Folks who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that I’ve been following Tangent’s development of the Element color correction control surface for a long while. They’ve now been shipping the Element for some time, and it’s been so unexpectedly popular that they’ve had some trouble keeping up with orders, which is a nice problem for Tangent to have, and I congratulate them.
At NAB, I met up with the principals, and they were good enough to provide me with a set to try out. So now, months after playing with their initial prototypes, I’ve finally had the chance to see how the shipping version works.
If you’re busy, here’s my quick takeaway. They feel fantastic, the build quality is everything one might want in a surface of any price, and their compact size makes them at home in anybody’s suite while the clever design doesn’t compromise features. At $3500 USD for the set (actually, $3,199.99 at B&H), it’s the best bang for the buck you’re going to get, in my opinion.
Now, for those of you wanting a bit more detail, let’s look a little closer. In fact, let’s start with an unboxing. When you order the set, consisting of one each of the button panel, the knob panel, the trackball panel, and the button/transport panel, you get a box containing four other boxes (five including a box for other hardware).
Since these panels are also available individually, Tangent made the decision to package them individually, so folks could custom order whatever combination they wanted.
For those of you looking for a convenient carrying case, these boxes aren’t it. However, I’m told that Tangent is considering creating a set of custom foam inserts for a pelican case. You’d buy the foam inserts from Tangent, buy the appropriate case from Pelican, and then you’ll be in business. I look forward to this becoming available, since the durability and compact size of these panels makes them an excellent choice for portable use.
Each of the panels connects via USB, and Tangent recommends a specific USB hub for use. Depending on your suite’s configuration, it either conveniently or inconveniently has a built-in extension cable, so you can run the hub quite far away from your CPU, should you so desire.
Each panel connects to the hub via it’s own Micro-B to Type A cable. This means that a set of four panels will run four USB cables to the hub, which in turn connects to your CPU.
This may sound like a potential rats-nest of cabling, but I found that by looping each cable underneath each panel’s back riser, they could be brought together into a single snake you can run to the hub.
Speaking of connections, the four panels themselves can be arranged on your desk any way you like, for the ultimate in configurable customizability. However, if you want to line them up in a straight row as a single unit, there’s a clever magnetic pin arrangement you can use to “click” them all together.
The pins come in a separate little bag, and you use two pins to join each pair of panels that you want to sit side by side. If you insert these pins incorrectly, you can always pull them out, but you’ll need a pliers to do so, unless you’ve a preternaturally strong grip.
Power is delivered via the USB hub. The power supply that comes with the recommended hub is international; you remove the plastic shipping insert and then use whichever of the accompanying international plugs you need.
Once you’ve gotten everything plugged in and assembled, the Element panels have a pretty unassuming footprint on your desktop.
With the whole set on my administrative computer’s desk, I still have room for my Bamboo graphics tablet, my magic trackpad, and yo-yo.
I didn’t want to just plug it all in, use it for an hour, and then post a snap review on the spot, so I gave myself a month or so to use it in everyday situations, to see how I liked its functionality and feel in the long term. At this point, I think it’s great.
The knobs and contrast rings are nice and smooth, but with a pleasing bit of resistance that encourages precision. The buttons are the same ones that Tangent has been using ever since the $30,000 USD CP-100 panel, which I like. Some have commented on the audible click these buttons make, but it’s never bothered me. In fact, I should point out that my considerably more expensive DaVinci Control Surface uses buttons with a similarly audible click, and I’ve never heard anyone complain about those.
Here’s a fun fact. In speaking with the Tangent guys, I’m told that out of approximately 60,000 buttons they’ve used in panels they’ve made over the last 12 years, the only button failures they’ve experienced have been on four or five of the original CP-100 panels that were shipped 12 years ago, all of which have seen intensive use. With that kind of reliability, I’m very happy with Tangent’s choice of hardware.
Each panel has an OLED display at the top, with multiple lines of text designed to dynamically label the functionality of each row of controls on every panel. I was wondering if I’d find this visually confusing, and the truth is I haven’t. Unlike LCD displays, OLED displays aren’t polarized, and the “lens covers” over each panel’s display have been specifically engineered not to interfere with the polarized glasses used by passive stereoscopic monitors, so that’s an additional bonus if you regularly work on stereoscopic projects.
There are many grading and postproduction applications that have announced Tangent Element support, but I’ve only been using these panels with DaVinci Resolve. In general, I’ve found the Resolve mappings quick to learn, easy to operate, and they hit all the basics. However, I agree with those who’ve voiced a desire for a bit more mapped functionality, as there’s plenty of room for more. On the other hand, room for improvement does not mean the current mappings are bad, and I wholeheartedly recommend these panels for Resolve use.
So that’s my overview. If you’d like to learn more about these panels, I heartily recommend Patrick Inhofer’s video review if you’ve not yet seen it, at his excellent Tao of Color website. He demonstrates the panels in action, which lets you see how the mappings work with Resolve. Also, I want to point out that panel touch and feel is subject to very personal preferences. Before buying any panel, I strongly recommend you find a way to actually try it out in person to make sure that it’s your cup of tea. There are many different color correction control surfaces on the market, and each has its fans and detractors; the only way to really know if a panel will work for you is to try before you buy.