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Tethered Tablet Shooting

April 16th, 2008

I’m using a Lenovo X61 Tablet PC for tethered shooting. It has really changed the way I shoot. I’ve been shooting tethered to laptops for some time, but a tablet is a much better way to go. Laptops need to be set up on a table or a stand which is never convenient. Tablets, however, can be hand-held or stuffed into a bag carried over the shoulder while the tablet is still connected and powered on. Just make sure the vents are not covered or you’ll cook your processor. I’ve got a special shoulder strap sleeve on my tablet. Not needing a surface to set up and being able to use a digitizer pen instead of a keyboard and mouse is what makes a tablet perfect for tethered shooting.

Tethered shooting does slow you down a bit, so it’s certainly not ideal for all situations. I’m shooting 21 megapixel RAW files and I’m satisfied with the transfer rate. It takes about 2.5 seconds for the image to be viewable and it just keeps downloading as I shoot. Connecting and reconnecting is a pain, but tolerable most of the time. I sometimes use the tablet like a Polaroid test print; once I have the lighting and exposure the way I want; I disconnect and shoot away. When I’m set up on a tripod; I also use the tablet like a cable release.

I’m rarely tethered for the entire shoot, so I always download the images from the card to my workstation and run my DAM routine. I do a lot of work making selections and adjustments on the tablet using Adobe Bridge/Camera Raw or Lightroom during the shoot. I don’t want to orphan this work, so I copy the XMP sidecar files from my tablet to my workstation. I put the XMP files in the folder with the files from my card, and I have all my tablet editing work on my workstation. This workflow guarantees that I save ALL the images that I shot, not just the tethered stuff, and ALL my editing work. Also, the tablet copy of the images makes an excellent backup if your camera only has one card slot.

There’s nothing like Canon’s Live View for nailing the focus. Live View gives you a 10X zoom directly from the sensor. Having files instantly available in editing applications is also a great way to guarantee that you’re getting sharp and properly exposed images.

If you’re shooting with an art director looking over your shoulder, you can hand them the Tablet for them to view the photos instantly which allows for a heightened collaborative experience. We pass the tablet around so that everyone can get a look and make adjustments that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. My fear, though, is that it will get dropped sooner or later.

While at Photoshop World, I played with the ModBook from Axiotron. I previously blogged about it here. It’s a tablet only setup, so it doesn’t function as a standard laptop like a convertible. I wouldn’t want to do much writing on it, but it’s a really nice tethered shooting setup. I’m told that they are designing a special carrying case for it with a strap that holds it in a usable position. A very cool and unique feature of the ModBook is the built in GPS. With the GPS set to recording a track, you can match the time and place with the time stamp on the photographs and embed the exact location into the image file. You can also us it to find you way home after the shoot.

Lenovo and Fujitsu are the leaders in Tablet PCs. Dell and HP also make respectable models. For Vista users, I recommend the Lenovo X61 with the Superview display. I have the model with the touch screen which I never use. Poking at the screen with your finger doesn’t work as well as the digitizer pen and you can’t use the handwriting tool. I would prefer the higher resolution screen. The X61 comes with built in wireless from Verizon Sierra or AT&T. Though not lightning fast, these 3g cell phone wireless services are really nice.

It doesn’t take long to get used to Vista’s tablet features such as the Tablet PC Input Panel fly out shown above. You can write on it and use the handwriting recognition or hunt and peck using the pen on the mock keyboard, then insert the text.

In a very short time I’ve come to rely on my tablet for so much. It’s small enough that it’s no burden to take with me everywhere, so I always have it handy. It’s always connected to the internet, so I use it for e-mail like a PDA. It’s a great tool on a shoot, so it’s camera gear as well. I never envisioned how much I would use this little toy. It’s become the most used piece of photography technology I own.

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