Using the Behringer X-Touch Compact MIDI Mixer to Control Adobe Lightroom

What is a MIDI Controller/mixer?

A MIDI controller/mixer is a piece of hardware that musicians use to generate and edit music. Pressing a button or turning a dial sends a signal to a piece of software and a note/loop/sample is played and can be controlled.

How can photographers use midi mixers?

By using a piece of dedicated software, we can use the signals sent from the mixer to control Adobe Lightroom. The dials, buttons and faders can be used to control your Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Split Tones, Vignettes...basically almost everything you can do in Lightroom can be mapped to the mixer. This is a very intuitive way to edit photos and can dramatically speed up the process once you've gotten used to it.

There are a number of sources for this mapping software including MIDI2LR, Pfixer and LrControl. We've tried all three and found that LrControl suited us the best and worked without any installation issues. It works straight away once installed and if you have one of the supported mixers like the X-Touch Compact, all the functions are already mapped for you. Each function in Lightroom is mapped to a dial or button and they can all be easily changed to suit your desired work style.

If you don't have enough buttons and dials on your mixer, you can use layers to create more. So for example, Faders 1 through 8 in layer 1 control the Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Clarity etc. Click into layer 2 and they now control they colour mixes for a black-and-white image. Layer 3 and they control the image distortion etc.

Keyboard shortcuts and develop presets can also be applied with one button meaning you'll be spending less time on the keyboard.

Which Controller should I get?

Almost any controller can be used with Lightroom but there's a few things that we looked for. We started using the Akai MIDIMix controller which is very economical with lots of dials and is USB powered so no additional plug needed. However, we quickly learnt that it was limited in a couple of ways.

The biggest one for use was that the dials were not endless, meaning they had a fixed start and end position. The problem arises in the following situation: we push the exposure up on image 1, then we move to image 2 and want to bring it down, but the dial is moved up. Either, we enable something called 'pick up mode' which won't cause any changes to the image as the dial is moved down until the current image reference point is reached and moved beyond, or, as we move the dial, the value will jump to the current setting. This can be a bit disconcerting at first when you go to edit a value and it jumps. It's especially frustrating with something like the temperature when you set a white balance with the picker and then want to adjust it slightly but moving the dial causes it to jump by a few hundred degrees. The same problem exists with the sliders.

Using the Behringer X-Touch Compact

Where this controller differs from the Akai, apart from the price, is that it has motorised sliders and endless dials. What this means is that when you move from image to image, the values of the dials can change and you're free to turn them and go straight into image adjusting without any jumping. The sliders are also motorised so they move to new positions to match the images values as you go from image to image which is an absolute must for us. It doesn't have as many dials as there Akai but it has more buttons and we can live with that.

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Also, we've worked out what parameters are absolutely essential to us to use on a daily basis and get those mapped into as few layers as possible. It's great to have everything at your fingertips, but trying to label a dial with five different items is impossible. So this is how we did it:

  • Layer 1: Basics such as Temperature, Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights etc as well as the Tone Curve and Vignette controls.
  • Layer 2: Split toning, Distortion controls and Noise reduction.
  • Layer 3: Hue, Saturation and Luminance of all colour channels.
  • Layer 4: Grey colour mixers.

Layer 1 is identified by labels above the controls, Layer 2 below the controls. Layer 3 is identified by coloured dots on the dials and layer 4 is only the grey sliders which are already identified by the coloured dots for layer 3. Anything else we might ever need we can use the mouse for.

The large number of buttons has been put to use to apply some standard presets we use everyday, some just apply noise reduction or sharpening. We can pick or reject images as well as open them in Photoshop or Portrait Pro. 

Conclusion

We LOVE the MIDI controller for Lightroom. It's intuitive dials and sliders make it ideal for photo editing and in the long term it will save us time during the editing process once the position of all the controls becomes second nature and when Adobe make any updates we know that LrControl is flexible enough to cope with it.