Pros: increase in productivity over traditional mouse input, almost zero learning curve – unlike traditional graphics tablets, a substantial upgrade in almost every way over the 12WX it replaces, no competition – a product class of it’s own
Cons: absolutely terrible stand, calibration still not perfect, no touch input (besides pen) & not yet battery powered & wireless – feels a bit like “yesterdays technology”
A few years ago I bought a piece of gear that changed my photography workflow. It condensed it, got rid of the shit, more than any other. I’m not going to say this piece of gear had exactly the ‘most impact’ on my work as for that it would be hard to go past upgrading from a combo of compact digital & flim slr to my first digital slr, the 10D. Also switching to the full frame 5D was a pretty big deal. But in terms of cutting down on the boring background work of post production and making me straight up more productive, then the answer has nothing do with camera bodies or lenses.
If you’ve got half a brain then you’ve probably already guessed I’m talking about a tablet, in this case specifically it was a Wacom Cintiq 12WX. The 13HD I’m reviewing here today is the long awaited or (many would say) long overdue successor to the 12WX.
The thing about drawing on the screen is that it cuts the learning curve down of using a tablet to almost nothing. I can clearly remember editing my first ever image on my first Cintiq and I was literally amazed at how quick and easy it was. It is especially useful for things such as masking, drawing selections and other freehand tasks where you have to follow a line precisely or draw a curve accurately. Being able to draw with a pen on the surface and receive immediate visual feedback allows you to put into use all of those fine motor muscle skills we’ve all honed over years of writting at school (I knew it was all for something). This allows for much more precise control and faster work output than using the larger and less co-ordinated muscles of your wrist or arm, as you do when using a mouse.
Comparing the models
First up we’ll look at a couple stats in a quick comparison, what’s been upgraded?
Resolution: 12WX – 1280×800 | 13HD – 1980×1080
Screen size: 12WX – 12.1″ | 13HD – 13.3″
Overall dimensions: 12WX – 406 x 267 x 17 mm | 13HD – 375 x 248 x 14 mm
Pen Pressure Levels: 12WX – 1024 | 13HD – 2048
Subjectively I can say that the color reproduction is truer, setup is easier and viewing angles are much improved. In terms of pricing the 13HD is currently sitting at just more than half of what the 12WX was a few months ago. That is absolutely HUGE! Even now with the 12WX heavily discounted everywhere I’ve looked it is still more than the 13HD. So the considerable drop in price is one thing that weighs heavily in the 13HDs favor. If you’ve been eyeing off a 12WX for a while but just never felt like you had quite enough $$ to drop on one then the time to get into a Cintiq might be right now.
Looking at the above we can see clearly that the new model is an upgrade in every way. It boasts a bigger screen with a much higher resolution, while managing an overall reduction in size at a vastly lower price point. In terms of technology we’ve got an upgraded express key layout, much more similar to the current Intuos models than the aging design of the 12WX. The pen has twice as many sensitivity levels (a non issue for me, the old one was plenty sensitive enough as it was). We also get a far neater cable arrangement setup than the old model enjoyed, although this was probably the one distinct Achilles heel the old model had – it was absolutely awful to set up and you needed more space than the tablet itself, far more space, to carry it around. Between the mess of cables, the large breakout box and large power brick the item wasn’t nearly as portable as you would like it to be. I had nights in hotels were I really wanted to get in and do a couple hours editing but having to pull all that shit out of my luggage and set it all up was just too much so I read a book instead.
In this new model however we have a nice neat 3 way cord, one end goes to your tablet and the other end is split in 3. 2 plugs go to your computer (one for the screen feed and one for the usb input) and one goes to what has to be the smallest power brick I’ve ever seen, kudos to Wacom for that at least. However as much as this is an upgrade, and don’t get me wrong, it certainly is, well I just can’t get too excited about it. In fact it truly is a massive, very well needed upgrade, that is just objective reality. So why don’t I feel all that….appreciative?
A massive upgrade or too little too late?
Here’s the thing:
My old Cintiq I bought back in 2008, 5 years ago, and it was already 1 year old technology then. Until just a few short months ago if you owned a 12WX and it went belly up, and you needed to purchase a new unit…well you’d have no choice but to buy exactly the same model again – 6 year old technology! The other Wacoms & even the larger Cintiq models (and lets face it, pretty much every other bit of technology known to man) have received several refreshes of model during this period, including some of the latest Intuos’ & larger Cintiq’s getting features like multi-touch capacitive input, some models are wireless, powered by battery etc. Given that this is the day of Android tablets & Ipads looking fantastic and running for give or take a dozen hours on a single charge I really think we could have expected a bit more out of the 13HD, the most “portable” of the Cintiq range, especially given how long we’ve waited for a refresh. I was really hoping for a fully wireless model – true freedom, and if not that then surely at least one that can get it’s fill of power over the USB. But no, there’s no popping this bad boy out on a plane or bus trip and that is unfortunate.
Moving on, one area that hasn’t really improved is the calibration. Just like the previous model you can try as hard as you want to get the calibration as precise as you like but you’ll still encounter areas on the screen, around the edges, where the pointer won’t line up with the pen tip. However in practice this isn’t a big deal at all as most precise work tends to be done nearer the center of the screen. The only times this inaccuracy gets annoying is when you are tying to negotiate menus or adjust small sliders at the edge of the screen. Not only can the calibration be out a bit but it can also be inconsistent at the edges of the screen, what I mean by that is the pointer can almost “flutter” a little and you can miss the slider/setting/menu option you were going for and hit the one next to it by accident.
The other downfall is the stand, now the previous model had a fantastic stand. It was built into the unit, adjustable, sturdy, when you popped the stand out and sat the tablet in your lap to work on it you forgot about the stand until it was time to fold it away. This new stand is detachable – a detachable friggin nightmare. At least on average once per photo edit I have the stupid thing fall out of the dinky little horizontal slots it sits in. In the end it’s easier to just discard the stupid thing and pop the tablet on a pillow on my lap. It’s a really surprising design choice for a model that is, often quite substantially, in absolutely every other way imaginable a much better product than it’s little brother.
The 13HD is a bit of a mixed bag really. It is paradoxically both a massive upgrade and a bit disappointing at the same time. It has a lot to love about it, at least one thing to hate about it and a few things to scratch your head over a bit.
To be honest there are 2 things I really don’t understand:
#1 is how that stand got through product testing &
#2 is how a tablet released in the last couple months is still bound to the power point?
Actually I do, and here is why this story and this product is so bittersweet: zero competition. If you are a graphic designer or a professional photographer or one of several other professions that can find great use in a professional grade graphics tablet that allows you to draw on the screen and you want something portable, then this model is quite literally, your only choice. Well it or the now superceeded 12WX. And that’s no choice at all.
Which is why, even though I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t get as much out of this model as I was expecting, hoping, I still have to (kinda reluctantly) give it a reasonably healthy overall recommendation. If you’ve never used a tablet and your editing habits are anything like mine then you quite simply don’t know how much more productive you could be with a unit like this. And there’s nothing else out there that does what the Cintiq does, at anywhere near the same level, period.