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Beyond Your Mouse: The Best Devices for Image Editing

One Pro Image Editor's Opinion on Input Devices

by Richard Lynch

Your Choices for Image Editing Input

Beyond consideration of cameras and computers and even the kind of software you will use for working with your digital images is the question of your input device. Most people just use a mouse for image editing because they come with their computer system, and really it is adequate and doesn't require any additional consideration. However there are other options for input devices that can enhance your image editing experience.

Choices range from working with mice of all shapes and sizes, wireless, optical and more, to pen and tablet combinations that create a sense of drawing, to the lesser touted trackball, and more-or-less tolerated touch-pads. Your choice of what to use (or what combinations), can have a profound effect of the results of your image editing, and the speed and comfort with which you can accomplish it. People often ask me what I use, and here's the answer...



My Experience with Input Devices

Once upon a time I was working as an image editor for a photography book publisher and my mouse broke. It wasn't just dirty, it died. Before just replacing it, my employer suggested I sample devices on his dime to decide what I wanted to use from now on -- use the glitch of the mouse breaking as an opportunity to explore what was out there. Over the next few months, I sampled about every device for input known on the market for input. The range included cordless, optical mice, tablets/pens and trackballs of all shape and size. I ended up the beneficiary of some experience that is hard to get otherwise, and my image editing improved because of it.

By the end of the test, I'd selected the Kensington Turbo Mouse as my input of choice above tablets and any mega-cordless-optical mouse contraption that you could find. After a few weeks, I bought one to use at home as well. About 10 years later, I still use the same device for digital photo-editing work to this day -- though in a newer and even better model.


The Advantage of Trackballs, The Facts

I don't know that a trackball is the solution for everyone, but for my skills and experience, this item is better.

1) They don't require lift-and-move motions like a mouse, so they are easy on the wrist, and likely help keep you from getting carpal tunnel or other computer stress syndromes.

2) They have a small footprint on your work desk, so they take up little desk space, and can always be found where you last left them.

3) You don't ever fuss with wires, so being wireless is redundant.

4) Maintenance/cleaning requirements are near nill. Tip it over to get the ball out, and blow. Replace the ball and you are ready to go.

5) The replacement and service for Kensington products is excellent (the one time I had a problem after 5 years of service, the item was completely replaced with a new device).

6) There are four programmable buttons and chords (combinations of buttons) that allow you to assign custom commands and menu calls for customization.


The Advantage of Trackballs, The Opinion

A) Why a Trackball? The large ball on the Kensington device offers stability and control that you will not get in devices that have smaller controllers. The software has a very neat variable speed option which lets you slow the cursor movement as the ball speed slows. A big, slow ball means pixel by pixel pinpoint accuracy--and you can rest between or during moves (unlike with a pen).

B) Why not a Tablet? I am not drawing oriented. If I were I would likely draw more often. I take pictures because I don't draw as well as I'd like, and likely that is because I am not so good with a pen/pencil. Pens seem unstable and difficult to control to me, and tablets are an extension of that. If you are one who draws and draws well a tablet may be a good option, but likely you will want to retain a mouse or trackball in addition to this type of device.

C) Why not a mouse? They are clumsy in any type or model. They require a lot of desk space in comparison to a trackball. They are needy: they need to be lifted often, moved, cleaned, and adjusted. I don't get along with them.


Do You Need to Change Your Device?

I have been using a Kensington since 1995, and I have sampled new devices and even other Kensington products, but nothing has swayed me from the Turbo Mouse. I highly recommend it! However, does that mean you have to change your device? Not really. Mice are a fine basic input device, and they will get the job done. But if you have 10 hours of image editing to do, and you know you are going to be at it all day, it may just be easier knowing you have a trackball to rest on and smooth out the bumps.


About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Richard Lynch
Photography Instructor: Richard LynchRichard Lynch has written 9 books on Photoshop and image editing. His expertise was born following interests in photography and design, honed as the editor and designer of a photography book publishing house and perfected by working with his own images. His photographic techniques and Photoshop work are steeped in darkroom tradition and photographic theory. He has spent more than 20 years adapting the darkroom to solid digital techniques, and is confident that he can make any image more than it was when it was shot using the digital darkroom.

American born and a US resident, Richard currently lives in Romania where he runs photo tours. He teaches courses for digital photographers and hobbyists in photography and Photoshop online and in the classroom. His articles have been in a variety of publications online and in print, including Popular Photography, PCPhoto, Advanced Photoshop, Digital Photography Techniques, and Photo Techniques. His books tend to fall outside of the series typical series algorithm. His latest book, The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book (http://aps8.com/taplbcs4.html), was the first and only book devoted specifically to Photoshop layers when it first came out in 2007. A completely new edition of the layers book was released for 2012.

In his ‘spare’ time, Richard experiments with both modern and vintage equipment (like manual-focus lenses, extension tubes, modifications), and devises new and better schemes for image editing (often in the shower). His creative prose has been published in a variety of literary magazines and online. A culinary background and interest in malt beverages led him to competitive beer brewing, and has won awards for his brews in national competitions in the US. Richard enjoys target shooting, a skill not unlike photography, and has a strong knowledge of pellet guns and rifle optics born of his interest in camera lenses and plinking little plastic army guys. He lives to follow his interest, sneak in a little fun, and is in possession of more camera and computer equipment than anyone realistically needs – but he can justify all of it.

See his website: photoshopcs.com

Contact Richard


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