Photography’s still considered a pretty cool job, but the glamour comes to a shuddering halt when you get back to your desk with 1,500 images to sort through. Loupedeck brings some desperately needed sparkle to the digital darkroom.
This unique, keyboard-sized device is a control deck for Adobe Lightroom, the near-ubiquitous processing and editing suite used by pros and keen amateurs alike. Instead of tweaking exposures, white balance or clarity by dragging a slider with your mouse, Loupedeck lets you fine-tune your images by twiddling dials like a safe-cracker. And that’s amazingly satisfying.
Loupedeck has both parts of the photography workflow covered. As soon as you’ve imported a shoot’s worth of images into Lightroom, you can scroll through the photos using the arrow buttons on the bottom right of the control deck, using the Pick button to identify the keepers. If you’re incredibly anal, you can award each photo a star rating out of five using the dedicated buttons. Sure, there are regular keyboard shortcuts for this in Lightroom, but it’s slicker and more intuitive with dedicated buttons under your left hand.
Loupedeck really comes into its own at the editing stage. Instead of working your way down Lightroom’s Develop panel, fiddling with the dozens of different settings and sliders, many of which are buried under expandable menus, you simply find the dial for the setting you want to tweak. You feel more like a sound engineer than a photographer, twiddling the dials until the picture looks just right.
As soon as you touch a dial, Lightroom throws its focus on to the relevant setting on screen, so you can see just how many stops you’re pushing the exposure or check for highlights being overblown if you’ve cranked the Whites to 11.
The best thing about having all these controls at your fingertips is that you experiment with settings you might otherwise neglect. I managed to gently resuscitate a lifeless landscape simply by increasing the saturation of the reds and greens in the image, each of which has its own scroll wheel. I’d never have bothered previously, with the settings buried in Lightroom’s Develop panel.
It’s easy to check the results of your fiddling, too. There’s a dedicated Before/After button to see the impact of your changes side-by-side, a Zoom button on either side of the keyboard to hammer in close, and a Full Screen button at the top to give your image maximum breathing space.
The one thing letting the Loupedeck down is build quality. It looks like a high-end piece of kit, and it’s sure as hell got the price to match, but the buttons have a very unsatisfactory clunk. They just don’t feel right, as if the button itself is slightly too large for the hole it’s being pressed into. Sometimes button presses don’t register, at other times they get stuck. The dials and scroll wheels are much smoother, but they still don’t have the finesse of a high-end piece of audio kit.
Then we come to button layout: why the biggest dial on the entire console is dedicated to rotating/cropping images is baffling. The dial isn’t precise enough to make minute changes to the angle of an image and, when de-wonkying images, I normally reach for the Straighten tool, which isn’t supported in Loupedeck. That big dial could surely have been put to better use for fine-tuning exposures or sharpening?
Indeed, sharpening doesn’t have a dedicated dial at all. By default, it’s on the programmable C1 dial, which you can also assign to vignette, dehaze or noise reduction using the superb Loupedeck software.
There are two more buttons that can be user-assigned to functions such as toggling between Lightroom’s Develop/Library panels and opening the web browser. And then there are another eight programmable preset buttons along the top, allowing you to apply your favourite filters at the press of a button – as long as you can remember which preset resides under P1, P2 etc. For such tasks, Post-It Notes were born.
The Loupedeck effect
Despite the iffy buttons, the Loupepad is a genuine joy to use. I’ve spent hours going back and fiddling with photos I’d long since discarded, for no other reason than this magnificent control deck helps you edit photos in an entirely new way. But there’s no doubt the €369 price tag (around £350) will cause a sharp intake of breath.
It’s a luxury, not a necessity. There’s nothing here you can’t do with keyboard and mouse. But it’s equally difficult to put a price on that inner glow of satisfaction as you gently twiddle a few dials and see a dry photo bloom into life. Or the time it will save professional photographers like me when sorting out thousands of photos. For me, that’s worth the price alone.