The Best Keyboards, Mice, Tablets & Controllers for Film Editing
As a film editor you’ll be handling a mouse, keyboard, tablet or other, more exotic, controller all day every day. So it is a sound investment to make sure you’ve got the very best tools for the job.
In this editing gear round up, I’ve gathered together the best options for every kind of interface tool I could find, with the editor’s need for speed, ergonomics and cost all factored in.
Keyboard shortcuts are the hallmark of a speedy editor. The more shortcuts you’ve got memorised the faster you will be. Learning all the shortcuts of course takes time, and if you’re new to a piece of software it will take even longer. That’s why keyboards like the ones from UK based Editor Keys (and their US sister company KB Covers) can be very useful.
If you’re a Mac user then you’ll know that keyboards come in two standard flavours – those with a digit keypad at the far right and those without. Personally I have the full length keypad at home where desk space is abundant and I prefer it for quickly tapping in time-codes etc. But I’ll definitely be picking up a wireless one without the keypad, as it’s smaller form factor makes it far easier to tuck into a ruck sack for freelancing gigs. Plus it will wirelessly connect with my iPad.
Keyboard Ergonomic Quick Tip – Keep the B key lined up with your belly button – especially if it has a keypad which will throw your alignment off if you place the entire keyboard in front of you symmetrically – so that your hands and wrists are not awkwardly placed.
Returning to the options for learning keyboard shortcuts, Mark from EditorsKeys was kind enough to send me a couple of silicon slip-on covers to try out. They do have dedicated keyboards as well, but the silicon ones are both highly portable and provide a lot more flexibility when switching between different software. Plus you can return to your original keyboard for fuss free typing in a jiffy.
You can get silicon keyboard covers for all the major NLE’s (Avid Media Composer, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X) as well as for applications like Photoshop, Pro Tools, Logic and more. They also have keyboards for the wireless and Macbook Pro keyboards so you don’t have to lug your full length keyboard around just to get the benefit. You can also get clear covers if you want to take something hygienic with you when moving to a fellow editor’s sweat encrusted keyboard – a hazard of the freelance trade!
So what do they feel like? Actually really good! They have a soft smooth finish to them which, once you get used to the change, isn’t all that noticeable. Critically they’ve also been manufactured to provide a seamlessly snug fit around the keyboard which is great for making sure they feel comfortable but doesn’t make it difficult to put on – which takes all of 2 seconds.
I haven’t used them for long enough to know how durable they are, but I can’t imagine the printing wearing off any time soon. I’m glad to have the silicon covers as I wouldn’t want the cacophony of colours distracting me when doing something writing intensive like blogging, but that’s the beauty of the silicon covers – they’re not permanent.
I’m certain that having the keyboard shortcuts mapped out below my fingers will help me speed up my learning process with Avid Media Composer, with which I’m trying to learn ‘their’ shortcuts rather than simply importing my own memorised FCP7 adaptations, and once I’ve got some muscle memory stored I’ll be able to test my self by flying solo.
If you prefer a bit more feedback in your keys and want a non-mac keyboard then check out the Corsair Vengeance K70 programmable gaming keyboard which was recommended to me by one of the assistant editors of the new Star Wars, who I got chatting to at Edit Fest London 2014!
The beauty of this keyboard is that every key can be programmed to a macro and stored in it’s own internal memory, which means you only have to set it up once. Each mechanical key is also able to be programmed to be backlit by any one of 16.8 million colours and 10 different levels of brightness. Although designed for PC users they seem to work on Mac too.
I’m guessing once you’ve put all the work into setting it up, it could be extremely useful and a massive time saver to use macros for repetitive tasks, but with so much freedom to customise it in so many different ways, I can only imagine the hours needed to get it set up ‘just right’.
The Best Pen Tablets for Film Editors
I’ve written many times on this blog about why I love to edit with a Wacom tablet and why it’s so much better for you than a normal mouse. If you need to be persuaded either watch the video above or check out these previous posts.
To sum it up if you still want to be working in to your senior years without developing painful Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, then you need to take care of your wrists. Holding a pen is a far more natural and sustainable way to keep your wrists healthy, than subjecting them to decades of unnatural side to side motion using a mouse.
That, and it makes you a whole lot faster as an editor as you don’t waste time dragging a cursor around. Plus it makes work a lot more fun!
Which Wacom Should I Buy?
Personally I have the Intuos 4 Medium which I think strikes the preferable balance for film editing when it comes to desk space and screen space. It feels large enough to have room to manoeuvre but doesn’t hinder me from comfortably reaching the keyboard, which I have placed above the tablet rather than below or the side.
I have worked with the large Intuos Pro Pen and Touch, which is (obviously) bigger than the medium but also has touch functionality. From this month long experience with the larger touch tablet, I found the touch functionality annoying, as I kept activating it accidentally, and so switched it off pretty quickly.
I also found the larger tablet taking up too much space on the desk when I was trying to keep the keyboard in a comfortable spot. I also missed having the LED labels for how each button was mapped, which gives you instant feedback on the Intuos 4 but is missing from the sleeker looking Intuos Pro.
For a little over half the price of buying one of Wacom’s Pro tablets you can snap up an Intuos Pen and Touch Medium, which is only slightly smaller than the medium – when it comes to the tablet’s active area, at 8.8 x 5.5 Vs 8.5 vs 5.3 inches. As a straight replacement for a mouse it is a much more affordable purchase, but is lacking some of the Pro line’s benefits such as programmable buttons, increased sensitivity and resolution.
Getting The Most From Your Wacom Tablet
Editor Aaron Williams has written up an excellent and extensive walk through of how he uses his Large Intuos Pro 5 Wacom tablet on both his home 27″ iMac and his work 27″ iMac with dual monitor. It’s a great read with plenty of vital tips for the first time user! Aaron also recommends getting a carry case for it (which makes a lot of sense if you’re taking if from work to home and back again) which you can grab here on Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk.
If you’re looking for the two product’s Kenny mentions in the video at the top of this section you can find the ErgoRest wrist support on Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk and the cool little glove Smudge Guard here on SmudgeGuard.com | Amazon.co.uk
If you’re also wondering what the pro editors have in their suites, then get set to be jealous of major Hollywood franchise movie editor Alan Bell, who not only edits with a 24″ Cintiq HD ($3,399!) but he also Velcro’s a Logitech G-13 controller to the side of it. See the next section for more details on this!
The Best Controllers For Film Editors
I first heard of the Logitech G-13 after feature film editor Alan Bell mentioned that he uses one on Twitter and in this recent Avid Rough Cut he talks in a bit more detail about how he uses it day to day. (Skip to about 8 minutes in.)
The Logitech G-13 is a programmable gaming keyboard that allows you to set up your keyboard shortcuts and macros (multiple keystrokes activated in one button push) so that you can edit faster than ever before. Or so goes the promise. I’ve just ordered one so I’ll let you know how I get on with it in due course.
As a left-handed Wacom user I will have to sacrifice the thumb stick (or learn to be ambidextrous!), so we’ll see how that goes. But I’m looking forward to being able to have a compact keypad with all my favourite short cuts in one place. Click here to jump to a post all about editing with the G13.
There are plenty of other gaming keypads out there with the Razer Nostromo and the Razer Orbweaver being two other popular choices. Editor Tobias Beul compares the Orbweaver and the Logitech G-13 in this detailed review.
The key to a pleasurable experience is the way you map your buttons to the device. It will take planning and experimenting. But this can be a good thing as you’ll have the opportunity to reconsider the way you had set up your keyboard once upon a time and maybe find that you’ve been wasting keys for commands you rarely need today.
One key point Tobias makes concerns the Orbweaver’s ability to have mappable modifier keys which, while depressed, allow you to jump between the different layers of button layouts, and then you can let go and be back to the layout you were previously in. He argues that this ability creates a greater flow while working over the G-13’s hardwired layer switching buttons. For more technical details on the G-13 hit the official site*.
*Although it only states only works on Windows the downloads page makes it clear it’s for Mac Users too.)
Update: FCPX keyboard Layouts for the Orbweaver. See the comments section for more OrbWeaver goodies including this free key map layout Photoshop file.
G-13 Logitech Keyboard Editing Layouts
In this tweet you can get a look at Alan’s Avid Media Composer keyboard layout and in the tweet below editor Twain Richardson’s FCP7 layout.
VisionarySound.co.uk also have some free downloadable presets for the Logitech G-13 for using with Pro Tools on either Mac or PC.
The idea of a small, one-handed controller is not a new one, and systems like Lightworks originally shipped with a custom shuttle controller designed specifically for the NLE, which you can still buy today. But at £1,850 ($3,065) you might not want to. The Lightworks website claims:
“Since 1989, Lightworks has had a unique and Patented hardware Console at the heart of its editing philosophy. Based around a flatbed film editor, the console offers the most tactile and intuitive editing experience available. There’s nothing else quite like it. It’s fast and it’s how the professionals edit. Every film that has been edited with Lightworks has been cut with a Lightworks console.”
UPDATE – Contour Design Shuttle Pro V2
If the Lightworks controller is just a little bit out of your price range, you might want to check out Contour Design’s much slimmer looking Shuttle PRO V2. It’s a compact controller that packs a lot of punch, with 15 programmable keys and a spring loaded jog wheel in the middle.
It’s easy to set up and will speed up your workflow in a whole host of programs from Premiere Pro to Chrome to iTunes and more as it ships with dozens of useful presets for popular applications within the creative industries.
Editing with the Tangent Element Control Panel
Lastly in this section there are a few editors who are a willing to think a little more laterally than most. Editor Sam Mestman was on the Digital Cinema Cafe podcast recently describing his use of parts of the Tangent Element colour grading control surface for editing in FCPX.
UPDATE – In the video tutorial above Rob Tinworth walks you through how to map the Tangent Element Kb panel for use in Avid Media Composer.
By adopting the Element Mf portion of the control surface, (above) with it’s 12 programmable buttons and jog shuttle wheel for editing, I guess it’s a much cheaper version of the Lightworks Controller, and because the Tangent Element’s individual modules are useable in any combination, you can add sections as needed.
For editing it’s like that you’ll only need the Element Mf or Bt though if you do a lot of grading you might want to plump for the whole set. To find out a whole lot more about Sam’s custom FCPX mapping and to download it, head over to this great article on FCP.co.
Update: Native Premiere Pro CC mapping on the Tangent Element.
Wow! I didn't know that the Element had native @AdobeCCVideo Premiere mapping. Just launched Pr CC 2015 and VOILÀ! pic.twitter.com/JbWe2EaiBA
— Mathieu Marano (@ilovehue) July 10, 2015
UPDATE – Palette Controllers
As possibly the most interesting new development, for fresh ways of interacting with your favourite apps, comes Palette. A customisable set of plug and play modules that magnetically clip together to create endless bespoke combinations which allow you to control your favourite application through sliders, buttons and dials.
The Palette core ‘brain’ unit connects via USB to your computer and features a colour screen displaying the icon of the application you’re currently controlling. You can currently buy three different configurations in aluminium:
- Starter kit = 1 core unit, 2 buttons, 1 slider, 1 dial
- Expert kit = 1 core unit, 2 buttons, 2 sliders, 3 dials
- Professional kit = 1 core unit, 4 buttons, 4 sliders, 6 dials
UPDATE – JULY 2016
I’ve recently taken a look at using an Expert Kit from Palette, for editing and colour grading in Premiere Pro, in this detailed review and tutorial post.
For a sense of how it works check out the short tutorial above and the FCPX beta overview below.
The Best Mouse For Film Editors
If you really need to use a mouse, then for the long-term protection of your wrists it seems advisable to get an ergonomic or handshake mouse, which puts your wrist into a much more natural position (more like holding a pen), which means that most of your movements originate from your shoulder (a much larger and more robust muscle) instead of your wrist. This is again one of the benefits of using a Wacom tablet.
Having looked around a bit the reviews it seems like the Anker wireless mouse (pictured right) might be a good, affordable start, if you want to stick with a mouse but try something more ergonomic. Buy on Amazon.com | Buy on Amazon.co.uk
If on the other hand you want to take your mouse use to a whole other level then there is plenty to be learnt (once again) from the gaming community and other forward thinking editors.
I love you Razer Naga Epic, you’ve made work so much more pleasurable! pic.twitter.com/As97m3jP
— Ben Mills (@benjaminmills) October 5, 2012
Editor Ben Mills pointed me towards the Razer Naga Epic, a 7 button gaming mouse with 12 more programmable buttons under your thumb. I’ve also heard Kick Ass 1 & 2 editor Eddie Hamilton mention that he uses a gaming mouse too.
2016 UPDATE – Download Eddie Hamilton and Ben Mills exact Razer Naga Shortcut Profiles in this detailed gear review post.
UPDATE: Here are a couple of mappings, one that is a guesstimation of Eddie Hamilton’s Avid Media Composer set up, from a post I wrote for Premiumbeat.com and another for FCPX, kindly supplied by John Flannagan II, below.
For now, I’m personally going to stick with the my Wacom tablet and (now) the Logitech G-13, as I’m not keen to move back to a mouse. That and I’m not sure how easy it would be to find the correct button precisely with my thumb. Oh and it ain’t cheap at £114 / $104.
Kudos though to the team who put the promo (below) together for the mouse, which somehow manages to make an inanimate lump of black plastic look like a dynamic and exciting piece of kit.
UPDATE: Peter Bjerggaard tweeted me to recommend the Redragon Perdition high precision programmable gaming mouse, which looks like it has similar capabilities.
What’s the best editing equipment?
If you have an essential piece of film editing kit that you can’t live without, or a recommendation for other products then please do add your comments below!