Cintiq 13HD below my 27″ Thunderbolt Display. You can see straight away the problems of having a glossy screen…
Aside from my computer and Photoshop, a graphic tablet is probably the sole piece of equipment that gets used for every single image I shoot. It plays an indispensable role in processing – specifically, for precision dodging and burning, and masking and retouching on more involved images. I’ve been a big fan of the Intuos line since 2004; every couple of years or so, I have to buy a new one because I wear through the surface – that should give you an idea of just how important they are in my photography. I also use them for design work and illustration, too. My Intuos4 has been with me since 2010, and those of you who’ve attended my workshops can attest to how well-used it is: you can see your reflection in the place where my on-screen palettes go.
Thanks to Wacom Malaysia, I’ve had the opportunity to test the new Cintiq 13HD for a couple of weeks now. Thoughts follow…
Wacom announced the Cintiq 13HD earlier this year: a much more affordable (I’m not going to say cheap, because it’s still $1000 in most parts of the world, and nearly a whopping $1300 in Malaysia) display-tablet combo. They previously had a 12″ version with limited resolution, quite considerable bulk, and higher cost. As the name suggests, the Cintiq 13HD offers 1920x1080px resolution on a 13″ diagonal, plus the same level of pressure sensitivity found in the Intuos5. Here’s the best bit, though: the tablet offers the same work area as the large size, but the physical size of the device is almost the same as my Intuos4 medium (6×9″ work area); a hair longer, wider and thicker, and a little heavier. But it’s worth remembering that it also packs a display.
The display itself is of decent quality, obviously matte-finish, and was quite easy to calibrate; viewing angles aren’t too bad, but best results are still obtained on-axis. It doesn’t seem to have quite as wide a gamut or dynamic range as my 27″ Thunderbolt display, but it’s more than adequate for critical color work. I didn’t observe any clipping during my test period. Importantly, greys are neutral, too. The only real complaint I have with the panel is the surface – it appears a bit ‘gritty’ when showing lighter colors. Interestingly, combined with the relatively high pixel density of the display, you get the impression of looking at a printed surface. I suspect this is because of the touch-sensitive layer required for pen function, that sits above the LCD. Brightness is very good, too – a claimed 700 nits, and very nearly as bright as my 27″. Annoyingly though, brightness and contrast controls must be accessed through a separate software utility (you’ll find it in a ‘Wacom’ folder in the Applications folder after running the install disc). Regardless, one could use this as their primary display and be quite happy with it – so long as you don’t mind the limited size.
There are two things you’ll have to get over if you plan to buy one of these: the photographers’ perpetual fear of sticking a finger into something optical, and the fact that not only can you poke at it with some force, but it also won’t do the display any harm, either. In fact, you’ll probably have to in order to make the most of the pressure sensitive function. Needless to say, the tablet portion of the device is excellent as always; responsive, precise, and completely natural. It’s well-built, and should feel familiar to anybody who’s used a Wacom product in the past. The pen now comes with a stand and very nice travel case that also holds spare nibs and accessories – a great touch. The tablet itself has a removable easel stand that can prop it up at a variety of angles; it folds flat for easy transport and storage. The quality of this part is rather disappointing though – it feels flimsy, and rather than the folding parts having proper hinges, they’re just thin folded bits of plastic. It’s also worth noting that the bottom inch or so of the display area gets quite warm after prolonged use; a nice feature for colder climates, but not so pleasant in the tropics.
Oddly though, I found drawing on the screen itself very odd – not just for the above reasons – but because my hand would often block the area I was working on. There’s still some distance between pen tip and cursor – the pressure sensitive layer has to go somewhere – and this does hamper precision slightly. I admit it felt a bit more natural to use the tablet in the normal way, with the 27″ as my primary display (whose color I also prefer). The good news is that the 13HD can be used both directly as a display/tablet combo – i.e. as primary display, where your pen position corresponds directly to the screen – or in the same way as the non-display tablets, where the area maps to your primary display, but the screen itself remains active and can continue to be used as a secondary display for things that don’t require pressure sensitivity – your email window, for instance.
I’ve been trying to figure out how this tablet fits into my workflow – I can definitely see a use for it on the road as a display and tablet for my 11″ Macbook Air, but less so at home, where I already have an excellent display and (albeit ageing) Intuos4. I think the key is to use it as a second monitor, and have it map to the primary display. Still, it’s a lot of money for this purpose alone. While we’re on the topic of negatives – there’s a lot of paraphanelia required to make this work. You need an external power supply, otherwise no dice; this will limit its usefulness to photographers on the move (the Intuos tablets can run off USB power). There’s also a proprietary 3-1 cable which taps your computer for USB and HDMI connections, plus an additional port for power. This cable worries me a little, as it appears quite stiff, not very pliant and possibly easy to break or snap off at the connector end. It’s also of course proprietary, which means good luck finding another one in a hurry (again, the Intuos tablets use a standard mini-USB connector). Finally, you need to have a full-size HDMI plug to run it: if your a Mac laptop user, you’re going to have to buy another adaptor.
This fully brings the total number of things you have to carry with you on the road to a grand total of six – tablet, pen in case, cable, AC adaptor, HDMI adaptor, stand. Not exactly portable, is it? And at the price – Wacom should really have included some sort of padded case to hold the necessaries.
And here we arrive at the big question: is it worth the money? I think those of you who’ve read many of my reviews probably think I’m a perpetual misanthrope since I’ve never given any product an unqualified recommendation; sorry to disappoint you, but this is going to be the same. If you are an illustrator or graphic artist of any sort, I think you’re going to love it unconditionally – unless you need a much larger monitor. If you’re a photographer and need a decent monitor and a tablet, and don’t mind the relatively small area, then you’ll love it, too. If you’re a photographer on the go, you’ll appreciate the added screen real estate and tablet-in-one; just make sure you don’t forget any of the cables or doodads, or the thing will be useless. If you’re used to a big screen…this is where I have trouble: you have to think very carefully about whether you can either live with working off a small screen for the draw-direct effect, or find a use for an extra display when you use the tablet area mapped to your primary. Personally, given that I do travel a lot with the tablet and could use a good display on location – the weak point of the 11″ Air in my mind has always been the terrible gamut of the panel – I will be adding one of these as soon as the major retailers have them back in stock…
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