The Battle of Tablet Versus Mouse

Last week I decided to spoil myself a little and grab a tablet to use for editing with. Not a Wacom, sadly – while money isn’t a huge issue, I can’t justify spending $400 on a gadget that’s for a hobby. But a few weeks ago, I came across a review for a third-party knockoff tablet for only $50. I decided to give it a shot.

The main appeal for me was the greater control of the cursor. As a left-handed person who grew up in a family of right-handeds, I had to teach myself to use the mouse with my right. After leaving for college, I tried to switch back to left-hand mousing, but it was just as awkward. It was too late for me to change. So, on I continued to use the mouse with my right, and when I started picking up photography editing, I found that I lacked the fine control that was needed. My efforts seemed clumsy, brutish and crude sometimes if I tried to delve past the basic editing.

Dodge and burn was out because I could never get even-looking results. Forget cloning hair – unless I click a million times.

Then, a few years ago I heard about a gadget where you use a stylus like a mouse. And ever since, I’ve been lusting after these tablets. I knew that using a stylus with my left would afford me greater control and be more comfortable to use.

Monoprice Tablet

Monoprice, if you’re not familiar with it, is a site where you can acquire some electronics and accessories for very reasonable prices. If you’re in need of HDMI cables and don’t want to pay the outrageous $50 for three feet, check Monoprice.

Having never worked with a tablet before, I didn’t really know what to expect.

For one, I thought the tablet would be a lot smaller because the dimensions on this was described as 10″ x 6″, and I thought that measurement included the plastic frame around the work surface, like for phones. Much to my surprise, this tablet is nearly the size of my laptop.

I also worried a little that there might be some compatibility issues with the driver because this laptop runs on Win 8, and the driver is for Win 7 and older OS, but everything seems okay so far.

Yesterday, I plugged it in, installed the driver, and fired up Photoshop. I pulled up an old picture to play with because I’d never been really happy with it (I have lots of pictures I want to re-edit). Here’s the mostly unedited picture (I did a few minor tweaks in RAW).

Zombie Photography
Zombie Photography

And this is the edited one I did a couple years ago; I’ve posted this one here on the blog before.

Zombie Photography
Zombie Photography

It didn’t take me long to figure out that you had to lightly hover the pen above the surface to move the cursor. Neat! And when you to click and drag, just lightly press the pen to the surface. Keen!

After a few passes, I realized I had a problem – the stylus didn’t seem to be making any drastic changes even though I had the opacity set to 100%. It took me a few passes to get the left side dark enough to be faintly visible.

impressionsWhat gives!? I got all pissed. Why wasn’t this thing working!? Did I get a faulty tablet?

Fiddling with the stylus, I realized the tip wasn’t rigid, it moved up and down a bit. So I pressed down harder, and (gee this is sounding a little dirty) and lo and behold, the marks got darker and more dense with more pressure. And that was my lightbulb moment. No need to fiddle with the opacity; the varying degree of pressure would change the opacity. Very neat.

Also, I worried about my ability to figure out where the cursor was on the tablet versus the screen. As it turns out, the tablet is set up (I don’t know if this is unique to this particular tablet or not) to mirror your monitor. If you put the stylus in the lower left corner of the tablet, the cursor on the monitor will move there. Upper-center, ditto. And so on. Peachy.

Having figured all that out, I turned my attention back to the image and took care of some the issues that had been bothering me.

Zombie Photography
Zombie Photography

Side note: the edited version is slightly darker/more contrasty because I was fiddling with an adjustment, and forgot to disable it before making this jpg.

Side by side look, original on right:

Zombie Photography
Zombie Photography

Spot the differences!

Subtle subtle changes.

And now I’m at the point where I’m much happier with this image. It looks cleaner and more polished. I would rate this image as halfway done now; next, I need to decide what to do to finish this image. Should I post process it like I did the original edited version, or do something different? Choices choices.

To be continued…because that’s where I stopped last night.

Anyway, I’m thrilled with the tablet. I can’t offer a solid comparison because I’ve never used other tablets, but I can say that I like it so far. It, aside from a 5-minute learning curve, is really easy to use, and editing is a breeze. With the mouse, cloning the errant hair out would’ve taken me an hour or two. This? About 20-30 minutes. So far, I am loving it.

So, that’s my experience. If anyone is interested in portrait photography, either as a hobby or as a pro or aspiring pro, consider grabbing this tablet to see if it’s for you.

2 thoughts on “The Battle of Tablet Versus Mouse

  1. I have been debating over getting a tablet and have decided that I should get one but just have to get round to handing over the money. Only seen Wacom in the shops here, so it’s an expensive decision. I’m getting more and more convinced that it will speed up and enhance my editing.

    1. I hesitated to get a device without having tested it out first, but I’m glad I did. I’ve been happy with the Monoprice Tablet, and it does help speed up my workflow, especially with the fine detail work.

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