What Is a Jog Dial?

Mary McMahon

A jog dial is a controller that can step through options or regulate the speed of media playback. It consists of a wheel or disc that spins freely or can move through a series of individual stops, known as detents or clicks, depending on the design. Electronics like cameras may have jog dials, and they can be attached to mice or external controls for a computer to control programs. For example, transcriptionists, video editors, and audio mixers may use an external jog dial to work more efficiently with media.

Video editor hardware often has a jog dial.
Video editor hardware often has a jog dial.

The design of the dial can depend on the device. Some are aligned vertically to create a spinning wheel, while others are horizontal. Textured edges are common to make a jog dial easier to grip and these may have markings to allow the user to see the appropriate setting. On a digital camera, for example, a dial can allow the user to select from several detents, each representing a different shooting mode. Another dial may control aperture or shutter speed when the user is on a manual or semi-manual mode.

Disc jockeys use jog dials for fades, record skips, and other effects.
Disc jockeys use jog dials for fades, record skips, and other effects.

For controlling media playback, a jog dial spins freely. It can be activated to fast forward or reverse, pause, and slow media. This can be critical for editing and transcribing, where one-touch control increase efficiency. Disc jockeys can use jog dials for fades, record skips, and other effects both in recordings and live performances. Jog dials also provide a quick method for reviewing footage in the field, useful for sound technicians and videographers.

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Some computer mice come with a jog dial, sometimes known as a scroll wheel, which can be used for scrolling, clicking, and other functions. External jog dials can also be connected separately. These are usually designed for quick installation; some come with compact discs loaded with software for full feature functionality. They may be designed to coordinate with specific software programs to add features and make the software easy to use.

In addition to responding to spinning, some jog dials also respond to pressure. The user can push down to click or select, and may be able to selectively exert pressure on either end of the jog dial to access additional features. This increases the capacity of the device, although the learning curve can be steeper as people learn to control it effectively. Accidentally putting pressure on one end while operating the device, for instance, may inadvertently trigger an unwanted function.

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