2018.

Other software

The whole idea of a control panel for working on your images is a huge timesaver. Even more so if you’re using a laptop and your only other alternative is a trackpad.

As well as Lightroom and Aurora HDR, the Loupedeck+ offers some basic support Capture One, too. But, as with Aurora HDR, customisation options are quite limited at the moment.

Now that the Loupedeck+ does open itself up to other software, though, it would be great to see some support for video editing software. Specifically, I’m thinking about Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve. It’s pretty much the gold standard when it comes to colour grading video footage, so it would be nice to see if there were some way the Loupedeck+ could be used to control some of Resolve’s colour adjustment features.

Sure, you wouldn’t get the trackballs like you do on other control decks designed specifically for video editing and colour correction, but being able to reconfigure some of the knobs and dials to scrub through footage or tweak specific types of adjustment would still be a big boost to workflow efficiency.

What I like…

  • Quick and easy access to commonly used adjustments
  • Very customisable if you’re using Lightroom or Capture One
  • Small and light enough that it just fits in a backpack for working on the go
  • Dramatically speeds up workflow on the laptop vs using the trackpad

What I don’t like…

  • Awkward compatibility with Windows 7 – But this may be more the fault of Windows than the Loupedeck+ driver/software
  • Cable guide underneath doesn’t quite work as desired
  • Not very customisable with Aurora HDR (yet)

There are also a few temporary dislikes, that are expected to change. Like the lack of Luminar 2018 support. This is going to be huge for me when it’s available, and I’m surprised Luminar support was shoved back in favour of Aurora HDR, to be honest. As I mentioned, though, Skylum says that Loupedeck+ support is coming to Luminar at some point.

What would be nice (although this may not happen), is some kind of completely customisable software that would, to some degree, allow us to let it work with anything. Sort of like using a second keyboard to add a whole bunch of macros.

YouTube video

Being able to do something similar to how Taran uses multiple keyboards, but with the Loupedeck’s knobs and dials would be amazing. Although I would imagine a lot more difficult to implement and will likely never happen – although I suppose there’s nothing to stop an independent developer having a go and posting it to Github.

Conclusions…

Overall, the Loupedeck+ is a well-built product that performs its intended tasks admirably. It feels like a solid piece of kit and not a cheap plastic toy. It offers access to all of the most commonly used functions of raw processing software such as exposure, highlights, shadows, clarity, vibrance and contrast, as well as more advanced sliders like individual colour adjustments for hue, saturation and luminance.

It’s customisable and some of the buttons and dials can be reconfigured to perform specific tasks, but right now you’re quite limited as to what you can reconfigure in Aurora HDR. This is set to expand in the future, but for now, at least having access to the basics works fine – especially if working on the go with a laptop.

I probably won’t use it on the desktop much until it supports Luminar 2018 and Skylum release their DAM. Right now I just find it quicker to sift through files and tweak in Bridge & Adobe Camera RAW (which isn’t supported by the Loupedeck+). On the laptop, however, Aurora HDR with the Loupedeck+ works well for the basic looks I usually need to create on location.

Once Luminar support is added and the Skylum DAM arrives, I can see myself using the Loupedeck+ for all my image editing, both at home on the desktop and on the go with the ZenBook Pro.

Bottom line… If you’re already used to working with Lightroom, Capture One or Aurora HDR, then you’ll probably find the Loupedeck+ to be a valuable workflow addition from the start. But if you’re switching your workflow over to different software to be able to use the Loupedeck+, then it’ll take some getting used to.

If you’ve not yet tried processing raw files with anything other than a keyboard and mouse, then it’s worth checking out the Loupedeck+. You do have to play with it and put some effort into learning how to use it effectively, but it’s well worth it.

As much as I do like the Loupedeck+, I hope we start to see a few more competitors pop up. Control consoles like these have been common in the video and audio worlds for a good while now, so it’s nice to see them finally come to photography in the last couple of years.

But I think the Loupedeck+ only really scratches the surface of what such a console could do for photographers. And competition does drive innovation (although the original Loupedeck was pretty innovative, regardless).

The Loupedeck+ is available to buy now for $229. Aurora HDR 2018 is available to buy now for $99 (no subscription fees).

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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6 responses to “Are control consoles the future of photo editing? DIYP reviews the Loupedeck+”

  1. Basia Kowalska Avatar
    Basia Kowalska

    I’d love this with controls switched for southpaws

    1. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      I’m a lefty, too, but I use a mouse with the right hand. So I have the Loupedeck+ to the left of my keyboard and you get used to it. The only problem I have now is that the Loupedeck+ and Wacom tablet are fighting for that space. ;)

  2. Zeneti Avatar
    Zeneti

    A lot of money to have to spend time customizing something that suit on your desk and does exactly what I can already achieve with a cheap keyboard and mouse. You sound over joyed at pressing a button to get split view. Funny as your keyboard already has that Freddie

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Devices like this can be handy because they speeds up workflow. Money spent on something like this earns itself back in the amount of time it saves (which is why people buy the $30K DaVinci Resolve console – even though they can do everything with a keyboard and mouse). It’s time saved that can then be dedicated toward paying clients – earning that money back and more.

      It may not be a massive difference on a single photo, but over a few hundred or thousand photos it definitely adds up. :)

    2. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
      Kay O. Sweaver

      Yeah, you’d be surprised. I got a USB PS2 style game controller and mapped the buttons to various Lightroom controls. Now I can lean back in a lazy boy and blast through basic edits on hundreds of photos in a third the time would take with a mouse and keyboard. Is also helped reduce RSI in my wrists.

      I love stuff like this, though I’m more likely to go with a MIDI controller personally. Nice to see Lightroom alternatives being supported though since I’m losing patience with Adobe lately…

  3. Orion Avatar
    Orion

    Adobe just needs to implement midi in thier software. That would be a game changer. You can map some things with bomes but it can be a pain.