Copyright 2018 - 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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Lightroom Controlling Softwares

We’ve already mentioned in the prologue that using a MIDI controller for photo-processing is only available with Adobe Lightroom. The reason is simple: Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) is actually a plugin itself, a part of Photoshop, so you cannot install further plugins in it. As for Capture One, you actually should be able to install plugins, but for developing such plugins, you need the software’s SDK (development kit), and it costs a fortune per year. Chances are that nobody will pay that. However, the Lightroom SDK is free for everyone, and since it’s downloadable from Adobe’s website, anybody can develop Lightroom-plugins.

So we need a small plugin to connect a MIDI controller with Lightroom. (These plugins can be installed via the Lightroom File menu). The job of these plugins is to identify the signal of the MIDI controller via USB and match them to certain Lightroom prompts and functions which are in the plugin’s stock.

This matching is called mapping.

You need to map all the potentiometers (sliders, knobs) on your controller. When you move a slider/knob on a MIDI controller (or push a button), its signal will be detected by the Lightroom plugin. That plugin will know that when the signal comes, which Lightroom slider should be altered and how. This may seem to be complicated for the first time but believe me, it’s easy.

I mentioned above the ‘stock of the plugins’. This means that the developer of the plugin is responsible for identifying the Lightroom functions in the Lightroom SDK and enabling them in the plugin, so there are only as many LR functions available in the plugins, as many the developer puts in it. Some advanced plugins contain almost all the Lightroom features, some others contain only the most important functions. Many of the plugins are being continuously developed, so even if it doesn’t know something today, it may handle it tomorrow.

The most awesome part of this story is that these plugins are free to download from the web. Their developers are working on them from their own power and enthusiasm, however, all include a Donate-button on their website, so if you can, you should send some gift-bucks to them. They absolutely deserve it, as they put a lot of working hours into these plugins.

So all in all, you’ll need a USB-connected controller, a Mac or PC, and an Adobe Lightroom software - preferably a newer version, but if you have an older one, don’t worry, you are not opted out from the game. Moreover, you’ll need a small plugin - as you already know - free from the web and you’ll need to install it in Lightroom. This plugin will start together with Lightroom every time then, and connects it with the MIDI controller, so no need to hassle with it any more.

We’ve already mentioned the question of having less sliders or knobs on your controller than you’d use in Lightroom. No problem, there is a software-based and a hardware-based solution as well. As for the hardware-based: you can change slider layout on your controller with buttons. These slider/knob layouts are called Layers, Pages or Presets by the controller manufacturers, and for some models there are only two options (eg. Layer A and Layer B), but some models have even 32 Presets. No matter how they’re called, the point is that you can switch between these layouts with dedicated buttons, which means your sliders, knobs and buttons do different things on different layouts. If you have a MIDI controller with 8 knobs or sliders for example, then in case of 2 layouts you can connect 16 Lightroom sliders to them, in case of 3 layouts you can connect 24, and you switch between the 8 - 8 - 8 connected functions by pressing buttons. This is the hardware based solution, but there is also a software based option, which is fine if you have a controller that does not have the possibility of switching layouts. We will talk about this later.

So what LR plugins do we have?

MIDI2LR

This is the most popular and the most advanced plugin to date. Most of the controller-users prefer the MIDI2LR and its developer is very active, regular updates are coming almost week-to-week but at least month-to-month. It is important to know that the MIDI2LR is compatible with both Macs and PCs, but you’ll need Lightroom 6 or CC to work with. Earlier LR versions are not compatible, so for those you should use some other plugins which are unfortunately not as good as the MIDI2LR, but not bad either.

Here you can download MIDI2LR for free.

A big advantage for MIDI2LR is its own GUI in a separate window (which runs continuously in the background as long as Lightroom is open). With this user interface you can easily customize your controller: in other words you can easily do the mapping, ie. adding every needed LR function to each slider, knob and button on your controller. You can create more Profiles with different mappings and you can make a button on your controller to switch between Profiles. On one Profile the knobs do this, on the other Profile knobs do that, and you can switch between them with a button. This is the software-solution for the problem of having less sliders/knobs than the number of sliders you would use in Lightroom. 

MIDI2LR contains probably the most Lightroom features ever, it is developed by a guy called rsjaffe (and many people are helping him), so I suggest to use this plugin if you have the latest Lightroom version (ie. LR 6 or CC). If you have an older version, please read on.


 

For Windows

Paddy for Lightroom

Paddy was the first Lightroom plugin that allowed us to connect Adobe Lightroom with a MIDI controller, actually this plugin started the new-wave several years ago. 

You can download the Paddy free from here.

Unfortunately the development of Paddy has stopped recently so it is compatible only up to Lightroom 5. (Despite the fact that there is a line on Paddy’s website saying that the LR6/CC version is in the pipeline, unfortunately it’s there for months now and after discussing with the developer we were told that he should have had to study another programming language to continue the project but due to the lack of time he could not deal with it.) Originally the Paddy was made for Behringer BCF2000 and BCR2000 controllers, but you can use it with other controllers too, moreover you can even configure a gamepad or joystick as well as your keyboard with Paddy.

For MAC

Knobroom

Besides MIDI2LR, Knobroom was the other popular and widely used Lightroom plugin for MIDI controllers. I say ’was’ because the development of Knobroom also seems to have stopped for a while, however it is compatible both LR6/CC and earlier versions.

You can download Knobroom free from here.

Knobroom has no dedicated GUI, you can configure it (do the mapping) in Lightroom’s Plugin Manager. Because of this it may be not so convenient as the MIDI2LR. Knobroom is designed mainly for the Novation Nocturn MIDI controller but you can use it with other controllers too, you only need to know which slider/knob creates what CC-code. Moreover Knobroom’s ‘stock’ of Lightroom features is not so widespread as MIDI2LR’s, however it is fair enough, you can find many LR features in it.


 

Pfixer

This is a paid version Lightroom plugin from Pusher Labs but you may not only buy the plugin itself, but can also purchase two types of controllers with it. Buying them as a package you will get a ready-to-use product. The controllers will be programmed and mapped by factory and they will also be labelled accordingly for visual help. The downside of this is when you want to customize it, the labelling will loose its meaning. But there is also an advantage too, with the Pfixer you can map your keyboard as well, moreover you can add Lightroom features for your Magic Trackpad’s gestures. Wow!

You can buy Pfixer from Pusher Labs for 100 dollars here.

Palette Gear

This is a bit different story because Palette Gear is a software and hardware in one. They have developed their own controller from crowd funding, which is modular, so you can buy the sliders, knobs and buttons separately and mix/arrange them as you like (obviously they sell pre-assembled kits too). Unfortunately creating a setup with Palette that matches an advanced MIDI controller costs a fortune and may take quite a significant place on your desk. Altough you should know that Palette Gear is the only solution you can use with Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, InDesign and Premier Pro besides Lightroom, and you can add features even to your joystick or gamepad through their software. IMHO, the Palette Gear is great but (for LR) compared to an advanced MIDI controller with MIDI2LR plugin it is just a clever but very expensive toy. (Sorry guys, sell it cheaper and my opinion will change, for the price of your stuff, people can buy a serious controller with LED-lit encoders and motorized faders in a compact housing.)

Palette Gear project can be found here.

Lightroom controlling with tablet

Before we go on to the hardware side, we have to mention that there is a possibility to use a tablet as a MIDI controller with Lightroom. There are several apps for iOS and Android (eg. Midi Touch, TouchOSC or the specifically Lightroom-designed LRPAD), moreover, there are also free apps which can make our tablet act like a virtual MIDI controller and connect it with Lightroom (via plugin) by wire or wifi. This is actually a half-solution, because of the touchscreen (moreover using with wifi you may experience some lag too), so it is only slightly better than using the Lightroom with a touchpad or trackpad. Obviously the tablets’ user interface (ie. the app’s virtual sliders) are much bigger than the Lightroom’s sliders on the monitor so you can give a try if you already have a tablet at home. It is better than nothing, its free, but it is virtual so it cannot beat the physical sliders and knobs.

 

Now we are done with softwares needed for Lightroom. Let’s take a look at the hardware-side of the story: what type of MIDI controllers are worth buying for the job?

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Introduction

Using a MIDI controller for photo processing is quite a new movement in the world. These hardwares are originally built for music editing softwares but thanks to some clever plugins they can be used for photo editing in Adobe’s Lightroom software too. READ MORE...

Softwares

We need a small plugin to connect a MIDI controller with Lightroom. The job of these plugins is to identify the signal of the MIDI controller via USB and match them to certain Lightroom prompts and functions which are in the plugin’s stock. READ MORE...

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