Tethering Your DSLR to Your Ultrabook™


Tethering is a resourceful strategy used to expedite and potentially improve photography sessions in a professional studio or otherwise controlled environment. In the past, this method of image capture was reserved primarily for high-end shoots in which numerous people were required to view images in-process. But as technology has evolved, so has the ease with which a tethered workstation can be assembled. With the right camera, cables, and Ultrabook, you can employ your own reliable system of tethered shooting for jobs big and small.

What is Tethering?

Tethering connects your DSLR to a computer for immediate image review, organization, and storage. Ultrabooks, compared to desktop computers, are advantageous simply because their size and design are inherently portable. When you shoot tethered, photos can bypass the memory card in the camera to save directly into a designated folder on your Ultrabook. Images can also be written to both your camera’s memory card and to your laptop for an extra layer of backup, but once your photos appear on the Ultrabook display, you or your collaborators can carefully analyze details too minute for most DSLR LCD screens to reveal. Accurate lighting, focus, and exposure can be checked on the spot, saving you the hassle of extensive editing and/or post-processing work to fix an easily avoidable problem. Even composition is easier to evaluate when viewing an image on a 13-15” screen compared to a 3” LCD monitor.

Shooting tethered also makes working with a team more productive. Art directors can monitor Ultrabook screens to call out necessary adjustments rather than straining to peak at the photographer’s LCD screen.  Models or portrait subjects can see image playback in order to understand direction or feel more at ease. Being able to analyze the results on the spot can greatly improve their (and your) performance.

The key components of this tripod rig are the Manfrotto 131DDB Tripod
Accessory Arm for Four Heads
Manfrotto 131D Lateral Side Arm for Tripods, Tether Tools Tether Table Aero, Manfrotto 458B NeoTec Pro Photo Tripod Legs, Tether Tools Aero XDC Duo, and Tether Tools TetherPro USB Cable. (right)

In the recent past, FireWire was also used, but now a USB (preferably the faster USB 3.0) cable is necessary to connect the camera to an Ultrabook. An extension cable with booster is also called for, so you can move freely while shooting with more than 15’ of cable, and not lose speed and signal quality. Getting tangled in a cable and losing shots or damaging equipment is always a concern when shooting tethered; however, simple fixes can minimize this risk, and Tether Tools offers their Jerk Stopper products to prevent cables from being accidentally yanked from their ports. A wireless transmitter can also send images from your camera to your computer; however, reliability, price, and transfer speed are still impediments to this being the preferred method.

Apart from the cables, you will need the proper tethering and remote-control software for your camera. Choosing software can depend on a number of requirements, and there is a package out there for every photographer. Some camera systems include it free as part of their package. Canon DSLRs, for example, include a disc with the EOS Utility software. Likewise, Sony’s Alpha Series DSLRs come with a disc for Camera Remote Control. For other brands, such as Nikon, the software (Camera Control Pro 2.0) must be purchased separately. In addition to instant review, these programs enable remote adjustment of your camera settings from the Ultrabook’s screen. Capture One Pro 7, which is a popular industry standard for RAW conversion and editing, also boasts comprehensive tethering features. Lastly, many photographers utilize Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for its efficient and intuitive live review system.

What Kind of Ultrabook Works Best?

Many photographers prefer to do their extensive editing and color correction on a desktop computer with a large, calibrated monitor. If you don’t plan to edit and correct on your Ultrabook, a top-of-the-line screen isn’t entirely necessary. A mid-sized display of approximately 13-14” is sufficient for viewing your work on the spot while still being compact enough to be stored or moved without difficulty. Of course, a larger 15.6” screen will provide an increase in display size, which can be advantageous, but the high-end graphics displays and powerful processors of the 13.3” Ultrabooks mentioned may outweigh that difference when considering their portability. Quality HD resolution is important to ensure the sharpness (or lack thereof) of your images. Anti-reflective coating on some screens does help eliminate the glare from bright studio lights, and is worth the investment. Some modern units have displays that rotate or detach entirely, which could be a beneficial feature for working with team members.

Photography applications and software, such as Lightroom, can be a strain on your CPU. As image catalogs begin to add up, the machine can slow down. Look for a computer that offers no less than 4GB of RAM and a fast, reliable dual-core processor of at least 2.0GHz. The more programs you intend to run, the more RAM you should consider. The amount of necessary hard-drive space is somewhat flexible and depends on your use of external portable hard drives, but a few gigabytes of storage space will fill up rapidly, especially if you plan to use your Ultrabook for long-term media storage, so err on the side of caution and select a model with closer to 500GB of hard-drive space.

It would be rare to shoot tethered without access to an AC outlet or other secure power source, as the effort to support this form of image capture over a few hours would surely drain your Ultrabook’s battery and put your entire project at risk. However, under very controlled settings it is possible and, for general use, you should consider a 6-cell Lithium battery as the minimum power source. Of course, any worthwhile Ultrabook must also be a durable physical structure, capable of withstanding a few bumps and bruises. Whether it's being set up in a hurry or tucked into a travel bag, photography equipment is always susceptible to drops and falls. Scratch-resistant glass and a strong frame with soft-touch base for better grip will extend the life and usability of your Ultrabook.

As mentioned, a USB port is necessary in order to tether your camera to your Ultrabook. An additional port is useful for a wireless mouse (if you prefer that over the touchscreen) or a pen drive—or even for anchoring a Jerk Stopper. Also, an HDMI or Thunderbolt port to connect with a properly calibrated external monitor is an important feature. 

A solid choice is the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 Convertible 13.3” Multi-Touch Ultrabook Computer. It has a 13.3” capacitive touchscreen with a 16:9 aspect ratio and HD+ 1600 x 900 native resolution. The screen also features in-plane switching (IPS) technology for wider viewing angles. The Yoga 13 is powered by a dual-core Ivy Bridge 2.0GHz Intel® Core™ i7-3537U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000, 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. For wireless Internet connectivity, the Yoga 13 utilizes 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. You can also connect peripherals wirelessly with the built-in Bluetooth 4.0 technology. The 2-in-1 media card reader supports Secure Digital (SD) cards and MultiMediaCards (MMC). The Yoga 13 has one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port so you can connect your DSLR and an external hard drive for more storage. You can also output video to a larger external display via the HDMI port. Windows 8 (64-bit) is the installed operating system.

The unique feature of the Yoga 13 is its 360-degree hinge, which provides four distinctive modes. Laptop mode is the traditional notebook layout. Stand mode is when you push the screen past 180° and have it resemble a TV or a picture frame. Tent mode is when you stand the Yoga 13 on its two edges with the hinge at the highest point. Tablet mode is when you push the screen back all 360° so it is resting on the back of the keyboard. The 360-degree hinge gives you plenty of options to view the screen while you shoot tethered.

Another great option is the Toshiba KIRAbook 13.3” Multi-Touch Ultrabook Computer. It has a 13.3” capacitive touchscreen with a 16:9 aspect ratio and WQHD 2560 x 1440 native resolution, resulting in 221 pixels per inch (ppi). The higher-than-1080p resolution provides up to 90% more pixel density than traditional high-definition resolutions. The screen is also made with scratch-resistant Corning Concore glass for added durability. The KIRAbook is powered by a dual-core Ivy Bridge 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-3537U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000, 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. You can connect to the Internet wirelessly with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-compliant accessories can utilize the built-in Bluetooth 4.0 technology in the KIRAbook. The KIRAbook has a robust media card reader, allowing support for SD, SDHC, SDXC, miniSD, microSD, and MMC.

The KIRAbook also has three USB 3.0 ports so you can connect your DSLR, an external hard drive, and have one USB 3.0 port open for another device or peripheral. The HDMI port lets you output video to an external display. Windows 8 Pro (64-bit) is the installed operating system and provides more robust security and features than Windows 8, such as BitLocker and Remote Desktop connections.

While the 13.3” Ultrabooks provide the performance you need to get things done, their smaller screens may not be right for you. In that case, try the powerful ASUS Zenbook Prime 15.6” Ultrabook. It has a quad-core Ivy Bridge 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-3632QM processor with 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM and dual 256GB solid-state drives (that’s a total of 512GB of storage). It has a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics card with 2GB of discrete memory to pump out an enormous WQHD+ 2880 x 1620 native resolution on its 15.6” display. In this resolution, you’ll be able to see more of your photos than on a 1080p screen. For Internet access, you’ll be able to utilize the 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0 allows you to connect accessories wirelessly. The 2-in-1 media card reader accepts Secure Digital and MMC cards.

The ASUS Zenbook Prime also has the Windows 8 Pro 64-bit operating system for the full Windows 8 experience as well as additional security features to keep your computer and your data safe and secure.

Another 15”+ Ultrabook is the Sony VAIO T15 SVT15117CXS 15.5” Multi-Touch Ultrabook. It has a dual-core Ivy Bridge 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-3537U processor with 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3L RAM and a 1TB, 5400 rpm hard-disk drive with a 32GB solid-state drive cache. The 15.5” widescreen display utilizes integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 to display images at a Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution. The display is also a capacitive touchscreen so you’ll be able to utilize the multi-touch gestures integrated into the Windows 8 64-bit operating system. You can access the Internet wirelessly with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi or through a wired 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet connection. Bluetooth 4.0 technology is also available to wirelessly connect Bluetooth-compliant devices, such as a mouse.

While the solid-state drives on all Ultrabooks provide fast boot times and reliable performance, they tend to offer lower storage capacities. 256GB is a bit low, so it’s highly advised that you pick up an external hard drive for added storage. The HGST 1TB Touro Mobile External Hard Drive is a dependable choice. It has a compact enclosure with a smooth hard plastic shell and a black finish. Inside the Touro Mobile is a 2.5” hard-disk drive with 1TB of storage and 7200 rpm drive speed. You connect to your Ultrabook via the USB 3.0 port, which also powers the Touro Mobile so you don’t need an AC adapter. The Touro Mobile comes preformatted for Windows, so you’ll be able to use it with your Ultrabook right away. Another option is the G-Technology 1TB G-Drive mini Portable Drive. It comes equipped with two FireWire 800 ports and one USB 3.0 port for versatile connectivity. The G-Drive has 1TB of storage and 7200 rpm hard-drive speed. The integrated heat sink provides sufficient cooling, ensuring that the drive doesn’t overheat. The G-Drive can be bus powered, but can also be powered by an optional AC adapter, if needed.

The display screens of the above-mentioned Ultrabooks provide high resolution and pixel density. However, it might be difficult to see your photos in the utmost detail, especially while shooting tethered. You can go the most direct route and connect your Ultrabook to an external display via the HDMI port. However, this may not always be an option. Luckily, both the Yoga 13 and the KIRAbook support Intel Wireless Display (WiDi). WiDi allows you to output video wirelessly to an external display. Some HDTVs and monitors come with WiDi built-in. If this is the case for you, you can simply enable WiDi on both your external display and your Ultrabook, and then connect them. If the external display to which you’re trying to output video does not have WiDi built-in, you can use the Netgear Push2TB HDTV Adapter. With HDMI and AV composite connectors, the Push2TV can utilize WiDi to portray your Ultrabook’s desktop on your HDTV, wirelessly, in Full HD 1080p resolution. With the proper setup and a stable Wi-Fi connection, you’ll be able to output video from your Ultrabook to your HDTV without having to tether them together with an HDMI port. Please make sure you have the latest drivers and firmware for Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) for both your Ultrabook and Netgear Push2TV. Otherwise, you may not be able to output video properly.

Specs to Consider

  • At least 4GB of RAM
  • 240- to 500GB hard drive
  • 13”-15.6” antiglare, scratch-resistant display
  • At least 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U dual-core processor
  • Integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • HD resolution
  • Twisting or secondary screen (optional)
  • USB 3.0 and HDMI ports
  • At least 6-cell Lithium battery

For more information, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.

Discussion 14

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Hi BH,
Do you offer this tripod? Please let me know, regards,

Very informative and great article. I am looking to get the Asus ultrabook. I am very interested in the rig set up in the first picture at the top. What are all the components of that rig setup for the camera/laptop combo?

do the same principles apply for reviewing and saving DSLR *video*? is it feasible?

No mention of the tripod, arm, other items used to support the camera and tray. Care to share?

Excellent article except the glaring omission of tethering cable links while they are mentioned in the article.

Geeeezzzzzz, no Apple products??????????????

The author of this probably does not know that most commercial digital editing is done on an Apple product.

Nice article, however, I think the Ultrabook table is actually the Tether Tools Tether Table Aero.

informative and helpful article.I'm glad B&H puts this info into the news letter.many have served me well.

I find this article very inetresting as it provides valuable information on equipment consideration, mainly computer or laptop for photography.
However, I am surprised no mention about using a MacBook Pro laptop for tthetered shooting. Becaus eI use Apple products, I would like to know your thoughts on using Apple MacBooks for thetered shooting and what your recommendations are. Is a MacBook Pro 15.4 " a viable option? What other considerations to keep in mind?

Thank you in advance.

Why no mention of MacBooks, for example the Macbook air? Many photographers use Macs, but you don't mention them. Thunderbolt drives, while expensive provide plenty of speed.

What, if anything, keeps the laptop from sliding off of that platform in case the tripod is accidentally bumped? Or when it is moved, or raised or lowered? I'd be hesitant to park any expensive piece of gear on something without any safety.

Those photos (like the girl sitting on the jetty looking into the distance) look like such **** photoshop jobs.

Please give a look to the device iUSBport Camera: you can tether your ios or android tablet wireless. You can even take control of your camera in order to shoot hdr or interval and so on. No special arms, no tripod, no ultrabook etc etc

Thanks for sharing this. I didn't realize there was this much to learn, but I guess now I'll just have to save some more time for studying. Good thing it's fun stuff! Thiago