How much faster can you color correct with a colorist control surface?
The year is 2008
Apple Color reigns the world of desktop color correction. DaVinci Resolve on the Mac won’t appear for another 3 years. Tangent Devices has not yet created the Wave and only offers the CP 200 & 100 series panels for Apple Color (retail: $15,000 – $30,000 US). The Avid / Euphonix Color won’t be offered to sale until later that year. The least expensive colorist control surface is offered by JL Cooper, the Spectrum and their newly released update of that surface, the Eclipse.
This is the context of the an article I released on January 25, 2008 “Controlling Apple’s Color: Moving from a Mouse to the Eclipse CX” (yes, I’ve been blogging on this topic for a great many years). In that article (which I’m reproducing below) I document my skepticism at the claims of massive productivity boosts using a colorist control surface. In December 2007 I purchased the JL Cooper Eclipse CX. While waiting for it to arrive I kept notes on how quickly I was grading with a mouse. And then I documented the change in my productivity on the first job I did with the Eclipse.
The questions I asked (and answered):
- What are the real-world productivity gains using a hardware controller compared to a mouse?
- Are those gains big enough to justify the expense of the controller (at that time, $6500 US)?
- How hard is the transition from the mouse to a surface?
But why am I reviving this article out of the archives?
I was reminded of this article this weekend while editing my weekly color correction newsletter, The Tao Colorist Newsletter. Blackmagic’s Mini Control Panel has been making quite a splash on blogs, with many reviewers surprised at how much more quickly they can work with a control surface. And their surprise has surprised me: Didn’t everyone already know this???
This article was written in an era when control surface options were practically non-existent. The Eclipse was optimized for Apple’s Color (and it transitioned well to DaVinci Resolve). While this article is partially a review of using the Eclipse with Apple Color – at its core it’s about the reality of productivity gains when moving to a control surface if you’ve been color grading with a mouse.
As you read this Colorist Diary, keep one thing in mind… the Eclipse was designed primarily for Apple Color (and Final Touch) users. Button layouts (mostly) make sense to Apple Color colorists (but might seem a little odd to the modern-day Resolve colorist), and in that sense reading this article 10 years later it does remind me of the Blackmagic Mini panel. The Mini panel is also optimized for a single piece of software (but with much deeper integration than any 3rd party panel can hope for).
I haven’t gotten my hands on the Blackmagic Mini panel. Yet. When I do, I’ll write an update to this article to see if that control surface – built specifically for DaVinci Resolve – provides additional productivity gains over the more generic Tangent, Avid and JL Cooper panels. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this trip in the Way Back Machine where the concerns of yesterday are just as relevant today.
Note: Most of the links in that original article are broken, so I’ve updated those links to maintain the spirit of the article – as best I can. I’ve also removed some of the more specific operational details of the original article to keep this version more focused on my initial impressions of moving from the mouse to a control surface. I’ve also retained some amusing (to me) commentary about moving timelines between FCP and Color – a reminder of how long we’ve been suffering these problems and why Resolve 14, with its emphasis on Collaboration and the Edit Page, is so important.
Enjoy! And as always, share your thoughts, questions (and reminiscences) in the Comments below!
Controlling Apple’s Color
From Mouse to the EclipseCX Control Surface
What follows is a daily diary I kept of my first experience using a JLCooper EclipseCX control surface. I’m trying to answer two questions: Is Color a better app with a control surface and will it, as some professionals claim, double my output? While doing so I’ll give a review of the JL Cooper EclipseCX and how well Color interfaces with it. I’m using a diary format hoping that readers will benefit from watching me make this initial transition from color-correcting with a mouse to working on a dedicated colorist control surface.
When Color was first released by Apple, it made quite a splash. It’s a software-based color correction application and was designed to appeal to working professional colorists (or those hoping, one day, to become one). Upon introduction there was no drought of opinions on how well Color succeeds (or doesn’t) at its task. One frequent line of comment had to do using Color with an outboard control surface – something considered essential for professional colorists. I’d frequently read professionals make many claims about using Color and control surfaces:
“Color is useless without a control surface”
“Color is an entirely different app with a control surface”
“You’ll grade twice as many shots with a control surface than with a mouse”
I happen to know that the first statement is entirely false. I’m living proof not only that Color can be mouse-driven – a career can be made while doing so. Of the other two statements, I was never quite sure how much those were hyperbole or fact. So I’d kept a skeptical, though envious, eye on product developments for this niche of outboard gear (here’s a recent roundup).
To quickly summarize, the field serving Apple’s Color is currently split between Tangent, a manufacturer of very high-end color-correction surfaces, and JL Cooper, a manufacturer of a broad range of mid-priced control surfaces. Tangent panels are more stylish and polished… but twice the price.
Prologue: JL Cooper Eclipse CX
Since I couldn’t justify the price of the Tangents I’d kept my eye on the more affordable JL Cooper products. Specifically, I had been in contact with JL Cooper’s Danny O’Donnell who kept me abreast of their redesigned control surface which was announced at NAB 2007 – the Eclipse CX (additional Eclipse info here). But at $7,000 I had trouble justifying its cost – having never used one. When I finally told him in September of 2007 that I was ready to order a panel, I also said I was going to order the less expensive older model – he countered by offering me the new EclipseCX at wholesale, knowing that I’d eventually do a write-up such as this (since I had previously blogged about it). With this significant price cut the decision became a no-brainer and I quickly jumped on his offer.
12 weeks later, just as the Christmas holiday approached, I got an email notification that the unit had shipped.
I was joyful (understatement).
A week later, a box arrives…
On January 1, 2008 work begins…
Day 1 – Setup
Traffic is a breeze getting into the city this morning. New York must be hung over from New Years Eve. I hope this bodes well for me.
I struggle a bit with how to physically place the Eclipse on my desktop. The Tascam is rather large and doesn’t share well. I had half-expected this and finally get it worked out. The Eclipse communicates over the local Ethernet network. The instructions say it can’t go into the second ethernet port, it must communicate via the primary ethernet interface. I plug the Eclipse into the LAN. Following the instructions I give it a unique IP address and enter network settings by punching the numbers into the numeric keypad. I then download and install the “Beta Ethernet” software for customizing the panel to work with Color and FCP.
After launching Color I realize I’m in trouble.
Color isn’t talking with the Eclipse. After a while I’m able to get JL Cooper’s beta software to see the panel – but within Color? It’s a no go. I remember a colorist telling me that Color natively communicates with the panels. Clearly I’m doing something wrong in setting up the customization software so I delete the preference files for the beta software. I relaunch Color. I program the IP address of the Eclipse from within Color (by this time I’ve changed the IP address a half-dozen times as I try to troubleshoot).
Stupid me. If I had just gone straight into the Color I would have saved myself 2 hours of troubleshooting. I print out the section of the Color user manual that specifies what each of the buttons do and I start mashing the keys, spinning the rotary knobs, working the triple-trackballs, and playing with the transport controls. It all seems straight-forward. Transport is about as good (maybe better) as any I’ve used since my online days.
Two buttons have me confused: “speed++” and “Inch”
Since they’re located above the transport control I’m assuming they throttle-up and throttle-down transport. A quick test shows that’s the case.
Everything’s working. It’s getting past 6pm so I decide to wrap it up and hope I can start color correcting straight-away tomorrow.
Day 2 – Stuck in FCP
Dang. No Eclipse today.
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