There are many instances where I’m working on site and I need to adjust camera position while on a tripod. From interiors and architecture, food and product photography, often a tripod alone can’t provide the convenience or flexibility I need to get a job done quickly. In other situations where space is limited, my gear needs to occupy as small of a footprint as possible while shooting tethered. That’s where the Tether Tools T Setup and Tether Table Aero Traveler comes in.
I first saw the Tether Tools T Setup at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York a while back, and was immediately intrigued as to how it might be useful. I had been looking for a solution for location work that allowed for more and faster camera positioning for exteriors, interiors, tabletop photography, among others. Tether Tools' system uses two adjustable arms to shift a camera both horizontally and vertically, as well as tilt down or up, if desired. It allows for shooting overhead with a sturdy tripod and a sand bag or two. If you need to get directly above an object on a table or a plate of food, you won’t have to reach out and try to hold the camera steady for an extended period of time. With Capture One Pro 10, for example, you can adjust camera focus and exposure settings from within the software on a tethered computer, so once the composition is set, the camera can stay put. The versatility that the arms provide for location work was really tempting, so out came the credit card and off I went.
For starters, the Tether Table Aero Traveler and the two arms each come with carrying cases, underscoring that this system is built for portability. The arms thread and lock into one another without any tools. There are grub/set screws at the connecting points need to be tightened after assembly to help ensure the Side Arm doesn’t rotate. The first time I used this setup I didn’t have a hex wrench with me and the weight of the camera kept spinning the arm and I’ve since made sure there is always one in my kit. With a lighter camera, that might not be necessary but for the few seconds it takes, it's a sound step to take for a lot of peace of mind and stability.
A tripod and head are required, so if you already have those (if you’re reading this you probably do), consider this a major add on. When I got the T Setup, I already had a Tether Tools Aero Traveler which I love except for the price tag. The T setup actually felt reasonably priced in comparison for the functionality it offers. B&H Photo offers many different Tether Tools configurations depending on what you need or already have; I ended up getting the Rock Solid Side Arm and Rock Solid Cross Bar in addition to the table separately.
To improve my setup, I bought up a black folding storage cube at a department store for $5 to use as a hood. There’s enough room on the aero table for my 13” MacBook Pro but not much else and the hood is a perfect fit. I can connect a USB tether cable, MagSafe power cable, and for backups, a San Disk 128 GB flash drive that’s nearly flush with the right side USB port. If you had a larger monitor hood that wouldn’t be as much of a challenge, but it’s wise to have a backup especially if your camera can only store an image on the computer and not concurrently on the camera card for faster data transmission. With Carbon Copy Cloner backing up to that flash drive, I don’t have to worry about a hard disk drive falling and smashing my data into oblivion. I attach an A clamp to the side of the table for routing cables and to hold a roll of gaffer tape.
What I Liked
- Provides much finer adjustments and a wider range of movement on both the x and y-axes as compared to what a tripod can provide. You'll have better control and speed dialing in a composition.
- Well designed system made of durable, high quality materials for a solid construction.
- Your gear will occupy a smaller footprint while being more, while eliminating the potential need of having a dedicated light stand setup for a computer. You won’t be tripping all over the place with you camera and notebook computer on one tripod.
- Each component is extremely portable and light weight. The carrying cases are simple yet helpful.
- You will be far better organized on location, and that looks incredibly professional.
- It’s the closest solution I’ve found to having a studio camera stand on site.
What Could Be Improved
- The Tether Tools Aero Table itself is, in my view, unnecessarily expensive. Then again, so is the computer on it, which I’d prefer not to have to file an insurance claim for, and they know that.
- The table could benefit from more storage space. I’m always finding I have my phone/remote, clamp, or a styling tool that needs a home and the area the Aero Traveler provides doesn’t take that into account. Tether Tools does provide a few additional options but at a hefty cost. Their Aero Utility Tray with Arm doesn’t have sides to speak of, comes in a hefty $160, and it still needs a Master Clamp.
- If the camera needs to be totally still for your project, the T Setup probably isn't stable enough to use along with the Aero Table on the same tripod. Since the computer and camera would be connected, if you need to layer product or architectural images in post, the camera might move slightly as you work on the computer. If you add an extra step, ways around this include using a remote or phone app to trigger/change camera settings, i.e. Capture Pilot. You can also auto align layers in Photoshop and hope for the best.
- I am slightly concerned that working on my MacBook Pro while on the aero stand will eventually stress the connection. I don’t lean on it but there’s still a fair amount of pressure being applied.
- After starting this review, I ran into a issue again with the T setup rotating downward. I have yet to be able crank the knob tight enough so that the Rock Solid Cross Bar and Side Arm doesn't rotate. The knurling is hard to get a grip on and the grub screws chewed up the soft rubber grip material between the two bars, which I now need to find a way to replace. If there were a better way to tighten/lock the cross bar with the side arm, that would be really helpful.
- Some of the unused grub screws keep working their way out somehow which is another problem. I've paid to have replacements sent and just noticed another one was missing.
If you are a professional photographer working on location, from portraits to commercial photography, the Tether Tools T Setup is a good tool to provide you with greater technical and creative control but will work best with a lighter camera. The Aero Traveler itself is a good idea to use with a light stand (and sand bag), which is often how I use it work when needing to keep the camera still for using layer masks in post. Every piece of gear will have certain strengths and limitations, though while there could be some improvements, it’s a solid platform and great tool to on hand. Tether Tools offers additional support accessories for further customization for your photography workflow, and there are many inexpensive items unrelated to photography that can make it even better.
Do you have any suggestions or an experience with this gear yourself? Share your thoughts on your tethered workflow and any improvements you’ve made in the comments below.