PFixer, designed by Pusher Labs, is a very interesting project, but I should note at the outset that it’s only available for the Mac operating system. Sorry Windows users.
Although their website highlights their MiniMal midi controller, the flexibility of their software is far more interesting in my opinion. The main PFixer software works with any midi controller, or with your existing keyboard (like Motibodo) or Apple trackpad.
The main PFixer software offers over 200 different Lightroom functions, including up to 20 Develop presets and 10 Local Adjustment presets, so you can pick and choose which controls you’d like to use. There’s also a light version of the software, named Core, which offers a more limited range of functionality.
If you’re using the software with your standard keyboard, this means you can have a huge number of settings applied to keys and their modifier combinations, just like Motibodo, except you’re in control of which sliders are assigned to each key.
You can also use it with a trackpad, assigning different areas of the trackpad to different commands. For example, you could divide your trackpad into 4 imaginary squares. Using one finger to move vertically in the top left corner could adjust Temperature and moving horizontally could adjust Tint. The top right corner might adjust Exposure and Contrast, and so forth.
The MiniMal midi controller has 8 dials, 18 buttons and a fader. As you turn the dials, the sliders move. Using the buttons, you can switch between different groups of adjustments, so the dials can adjust Basic sliders in one mode, Tone Curve sliders in another, Hue sliders in another, and so forth. This means you can adjust a huge range of sliders without ever having to touch your mouse. The buttons can also be assigned to specific commands, such as Copy, Paste, Sync or Crop, to name a few.
A new Xtremist panel is also due to be added in the near future, which benefits from motorized faders. This is particularly interesting if you like the idea of moving Lightroom’s sliders using physical sliders, rather than dials. Using most midi controller faders, when you start to adjust the fader, Lightroom’s slider jumps back to match the fader position. In contrast, the Xtremist’s motorized faders jump to match Lightroom’s slider positions.
PFixer only works with Lightroom, but within Lightroom it’s very flexible. You’re not limited to a specific panel layout or workflow, and you can reprogram the controls to your own preferences.
It comes with a number of sample shortcut layouts, and you can tweak the settings to your hearts content. For example, if you’re using the software with your standard keyboard, you can use a mix of PFixer shortcuts and native ones. This is particularly useful when certain key combinations are burned forever into your memory.
You can also reprogram the controls on the MiniMal controller. For example, if you never add a Vignette, you can reprogram that dial to adjust the Vibrance instead. One of the first adjustments I made was to promote the Temp & Tint dials to “first layer” on the controller, and change the order of the Blacks/Shadows/Highlights/Whites dials to match the slider order, because that’s how my brain works. You can reprogram them to fit the way your brain works.
The basics of the MiniMal were straightforward to pick up – turn the first dial and the Exposure slider moves. It gets more complicated when you start switching layers (different dial behaviors depending on which buttons are depressed), and I was still getting confused after a few hours, although I’m sure this would become second nature in time.
The software came with presets for other popular Lightroom keyboard solutions, so it was quick and easy to get started. Reprogramming the keyboard commands to suit my own preferences was also fairly intuitive, and simply involved replacing the shortcut in the Preferences dialog.
The only downside I ran into is the History panel fills up quickly, which is true of many of the gadgets. Extensive History states tend to balloon the catalog size and have been known to slow Lightroom down. However, this can be adjusted in PFixer’s Preferences, at the cost of slowing down preview update times, or the History can simply be cleared if it starts causing problems.
Size & Ergonomics
Midi controllers aren’t designed for this kind of use, so the ergonomics of the MiniMal aren’t great. The dials rise high above the desk, and the buttons take a little effort to press. Editing with the MiniMal on your lap is a little more comfortable.
The software, on the other hand, has taken up permanent residence on my laptop. Using the keyboard to “touch-type” adjustments is very comfortable, and the new trackpad support holds a lot of potential for gesture based adjustments.
OS & Lightroom Compatibility
The software is Mac only, but it runs on 10.7 and later, and uses Lightroom 4 or later.
Instructions & Support
There’s a good set of installation instructions on their website. Other instructions are a little more limited. Reprogramming midi controllers appears to be more complicated and undocumented, but if you order one of their midi controllers, they arrive already set up.
Ben is very responsive to support requests, and there’s also a Facebook user group for sharing ideas and settings.
Cost & Trial Versions
The light Core software is $29.99*
The main PFixer software is $99.99*
The MiniMal bundle, which includes the MiniMal midi controller and software, is $179.99 (plus any shipping/customs charges)*
There is a fully functional 14 day free trial for the PFixer software, and since it can use your own keyboard and trackpad, there’s no cost involved if you fancy giving it a whirl. Just make sure you take enough time to play with it, as the benefits increase with use.
You can use any midi controller, but some work better than others. They’ve provided step-by-step instructions for popular models, many of which can be purchased second-hand on eBay if you’re undecided.
* Prices correct at the time of writing.
* Full disclosure – When I told them I was planning to test their software for this review, Pusher Labs sent me a MiniMal panel and software for testing. I receive no compensation for this review.