Palette Gear Review
To begin, you’ll need to check that the Palette Gear kit is setup for Adobe Lightroom. Open up Lightroom and go to File>Plug-in Manager and check that the Palette Gear Plug-In status is selected as ‘Enable’. For us the Plug-In was already enabled.
Initially, the PaletteApp software (V2) struggled to recognise our keyboard. After trying a combination of minor fiddles, including restarting PaletteApp and Lightroom - the problem seemed to fix itself. That asides, the Expert Kit was up and running straight away.
With the Palette Gear kit attached, the first step is to create a ‘profile' for the software (App) of your choice, in this case Adobe Lightroom CC.
It is important to label a profile clearly and order each one logically, so as to navigate the multiple profiles that we found necessary to create for Lightroom alone.
In our case, we created four profiles, covering library, export, develop for basic exposure corrections and develop for advanced Local Adjustments.
Modules can be assigned to specific functions in each profile. For example, a slider can control basic exposure, a button for viewing Before/ After edits and a dial set to control basic highlights.
Palette Gear wisely encourages users to assign one of the ‘Arcade-syle’ Buttons to Palette Profile Switching. Doing this means that at the click of the button, PaletteApp moves on to the next profile to work with the next set of controls. It is a logical workflow.
You could look at the Expert Kit that contains only 2 sliders and think, how does that cover the sliders in Lightroom, of which there are more than 40?
Well, the Palette Profile Switching helps - the four profiles we created essentially quadrupled the modules, meaning the Expert Kit then has eight sliders. In reality, not many folk use all of the sliders available in Lightroom anyway and eight sliders is plenty enough for most frequently used adjustments.
The illuminated border of each module can also be set to any of six basic colours. Asides from looking pretty, giving a different colour to modules can in theory help you differentiate what type of function has been given to the modules in each profile.
Our first impressions of the Palette Gear Expert Kit are favourable indeed. Each module is well crafted, which is perhaps unsurprising given how expensive a kit is.
Each module magnetically snaps into place and is instantly registered in the PaletteApp (v2) software.
The function and selected colour of each module is remembered, even when they are manually reconfigured. Impressive stuff.
Each module is considerably more chunky than those found on a MIDI controller deck, but a Palette Gear Expert Kit has considerably less controls (modules) and therefore remains more compact.
The big selling point to a Palette Gear Kit is creating a speedier workflow and eliminating the need to drag the cursor around to navigate software and make adjustments. No mouse or trackpad needed, though a Pen Tablet would make an ideal companion.
In Adobe Lightroom CC there is a lot that can be achieved on import, before editing begins. For example, a set of edits can be automatically applied to all imported images in Lightroom's Develop module, through Library Filters> Filter Through Preset> Basic Settings for Import.
We would normally have already applied lens corrections, sharpening, contrast, clarity and vibrance by default, from which to then make individual adjustments. Therefore, we have focused on assigning modules to adjustments that are typically made individually to images, largely ignoring what can be achieved through the import settings.
The sort of individual adjustments that Palette Gear kits are helpful with include basic and local exposure adjustments, plus shadow and highlight recovery and so on.
For individual adjustments, the modules feel great and respond intuitively.
Typically with a mouse or trackpad, one needs to navigate the screen and then click to select and drag to make adjustments. Conversely, using a Palette Gear kit slider for adjustments to exposure for example, removes the need to drag the cursor to the exposure slider.
As well as being quicker, the slider itself is much kinder to your hand, with less strain than when clicking and dragging a mouse.
In short, the slider is quicker and more comfortable. With hours editing ahead, one begins to appreciate these little differences.
Slider modules that are part of a Palette Gear kit are not motorised. If that means nothing to you, we will explain one small issue this creates with the following example.
With the slider set to adjust highlights, moving all the way to the left moves highlights to -100. The slider remains in this position when moving on to edit another image. Conversely, a motorised slider would automatically reset to the value of the highlights in the next image, without you touching the slider.
So what happens when you want to decrease highlights in this next image, when the Palette Gear slider is already all the way to the left? Well, the Palette Gear kit only communicates with Lightroom when the slider is moved again, at which point the highlights in the new image jumps to the relative position of the slider, which in this case would be around -100.
With non-motorised sliders from different MIDI controller units, you may have to bring back the slider to the 0 position, in order to regain control over the highlight slider again. Now that is a real hassle.
But the way a Palette Gear kit behaves in the aforementioned example is a useful workaround. In reality, the number of times one needs to make drastic changes from one image to the next is limited. So for us, the fact that a slider module in a Palette Gear kit is non-motorised isn’t a deal breaker for photo editing - it is not that much of a hassle.
A motorised slider may or may not be on the cards for Palette Gear, but if it is then we would expect the module to be much more expensive than a non-motorised slider module.
The multi-function dials are essentially the encoder type (without light display), not the rotary type, meaning they have no rotation end point in either direction. A rotary dial is limited with beginning and end points.
You can keep rotating the multi-function dial past the end of the Lightroom slider that it controls. So unlike using the slider, when switching between images the Lightroom values that the dial module is assigned to control remain independent.
With the multi-function dials, the speed of rotation determines whether precise or large adjustments are made - a slow turn makes precise adjustments which are otherwise quite fiddly to achieve when using a mouse.
A neat feature regarding the dial is that by pushing down till it clicks, the adjustment just made is reset to 0.
Remembering what function each module controls can be a bit of a minefield, even when colour coded. However, there needs to be enough modules in order for a Palette Gear kit to be genuinely useful.
We think the Expert Kit provides the ideal balance for photo editing, especially when making use of the Palette Profile Switching feature that can be assigned to one of the buttons.
There is the practical matter of space. Your workspace may be large or small, but the Palette Gear kit is no small thing, taking up a notable area of a desk top. It is another consideration to ponder.
However, the Expert Kit is more compact than most other options out there. When set to a squarish grid, you are looking at approximately a 180x140mm area, around a third of the size of a 13in laptop.