Taking Tablets

I spent most of yesterday at a friend’s house, working on the scans of his images for a show later in the year using his computer system, and it was an experience that made me realise just how useful a graphics tablet is for photographers – because yesterday I had to make do with just a normal mouse with Photoshop.

I first used a graphics tablet while I was teaching, and it was a large and very expensive A4 model, and the experience convinced me enough to get the whole room in which I taught fitted out with smaller and cheaper models. Getting the students to use them turned out to be a problem – it does take some time to get used to the different ways of working. Mice are relative devices which move the cursor from its current position depending on the way that you move the mouse – and you can lift the mouse and put it down somewhere different without moving the cursor. The pen on a graphics tablet is an absolute device, working on a defined rectangle on the pad which is precisely mapped to your screen. Put the stylus at top right of this area and the cursor moves there, pick up the stylus and put it down on the bottom right and the cursor goes there. It takes a little time and effort to get used to this very different way of working – and few students wanted to invest this. Provided with both mouse and stylus they would continue to work with the mouse.

But if you put in that initial training then soon most people get to appreciate the tablet, particularly when working with programmes like Photoshop or Lightroom. It gets much easier to make your way around an image and retouching becomes much easier when you have the software set to make use of the pressure sensitivity – so using a light pressure retouches or paints just a small spot while heavier pressure gives you a larger area.

Before I bought a tablet for myself, I read many of the reviews, most of which suggested that you needed a large tablet for precision. It might be true if you are working with technical drawings, but working with photographs I found that a large tablet was a disadvantage, and was soon making use of the ability to map a much smaller area of our A4 tablet to the screen. The next tablets we bought at work were A5 and much better, but even that area was larger than necessary, and the one that has sat on my own desk for many years now is around A6 – and described as small.

Technology has moved on a little, with many tablets being wide-screen ratio and wireless, but my old Wacom Intuos is still working fine. It seemed expensive when I first bought it – I think for around £75 – and the current equivalent but doubtless improved version now costs more than twice as much. These aren’t the cheapest tablets around but I would certainly buy one again.

As well as getting the work done faster it is also less stressful, and using the stylus has a health benefit; switching from a mouse apparently cuts down the risks of both RSS and Carpal Tunnel syndrome.

4 Responses to “Taking Tablets”

  1. RogerGW says:

    Thanks, Peter. I know the advantages of using a tablet with Photoshop, which are as you describe, but I use Capture NX almost exclusively these days. The working method in that is so different it’s got me wondering.

    I’ll have to dig out my old A5 Wacom tablet, blow the dust off and see how the two go together.



    PS I think you mean RSI. RSS is what I track your blog with. 8-)

  2. I think you are right that repetitive strain injury is now the more common name for repetitive stress syndrome which is what I was thinking of.

    I don’t know about Capture NX – I had an earlier version but found Lightroom much faster and easier to use so didn’t bother to upgrade NX when I got the D700. I’ve always really thought Nikon should bundle it at least with their more expensive models, though I still probably wouldn’t use it.

    But really I’d forgotten until yesterday that there were photographers who didn’t use a stylus. And it was Photoshop 6.

  3. RogerGW says:

    > repetitive stress syndrome which is what I was thinking of

    I’d not heard of that before. You live and learn.

    > I’ve always really thought Nikon should bundle it at least with their more expensive models..

    They used to with the D3s and might still do so with their other pro SLRs.

    I imagine Lightroom is a lot faster than CNX but I don’t take nearly as many pictures as you, so speed is not an issue.

  4. Well, I read it on the Internet, so it’s probably a mistake by someone else that I copied!

    Yes, workflow is very important for me.

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