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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56 Comments

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...

Paul Parker's picture

Fascinating insight, I'm still torn what to do. I currently use a trackball type mouse which seems to be a nice compromise. Ever used one?

Spy Black's picture

If using the trackball works for you, I wouldn't worry about it. Just roll with it. :-)

Tablets are cheap enough today to experiment with, and you can always return them if they're not feeling right for you.

There's also Chinese tablets for peanuts, as well as draw-on LED tablets for pretty cheap.

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.

Paul Parker's picture

I've never considered using both hands in that way. Not sure if my brain would take it! Do you use a regular mouse or a trackball or something?

Glad to hear your cat also rules your office space!

Paul Parker's picture

Interesting story! I'm curious why you switched back to the mouse eventually? I know you talk of space issues but you're not the first here to say you switched back.

Be interested to hear your thoughts.

Chaz Foote's picture

As I said in that message, "...there isn't anything I do today on a computer that I can't do left-handed." Personally, I think it is easier to use a mouse with my browser and I also do a lot of spreadsheet and database work. If I had a touch-screen monitor, perhaps I'd prefer that.

Paul Parker's picture

thanks for the feedback, I'm still not sure. I think i could really benifit from the way you do things though...

Chaz Foote's picture

I'm not truly ambidextrous but I tend to use whichever hand is, shall we say, handy, except for handwriting.

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.

Paul Parker's picture

Which laptop do you use? Do you have to calibrate the screen for stylus us?

Eric Segarra's picture

Answer: No.

Paul Parker's picture

I'm feeling like the answer might be yes for me!

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.

Paul Parker's picture

Great insights Lee, thanks for that. You raise one very important point about tablet size. I guess if you have a smaller tablet you can't make as big of a movement in one go?

I'm thinking like moving from one far corner of one screen to the other.

I also have a twin screen set up. Appreciate your thoughts.

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.

Paul Parker's picture

If it aint broke why fix it springs to mind!

Alexander Petrenko's picture

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

Paul Parker's picture

Thats interesting. I do like the look of the Loupdecks. Which did you go for? Would appreciate you thoughts on this subject as I know very little about them.

Paul Parker's picture

Thanks for the insight. I must admit that I am tempted with the Loupdeck etc to help with workflow. Like many editors here, we have our fav go to tools we use more often. It really appeals to me to have those few on their own dials.

Maybe I'm more excited by the dials and buttons on the tablet than the tablet itself!

Have you any experience with products like Loupedeck?

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".

Paul Parker's picture

I felt the same when i switched to a trackball mouse. I bought it, hated it, and then stuck it in a draw for six months. I think my mouse broke at the time and I was forced to use the trackball. Never looked back. Now I'm tempted by tablets but my lizard brain doesn't like change!

Which DPI mouse do you use?

Chris Rogers's picture

I tried a trackball mouse too. I could not get used to those for editing lol. I currently have two mice that I use. I have a Logitech G600 MMO gaming mouse I use at my house. I map software tools to the 12 side buttons for easy access so i can forgo a lot of keyboard short cuts. So say if i want to get to the patch tool the button is directly under my thumb for easy access instead of having to stretch my hand across the keyboard to do the same thing. I also have the typical copy, paste, cut, undo, and redo functions mapped to G600 as well. It's really convenient.

On top of the mouse is a button for adjusting the DPI of the mouse. In the software you can have as many DPI "step" changes as you want, which is neat, but I have mine set up with only two. One which is where the DPI is almost all the way lowered so my cursor moves very little when I move my mouse for precise retouching and selections and one more where I have my cursor set at a "normal" DPI for regular mouse use. I also mess with the windows cursor settings to get it exactly as I like it.

The second mouse I use for work. It's a Logitech G602. I set it up very similar to the G600 but it's wireless so I can just throw it my bag with out having to worry about wires. it runs off of two AA batteries and actually gets some pretty decent battery life off of two Duracells. Mine usually lasts about 5-6 months months before I have to change it and I use this mouse every day in "economy mode". It has a "performance" mode but I don't notice any difference between the two modes besides battery consumption.

You can set up profiles for each software you use too. So say if you have a profile with macros setup for Photoshop and one for illustrator, when you launch either program the software will load the profile for what software you are currently in automatically. Both of these mice in the same Logitech "G" software so what ever Logitech peripherals you use will all be managed from one program. I have noticed several times though with the software that every once in a while the software just won't start up forcing me to reinstall it. After reinstalling it works fine. I do have to re setup my macros again though and that's kind of annoying >:{

I wish I could get the hang of a tablet. I guess i just have to keep using one to get used to it.

"I was forced to use the trackball"

I kinda did that with a game I play called "Elite Dangerous". The game is a space sim that is almost a 1 to 1 recreation of our galaxy and you can fly around in it and do all kinds of fun things. Any ways I played this game with a controller for a long while and then decided I wanted to try flight sticks. When I started using the flight sticks I didn't like it at all but I had already spent scads of cash on these sticks so I stuck with it and eventually it turned out I liked them better. Maybe I just need to do that with a tablet hahahaha XD.

Paul Parker's picture

Thanks so much for the detailed response, I really appreciate it! The bit about 12 side buttons really got me interested. I need to hunt out a mouse like that with a trackball on top maybe!

Not heard of that game but will investigate that too! thanks again : )

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.

Paul Parker's picture

thats fair enough!

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