Chances are, if you've done more than a little color grading, the thought of investing in a color surface has probably crossed your mind. The idea of being able to "feel" your way around Resolve, Speedgrade, or your color app of choice is definitely tempting. Not to mention, you look super pro sitting down in front of a panel that looks like the dashboard to a spaceship.
But do you need one? If so, which one is for you?
Advantages Of A Surface
There are a couple big advantages to grading with a color surface.
A surface will no question speed up your work once you get used to it. You can adjust multiple things at once as fast as you can move your hands. It may not seem like too big of a deal to move that mouse cursor across the screen, but that travel time adds up. Using a surface lets you move through a project in a fraction of the time.
When making tiny adjustments to color wheels, sizing controls, qualifiers, etc, using the mouse can be a little awkward. A surface lets you adjust things in small, precise movements using physical controls.
This is one of the most enticing things about a surface. You can actually connect with the software in an otherwise impossible way. You can feel how far you're pushing the highlights and how strong you're tinting the midtones. Also, being able to "feel around" the surface lets you concentrate on the image itself instead of the UI.
Do You Even Need A Surface?
The advantages of a surface can be exciting, but don't forget the most important question when considering a surface. Do you even need one? Is it even worth it?
There are a couple factors to think about here...
How often do you do color?
Do you have consistent color work, or is it just a couple projects here and there?
What kind of deadlines do you have?
When does each project need to be done? Are they personal projects, or are they for clients?
How many shots does an average job have?
A video with 30 shots is a different ball game than a documentary with a couple thousand.
So is it worth it? Can you justify dropping the cash to speed up your work? If you grade a documentary a week for clients on a consistent basis, it's probably worth getting some kind of surface to help you out. If you're grading a short for your own purposes a couple times a year, you might want to save your cash.
The precision and tactile feedback are nice, but make sure to consider how much time you will save with a surface to see what your ROI will be.
Ok, let's say you've decided that you should get a surface, which means you got lots of money to burn, or it'll be worth the investment. Let's take a look at some of your options.
The Resolve Control Surface
This thing's off the hook. It'll give you control of just about every aspect of Resolve. It's huge. It's beautiful. It's freaking awesome. It's also $30k. If you have a huge color studio that does million-dollar commercials and Hollywood features every day, this might be the choice for you. If you're anyone else, maybe aim a little lower.
The Element by Tangent Devices is a modular surface that gives you a nice level of control. The cool thing about this one is it's sold in 4 parts that you can just buy the ones you want. The major complaint that many people have is the menu system. You'll often find yourself switching between menus to get to common controls. Not bad when you get used to it, but something to consider. It's still a little spendy at around $3000, but all things considered, a very nice surface.
JL Cooper Eclipse CX
The Eclipse CX by JL Cooper is a full-featured surface with a very solid build. It gives you quite a bit of control without navigating through a lot of sub-menus. Six rotary knobs give you control of common adjustments within Resolve, and the function buttons allow quick access to the most used commands within the app. A great surface at a decent price of $2500.
Avid MC Color (Euphonix MC Color)
The MC Color by Avid (fomrally the Euphonix MC Color) is a budget choice for someone who needs some basic controls of their color app. The controls give easy access for common tasks, but the build quality can feel a little cheap. A good choice at a price around $1100
The Wave by Tangent Devices is a widely loved all-in-one surface that has been a workhorse for a long time. Lots of rotary knobs and shortcut buttons give you good control of your app, At a price around $1500, it's a great deal. The common complaints about this surface are usually that it's a little bulky and the lack of concentric lift, gamma, and gain rings, which are replaced by large knobs above each track ball.
The ProPanel by Oxygentec is a very stripped down version of a surface. It'll give you the track balls and the rings. You also get Undo/Redo Capture/Play Still, Prev/Next Node, Add Markers, and reset node. That's it. At a price around $800, its a decent deal for the build quality. Although, for the price, you might find yourself wanting more control than the ProPanel can give. Also, it seems really hard to actually buy one of these. The website seems sketchy at best, if it's even available. Just sayin...
The Ripple by Tanget Devices is a surface a lot of people are getting really excited about. The main reason is this surface is slated to be available for around $350 this spring. It gives you the track balls, lift, gamma, and gain knobs, and two programmable keys. That's almost as much functionality as the Oxygentec Propanel at less than half the price.
If ya got no money, but you have an iPad...
The Bottom Line
A surface can bring a level of precision and speed to your color work like nothing else. If you do lots of grading, there are plenty of options to get your hands on a surface. Hope this helps!
If you have any questions, leave them below.
- Casey w/GC
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