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Gear & Apps

Wacom Intuos Pro (New) Review | Refined & Essential

By Kishore Sawh on May 17th 2018

Given the inordinate amount of time photographers are apt to spend in post processing, it goes without challenge that anything which makes that time more productive, more efficient, faster and more enjoyable, is worthy of investigation and implementation. And despite the proliferation of editing tools like Loupedeck (poor) and Palette (actually very good), still nothing beats the utility of a good pen tablet, and when it comes to such tablets, Wacom’s Intuos Pro line has smugly been shoulders above the rest. And there’s a new one: Wacom Intuos Pro Medium

When the Intuos 5 became the Intuos Pro there was a discernible change in the product, and now the Intuos Pro has been updated yet again. There is a difference, however, between updates and upgrades; the the former being no guarantee of the latter. As such, I’ve spent some 50+ hours using the new Intuos Pro with Capture One, Photoshop, & Lightroom, to see how it sits in a world of more options and better entry-level offerings.

In the process we’ll address the following key points:

  • pen functionality & pressure sensitivity
  • accuracy & lag
  • size & build
  • multi-touch
  • connectivity
  • customizability

[RELATED: How To Set Up Your Wacom Pen For Better Use In Photoshop, Capture One, & Lightroom]

Product Highlights

  • 8.82 x 5.83″ Active Area
  • 8192 Levels of Pen Pressure Sensitivity (≅4x the last gen)
  • Reduced footprint but same working area
  • Multi-Touch Support
  • USB-C & Bluetooth 4.2 Connectivity
  • 8 Programmable Express Keys
  • Touch Ring, Radial Menu, Pen Switches
  • The upgraded Wacom Pro Pen 2

Appearance & Build

No one would accuse the previous generation of Intuos Pro of being unsightly or ungainly, but the new unit has made significant strides in presence and aesthetics. It’s smaller, thinner, lighter, and more refined in panel design. It’s complete with black anodized aluminum and fiberglass composite resin has fewer panel lines, and it feels resilient despite being a mere 8mm thick.

Simply put, it’s svelte. It looks like the kind of device that would be at home in a Stockholm loft costing many, many Krona.

One of the major changes is that the Intuos Pro now comes only in Medium and Large, omitting the Small version which was what we tended to recommend for both price and practicality. However, both the Medium and Large Intuos Pros have a significantly smaller footprint, and the Medium has effectively the same footprint of the previous Small version, whilst retaining the larger active area of the Medium.

For the purpose of photo retouching, the larger units are typically a waste of both desk real estate and money, as what you’re paying for is a larger active area, an area we minimize anyway via mapping, to something much smaller than even the smallest tablet active areas. This reason behind this –for those new to the arena– is that photo retouching, unlike drawing or painting, isn’t done via movement from the shoulder or elbow, but from small wrist movements.

That said, some smaller tablet designs are problematic as they don’t allow for comfortable wrist resting, but this is a problem the Intuos Pro Medium does not have.

Pen, Pen Functionality & Pressure Sensitivity

The Wacom Intuos Pro, like the Cintiq Pro and Mobile Studio Pro above it, uses the new Intuos Pro Pen 2. It has a great ergonomical design that feels light in the hand. It has two programable buttons on the pen shaft and the typical eraser on the back.

It’s very responsive and allows for ease of use when doing detail work. The Intuos Pro and the Pro Pen 2 work together using EMR technology (Electromagnetic Resonance), which means the display is the active digitizer and the pen is the passive part. This is a good thing, despite some people suggesting AES is better, because here, the pen doesn’t need to be charged, it’s lighter, less expensive to replace, and unlike AES systems there is no delay in inputs so it feels immediate and natural. EMR jitter is also not a problem with this combination.

The new Pro also boasts 8192 pressure levels compare to the outgoing model’s 2048, which is far more than you’ll need, and for retouching work you’d be a minority if you could really tell the difference. For 99% of photographers, the 1024 levels found in lower-end tablets of 4 years ago are fine. Animators and digital painters and so on may find this a welcome  benefit though.

You may also notice that the pen base and stand has also be reworked. It’s weighted, and like the last generation, it houses the extra nibs which come in a variety of options.

Surface & touch

The surface of the Intuos Pro is a little different, but most won’t notice. A nice feature is that you can swap out the surface plate for ones of varying textures and resistances. The plates are only about $30 for Medium tablets and the Intuos Pro Medium comes with sample sheets to see which you’d like best. Most graphic artists I know like more drag and feedback and most photographers I know like them really smooth. You can even buy a clear overlay if you want a totally smooth feeling without inputting the time to wear down the surface – and your nibs while you’re at it.

Accuracy and Resolution

But the accuracy of the tablet surface and the pen do feel noticeably better than the last generation, and reverting back makes it all the more obvious . This is perhaps due to a myriad of things, like the re-worked pen being slimmer, and better performance of the edge coils sending their signal back to the digitizer. But beyond that there’s the matter of resolution.

While ‘resolution’ isn’t something we typically associate with a device without a screen, it exists in a manner of speaking. In regards to tablets, it refers to the number of lines that can be drawn per inch (LPI) on the active area, and on the Intuos Medium Pro and Large it’s about 5,080 versus the 2,540 of other smaller ones.

Multi-touch

Something else to consider is the multi-touch capability of whatever tablet you choose. Some hate it, some love it, and with each generation Wacom’s multi-touch works better and better. Palm rejection has come so far as to be a total non-issue, and for those used to using Apple’s tackpad, the tablet can take it’s place in many ways. With the Intuos Pro you can easily switch its touch capabilities on and off with a switch on the side, so you’ve got the best of both worlds there (see image above).

Customizability | Express Keys, Mapping & More

Like the outgoing Pro, the Express Key and Wheel orientation is a major plus compared to lower-end models, if for no other reason than if just makes sense. Some other tablets have the buttons on the top of the tablet which tends to require breaking a stream of actions in order to activate them, but a hand can be dedicated to hover over the keys on the pro without any interference of the active tablet area. And that’s either a right or left hand, because the location of the keys allows the tablet to be flipped for use by both right handed people and southpaws. Again, something that cannot be done with the others.

Suffice to say, having the buttons and wheel here just make sense of movement, as you set the buttons to an appropriate selection and then it’s just go, go, go.

There are 9 buttons to be depressed and 2 on the Pen, and lightly touching the keys but not pressing them will bring up a translucent screen that will show you what it does, if you like. But of course the touch wheel can be configured many different ways to control brush size to cycling layers, and then there’s the option of setting up a Radial menu for even more functionality.

The level to which this tablet can be customized is truly vast, and in time it tends to evolve, so it’s great that it allows the space to do so. And you can do it all from the preferences menu, in which you can make different set-ups for different applications. I’ll use something different for Photoshop, Capture One, Lightroom, and Affinity, and if you want to know how a sample set up of this tablet looks for those applications check the article below:

How To Set Up Your Wacom Pen For Better Use In Photoshop, Capture One, & Lightroom

One thing touched upon above that you’ll notice if you click that link, is that the recommendation is to map the computer screen to a smaller portion of the tablet so that you can essentially glide across the breadth of an image with a small hand movement, as that fights fatigue, and the Intuos Pro Medium allows for a mapped area that makes it very easy to rest your hand on the tablet while you work.

Connectivity

There has been considerable change in this department as now the Intuos Pro line comes with Bluetooth wireless capability built-in. While the last generation came with it you had to use a dongle on the computer which would occupy one of your ports and was prone to getting lost. This is no longer and issue, and Bluetooth connectivity is a breeze and strong. Accurate, on the other hand, not as much.

While many have said there is no lag, this seems to be computer dependent to a degree. With an older iMac I noticed some lag (minimal) and with a newer MacBook Pro there was much much less, though still there if you’re picky. That said, you do get used to it, and it’s still more accurate and less laggy than before. But, you can always use it wired for top results.

You’ll notice with said cable that this time around Wacom has gone for a USB-C type port, but it does supply cables that are backwards compatible for computers without that port type. This contributes to the slimness of the device, and that it seems to charge quickly. I don’t have a number of hours for battery life, but you won’t run out of juice after a full day of editing.

Conclusion

It’s brilliant. It’s a really lovely piece of hardware that will quickly become a staple of your workflow. Like a broken record I chant still that nothing will improve your photographic post processing like a graphic tablet, and this is the number one recommendation for the vast majority of users who are anything more than casual.

It sells for $349, and that’s not an inconsiderable cost, but it’s the kind of unit that will last you for years, level-up your work, and one you’ll use with every shoot. How many pieces of gear can we as photographers say that about? So while the price isn’t low, the value proposition here is high.

For photographers, it is the quintessential tool for post processing.

Find it here.

 

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Motti Bembaron

    I Had the old Intuos and had many issues on a Windows machine.  Never really had a chance to do much with it. After years of thinking about purchasing a tablet again I finally purchased the XP-Pen Star 06 and it is excellent. 

    If I was an illustrator maybe the Wacom extra features (tilt pen and touch) would be useful but as a photographer I do not have any need for those features. 

    The XP active area is 10×6 and with over 8000 pressure levels it actually requires some getting used to.  I am quite new to tablet retouching so lots of practice in the near future. At around $85, it is a quarter of the Wacom’s price.

    I would like to see more articles on brands other then Wacom. There are  at least two that easily compete with Wacom; Huion and XP-Pen.

    Thank you for the article.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      So, here’s the thing. In photography we rely on name brands for things like reliability, support, build, and more. For working professionals and even part timers, this matters a lot. In life we always pay for what some perceive as nuance, and usually a lot more for what many perceive as a small difference, but value is relative. 

      I, for one, like knowing that Wacom works closely with the software brands I use, like Adobe, Phase One, and that they really do work well together. I also like that I’ve beat up my Wacom tablets over the years and they still work just fine. 

      I know people complain about wacom drivers, and yet they can be annoying, but if you think they’re bad the others have a history that’s worse. 

      Furthermore it’s always important, I believe, to keep in mind that the main brands are the innovators, and the ones who take the risks, and the others stand on their shoulders. Perhaps we may get some others in for review, but thus far I find it hard to recommend anything other than Wacom – especially given the broad range of products they have. 

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    • Motti Bembaron

      I rely on my judgment and logic. Brand name does not always equal reliability , not even close. Not in my experience.

      My Nikon 28-70 stopped working after a year on the shelf, it cost me $680 to fix. It started having problems a year later. My Nikon 80-200 needed fixing three months after I bought it. Good thing it was under warranty. They still did not fix it well and it squeaked every time the auto focus engaged, embarrassing in a quiet wedding ceremony.

      My SB-900 burnt after a 16 months, they charged me because I disengaged the safety. Well, I just wanted to be able to shoot more than 10 shots before it decided to cool off for 15 minutes, not much to ask.

      I had a Wacom Intuos and it gave me so much grief I got rid of it.

      My cheap Godox flashes work like a charm ( I have 9 of them). My D750 battery grip from Meike is superb! It came with two extra batteries and a wireless remote for a quarter of the Nikon one. (Quarter!!!!!!).

      By the way, I am also not a MAC user :-). I have a home built beast. It was built on a budget and can still take most MAC’s out there.

      I am a pro and with all honesty I had glitches with my D3, my D750 and as I mentioned lenses and flash. All by Nikon brand.

      As for other less known brands (i.e Chinese manufacturers), today it is easy to achieve quality and performance, especially when just about all the components are made in China and are available to all.

      QC in many of those Chines brand rival some Japanese makers (See Linus at OnePlus factory https://youtu.be/ES-s9KQrUTY).

      And for your last point as to innovation, sorry, does not hold much for me. Karl Benz invented the car as we know it (Mercedes), everyone else just copied the same idea. Does it mean I should buy only Mercedes?

      For years brand names completely take advantage of us. Charging us an arm and a leg for stuff that cost them a fraction of what it used to be. 

      Wacom maybe makes great product but charging four to five times what others charge makes no sense to me.

      I would urge you to try other brands if just for being open minded. I am sure most, if not all, will be glad to send you a free model to review.

      Chees! Keep up the good work!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Motti, there’s not much one can say if you’re suggesting you’re using your own judgement, as that’s yours and you’re entitled to it. What I can say is that while your experiences with those brands may have been, unfortunately, poor, it’s individually anecdotal, and not necessarily reflective of the larger scope – as you say it’s your experience. Like me, I’ve only ever had two memory cards corrupt and fail on me in the field in my life, and both have been Lexar, the brand typically associated with being the most reliable cards out there before ProGrade Digital – but that was my luck of the draw and clearly not representative of the Lexar experience most have.

      On the flip side I would say I have never had an issue with Wacom tablets, my various Nikon 24-70s, my 80-200 (other than a screw coming out mid-shoot), or Nikon flashes, and I don’t have enough fingers and toes to list all the times I’ve heard horror stories pertaining to GODOX flashes. 

      But an example of more closely similar gear would be Canon lenses and Sigma lenses for EF mount, and while Sigma glass is beautiful, there’s no getting around the history they have of needing servicing after time compared to first generation Canon lenses. 

      And again it can be more nuanced than that, and software is a good point to discuss here. Many people will use whatever software they feel like, unbothered by the fact it’s not doing the best job, like those who will use or test files from a Phase One and not use Capture One, which is required to get the utmost out of Phase One files. 

      I’ve never had an issue with a Wacom tablet, no matter how ill-treated. I also know how they work with software companies and that matters. I trust how they work, and predictability matters to me. I’m not averse to reviewing something from Huion, but Wacom is a name I trust. And for a working pro, trust is important. But, maybe we’ll get one in and see – we’d need to get two. If there are ones you suggest or have interest in, do let me know.

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    • Motti Bembaron

      It’s true, experience is personal and I am not trying to bash Nikon (although they deserve some bashing, especially in Canada), most of my experience with them is great.

      I am not buying things by first looking for the price but value is very important to me. Brand names have some leverage in asking more for their product but I find that many times, not only in the photography business, they are completely off the scale and that’s where I have issues with brand names.

      As I said, if I was an illustrator or an animator tilt pen and touch would be of importance and then maybe Wacom would make more sense. However,  for retouching, which I assume is what you use it for too, the XP-Pen. Huion etc. are very good.

      I would love to see a review of some of those tablets here. I would recommend reviewing the new XP-Pen Deco 03 (wireless) and the Huion 1060 Plus (none wireless). Both are top of the line from those manufacturers.

      Just about all the reviews on Youtube are by illustrators and not by photographers so it will be great to see a review done by  experienced photographer.

      Judging by some of the reviewers that receive free tablets (young and very unprofessional), I think they (XP, Huion) will be very happy to let you try their products.

      At XP-Pen I know that for customer support there is an agent called Alex, his email is: alex.at.xp-pen.com. (it’s a public email so I feel free to post it here). I communicated with him before buying the tablet just to ask a few questions. He is fast to respond. 

      Looking forward to see it happens.

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