Wacom’s tablets have long been considered an indispensable tool for novice and professional artists alike, but can they also offer some use to those who couldn’t draw a circle? Our resident photographer, Brett Thomas, takes a look at the Intuos4 “Medium”, to see if it manages to surpass the “perfected” workflow using his desktop mouse.
I have to say that my time with the Wacom Intuos4 to date has left a bittersweet taste, but one that I’ll keep coming back to again and again. The tablet is large (14 inches long), so it requires a bit of desk space that I am fortunate to have in my photography workshop. The pen is pleasant to hold and use, though the idea of exactly how much pressure you’re applying over 2048 different positions on the gradient is something that’s “learned” more than intuitive.
That being said, a huge part of that feeling is simply because you’re DRAWING on a computer – outside of that, any artist would have to choose and learn his brushes, pens, etc. There is no difference here, the tool requires you to work with it before you are comfortable.
The whole learning curve is something that I wasn’t really prepared for – and it makes me understand why many photographers who are less focused on post-processing to begin with find it more of a novelty than a workflow tool. One starts off with a lot of excitement at the limitless possibilities that a tablet COULD add to his or her workflow. However, that enthusiasm only provides about half of the gas needed to get up the proficiency hill. At that point, you either see the benefits on the other side, or you don’t – and that comes down to whether you do a lot of specific editing to your pictures or whether Photoshop is something to generally fix up colors and clean up dust spots.
The tablet is not easy to get used to, and through no fault of either the product or the idea. It’s simply that many people who take pictures don’t also draw – for those of us without that background, a pen feels oddly unnatural for quite some time compared to the comfort and speed of a mouse.
In my post-processing-heavy workflow, the tablet is a now-indispensable tool that I’m coming to grips with how to fit into an already established workflow pattern. The ability to make better selections for masking and control opacity/size of adjustment-layer brushes is simply too good to give up, despite the difficulty of needing to learn to draw after years of learning how to mouse.
For anyone that does or is interested in doing a lot of post-process work, I think that the tablet deserves a spot in your lineup as a whole, for every picture. Given my own experiences, I’d recommend a similar product to my own (Intuos4 Medium), as the scroll wheel is a godsend and the size of the tablet makes a very comfortable editing surface that never feels too small.
For those who shoot and then catalogue most of their pictures with little more than a couple general color/brightness adjustments, I’d say that the Intuos4 becomes overkill and possibly even a hindrance – but that doesn’t mean that you should skip the tablet concept entirely. The smaller Bamboo line removes some of my frustrations of dealing with the UI because it’s simply not meant to be a real work-surface – you can grab it to do a few quick edits and be on your way with the mouse again in no time, while giving up pretty much nothing for the benefits of finer resolution. It takes up very little space, costs very little and you can still enjoy all of the upsides of a quick, nicely feathered dodge or burn.
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