Is It Time for Photographers To Say Goodbye To Their Mouse?

The mouse you use to edit your photography hasn't really changed that much over the years. Is it time to look for a better alternative?

Anyone who has spent hours editing their work on a computer will know how painful it can be on your body. While there have been various ergonomic improvements to the mouse over the years, you are still ultimately doing those same repetitive actions which can leave you aching the next day. Graphics tablets are a good alternative to a mouse and have been on the scene for some years now. If like me, you have resisted the idea of making the switch, this video by the team over at B&H Photo Video may just help you to decide if a graphics tablet might be a good idea.

The video features tablets by manufacturer Wacom which if you don't know, is one of the industry-standard makers of graphics tablets. The two tablets mentioned are the Wacom Intuos Pro Creative Pen Tablet ($379.95) and the Cintiq Pro 24 Creative Touch Display ($2,499.95). These tablets are quite different not least in their price tags and the video sets out to explain their differences. It was interesting to learn about the various changeable nibs which can be used in the stylus and how they can affect how the pen reacts with the tablet. My interest was also piqued when I saw how customizable the many buttons on both the pen and tablet are. I think many of us probably use a core handful of tools in our favorite programs and thanks to these programmable buttons could have most of these actions distilled down into a few button presses. This would be much more efficient than trying to memorize various key combinations or wasting time hunting through menus.

The video goes on to demonstrate how a tablet can be used in the context of some food photography images that need to be retouched. One of the two big takeaways from this was seeing how smaller more controlled movements are used on the tablet compared to a regular mouse. The other takeaway was seeing how fast he was able to jump between settings and menus to complete his edit. I'm sure those who have spent long hours using a mouse would be interested in embracing something which could speed up the editing process and also help to minimize wear and tear on their bodies. All-in-all this video is an in-depth look at some of the main features and benefits of using a tablet to edit your photography. I have personally resisted using a tablet in the past because I'm not a fan of change. That really isn't a good enough reason not to embrace new technologies especially if a tablet can help reduce the time sitting in front of a computer. Less editing for me would mean more time doing what I love most and that's taking pictures. After watching this video, I have a much better understanding of the benefits a tablet can have for photographers day-to-day. The fact a tablet can actually replace your mouse means there isn't really a point in having both. I think it could be time for me to say goodbye to my beloved mouse once and for all.

Could you make the switch and ditch your mouse forever? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Lead image by Matt Artz, used under Creative Commons.

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Spy Black's picture

Back in '95 I got my first serious workstation, and I bought a 12x12 Calcomp tablet for it, as it was more advanced than the Wacoms at the time (Wacoms had only 128 pressure points, the Calcomps had 256). I started retouching in Photoshop and got really good at working with the tablet.

Then I started freelancing retouching with Photoshop. Everywhere I went to, there was a tablet...for the head retoucher. Everyone else had to use a mouse.

I had to re-learn everything I was doing with a mouse if I expected to get any freelance gigs, so I did exactly that. I forced myself to stop using the tablet and only retouched with a mouse.

I learned that the only thing you need is to know is what the fuck you're doing. To this day I still retouch with a mouse.

I still have the Calcomp tho, it makes for a great wrist rest for my keyboard...

Chaz Foote's picture

I'm ancient and I grew up as a right-hander. Back when I got my first PC back in the early '80s, I shared it with my wife, who is left-handed, and I got tired of having to move the mouse and pad so I simply started using it left-handed and still do so even though we each have our own computer nowadays. There was a while that I had a Wacom tablet attached to my computer, along with a mouse, and I used one right-handed and the other left-handed. But I don't have room for both now and there isn't anything I do today on a computer that I can't do left-handed.

Brandon Hopkins's picture

I've used a wacom since the 90s, but I still use both because there are some things that are easier with the precision of a mouse, mostly vector art or selecting things/sliders, etc., but sometime last year I started using my mouse with my left hand and my wacom with my right, pretty much because my cat likes to sleep on my desk on the right side.... It took some practice, but It actually makes things more efficient. Easy to scroll and zoom around with the left hand while the right draws.

Chaz Foote's picture

As long as your are comfortable using both hands, it's a good system, but some people are more rigidly handed than others.

derek j's picture

i have a 2 in 1 laptop that works fine for me. i can draw on the screen using a stylus.

Eric Segarra's picture

Answer: No.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I switched to a tablet about 15 years ago and would never go back.

I use it for almost everything, not just photography work. I use it in "mouse" tracking mode which I find more intuitive and faster - and less movement for my hands. And I prefer the largest tablet that Wacom make which can be useful when working with larger screens or in my case, twin screens.

If I've ever worked out of house (rarely) then I bring a smaller tablet and a suitable driver for my client's computer, or I just use my own system.

But I do still have a mouse. (One of the older Apple mice, with a cable - the best...) I find it is better for certain things like Portrait Pro which can be a bit twitchy when refining the facial points.

Steven de Vet's picture

Nop. Sliders and stuff in Lightroom are still better/good with a mouse. + all the file handling and normal use of a desktop still needs a mouse.
Remember? you can use a desktop/laptop for other things than editing photo's.

You see some gimmicky dials and controllers that are supposed to make things "better" (loupedeck and palette gear for example). in an attempt to "beat" the mouse. But... they don't really.. it's hard to beat something that is specifically designed to be used with mouse and keyboard (and keyboard shortcuts)

I do use a pendisplay on occasion. Mainly for drawing and sometimes for photo editing pictures, only when I need really fine dodging/burning/painting in pictures where the pressure sensitivity gives me some more control. But even then, the pen is usually only used for the drawing/painting aspect of the edits. I still use my mouse to manipulate sliders, menu's, other tool.

that said, I've also edited in Lightroom on the iPad with the Apple Pencil. It does work and it's great in a pinch or on travels, where I don't have my desktop. But editing on the desktop (with a combination of mouse, keyboard and occasional pen) remains my favourite workflow.

derek j's picture

i agree, the reason why the mouse has been around forever is because it works.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Loupedeck works. At least for me. It didn't replace crop tool for me, but the rest is pretty useful.

Chris Rogers's picture

I don't think so. I edit just fine with a mouse. Tablets are actually difficult for me to learn. I tried a wacom once and didn't like it. I use an adjustable DPI mouse for "precision control".

Rick Rizza's picture

Nope. Photography is just one of my serious hobby, the next one is musical arrangement (bedroom producer). I definitely cannot write musical notes using tablet.

David Daniels's picture

I haven't used a mouse in years! I love my Wacom tablets and I'm tempted by a Cintiq but I rarely see retouching on a Cintiq.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Last time I demo'd a Cintiq, it felt really warm under my hand - not comfortable. Unless they've changed things, that would be a deal breaker for me.

And of course there is the question as to the colour accuracy / data accuracy of the Cintiq. I don't know how good it is, but it would be a battle to part me from my beloved Eizo.

The final straw for me was that we tend to view screens that are infant of us, and not at a slight angle to a table. I think we get a better perspective of the image we're working on when it lies directly in front of our eyes rather than at an angle.

Stefan Smith's picture

The only drawback to a tablet is the learning curve, i use a wacom now and wouldnt use anything else

Greg Wilson's picture

Haven't used mouse for years. After a few years working on laptops I now use a magic trackpad on my desktop machines too while my Wacom is collecting dust. So it seems to be a matter of habit really.

Karl Weber's picture

Very catchy title for tablet advertising

Kirk Darling's picture

I use a mouse, a tablet, and the Trackpoint of my Thinkpad keyboards, and may use all of them--plus keyboard shortcuts--during the course of editing a single image, not to mention all the other things I do on a computer.

I see no reason for debate.

Tom Reichner's picture

The title is confusing to me. The photographers who use a tablet for the majority of their photo editing .... don't they still have their mouse, and use it for other things? I mean, has anyone really "said goodbye" to their mouse? I would be quite surprised if the majority of people who use tablets don't also still have a mouse around.

Gabriel Sandu's picture

It's an interesting suggestion. I see it as a choice that could be easier if starting at a younger age with tablets or phone stylus and drawing surfaces; in my case it looked like earlier mouse experience was on the scale of 45k hours before purchasing my first Wacom so I realized pretty fast that it is not the best tool for me - I can use it for signatures and kindergarden level drawing but when I want accuracy - it's a mouse. It's similar to my skill level with fountain pens vs using rollers at work - everyone uses them but I use ink since I'm 5x faster at writing with it and that's the kind of skill which allowed me to finish a 2h exam in 20 min one time :).

Jacques Cornell's picture

25 years ago, I switched from a mouse to a trackball because supporting the entire weight of my arm to move a mouse was putting a lot of strain on my shoulder. With the trackball, I could rest my wrist on the desk and use just my fingers to move the cursor. Years ago, I switched from the trackball to an Apple Magic Trackpad (now version 2), which also doubles as a poor man's tablet when making selective adjustments to images.

Tom Reichner's picture

Why did you support the entire weight of your arm to move a mouse around? When I move my mouse around, I rest my forearm/wrist on my desk, then just use my had and fingers to move the mouse around ..... just like you're supposed to.

Is there some reason you did it differently? What did you do, anyway ..... hold your whole arm up in the air while moving the mouse?

Jacques Cornell's picture

I worked on a large screen. Now I work on two. No, I didn't lift my whole arm, but I did have to slide the mouse sufficiently far that I couldn't keep my forearm and wrist static on the desk. With a trackball or trackpad, I need move only my fingers.