Metal on Metal: A DIY Laptop Platform for Camera Tethering.

When I get sick [V. gave me her head cold for Valentine’s Day], big ideas stick in my brain until they are solved. Case in point, last night I wrote about the inevitability of shooting tethered for this season’s catalogue work. Problem: a platform for a tethered laptop from TetherTools [$250] or Gitzo [$100] or Tallyn [$98] seemed pretty darn expensive for a professionally useable set-up that consisted of a sheet of tapered aluminium  attached to a tripod or light stand. Sick brain thinking…make one.

Step one was to find material. I decided to grab an old Manfrotto tripod from the closet [I have three] and examine how the head attaches to the centre shaft. I went way back and found one that had a weird collar with a screw in the middle. Unlike the shafts needed for the other platforms I needed one that might go into the shaft instead of protruding outwards, and this fit the bill. Walk away. All good ideas need time to gestate before execution. What could I use as a platform? Wood is terrible, and pressed wood is worse, but metal is just right. Aha…a rack mount shelf from Middle Atlantic that is usually used for audio equipment on stage. Find a metal drill bit, measure, and drill over the bathroom sink to avoid metal shards in feet afterwards.

The challenge was then to find a reasonably solid steel screw, a washer and try for it to have the lowest profile possible, so that the laptop will not have to clear a one inch screw in the centre. I went to the tickle trunk and found just what the doctor ordered; a part from the exhaust of my Ducati Monster. With a little plumber’s grease and the proper hex key, I was able to tighten the platform down and the balance was solid.

The tripod mount balances neatly, and if there is any imperfect levelling, then it has to do with the tripod legs themselves. In the end, I am not levelling my images on the laptop, but rather just tethering and selecting. Perfect levels are not critical, but I may grab one of the other tripod leg sets and use those instead.

I took a couple of 3M sticky mounts to keep the USB tether cord and the laptop power cord in place. I can pick more of these up at any Home Depot for $3, and they stick nicely to the metal. For the Apple power brick I am probably going to by a strip of industrial velcro and attach it on either the inside or outside of the platform. It is steady, but I want it to be solid for when I need to move the platform out of the way of the camera.

At the end of 20 minutes work, and using only old materials, I had made a perfectly great laptop platform to tether from. When I feel a little better I will head to a hardware store to pick up a few options for keeping the laptop off of the screw in the centre. I only need about a 1/4 inch rise, and can do that easily with either tool box padding or a few 3M plastic bumpers to adhere to the tray or anything soft enough to absorb the bump. I plopped down a few furniture felt pads underneath for the photograph, but can do better. Even a small napkin worked. I will also attach a back end to the platform to keep it from being exposed. I have a few blank front plates and vented rack mount plates to attach to complete the look when I feel healthy enough to climb into the storage area.

While I am not a Swiss Engineer, I firmly believe that with ingenuity and patience I can solve some problems without professional solutions – at the same time, all of these parts are professional-grade, so all I needed to do was to repurpose them to save $300. Is my solution as good…actually, it feels pro and is elegant enough that no client would ever think it was not a professional platform.



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