When one sets out to create a digital darkroom for themselves, either professionally or otherwise, great care and research almost always goes into selecting the best monitor, the best colorimeter, the best computer, the best mouse, heck, even the desk and chair gets some attention. Workflow articles always focus on the input from one’s camera into the computer and then out to the printer, but this misses the point. There is another vitally important part of the workflow whose input needs should the be considered: the photographer.
Human Interface Devices (HID) is the fancy term for gizmos that allow you, the user, to interact directly with the computer. Since we all don’t have access to Johnny Mnemonic’s wetware interface, Tony Stark’s awesome 3D displays or Flynn’s molecular digitization system we have to do it the old-fashined way: with a keyboard and a pointing device.
Enter the subjects of today’s literary offering: The Das Keyboard Professional S and the Wacom Intuos4 Pen Tablet.
[DISCLAIMER: Both Das Keyboard and Wacom sent units for evaluation. I was not compensated in any way other than to be allowed to keep the review samples.]
PART 1: DAS KEYBOARD PROFESSIONAL
Your Daddy’s Keyboard (sort of)
The Das Keyboard was originally introduced with a blank key design that was the symbol of alpha geek status: I can type and I don’t even need to know the letters assigned to the keys. I have them memorized. I remember first seeing the Das keyboard listed in Think Geek (purveyors of fine gifts for geeks everywhere) and thinking: “Boy, that is the ‘anvil in the deep end of the pool’ approach to learning touch typing.” Sink or swim, to use this keyboard is to truly master the QWERTY layout.
But a lot of folks tried this keyboard and loved it not for the blank keys, but for the feel of the keys, the “click” of the mechanical switches, and the durability of the unit. Time passes and the gang at Das Keyboard listened bringing out a second generation DK in Professional (standard keycaps) and Ultimate (blank keycaps) versions. I opted to review the Professional version as I still look at my keyboard to see what I am typing occasionally.
On the Desktop
The Das Keyboard Professional is a medium sized full 101-key QWERTY keyboard with full travel keys. The switches are very heavy duty and can withstand millions of keystrokes making this keyboard a long-term investment. The DKP connects via dual USB connectors, one for the keyboard and one for the built-in 2 port USB hub. This design is key because this allows the DKP to host USB devices that might otherwise require a direct connection to the computer’s USB ports due to their power draw requirements.
The DKP has a glossy black finish on the body and laser-etched satin keycaps. The body tends to attract fingerprints, so keep a nice cloth wipe handy. The keyboard’s size fits well on most desks (as opposed to the original Das Keyboard which was a bit larger), but remember to leave space for a wrist rest. I use the Imak ergoBeads wrist rest which can be ordered from their website. Staples used to carry it as well.
In use, the keys have a very smooth action and are a pleasure to type on. The Professional version has quieter switches than the original DK which had very audible clicks (at one point Das Keyboard offered DK owners free earplugs for their neighbors, you’ve got to love their sense of humor), but this one is fairly unobtrusive with just enough audible feedback to let you know that you pressed a key properly (the most common cause of a fat-finger error).
The DKP is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux based computers as it requires no special drivers other that those that ship with the respective OS’s. Just plug it in and go.
I used the DKP on a Mac Pro tower (Jan 2008 vintage) loaded with VMWare based Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux virtual machines and it worked flawlessly in all three operating systems. A Boot Camped Windows 7 x64 system (also housed on my Mac Pro) allowed me to test native Windows 7 performance and give it a run at gaming.
Let the Games Begin
I am not what you call a hardcore gamer. I play some Champions Online and the occasional round of WoW, but when I play, I really come down on input devices. The DKP was equal to the task. I pitted it against some of Logitech’s G-series keyboards and the DKP did not even blink. When my daughter tried the DKP, it’s all I could do to keep her from unplugging it from my machine and moving it to hers.
Granted, the DKP is the minimalist approach to gaming. No displays, no custom macro keys, no game profiles. Just a keyboard. One that runs and runs and does not quit. I also tested for ghosting and found none.
Neglecting to choose the right keyboard can have long-term health repercussions. Many companies make “ergonomic” keyboards and many of their designs are ingenious and well thought out. I have used many extensively and have found that once you get past the learning curve they can be quite comfortable. That’s where the problems begin. You’ve just become addicted to a keyboard that your employer may not be willing to get you. Believe me, I know. I have been working in IT for over 25 years.
The Das Keyboard Professional with a proper wrist rest is just as comfortable to use as any “ergonomic” keyboard out there. It’s sculpted keys and excellent switches make it easy to use for hours and hours. The standard QWERTY layout makes it easy to move to/from without any adjustment period. To give this keyboard a glowing recommendation would be a disservice. Run out and order one today. Your typing will improve and your wrists will thank you for it in the future.