Copyright 2019 - MIDI 2 Lightroom. Lightroom is a registered trademark of Adobe.

Hardware requirements

We need to say a few words about MIDI controllers because there are several types on the market. It does matter how many controls they have, what kind of controls they have and whether or not they have an editor software from the factory… not to mention the price tag of course.

IMPORTANT! Do not confuse MIDI controllers with the ‘conventional’ mixers that DJs use to mix songs (DJ mixer), or with those used in sound studios (studio mixer). For a photography job we’ll need a MIDI controller, or named as MIDI mixer, sometimes called a DJ-controller or a DAW controller. It is connected to your computer/laptop via USB interface by all means!

There are several types of MIDI controllers available. Some have sliders (a.k.a faders), some have rotary knobs, some have both and some have none of them, only big backlit buttons. We should purchase one that has mainly sliders or knobs but has some buttons as well.

Number of controls

The first criteria when choosing a controller is the number of controls. There are tiny, cheap controllers on the market as well as big, expensive controllers with many sliders and rotary knobs. We’ve already mentioned that having fewer controls is not necessarily an obstacle because we can switch layouts and/or profiles to multiple them, so that they can act differently if we want them to do so. But this is a compromise at some level.

Behringer X-Touch Mini MIDI controller
Behringer X-Touch Mini MIDI controller

If we have a controller with 8 sliders, but we use 40 sliders in Lightroom, then we will need to create 5 different layouts or profiles for these 40 sliders and we have to switch between them during work. This can be a bit annoying in the long haul, so it is easy to see that more sliders/knobs equal more fun. It is simply the joy of having every tool we use right at our hand. Experiences say that switching between two layouts/profiles is acceptable, but 3 or even more layouts can be annoying during a massive workload. (However, you should consider that only 8-10 sliders are regularly used in Lightroom, the other 20-30 are being used much less…at least usually.)

BTW, you can make navigation easier among the knobs/sliders, when you put labels or paint colors on them (see above). This can be a visual help during the first days/weeks/months. We’d also like to mention here that having a bunch of rotary knobs in one group might not be the best ergonomic solution. There is for example the Behringer X-Touch Compact controller which has a set of sliders here, a line of rotary knobs (encoders) there and another pack of knobs elsewhere. Because they are separated in groups, it is easier to identify them. Ok I know, such a big controller needs much more space on your desk…

Behringer MIDI controller labelled by Pusher Labs

You also should know that you can use multiple MIDI controllers at a time. This may be important if your controller is small, or if you have one with more sliders and another with mostly buttons, so they supplement each other. The main point is to send different CC codes to your computer from each.


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.


Editor software

The third criteria when choosing a controller is the presence of a factory-made editor software, which is not the same as the Lightroom plugin mentioned earlier. An editor software is a factory-made configuration software, which we can fine tune our MIDI controller with. Nowadays, when eg. MIDI2LR is so advanced and has almost endless features for Lightroom, a factory-made editor is not a must, but we should talk about it. Everything you set up on your controller by the editor is a general adjustment, but not every MIDI controller has an editor software. However some of the Novation branded controllers do not even come alive without their Automap Server editor software (it has to run in the background every time, otherwise the controller will not turn on), some other controllers need to be configured with the editor only once, and again, others don’t even have a factory-made editor.

AutomapServer editor for certain Novation MIDI controllers
AutomapServer editor for certain Novation MIDI controllers

With such an editor program we can configure for example the CC-code for the knobs and sliders, as well as the Note-code for buttons. These codes are already assigned to the controls from factory, but with an editor software you can change them if you want. If your controller supports multiple slider/knob layouts (Pages, Layers, Presets - every manufacturer calls it differently), then you can create and edit them in the editor software. Some editors allow to assign QWERTY keystrokes or keyboard shortcuts to the buttons of the controller instead of a Note-code, which is really good. From one hand it is a general function throughout the operation system, so you can use eg. Copy-Paste (Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V) even in Word or Excel, or you can assign arrows or Enter. On the other hand you should know that MIDI2LR or any other Lightroom plugin is not 100% ready yet, there are some Lightroom features which you cannot assign to buttons or knobs via the plugin but these features can be activated via keystrokes or keyboard shortcuts. You can teach those to your controller with the editor software…hopefully, but not every editor can do that. ‘Previous’ and ‘Sync settings’ buttons are like this for example, but I am sure it only takes just a little time for MIDI2LR to include these features (until then there is the Copy-Paste prompt).

Behringer BCEdit for certain Behringer MIDI-controllers
Behringer BCEdit for certain Behringer MIDI-controllers

To sum up, you can use any type of USB-connected MIDI controller for Lightroom, but the best types are those that have motorized sliders (faders) and/or encoders. Moreover it is a plus if they have an editor software.

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