Ctrl+Console is a small company that makes iPad-controller apps for desktop applications like Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro. The company has just launched a sibling app, Lightroom Sorter, which it hopes will resonate with photographers ranging from newbies to experts. Unlike other apps such as Lightroom for mobile or the recently defunct Photosmith, Lightroom Sorter doesn’t allow you to work with photos on your iPad. Instead, it serves as a control panel that drives your desktop installation in the Library module. The app is fairly expensive at $50 (directly converted, about £35 or AU$70), but after reading the story of Photosmith’s financials I can see why that’s probably a reasonable price.
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The system consists of two parts: the app and a desktop utility application that runs in the background. Basically, the utility gives the system an IP address that allows the app to talk to it via Wi-Fi. It sends keystroke commands, so it can only control operations that respond to them. There are only two screens for the functional portions of the app, Library and Survey. Three of Lightroom’s five views can be called up — grid, single-image loupe and multi-image survey — plus the three screen options of Lights Out (which dims the rest of the display), full screen or hide panels. In your current folder or collection, you navigate through the photos one by one with the previous/next buttons, or scrub through every fourth image using gestures. For each image, you can zoom in; flag or reject; add to the Quick Collection; apply one of four color labels (since the fifth label doesn’t have a keystroke command, the app can’t apply it); rate it; or apply keywords from the nine in the currently selected keyword set, which are mapped to numbers — bizarrely, left to right starting at the bottom row, so that, for example, the top left keyword which you’d think would be 1 is mapped to 7. For speed, you can opt to have the app automatically move to the next image after you’ve performed an operation, which is nice. There are also undo and redo buttons. With gestures you can also increase or decrease the rating and switch view modes. Thankfully, the app provides a reference overlay with reminders. The survey screen has most of the same controls, but replaces the “add to Quick Collection” option with “add to set”, the zoom button with a button for selecting the next set of images and the reject button with a button to remove the current image from the displayed set. Gestures in this module are navigate, flag, remove from set, scrub, increase/decrease rating and full-screen toggle.You can specify the number images in a survey set, from 1 to 99. It’s not very full-featured for the money, but under some circumstances it’s probably worth it. For working photographers walking clients through a shoot, it’s much better than clustering around the computer or the iPad, and it lets you display images a lot larger and higher-resolution than on just the iPad, especially since the mobile version of Lightroom is limited to the low-resolution proxy images that it syncs. People new to Lightroom might find the app’s interface a lot less intimidating than Lightroom’s for the same operations, though. And if you apply keywords from custom sets a lot, it’s also a great help; since there are no keyboard shortcuts for them, the app can speed things up quite a bit. The biggest drawback I found is that it can’t pan. You can zoom an image, but you still have to move up to the computer to pan. With video applications like Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro an external controller, especially for scrubbing, makes a lot of sense. It’s not quite as compelling for photo editing, simply because most of the operations you perform lend themselves better to keyboard shortcuts. But if you’re looking for a simpler interface or a lean-back viewing experience, Lightroom Sorter is a nice way to do it.