Fstoppers Reviews PFixer MIDI Controller for Lightroom
The first automobiles were controlled by something called a tiller (similar to how ships were steered). It was, obviously, not the most practical or efficient means of control. However, in 1894, the first steering wheel was fitted on a four horsepower Panhard for a race from Paris to Rouen. Within ten years, nearly all tillers had been replaced by steering wheels. The mouse, although all-purpose, is the tiller of Lightroom. Ladies and gentlemen, the PFixer by Pusher Labs is the steering wheel we’ve been waiting for.
Last month, after spending almost a straight 48 hours racking my brain to reprogram a MIDI controller desk to work with the sliders in Lightroom, I was made aware of PFixer by Pusher Labs (for Mac only). After spending the last week with PFixer, I can easily say that this is the best addition to my workflow since a Wacom tablet.
First of all, I absolutely love using my MIDI controller desk to process my images. ACTUAL sliders to adjust sliders? WITH BOTH HANDS? Who wouldn’t want that? It’s more efficient than moving a mouse. It’s more accurate than lifting up a stylus pen and getting a jump in the setting. It’s less keystrokes than using keyboard shortcuts or inputting numbers. I’ll take that deal any day of the week.
My favorite part, however, is the ability to manipulate multiple sliders at the same time. Entire tonal ranges can be at your fingertips! [Insert maniacal laugh here] This is probably the greatest unmentioned feature about the board. You can make entire tonal sets brighter or darker (like highlights and whites or shadows and blacks), without changing the contrast within that range. It’s wonderful.
All that aside, how does PFixer work? And how does this product differ from the do-it-yourself method?
First, the hardware. The PFixer Panel ($249.99) is based on the exact same MIDI controller desk that I already had in place (if you also have it, Pusher Labs sells an overlay that sticks right on top for $19.99). The board is a Behringer BCF-2000. If you prefer knobs to sliders, there is the PFixer Encoder ($179.99). It has lots of knobs.
Second, the PFixer software ($99.99 for MacOS only). The do-it-yourself method requires programming and a lot of troubleshooting on buggy, unsupported software. Knobroom is a Lightroom plug-in, so it works within the software. PFixer is an external program that sits on top, and must be synced up when Lightroom is opened. I have found that if you have hundreds of presets, it will take a bit longer. In recent updates, the sync process has become exponentially faster, so the speed at which the program syncs isn’t very long. When deciding between the plugin and the program, I will pick PFixer every time. It’s more accurate, WAY less buggy and gives me more programming options. Sure, I COULD spend all my time programming two hundred different settings and configurations into Knobroom, OR I could install PFixer, have more options and less headache. The software also gives you the option to remap your keyboard shortcuts.
Third, installing. Setup is very easy. Install the software and at the very end, give PFixer permissions in your OS (there are prompts for this). Then, turn on the PFixer Panel and open Lightroom. As soon as you select the “Develop” module, the syncing will start automatically. You must leave the computer alone while it is syncing up, otherwise it will not initialize correctly. If this does occur, select “Reinitialize Bindings” from the dropdown menu and it will fix itself. The entire sync process takes about 10 seconds.
Now let’s take a look at what the Panel can do. There are eight motorized sliders that change automatically depending on the image. There are several settings on the board that can be easily navigated through. Each is labeled on the panel by color. “Basic” is bold and white. “Editing” is yellow. “Culling” is small and white. Switching between modes is done by pressing one of the corresponding buttons at the top. There are also buttons for left right, undo, previous, etc.
On basic, sliders control exposure, contrast, blacks, shadows, highlights, whites, clarity and post vignette. I found the last one a little out of place for my personal workflow, but to be fair, I hadn’t even used that slider on my board. Across the top, we have dials for temperature, tint, vibrance, saturation, shadows, darks, lights and highlights. There are more buttons and configurations than I would ever use, but I do appreciate that they are there. They jam packed as much of Lightroom as possible into this board (over 200 functions). There are buttons for copy, paste, reset, match exposure, sync, edit in Photoshop, convert to black and white and a lot more. Some of the more frequently used buttons were a little awkward to get to for me personally, but luckily the software allows the board to be completely customizable.
In the newest version of the software, Pusher Labs has added gesture support to the Trackpad. The feature is still very new, so it isn’t customizable. At this stage, it’s something of an “undocumented perk.” Swipe to the left or right to go to the next image, or use the Trackpad like faders. Using the two-finger scroll, each section of the Trackpad corresponds to different effects. With Lightoom open and PFixer running, hold down the Fn key and you can adjust any of the following:
If you single click in any of these areas, can apply these adjustments.
I have also been informed that Pusher Labs is in development of a free layout for the TouchOSC app that turns your IPad into an additional MIDI controller. Once it’s released in the very near future, it will look something like this:
As it stands, PFixer and the Panel by themselves are the best bang for your buck when it comes to this kind of an interface. Adding in the Trackpad option as well as the IPad, I don’t know of anything else that offers this amount of customization and versatility.
Some features of Pfixer and the PFixer Panel to keep in mind:
Native MacOS application
Over 200 Lightroom functions
Customizable keyboard shortcuts
Trackpad gesture support
Supports 20 Develop presets
Supports 10 Brush presets
Includes Motibodo and VSCO compatible layouts
PFixer Panel Bundle ($329.99) includes the Panel and the PFixer software
PFixer Encoder Bundle ($259.99) Includes the Enocder and the PFixer software
PFixer for OSX ($99.99)
PFixer Panel ($249.99)
PFixer Encoder ($179.99)
PFixer Overlay ($19.99)
They can all be ordered from Pusher Labs here.
Why, oh why didn’t I discover this earlier? It is immeasurable how much easier processing has become with the PFixer Panel. After the first couple of images I was almost confused. It couldn’t be this easy….could it? The more I processed, the more I reveled in disbelief. To put it in some kind of perspective, I processed over 2500 images on it in three days – each one individually. PFixer (and the Panel) is easily the most excited I’ve been about a product in years. Well done, Pusher Labs.