Lenovo Yoga A940 – the Ultimate PC for Photographers?

Wow, what a machine!

This comment is inevitable when I switch on my Lenovo Yoga A940, shift the monitor down and start working with the touchscreen.

The machine has definitely a “must have” factor, but at a price tag of 3000 € it is not an impulse buy. Also, when you work for a while with it, you see things a bit different, which is why I am writing this.

Since many years, I am working with a Dell T3500 Xeon Workstation with a  Dell Ultrasharp 27 Zoll monitor. It is a highly reliable machine, which I adapted and modernized over time, for example with  24 GB RAM, an internal 2×4 TB RAID, a SSD as start volume, a noiseless graphics card and a Wacom Intuos tablet. Apart from space requirement for keyboard and graphics tablet I never felt I need something different. Only ergonomic reasons prompted me to think about something different.

Lenovo Yoga A 940, Microsoft Surface Studio, Dell Canvas and Wacom Cintiq

For a long time, I considered only one PC as a replacement: the Microsoft Surface Studio. I was surprised years ago that Microsoft was able to bring this innovative machine to the market. It is an all-in-one PC with a large 28 inch touchscreen which can can be slided down almost completely. It behaves then similar to a drawing board. The machine is so elegant and well designed that even Apple can not compete with it. It bears some similarities with the apple machines though: it is hardly affordable, and it can not be upgraded. Half a year ago, more than 4000 € had to be paid for even the cheapest version which has a too limited hardware. Only the most expensive version was appropriate, for an expense of 5200 €. This was way to expensive for me, particularly when considering it is a closed box.

Strangely, no competitor followed this concept for a long time. Only mid 2019, Lenovo launched a similar machine: the Yoga A940. It is also equipped with a touchscreen which can be shifted down to a flat position. The sceen has 27 inches, a bit smaller than the Microsoft Surface display, and a conventional 16:9 aspect ratio while the Microsoft Surface screen is 3:4 and slightly higher. It has no dial which can be placed on the screen, but a different one which can be attached to the side. Both machines can be operated by your hand or a pen, and of course with keyboard or mouse as well.

Before purchasing the Yoga A940, I considered also a differnt solution: the Dell Canvas 27. This is not a standalone PC but a graphics tablet with a screen, similar to the Wacom Wacon Cintiq tablets. Hence, it is an addition to an existing PC, similar to a regular graphics tablet. This tablet features also a 27 inch screen, but it stays permanently in a flat position in front of the main monitor. This solution avoids serious drawbacks of the all-in-one PCs, particularly lack of expandability and reflective surface – more on this further below. It also does not require purchasing a new PC, and it avoids the associated effort to set this up. However, while I still like my Dell PC, I rejected this option. The tablet has a wide border, and the permanent position in front of the monitor asks for a lot of space. Also, I imagine parallel work with a keyboard is even more difficult than with the all-in-one PCs. Those who can live with these restrictions may value it as a more affordable alternative for half the cost – it can currently be had from Dell for 1600  €.

Those who do not have the space might consider the smaller Cintiq tablets. I work since years with a regular Wacom tablet, I am very satisfied with it. With hands-on experience with the A940, I might have preferred this option.

The Lenovo machine costs 3000 €, which is also quite expensive. It seems, however, it is a significant competition to the Surface Studio where prices dropped by more than 1000 € since the launch of the A940. However, the only relevant version still costs 40% more than the Lenovo. Because of that, I purchased one of the first machines available in Germany, and I am working with it since then.

Concept and Design

The Lenovo Yoga A940 is an all-in-one machine, similar to the Microsoft Surface Studio. Because screen and PC are one unit, customization is difficult or even impossible. Currently only one version is being offered in Germany. It corresponds largely to the most expensive Microsoft Surface version. The main differences are the smaller and more panorama-like screen, less capable mass storage (hard disk instead of SSD), an additional control unit with dials instead of a dial which can be placed on the surface, and a more up-to-date processor version. The smaller and more conventional screen of the Lenovo A940 seems less attractive than the larger 3:4 screen of the Surface Studio.  However, reaching to the menus is even further than on the Lenovo, and the stretched screen meets the sideway placement of tools in picture editing software fairly well.

Those who want to see the picture in better quality will find in my shoot report about Anna 🙂

All components of the Lenovo A940 which I would like to see accessible are quite inaccessible – not much better than with the Microsoft machine which is completely inaccessible. This is rather cumbersome for both instruments because the mass storage is too small for my requirements. Only one component which I would like to see built-in is outside: the voluminous external power supply. It is a big and heavy brick which has to find its place elsewhere.

The PC itself has a solid build quality and looks tidy, although I do not see why it got a design award – but this is personal taste. The monitor is attached to a hinge, which allows to shift it easily from vertical to a closer to horizontal position.

The Monitor

At a resolution of 3.840 x 2.160 pixels the UHD monitor renders even fine detail and small characters very well. The characters of my outdated Photoshop CS 6 are extremely small and almost impossible to read, but windows and other programs allow for better individual adjustment so that it is easy to work with.

The monitor shows images with high brilliance, as otherwise known from Apple machines or from the Microsoft Surface Studio. This is associated with a high tendency for reflections, however. While the screen is described as “Anti Glare” it does not provide a matte surface; it is glossy. Since there is also no obvious anti-reflection coating, it is strongly reflecting. The image at the top of this post had to be taken with a big black board behind the monitor, otherwise the interiors of my room would be visible. For this reason I first re-packed the machine for return. However, because it seemed otherwise quite attractive, I put some thought into re-arranging my workplace so that it has no window in front or in the back. With dark images, the wall behind me is still visible, but it is just tolerable. The left picture above shows the screen as I normally see it. With the right image, the board behind me got light from a 8 W Dedolight LED. It is seen here that the board in the background is clearly visible. Even without light, this does not disappear completely, but I can live with it.

By the way, the picture shows also Anna, but from a different shoot.

The screen has a homogeneous background illumination. Because it is hardly variable with the viewing angle, the image quality does not suffer when tilting the screen.

According to the manufacturer, the screen provides the full Adobe RGB colour space, and I have no doubts this is well met. Calibration with a X-Rite i1 Photo results in only a minor correction. If all machines are adjusted as well as mine, calibration is almost dispenseable.

In this context, I studied once again the requirements for monitor calibration in more detail. The correct colour temperature was always unclear to me.  6500 K? 6000 K? 5500 K? The calibration software and most internet pages are quite unclear about this. Cambridge in Colour states that LCD monitors, other than the earier tube monitors, need to restrict the colour space in order to achieve changes in temperature, and they advise to leave the native colour temperature of the screen untouched. This is plausible for me, and I tried a fixed temperature as well as the native temperature. It worked very well with the native temperature, and I will do all future calibrations that way.

Touchscreen Operation

In vertiacl position, the screen can be operated with my hands, but the mouse is in better reach. Because of that I use the touchscreen typically to scroll or zoom text in or out. For other operations like accessing the menu at the upper edge I prefer the mouse.

Using the pen in this position is not overly practical, but when the screen is tilted this works very well. In order to get the best reach, the lower edge of the screen must be positioned at the edge of the table, which means there is no space left for the keyboard. It may be placed for storage on the housing, so everything looks tidy while using the touchscreen or the pen. However, changing between keyboard and touchscreen means that the keyboard has to be put away and taken back frequently. This is a lot of action for typing which may be just a single character. The virtual keyboard on the screen may also be used instead of the real keyboard. I do not like to work with it, but for a few characters I use it occasionally. When the screen is less tilted as shown above, the keyboard may be put a bit forward so that it can be used at least for most keys. However, a comfortable work with the pen is not possible in this position. This requires to slide the screen further down, which in turn reuires to remove the keyboard.

The positioning of the PC for work with the pen means also that the screen is much closer to the user than usual – it is positioned less than 10 inches behind the edge of the table. There is just enough space for the narrow keyboard. This is unusual, but I actually like it – also because the screen looks even larger than it actually is.

Sometimes the screen reacts to placing the hand on it, but it is not a serious limitiation when using the pen.

Working with the pen differs in two ways compared to working with a graphics tablet:

First, with a graphics tablet the brain projects the position of the hand onto the screen, whereas it is really there when using the touchscreen. Accordingly, it covers adjastent areas which are subject to retouching. With fine work, this also holds for the tip. Exact positioning of the tip requires to view it from the angle where it was calibrated. Other viewing angles cause some deviation due to the parallax which is caused by the noteable distance between the glass surface and the LCD further behind. This is also the reason why the tip and the brush do not exactly meet on the pictures. This is no issue during normal operation.

Second, the arm has to be moved much further, and it also has to be lifted. Particularly when choosing menu points this is quite disadvanatagous. Right-handed people as I am need to move the hand not only up but to the very upper left edge. It is worth mentioning that the upper edge of the screen is even further up with the Microsoft Surface Studio.

Some programs like Affinity Photo (which I like a lot) position essential controls like brush size, coverage or softness also in this sreen area. Working with the touch screen is therefore more strenuous than using a graphics tablet.

With most programs, the pen works like a pressure sensitive mouse – but not with all. Capture One, for example, tends to leave an explanation window for the radial filter on screen which can be removed only when clicking elsewhere. Affinity Photo does not visually reveal the brush size, which is quite cumbersome.

The picture on the screen was made during a travel to Iceland.

Mouse and Keyboard

The wireless keyboard is connected by a dongle. Unfortunately, this blocks one of the rare USB ports. It is powered by a built-in battery which occasionally has to be recharged with a USB cable. The battery will last for a while, but since it is not exchangeable I will have to ship the keyboard to the service some day, or I have to buy a new one. It is very thin but solidly built, and I am pleased with the feel when typing. The flat position without the option to change the angle is more disturbing. It is so flat and thin to allow for positioning it on the main housing. As already mentioned, this is necessary quite frequently due to the tilteable screen.

The keyboard has no illuminated keys. The screen has LEDs underneath, but when switched on they illuminate only the uppermost row and only one quarter of the keyboard width. With a better positioning of the LEDs they could be useful, but currently they are not.

The wireless mouse is also connected by the dongle. It is a conventional mouse with two switches and a scroll wheel. The AAA batteries are exchangeable. Many work every day with devices like this, but for me it is an ergonomical desaster. My wrist hurts after a short while using it and prevents further work. Since long time I use an unusual alternative from 3M which is not as well controlleable but far more ergonomical. I use it also on the Lenovo A940, but since my mouse is connected by cable it blocks one additiaonal USB port. Furthermore, due to the position of the PC, it is also positioned close to the edge of the desk and has fallen down repeatedly. After years of use with my Dell PC it has a damaged casing now. Meanwhile, I clamp the cable underneath the PC so that it can not fall down once again.

Pen

The Lenovo A940 is supplied with a Base Pen II digitizer. It requires a thin AAAA battery which lasts for a long time, but it is adviseable to have a spare available. It is easy to hold and with accurate positioning. However, the keys allow for only marginal programming so that they can not be used for special functions as a Wacom pen does. This causes quite a significant problem for my work: Affinity Photo requires the simultaneous press of both keys in order to change brush size or softness. This is not possible with this pen, so I can change the settings only by the entry fields in the very upper left. Since, as already mentioned, the brush size is also not indicated, this results in a cumbersome guesswork.

Lenovo offers the Active Pen 2 for their laptops. It offers more pressure sensitivity levels and better programming of key functions. Lenovo could not tell me whether this works with the Yoga A940, so I ordered one. It does work as a pen, but programming requires Wacom software which is compatible only with the Lenovo laptops. It is hard to understand why Lenovo does not care to make their best pen functional with their top PC.

Dial

Halfway up on the screen a device with two dials and one button can be plugged into a USB socket – either on the left or on the right side. The idea is to use the dials to control various actions like brush size, picture size or other. Depending on the application in use the built-in light changes to different colours.

Those assuming this can be programmed similar to the Wacom controls are on err, unfortunately. Lenovo provides an application named dial assist, but all it does is the selection of some Adobe or Microsoft Office programs. Within these, the functionality of the dials can be assigned. For all other programs, only marginal functionality like scrolling or zoom in/out is provided. This is valid for Affinity Photo as well as Capture One. Since these are my main programs for image editing, the light on the dial is always white – which means it is essentially without function. Lenovo has an urgent need to revise this.

Furthermore, the dials should be positioned at the lower edge of the screen, not halfway up. However, I do not have to care about this bacause it has no use anyway.

Memory

I was aware already before purchasing the PC that the hardware is too limited. The 500 GB SSD is sufficient for the system but not for relevant amounts of data. I use it for files which profit from fast access: the Capture One and Lightroom (6!) catalogs and scratch files.

The 2 TB internal hard disk is too small for my image files. The built in drive is a Seagate ST2000LM007, a 2,5 inch disk with 7 mm highth. The Microsoft Surface Studio offers a m.2 SSDs with either 1 or 2 TB, which is supposedly way faster than the Lenovo hard disk. However, these are also too small for my requirements, and they can not be changed. Changing is possible, in principle, with the Lenovo, but even though lenovo advertizes expandeability: this is not trivial, as it is with my old Dell PC. A look to the Hardware Manual shows this quickly. With my old PC I can open the side of the housing with one action, and change the immediately accessible disks with another – without requiring even a screwdriver. This is now a matter for the service technician, provided a suitable larger hard disk can be found.

The market offers only few 2.5 inch disks with higher capacity, and at least the 4 TB Seagate disk is twice as high. It may not fit and costs more than half of a 4 TB SSD, which is probably the better alternative. I did not change this disk but use it for regular data. The images are on an external 4 TB 3,5 inch disk which is connected by USB-C.

This solution has advantageas and disadvantageas. The external housing can hold a second disk which I use for backups. Since it is easy to open, I can change that disk regularly so that I have always only one backup volume connected. On the other side, the volumes lose their assignement when I boot the PC with a SD card in the slot. This can easily happen if I did not remove it after reading in images. I can live with that, and experts may know a way to prevent that. The disks are not silent. With my Dell PC they are below the desk, but now they sit besides the PC. They are not really noisy, but when switching off the PC or when the disks go to idle stage, it becomes evident that the operation is associated with a constant albeit low noise level.

The random access memory of 32 GB is generous, I do not need more than that.

Connections

The main housing of the PC has two locations for connections. One is on the left and offers one USB 3.1 (Gen. 1) Type C with Thunderbolt 3, one USB 3.1 (Gen. 2) Type A, one SD card reader, and an audio socket. Since the left side is not easily visible and made from black metal, the search for the sockets is associated with scratching on the metal. There are no scratches so far, but it is still not overly pleasant.

The other connectors are on the back. These are the socket for the mains adapter, Gigabit Ethernet (RJ45), HDMI and four USB 3.1 (Gen. 1) Type A sockets. The number of USB sockets is insufficient for my requirements, so I connected a USB 3 hub. This requires its own mains adapter and adds to cable clutter. Even more important: not all peripherals work well with a hub; my small stream deck and the Epson flatbed scanner do not.

My old Dell PC has no issues with this. It has two USB sockets in front, and those permanently in use are on the back. This is expandeable with whatever you like. This is not what the A940 provides, but at least I have a card reader slot now which I did not have before.

Noise Level

The Yoga A940 is almost silent -provided it does no serious work. Even small duties like reading images from a Capture One session or exporting a number of pictures cause a high noise level due to the fan. This is usually relevant for short periods only, so I can live with that.

It should be kept in mind that external hard disks may be required to handle a large number of images. These cause a low but noticeable noise level, so it is worthwhile to select the disks and the case accordingly.

Yoga A910 Models

As already mentioned, there is only one model type available – in Germany.

When I check the US offerers, other models can be found. All are in principle similar to this model, but differ with regard to processor and memory:

Processor RAM HD1 HD2 Price (USD)
I5-8400 16 GB 1 TB SSD 2 TB HD 3200
I5-8400 32 GB 2 TB SSD 3400
I7-8700 16 TB 256 GB SSD 1 TB HD 2240
I7-8700 32 TB 1 TB SSD 3500
I7-8700 32 TB 2 TB SSD 3600
I7-8700 32 TB 1 TB SSD 2 TB HD 3600
I7-8700 32 TB 4 TB SSD 4000
I7-8700 32 TB 8 TB SSD 4600

 

For comparison, the model described here:

I7-8700 32 TB 512 GB SSD 2 TB HD 3000 €

Meanwhile, Lenovo upgraded the SSD to 1 TB, hence it corresponds to one of the models available in the USA. I do not understand why Lenovo restricts availability to just one model in Germany – one more strange decicision they make. The A910 may be their top model, but it is rather neglected.

Conclusion

Every visitor is impressed by the Lenovo Yoga A940, regarding image rendition as well as touchscreen handling with the sliding screen. Only the price deters from spontaneous purchase.

Investment in this order of magnitude required also a careful consideration from my side. However, it does not cost more than a premium digital camera, and I work with it every day for several hours. Ergonomic considerations and top notch image presentation have highest priority for that.

The Lenovo PC has no doubt an attractive display, but strong tendency for reflections require a working environment where this can be minimized. I found a solution for this, but those who have a window in front or in the back will be happy with this screen only when it is dark.

Working with a touchscreen and a pen seems attractive at first glance. However, due to the big screen, the hands have to move much further than with a graphics tablet. Furthermore, hand and pen cover part of the image which is being retouched, which is not the case with a graphics tablet.

The tilteable screen is also attractive, but using the keyboard with a tilted screen is quite cumbersome, even if only a single character is to be typed in. The use of shortcuts is therefore rather restricted. There is a good solution for this, and I will write a separate post about this.

The limited expandeability and lack of programmability of the pen and of the dial are further drawbacks. I do not quite understand why Lenovo does not support the A940 with more attention, I just have to accept that.

Overall, the Lenovo Yoga A940 has some attractive features, but in view of the high cost and a significant number of weak points I can not recommend it without hesitation. Those who can live with the limitations will work with it as I do, hoping that important programs like Capture One and Affinity Photo will be able to make better use of the hardware capabilities of this machine.

My old Dell PC sits in my Studio now, for use with tethered shooting and for serving my printer and my Imacon SCSI scanner. When I switch it on, look at the matte screen and start working with my Wacom tablet, I tend to think: what a machine!

Disclaimer

I provide this information because I like to phototograph and to share my experience. I have no commercial connections to any of the manufactureres of vendors of any product mentioned in this article. The PC and all accessory parts are my personal property.