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Hardware requirements - Control types


Control types

Another criteria when you purchase a controller is the type of its sliders and/or rotary knobs. 

You may have:

  • Regular sliders (faders): same like on DJ mixers, they move up and down, or maybe left-right
  • Motorized faders: you can move them with your hand but they can be repositioned automatically because they are motorized
  • Rotary knobs: the rotary version of the normal sliders, they have minimum and maximum limits, so you can turn them left or right until they hit their min. or max. limits
  • Encoders: these are limitless rotary knobs, so they can turn round. They only have virtual status, their current position between a virtual min. and max. value are indicated with LEDs.
Rotary knob vs. encoder
Rotary knob vs. encoder

For Lightroom-use, all of the above are suitable, but you should prefer the motorized sliders and the encoders due to their convenience. It is because these can follow the position/value of Lightroom’s sliders automatically. 

Let’s take an example: on a photo we push the contrast by 50%, on the next photo we pull the contrast by -50%, on the third photo the contrast remains on zero, we do not touch it. When we are switching between these three photos, then a motorized slider (connected to Contrast) will move automatically up and down from -50% to +50% as we change the pictures. If we have encoders on our controller, then the LEDs around the encoder for Contrast will move from -50% to +50%. This means that the motorized sliders and the encoders are adjusted according the position of the belonging virtual sliders in Lightroom. So when we step on a picture that has eg. -50% contrast, and we start to turn the belonging encoder, then we will notice the effect immediately and the change will start from -50% obviously.


As for the regular sliders and regular (limited) rotary knobs, they work differently because they have min. and max limits. Which means that if you turn them, they will remain there when you step on the next photo. For these type of controls we use the pick-up technology, which means that we should move the control until the point where the belonging Lightroom slider stays, they connect together and from that point they’ll move together. This is usable but not as convenient as the above option with the motorized sliders and encoders.

Let’s take an example: on one picture we pull the shadows to the maximum (100%), which means we pushed the slider (or turned the knob) to its maximum position. When we jump on the next (untouched) photo in Lightroom, the Shadows LR-slider will be on zero position. If we want to pull the shadows up on this too, we will face a problem, because the Shadows-connected rotary knob is in its maximum position from the previous picture. We cannot turn it more. Here comes the pick-up technology. We have to turn down the Shadows-connected rotary knob (or slider), but we will not notice any changes in Lightroom…until we reach the zero position with the knob/slider, then it connects Lightroom’s Shadows slider and moves together with it again. If we had used a motorized slider or an encoder in this case, then the slider/encoder would have picked up the zero value automatically.

There are MIDI controllers which only have encoders, there are some which have motorized sliders and encoders, some have encoders and regular faders mixed, and there are also others which have regular sliders and/or rotary knobs only. The first two versions are the most suitable for Lightroom use, but if money counts, you should forget motorized sliders because those are the most expensive ones. Encoders do the same and they are way cheaper.

Luckily, the control layout of most MIDI controllers are in harmony with Lightroom’s slider layout. Most of the Lightroom sliders are grouped by 2, 4 or 8 (eg. WB/Tint, Vibrance/Saturation, Whites/Blacks/Highlights/Shadows, or the 8 basic colors), and most of the MIDI controllers have 8, or multiple of 8 controls. So mapping them is quite easy.

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