By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP
While working in the studio, I've become very fond of my studio camera stand. Using a camera stand lets me focus on interacting with my clients, and allows me to set where the camera will be for a series of frames. If need be, I can leave the camera to adjust my client's pose without losing the in-camera composition that I had set up. The one shortcoming to working this way is what to do when you decide to shoot tethered to your computer. While many studio camera stands come with two mounting arms, it's not often you find one pre-equipped with a laptop table. So, after a little research, I found two companies that sell portable laptop stands, or tables. Both of the products I'll be discussing are designed to be installed on your tripod, camera stand, or even a light stand (depending on thread size).
The first table I tested was manufactured by Tether Tools (tethertools.com). Based on my laptop's dimensions, I opted for the Tether Table Aero Traveler (it comes in black or silver). I also received some other optional accessories, including a Secure Strap for securing the laptop to the table, an XDC Solo (external hard drive shelf), cupholder, an Aero ProPad (cushiony pad for on top of the table), and some Jerk Stoppers (tools for keeping your tethered cord securely attached to your camera and computer ports). In the image below, you'll see all these items, including an upside down view of the Aero Tether Table.
The Tether Table comes with three different mounting methods (see below). The knob at upper left is for securing the table to a lightstand (biggest hole). The other two threaded holes are for the standard tripod threads.
I found that the various accessories sold with the Tether Table were helpful in making sure my laptop wouldn't just work its way off the stand. In the image below, you can see the laptop sitting on the non-slip Areo ProPad; it is also secured by the Secure Strap (an elastic strap with hooks at the ends that hold the laptop in place). Additionally, both the front and back edges of the Tether Table have a raised lip, so if you do use this out in the field, you can use it at an angle without having to worry about losing your laptop.
Finally, here's a closeup of the Jerk Stopper that keeps the camera safely tethered:
The second table I tested was created by Tabelz (tabelz.com). They offer primary tables in a variety of sizes; I got one that fit my laptop, as well as a side table and cup holder. I particularly liked the built-in slip-free surface on the table. (see parts below)
From the underside, you'll notice that the Tabelz unit is more compact. The T-shape on the underside comprises three accessory slots (I've inserted both the cupholder and side table in the image below). The accessories are secured by thumb screws. In the center of the table are two threaded holes (for both standard tripod threads).
Both the Tabelz main and side tables come with a non-slip gripping surface. I really like how this was permanently adhered to the table; even though the main table only has a raised lip at the front edge, I would be confident in the non-slip surface when using this table out in the field. The image below shows the non-slip surface, as well as the side table being used for a mousepad.
In addition to selling to photographers, Tabelz also produces units for government and military usage. So, if it will hold up under combat situations, I'm sure the Tabelz unit will do just fine for my portrait sessions.
I did use both units in the studio; they definitely enabled me to shoot tethered, and I was not worried at all about my laptop toppling off the studio stand. For pure portability, I would say the Tabelz unit might win out, as it can pack down more compactly. But, on the flip side, I know photographers will appreciate the Tether Tools unit's abilty to be mounted on a light stand, rather than just on a tripod.
I would be confident using either of these products; they were well-built, easy to use, and lived up to my expectations. While your investment will vary depending on the size of laptop table you need, the Tabelz main tables range from $64.95 to $89.95. The Tether Tables start at $175.95 for smaller tables, and a version for the iMac is also available ($229.95). Tether Tools offers a wide range of accessories for their tables; they sell an essentials accessory pack for $47.60. For more information, visit Tabelz.com and TetherTools.com.