Being primarily a fashion & portrait photographer, shooting on location or in a studio, I like to tether when I can. For those who don’t know what tethering is, it’s when you connect your camera directly to your computer via a USB or Firewire cable and your imagery downloads as you shoot it and appears on your screen via software such as Capture One Pro, Lightroom or Aperture.
I am not going to go into the pro’s & con’s of tethering right now. That’s a whole other conversation. What I would like to do is talk about a few products designed specifically for tethering.
When I shoot I currently put my laptop on a platform made by Calumet which cost me less than £30. It’s made to screw into the top of any tripod. It’s really designed for the 15″ Macbook Pro, so my 17″ hung over the edges and subsequently scratched the bottom of my laptop until I went and made a £2.95 modification with a piece of cutdown rubber car floor-mat and some epoxy glue. Works fine, but it’s not pretty.
Is there a better solution? I then came across a company called Tether Tools who specifically make a whole range of products to make tethering easier. I want to chat about a handful of their products. Firstly, as we are already talking about Laptop platforms, lets start there.
I picked up a Tether Table Aero Master which I got in brushed aluminium. The platforms come in 6 sizes. 16″ x14″, 18″ x 16″ & 22″ x 16″ and and three additional sizes built specifically for the MacBook Pro 13″, 15″ & 17″ The latter of which I tried out. These platforms are all handcrafted in the USA out of lightweight T6 Aerospace Aluminium. They can attach to any standard light stand with a 5/8″ stud or screw on to any tripod via this genius little bracket on the bottom. Despite it being made out of lightweight material, it is pretty sturdy. Designed to hold up to 13.5kg (30 lb). There is a little bit of wobbling or flex due to the material used I expect, but I never felt my laptop was really going to fall off unless the stand was literally knocked over.
As this particular platform is quite wide, even with my 17″ laptop, I had room for a Peel & Place Mouse Pad which as the name suggests can be moved around easily but without leaving sticky residue. My wireless magic mouse felt a little bit scratchy on the bare brushed aluminium, so one of these wafer thin mousepads are pretty essential if you want to use a mouse. I’m told it can be used with either an optical or laser mouse.
I also got a SecureStrap which is essentially an elasticised strap with a hook on either end. You hook the strap on to both sides of the platform and and pull the strap tight and this secures your laptop tightly onto the platform for added safety. I love the idea of it in principle but I found it a little bit clumsy in reality and a bit annoying when I was working. The clips to pull it tight seemed to be right in the way when I was trying to find an application in my dock and I had to keep pulling it out of the way to see properly. As I said, I really like the idea, but I cant help but think if it might be better if the strap went all the way around the platform rather than hooking on to the side and thus allowing the tightening buckle to be on the base out the way and therefore having a completely flat strap across the computer.
So now something for the actual computer and camera. I tried out the JerkStopper Tethering Kit. This is a two part little device, one piece slots into a free USB slot on your laptop and clamps onto your USB/Firewire cable thus making it very difficult for it to accidentally be pulled out during shooting. This does however mean that if someone trips over the cable close to the computer, I expect the whole thing could come crashing down. This thankfully hasn’t happened yet. There is a similar little device that attaches at the camera end to ensure your USB/Firewire cable doesnt come out there also. My Canon 1Ds Mk III already has a little clip that you can attach the cable to, but most cameras don’t have this so would come in very handy. The Firewire cable can all easily fall out the back of the Hasselblad’s digital back, so this JerkStopper would be perfect in solving this.
The beauty of all these products are that they take seconds to fit. You don’t need a PHd in engineering or a Masters in Ikea furniture building. And of course seconds to dismantle at the end of a shoot. They all pack neatly into a soft carry case with handle and a zip to close which makes it easy to transport and keeps everything together.
There are some other accessories that I didn’t try on this occasion. Notably an external hard drive compartment (comes in a couple of standard sizes, or can be custom built to spec) which simply clamps on the base of your platform which I think would make a great addition. Much neater and more convenient than gaffer taping my External HD to the leg of my tripod or stand.
In conclusion, I really do like all of these Tether Tools products with a small reservation on the Secure Strap. I think they are simple, well designed and effective. Overall they do the job very well. My biggest reservation is the cost. I know these are going to be aimed primarily at working professional photographers as tethering is a very niche market, but the 22″ platform alone is USD$199.95** An extra $20 if you want it in black and an extra $11.95 if you want the Peel & Place Mouse Pad. I guess it’s a small price to pay for a purpose built bit of kit that works perfectly for a very specific job. If we look at the platform alone, is it 4 times better than my old £30 Calumet platform? Hmmm. Not 100% sure. Maybe time will tell.
**All Tether Tools products come with a Lifetime warranty as we stand behind the quality and durability of our products.