Behringer X-Touch Mini – The Loupedeck Alternative

Behringer X-Touch Mini – Judging by the hits this website received following my review of the Sony A9 it appears visitors are somewhat intrigued by my geeky camera equipment ramblings!  With that in mind I thought I’d squeeze in a couple more shout outs to the kit I use before wedding season kicks into top gear and I retreat into my editing cave for several months!

I visited the Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham yesterday and according to my Facebook and Twitter feeds it appears the Loupedeck proved a popular product amongst the attendees.  Some people pulled the trigger on a purchase whilst others were a bit more hesitant.

I have to admit, I am a nerd when it comes to camera tech and when I caught wind of the Loupdeck last year I was quite keen to give it a whirl.  The one thing putting me off was the hefty price tag, which at the time was pushing £300.  It was more than I was willing to pay, coupled with the fact there was a risk I’d use it once and then shove it in a drawer with numerous daft purchases such as the Osmo Mobile and Intuos Tablet!

The idea that I could control workflow on a dedicated console was something that still intrigued me, so I did some digging around on Google to see if there were any cheaper alternatives.  One name that kept popping up was the Behringer X-Touch Mini.  At just £60 it wouldn’t break the bank and if it turned out to be a pointless gadget then I could hand it to my two year old and tell him it was some sort of spaceship controller.

X-Touch-Mini-Lightroom

So the first question; what the heck is it?!

The X-Touch Mini is actually a MIDI controller.  The term refers to a “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” which automatically leads you to believe this sort of kit is designed to work in a music orientated environment, and you’d be right.  The controllers are designed to send electronic signals to equipment/computers to play or set music parameters.  However, some clever boffins spotted an opportunity to aid photographers by writing software that allow MIDI controllers to alter the parameters within Lightroom.  So essentially, instead of twisting a dial to pump up the bass, you can now twist it to pump up the green saturation (the latter doesn’t sound quite as cool though).

What can you actually do with it?

As you can see from the picture above, the X-Touch Mini has 8 rotating dials and 16 buttons, the dials can also be pressed downward providing you with another 8 buttons.  Each of these dials/buttons can be assigned/mapped to an individual function within Lightroom using a plugin called MIDI2LR (link at the bottom of the page).  That sounds a bit scary, techy and tricky, but it’s dead easy.  Once the plugin is downloaded and installed onto your computer you simply open up Lightroom, press a button or twist a dial on the X-Touch Mini and the associated MIDI command is highlighted with a blue bar in the MIDI2LR app (pictured below on the left).  You can then choose which Lightroom function you want that button to control from a drop down menu (pictured below on the right).  You can use it to control anything, from the basics such as Exposure, Contract, Shadows, Highlights, etc through to X/Y Rotations, picking colour profiles, applying your pre-defined presets, etc.  You can even create your own keyboard shortcuts and then assign them to your buttons.

Behringer X-Touch Mini

You repeat the process for all the buttons and dials you wish to use.  The great thing about the X-Touch Mini is the buttons are layered which effectively means the same button/dial can do two jobs (theoretically giving you 16 dials and 48 buttons).

But I can do all that with a mouse or keyboard?

You’re absolutely right, the X-Touch Mini is just another tool to compliment other computer peripherals.  I’ve chatted to other photographers who gave it a whirl but just couldn’t get on with it and reverted back to their trusted mouse and keyboard.  Similarly I have friends who use tablets to assist with their workflow; I tried a Wacom Intuos tablet a couple of years ago and whilst I found it useful for local adjustments it was a bit of a faff for everything else (hence it ended up in my drawer of doom!).

One key feature I like is being able to adjust multiple parameters simultaneously to really fine tune an image in realtime.  For instance I can increase the warmth and drop the tint at the same time to see how the alterations interact with each other, the same applies to lightening shadows and dropping the blacks to find a sweet spot without the restrictions of doing one adjustment before the other when solely using a mouse.

I also have a range of develop presets, copy/paste and straightening options assigned to the buttons, so I can quickly apply various styles to shots with a single click without taking my eyes off the image.

Despite being designed with music in mind, the X-Touch Mini so perfectly compliments Lightroom that an American company Pusher Labs market it as a system in it’s own right (calling it the MiniMal) with custom sticker templates fixed to the controller and running it’s Pfixer software.

Pfixer X-Touch Mini

The ultimate goal of tools like the X-Touch Mini and Loupedeck is to aid, improve and speed up the editing process.  It certainly took a few weddings to find my perfect combination of MIDI maps to get to a point where it was a benefit; now I’ve got that sweet spot I actually feel awkward editing without it as my fingers are always looking for the relevant dial/button to apply a tweak to an image!

I have used the Loupedeck but only for a few minutes, I did like it but I’m glad I saved myself £240 last year and opted for the X-Touch Mini for it’s construction, look and feel, associated software, configurability and ease of use.

It’s definitely a marmite moment, you’re either going to love it or hate it.  It’s certainly sped up my editing time which is certainly a good thing…and the sooner I can finish an edit the sooner my two year gets to play with it and pretend he’s flying spaceships!

The Behringer X-Touch Mini can be found at Amazon by clicking here.  The MIDI2LR is available as as free download from here.