The Loupedeck CT (short for Creative Tool) is a $549 input device designed to speed up creative tasks like photo editing, video editing, and audio production. I’ve been using one to edit photos in Creative Cloud apps like Lightroom and Photoshop over the last little while, and it’s a tough one to review. Here’s why.
What the Loupedeck CT Does
The Loupedeck CT is meant to speed up creative work. It does that by mapping tasks and actions to physical buttons and dials that normally require clicking around, scrolling through menus and sub-menus, and dragging digital sliders. The thinking is that the ungainly general purpose keyboard and mouse you normally use can be replaced, or at least augmented, with a purpose-built input device.
The Loupedeck CT has 6 dials, 8 round buttons, 12 square buttons, a large control wheel with a touch screen on top, and 12 touch screen buttons. It’s a lot of different input options, and most of them can hold multiple different functions. While you’re never going to be able to use it to write an email, it has more than enough inputs to let you do a lot in Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, and the like.
On that note, out of the box the Loupedeck CT is set up to work with some of the biggest professional apps. You can create your own profiles so it can work with other apps, thus it’s theoretically compatible with Doom if you want to suffer. Once you’ve plugged it in and installed the accompanying software, you can start working straight away in:
- Ableton Live
- Adobe Lightroom Classic
- Capture One Pro
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe Photoshop and Camera Raw
- Adobe Audition
- Adobe Premiere Pro
- Final Cut Pro X
Though you probably will be pretty confused if you try. There’s a bit of a learning curve, so reading the docs and checking out the tutorials is a better first step.
A Premium (Physical) Package
From a physical standpoint, the Loupedeck CT is great. It’s clearly meant to be a seriously premium product. It arrives in an embossed, beribboned, literally shiny box. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen any company come to matching—or exceeding—Apple’s product presentation.
While the back of the body is plastic, the faceplate is metal—presumably aluminum. With it sitting on your desk, you only really notice the front. And, with its colorful keys and multiple touch displays lit up, it screams “serious creative business” just sitting there.
The six dials are a delight to twiddle. They have a satisfying click, especially when you press them down. The main wheel is also a joy—it spins with almost no resistance. The 8 circle buttons have a good click to them.
Unfortunately for mechanical keyboard fans, the 12 square buttons are a bit softer. It’s not something that bothered me, but if you know the difference between your Cherry Reds and your Cherry Blues, you might be a tad put out.
The touch screens and buttons are, well, touchable. They’re noticeably lower resolution than a modern smartphone or high-definition laptop screen if you peek, but at a normal viewing distance the text is sharp enough to read easily.
Again, if it’s the kind of thing you’re a stickler for, it might annoy you, but for most regular users (or as regular a user as something like the Loupedeck CT can have), it shouldn’t be a problem—especially as it’s supposedly a functional device that’s meant to get out of the way.
The touch interface has two weird bits worth noting. First, the touch displays are all swipe-able, though the divider that splits the main one into buttons feels strange to do it with. Second, it took me a while to get used to the touch display on the dial. It might have been just me, but I kept kind of forgetting that that was where I had to go for some tools.
One surprising let down is the cable. While the Loupedeck CT has a USB-C port, it ships with a USB-A-to-USB-C rather than a USB-C-to-USB-C cable. Given the kind of people who are likely in the market for a $550 editing peripheral, I feel the USB-C-to-USB-C might have been the better option. I had to use a dongle to connect it to my MacBook Pro.
The Loupedeck CT even has Bluetooth built-in so you could in theory ditch the cable, but for now it’s not activated. It’s meant to become available in a future software update, though since because the Loupedeck CT doesn’t have a built-in battery, it remains to be seen how that will work out.
Also, the Loupedeck CT is billed as portable. And while it technically is, the dials all protrude a bit too much for me to be comfortable throwing it in a bag without the official carrying case—available for an extra $60.
Its supposed portability also means it ships with 8GB of internal storage for transporting work files and editing profiles. A good idea in theory, but it meant I had to eject it every time I unplugged it from my computer. Not really a problem per se but certainly a weird extra step.
Some Software Questions
So, the hardware is up to scratch. It’s satisfying to use and, while you can always find fault with a $500+ bit of tech if you look, there are no serious issues worth harping on about. The software needs a bit more nuance.
Let me start by saying the Loupedeck CT has the potential to be an incredibly powerful and vital part of your creative workflow. Out of the box, however, it won’t be.
I spent most of my time using the Loupedeck CT with Photoshop and Lightroom, so I’m going to focus my discussion on them, though from my experiences, I feel the same issues will be present with the other apps.
The built-in profiles the Loupedeck CT ships with for those two apps are fine, but they have one big issue. Something like the Loupedeck only speeds up your workflow if the tools you use are at your fingertips and, for me, with the built-in Photoshop profile, they weren’t—or at least not all in one place.
I had to switch between several workspaces and menus to move between the retouching tools and adjustment layers and then look somewhere else to grab the brush tool. There was no issues interacting with Photoshop while doing it, but it was a lot slower than just using my trackpad or the keyboard shortcuts I memorized about a decade ago.
You can even see the issues in Loupedeck’s own tutorial videos. Just look at the amount of button pressing Adam from First Man photography has to do as he edits. His workflow is certainly not quicker.
Things were a bit better in Lightroom, mainly because it has a significantly more linear and predictable workflow. Browsing and selecting photos was easy, pulling out good picks and culling the bad ones just a tap away, and adjusting the exposure or contrast with the dials was excellent and really highlighted how good the Loupedeck setup could be. But Loupedeck uses Lightroom’s system of picks flags and rejects, while I prefer to use the star-rating system.
Now, while it might seem like I’ve spent the last 300 words criticizing the Loupedeck CT, I’m really a big fan. The problems above are all with the out of the box, fit for the general public, plug-in and go stuff.
The Loupedeck CT has to ship set up in a such a way that anyone who uses Photoshop or Lightroom (or any of the other apps) can get started straight away, but that means that anyone who has an existing workflow (which I assume is 99% of Loupedeck’s potential customers) is going to find it slow and ungainly at the start.
Which is why Loupedeck is so customizable.
Unfortunately, while the Loupedeck software for creating or editing profiles at first appears easy to use and intuitive, actually getting anywhere with it takes a bit of work. In a way, it’s hamstrung by its own power. The sheer array of inputs, workspaces, and actions you can customize means that you can genuinely create your perfect peripheral—but it will take some time and trial and error. I still haven’t got mine right.
Loupedeck are obviously aware that they’ve got a complex product on their hands. The user guides are well written and clear, and they’ve got some handy video tutorials on their website. But no amount of understanding what you’re meant to do will help you get the shortcuts into muscle memory, nor will it make creating profiles any less complex.
And this is really the crux of the issue. Am I reviewing the Loupedeck CT as the product was shipped to me? Or should I be reviewing it on how good it can be if you take the time to configure it correctly for all your needs?
Because out of the box, the Loupedeck CT slows me down a lot. And even if I committed to learning how to navigate all the menus instantly, many of my commonly used tools and tasks would be slower to access than they are with my keyboard, trackpad, or Wacom tablet.
But, with the Loupedeck CT configured so that my Lightroom presets and most used tools are a single tap away, and that I can instantly turn a dial to adjust different aspects of an image, it fades unnoticeably into the background—and I’m able to just edit. Then it’s exceptional.
Is the Loupedeck CT Right for You?
The Loupedeck CT is a very good solution to a very niche problem. It’s certainly not for most people.
Really, it’s something you should consider buying if, and only if:
- You are prepared to take the time to set it up for your workflow. Out of the box, it is not likely to be quicker than just using your keyboard and mouse.
- You spend a lot of time editing or producing. Whatever time savings you get, even with the Loupedeck CT setup properly for you, are unlikely to be worth it unless they’re adding up day after day. You don’t need a lighting fast workflow if you only edit a few photos a month.
- You generally know what you’re trying to do. Even with all its inputs, the Loupedeck CT can only put so many options in front of you. If you’re trying to explore loads of different edits or are unsure what direction you want to take something, then it’s going to get in the way rather than help you.
I suppose there’s still a small group of wealthy amateur photographers who, for whatever reason, absolutely abhor keyboard shortcuts and aren’t prepared to learn them. If that’s you, then the Loupedeck CT might be worth it too, as all the options are labeled.
Also, the Loupedeck CT is absolutely best as an accompaniment to a keyboard, mouse, and, best of all, a Wacom tablet, rather than your only editing tool. You need a way to interact directly with your images if you want to remove spots or do other local adjustments. Don’t assume this is a total replacement for anything.
Some Final Notes
So, what’s the takeaway?
The Loupedeck CT certainly isn’t a product for most people. In all good conscience, I can’t recommend that many amateur photographers even think about putting $550 towards it. This is a tool for professionals for whom saving a few seconds with every image (or video or audio production) adds up to a meaningful amount.
But I also feel that this review has been unduly negative. Check the score: I’m giving it a comfortable 8/10, and honestly, if it was easier to configure your own profiles, that would be higher. The build quality is great, and it’s got the potential to be a 10/10 product—if you put in the work. But it’s that very potential that undermines it and means that, at least for me, out of the box it was actively bad.
Really, I feel like I’ve been asked to review a Lamborghini. If you know what you’re doing on a track or just want to cruise around Monte Carlo looking awesome, it’s perfect. But as a day-to-day car for city living? It’s an expensive mistake.
In the right hands, in the right circumstances the Loupedeck CT does exactly what it promises. Hopefully now you at least have some idea as to whether you’re the right person to put it through its paces.
And if you love the idea of what the Loupedeck CT can do but are put off by the sticker shock, you do have a few options. Gamers have long been using control pads like the Razer Tartarus to overcome the shortcomings of regular keyboards and mice as input-devices.
Macro pads can do pretty much the same thing, without the gaming focus. They won’t play nice with Lightroom out of the box, but you can configure the keys to do whatever you want, and apply different profiles to different programs.
Or, even more simply, the Razer Naga Trinity mouse has a 12 key side panel. That’s more than enough to map your most used Photoshop tools to. Neither solution is quite as elegant as Loupedeck’s, but they’re a lot easier to justify for amateurs and hobbyists.
Here’s What We Like
- Serious potential—if you set it up
- Dials and buttons are better than UI equivalents
- Satisfyingly premium design
And What We Don't
- Takes time to set up properly and there's a learning curve
- Configuring profiles could be easier
- Not where most people should spend $550