• Facebook

    500 K / likes

  • Twitter

    1 M / followers

Review: The PFixer MiniMal MIDI Controller Fixes Up Your Lightroom Workflow

Comment

minimal.1215.DSC_4749

Developing an efficient workflow is probably one of the greatest battles of any photographer, self included. This applies doubly to the professional who works from home, with so many distractions all trying to peel me away from sitting at that desk any longer than I have to. It’s a challenge to stay on point, day to day, getting work done in a timely fashion, especially when hey, I’m a photographer, I should be out photographing things, right? Thankfully the Pusher Labs‘ PFixer and MiniMal is here to help.

Workflow… If you’re like me you’ve got two goals: spend less time in front of that screen and still produce a top quality end product. And while I always say I want to improve my workflow, my brain says “nah, let’s just keep going this way, change is hard, you’re too old.”

Thanks for that vote of confidence, brain.

Back Story

Let’s rewind to 2012 when I decided that my workflow needed tweaking. Twenty minutes of Googling later, I found some mapping software and purchased a Logitech G13 keypad, determined to free myself of the hold that the mouse and keyboard had over me. For a solid three weeks I happily sorted and edited my pictures via the Logitech keypad — before slowly reverting back to the mouse/keyboard. The KB/M was just faster, easier, smoother and more natural.

minimal.1215.DSC_4816

The point of that story is this: I have forever wanted a better Lightroom processing solution. And when I saw the PFixer MiniMal, with so many buttons, control schemes and dials — not just dials, but dials that also function as buttons — and back lighting on the keys!? Oh man, oh man, I knew I had found the solution.

Back To Today

What you’re buying from Pusher Labs is two things: the mapping software, called “Pfixer” and the control pad, called “MiniMal” which is actually a Behringer X-Touch Mini, a MIDI control pad meant for musicians. Though the software and hardware are available individually for $100 each, the bundle price for $180 is the way to go. The MiniMal comes decorated with stickers to clarify each button’s job, which is much needed when you consider the 33 button pad expands to 76 when you change layers from A to B.

minimal.1215.DSC_4803

Trying out the MiniMal for the first time, I plugged it in and went through the simple install process. Half expecting to navigate into the bowels of my Mac’s file structure to insert a random PFixer file into some obscure directory, I was pleasantly surprised that getting the software installed was easy. Before I knew it, I was entering Lightroom control pad bliss.

Software

Once the PFixer software is installed you’ll see several overlaid notifications on Lightroom advising you of Pfixer’s presence, and that’s it, ready to use. A drop down menu from your menu bar will allow you to access the options of the PFixer. Unless you’re a special use case, I doubt many changes will occur as the default board setup is very well set up.

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 4.07.26 PM

That is, except for your presets. Obviously because preset titles are so custom to everyone, and because of the way that PFixer has to call these into action when you hit the appropriate key, you’ll need to map your own presets for your filters.

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 4.06.55 PM

My own workflow has me sorting and editing somewhat simultaneously, whereas the common workflow style is to sort, cull and then process in full. This is the default setup for the MiniMal: one mode is for processing, another for sorting. I had to blend these together to prevent much unnecessary clicking on the pad.

The process to do this was simple. The online documentation is thorough — despite Pusher Labs’ own suggestion to the contrary, advising that they’re in the process of bolstering the online support — and the menu system, while somewhat visually complex is very straight forward. If you’ve ever setup a Logitech Harmony remote control or a similar type of mapping software, you’ll be comfortable re-mapping commands. Select command, press keypad, job done.

One really neat function of the PFixer software is the ability to use the Apple Trackpad to map specific commands to it.

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 4.26.39 PM

Hardware

Ergonomically the MiniMal isn’t amazing, it’s not meant to be used in the way us photographers are going to use it — endlessly, hour on hour with our hands in the same position editing photos. It’s meant for a musician to occasionally use. A dial turn here, a button press there with perhaps as much as 10 or 15 minutes passing without so much as a glance at the board. A small wrist rest in front of the MiniMal would do wonders to keep your wrist in line and not bent all the time.

minimal.1215.DSC_4782

But it redeems itself quickly in that it’s small, lightweight and limits interaction with the mouse and keyboard, meaning I was able to sit back in my chair with the MiniMal in my lap, freed from my usual desktop confine.

One evening I sat in my recliner with a laptop perched on the arm of a nearby chair while sifting through a pile of wedding pictures. That’s about as comfortable and relaxing as it can get when it comes to quickly processing a set of pictures.

minimal.1215.DSC_4805

Something that may challenge people when they begin to initially use it is the force required to press the buttons, especially when compared to the chiclet keyboard of a Mac. As I mentioned earlier, this board is meant for audio, video and lighting technicians who will generally only interact with it every few minutes. For us photographers, selecting your keepers in Lightroom can quickly become fatiguing, especially since the ergonomics aren’t fantastic to begin with.

It took me a few hours to adjust to the force required to press the Minimal’s buttons but the benefit of this is that I never accidentally grazed a button and made erroneous changes to the pictures.

Putting It To Use

First things first, there’s a learning curve. Despite the simplicity of the product, many will find the first several attempts to use the PFixer MiniMal to be somewhat tedious.

minimal.1215.DSC_4759

It’s not hard, but it was a complete shift in my thought process, a whole new realm of muscle memory needed to be developed and instincts needed to be fought. For the first couple of weeks I found myself continuously reaching for the mouse, only to do something I could have done on the board. Instead of clicking to adjust the highlights, I was able to just flick one of the dials a few clicks and have precision. Even the curves were manageable via the pad, simply wonderful.

minimal.1215.DSC_4793

Being able to sit back with the supplied 6ft usb cable was nice, but I still found myself reaching for the mouse about 10% of the time. This number increased substantially when I would need to rotate the angle of a photo to correct a horizon, there just isn’t a true cropping/angling solution for the PFixer MiniMal right now. The workaround being to use the scale/rotate adjustment under manual Lens Corrections; not a perfect solution but it works. Support for the tools panel (crop and other adjustments) will come in a future update.

minimal.1215.DSC_4795

The dials also act as buttons to allow you to press them down — similar to the sticks gaming console’s controller. From the start these have no mapping, so I quickly mapped them to my presets for easier access.

I rarely experienced a slight latency when making adjustments with the dials. I’m running Lightroom on a 2015 iMac i7 with 64gb of ram and 512 of flash storage, so I’m pretty sure my computer wasn’t the problem. Thinking that Lightroom may be the problem, I consulted their online documentation.

They have a tip everyone should adhere to when using PFixer with Lightroom: Use smart previews, offline your RAWs and Lightroom will run smoother. This alleviated the infrequent latency issue I’d been suffering.

Side Benefit

I found that when I use a mouse and keyboard while working in Lightroom I’m quick to stray — edit 10 photos, open Reddit for 5 minutes, forget about photos, go get coffee, edit 10 more photos, repeat. The slow tedious process of mousing across the screen and painfully interacting with a poorly thought-out keyboard shortcut map from Lightroom lead me into endless procrastination.

minimal.1215.DSC_4741

With the MiniMal I rarely have a hand on the mouse, which prevented me from procrastinating and casually browsing. This may be the largest benefit to my own level of efficiency than any of the fancy button mapping that the MiniMal has to offer. The speed at which I can navigate, cull and process a photo in Lightroom is near 100% with the PFixer Minimal. I’m hard pressed to find much room to improve my processing efficiency with the MiniMal on my desk.

Conclusion

The price point is an interesting one. For those photographers who work primarily for clients and under deadlines, this is a definite buy. At just $180 for a considerable boost to your processing, many professionals would consider this small change for such large boosts to their processing abilities.

minimal.1215.DSC_4739

In my opinion the MiniMal will make a professional photographer not only faster but also more dynamic in Lightroom. Less mousing, means less time spent on each photo, which means more time to put back into your creative process. And despite spending less time on each photo, the MiniMal enables finer tuned adjustments at your finger tips, thus facilitating better looking photos.

If you’re a hobbyist who rarely works under a deadline and rarely sorts and processes 2000 to 4000 pictures in a sitting and isn’t concerned with how much time you spend in Lightroom, then the $180 is probably a little harder to come to grips with. Will you be faster, yes, but does that matter to you?

minimal.1215.DSC_4758

What I will say is that whether you’re a pro looking to spend less time in Lightroom or a hobbyist who enjoys the artistic side of post processing, the PFixer MiniMal is a wonderful piece of hardware/software. The physical dials — especially for the tinkerer — are the best. Quickly making adjustments (highs, lows, clarity, contrast, etc.) via actual control knobs is so immensely underrated. The software is flawless, not buggy and in my travels didn’t crash once — a rarity for these over-the-top types of software meant to co-mingle with other heavy software from the likes of Adobe.

The PFixer software isn’t actually tied into Lightroom in the sense that it isn’t a plugin, so that in the future the potential is there for PFixer to work with other software such as Capture One. Also, unlike some other control pad software, the PFixer isn’t restricted to Lightroom 6 or CC, it’ll actually work with versions all the way back to 4. Furthermore, the pad at its core is able to control a lot of software and who knows down what roads your travels may take. Do a podcast? Do video? Need to run the lights at your friends concert? You may be surprised at just how versatile the MiniMal (a.k.a Behringer X-Touch Mini) can be.

I’m confident in saying that once PFixer weaves its way into your workflow you’ll never go back.

My Recommendation

If you’re a professional, you need this. Simple. It’s going to expedite your processing and allow you to spend more time out taking pictures.

If you’re an aspiring professional, this may be a fantastic Christmas gift to drop subtle hints for. It may not be a tool you’re truly in need of right now but you’ll grow into it as your workload expands.

If you’re a pure hobbyist who only shoots for themselves, this will help you and definitely make processing and rendering photos in Lightroom a more fluid experience. But you may find it to be slightly excessive to your requirements.

Pros:

  • Enables maximum Lightroom efficiency
  • Can prevents procrastination
  • Potential for a more comfortable work space environment
  • Buttons for just about every Lightroom adjustment, presets included

Cons

  • Poor ergonomics, but it works and is still less fatiguing than a mouse and keyboard
  • Slightly complex settings and options but this is avoidable, the MiniMal can be plug and play

Comment