In this TourBox Neo Review, we'll look at how this innovative input controller can dramatically speed up your photography workflow.
For photographers, speeding up common tasks can add up to huge time savings. For editing and processing images, a lot of these repetitive actions take the form of keystrokes for image browsing and rating or dragging sliders, respectively. Enter the TourBox Neo.
The TourBox Neo is a input device for your computer that features over a dozen controls that can be customized. What's more, with the TourBox app, you can customize each of these buttons with essentially infinite variations, with custom functions for any given application.
This all sounds good in theory, but how does this custom input controller work in practice? Here's my overview of the TourBox Neo for Photographers, with a specific look at using this device for Photo Mechanic and Adobe Lightroom Classic.
Why Use an Input Controller like TourBox?
OK, so why does the TourBox exist? There are two main benefits:
First, the promise is essentially that you can customize this device and its controls to very quickly access your most used functions. Second, you can use multiple controllers to more quickly and easily make adjustments. The options for a scroll wheel, a jog dial, and a central knob are all big draws to the TourBox. Most other input devices catering to photo workflows don't offer close to this level of choice.
While using keybinding software and customizing peripherals can offer some of the TourBox's functionality. However, I'd argue that the third reason for the TourBox is a more ergonomic input and an array of control choices as well. More on this in the design section.
The Design of the TourBox
The design of the TourBox is reminiscent of gaming controllers, with subtle curves and a soft, rubberized exterior. The TourBox can be comfortably held in one hand or used on a desk surface.
The TourBox is a pleasantly weighty device without being difficult to hold or pick up. It has just enough weight to feel solid and sturdy — not cheap.
While there's a central knob, the overall layout feels somewhat generic. I don't mean this as a negative. On the contrary, the seemingly arbitrary layout of the controls invites one to use the device however you feel most comfortable.
The TourBox is an ambidextrous design in the sense that it doesn't force you to use one single grip or position. I feel this is a huge boon.
This design decision does come at the expense of some controls being more comfortable to use with one hand over another. For example, if you're using the TourBox with your right hand, the scroll wheel and jog dial are easily accessed by your index finger and may emphasize their use. Using your left hand, these two controls are still easily accessible. However, if you want your index finger to hover over them it means that your hand is off to the side of the device, rather than over the center of it. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference and these details are inherently neither good nor bad.
TourBox Neo Controls
The TourBox Neo includes 11 buttons and 3 rotary controls. The buttons themselves are well spaced and grouped in the layout, without forcing any one single kind of use. This kind of “generic” approach offers an easy kind of flexibility.
Key to this layout is the rotary knob in the center of the controller and the D-pad just below it. Their central placement are easily accessible regardless of which hand you use for the Neo.
While the layout itself feels relatively like a blank slate, there is hierarchy in the design. Button placement relative to the center, scale, shape, and so forth all inform you'll customize this controller. And that's a good thing.
The TourBox Neo features USB-C connectivity. There is the new TourBox Elite that features Bluetooth wireless. This is a great option if you want to cut down on cable clutter on your desk. Bluetooth is also a good option if you want to frequently move the TourBox.
Aside from the wire vs Bluetooth operation, the TourBox Neo and TourBox Elite appear nearly identical in their function, with a few exceptions. So if you're considering the Elite, most all of this review should apply.
The Software: TourBox Console
Key to the TourBox Neo is the TourBox Console software. This app is very easy to setup, but also offers a huge amount of customization. From this home screen, you can see that you can customize the controls globally and also by specific application.
Here's how I have my Lightroom preset setup so far. (This is very close to the default, but with just a few tweaks as I use the TourBox more.)
In addition offering customization of all of the dozen input controls, you can also customize combinations of buttons. This is a super smart feature and the TourBox software makes this very easy.
It's easy to see that the TourBox is essentially infinitely customizable. Between the ability to customize the 11 inputs and also combinations of buttons, there are endless possibilities.
Creative Software Integration
Diving into the software a little more, the TourBox offers custom options for a number of apps. Integration with Adobe Lightroom is baked into the console software at a deep level. This is one of the super interesting aspects of this device and advantages of TourBox. This level of function mapping isn't quite so easily replicable on a standard macropad or input device. Here, TourBox is clearly catering to creative professionals.
In this screenshot below, you can see how essentially every single panel option of Lightroom can be set as a shortcut.
In addition, this above screenshot shows that TourBox Console also has essentially every command available as an available shortcut to set. This is hugely helpful as it can saves you time having to reference commands in Lightroom itself, or trying to discover the correct keybindings. I love the attention to detail here. This is again one aspect of TourBox Console that helps set it apart from a generic macropad and many other input controllers.
Customization of Input Methods
I'm a massive fan of jog dials and tactile controls. Rotary controllers are such an intuitive and efficient way to make adjustments. There's a reason we've seen dials like this frequently used on consumer electronics like the original iPod and countless others. They just work.
In addition, the individual knobs, jog dial and scroll wheel can be set to adjust one of several different functions:
- software selected slider
- selection of an HSL color
- slider based on mouse hover
For my use, I'm personally using the “Adjust Slider (Mouse Pointing)” option most at this point. This is closest to my normal input workflow where I'm used to mousing over a panel slider and adjusting the setting using the arrow keys on my keyboard.
Utility & Performance
Personally, this is the best customizable input device I've used in a photography workflow. It's a great companion device. My main input is a Kensington Slimblade Trackball, which I absolutely love. But this is just what I use as a pointing device. Otherwise, I'm mainly using my keyboard.
Where the TourBox comes in is as a replacement to the keyboard. For the most part, I still use my trackball for UI navigation and pointing, but the TourBox has replaced a lot of keyboard use. This includes both shortcuts and direct input.
Photo Mechanic Performance
I've written about the use of the software Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits before. It's a piece of software specifically designed to cull images with extreme efficiency. In my workflow, I edit my selects first in Photo Mechanic first. Then, I import just those selects made in Photo Mechanic to Lightroom for final selects for processing and export.
For use of Photo Mechanic, this includes the arrow keys to scroll through images and to the number keys to assign star ratings. Here's how I have my Neo setup at the writing of this review:
With the TourBox Elite, I'm mainly using the knob and job dial controls to navigate very quickly through images. For star ratings, I have customized the arrow cluster of the TourBox for ratings of 1 through 4. I have them ordered with 1 at the top, then clockwise in ascending order.
Overall for Photo Mechanic, the knob and scroll wheel allow for extremely fast image navigation. Overall it's a much more intuitive process than using arrow keys to navigate, as you'd expect from controls that allow for continuous rotation.
The jog dial in particular is extremely nice to use when you want to scroll through images quickly. This is especially true when you're looking for a specific image or moment, rather than spending time on each image individually.
The one “gotcha” with Photo Mechanic
One thing I haven't quite worked out with the TourBox is a way to use the scroll or dial adjustments to set star ratings. Unlike Lightroom, there's no set command for increasing the rating or decreasing the rating. This makes using the scroll wheel and dials an imperfect fit for the ratings, even with macro functions. My ideal would be to have a scroll wheel up to increase ratings and down to lower it. Still, my arrow cluster solution works OK.
Ultimately, I'd really love a set of keys/buttons in a row that I could directly assign to correspond with 1-5 star ratings. This isn't a deal breaker but it would make the Tourbox a much better fit for my Photo Mechanic workflow.
I've also made a feature request with Camerabits, the maker of Photo Mechanic, for relative keyboard shortcuts to increase and decrease ratings. I've been told this will be incorporated into the next version of Photo Mechanic, which is going to make the utility of the TourBox for this app so much more flexible for me.
Adobe Lightroom Performance
For my use in Lightroom, I'm personally making very fast adjustments. Mainly, my adjustments are limited largely to the Basic RAW adjustments panel. I'll normally adjust these parameters, generally in this order:
- White Balance
- Tone Curve
The Lightroom default TourBox actually has most of these tied directly to the buttons so they can be accessed with a single press. I can see how this is useful if you're not using a mouse/pointing device.
Here's how I have Lightroom for the Neo setup:
For me, as I'm using a trackball in my lefthand and using the TourBox with my right, I prefer using the dials/scroll wheel to control inputs, and to just hover over the slider I want to affect.
Adjustment of the sliders is very fast. I'd love to see some more granular control over the inputs for the knob, dial and scroll wheel. For example, being able to change exposure by 0.1EV (the default is 0.02EV adjustment, extremely granular) or slider levels by increments of 5 (the default is 1 unit). There is the ability to change the input to a unit of 20, but I find this a little too coarse. Somewhere in between would be a great addition to the TourBox Console software.
Advantages of the TourBox Elite
Aside from the addition off Bluetooth for wireless control, the TourBox Elite (soon to be released) also features haptic feedback. This is a massive and welcome addition. I'd love to try out the TourBox Elite for this feature alone.
With the TourBox Neo, the scroll wheel does include small detents as you'd expect on most scroll wheels you'd find on a mouse. However, the knob and the jog dial spin freely without offering any tactile feedback. The addition of haptic feedback would be extremely nice to have and I hope to try the Elite with this feature.
Review Conclusion of the Tourbox Neo
Overall, I'm really liking the TourBox Neo. It's an incredibly fun controller and input device if you're someone like me who loves trying to optimize their workflow. The TourBox Neo can be customized almost infinitely.
The only limit to the device is really in its software support. For very widely used applications like Adobe Lightroom and other Adobe creative applications, for which TourBox has extensive support, it makes the controller a dream to use.
For software like Photo Mechanic that is arguably more niche (though still widely by professionals, but not necessarily hobbyists or amateurs), the TourBox is still an excellent option.
If you're an Adobe power user, I think you'll love the TourBox. The intelligent software and deep Adobe support makes it a super powerful controller with a lot of utility with apps like Photoshop and Lightroom in particular.