The JTL Product Table; Shoot Tabletops Like A Pro—Anywhere

Collapsible light tents of various sizes and configurations have been all the rage of late. The precursor to many of these designs is the sweep table. Now, JTL has brought back this stalwart still life/small product shooting table in high style, adding portability and fairly easy setup.

Conventional sweep tables are usually set up and left in a corner of your studio, but for most of us, unless we have the space and are devoting all our time to still life photography, this is simply too much. That's why the JTL Product Table is a welcome alternative.

Unlike conventional sweep tables with their thick Plexiglas surfaces aimed at supporting fairly weighty tabletop sets, the JTL design uses a much thinner, more pliable plastic--one factor that makes it portable. The surface measures nearly 36" across, with a practical depth of roughly 2½ ft (front to back). The "sweep wall" at the far end reaches to a height of nearly 36", but it can be lowered to form a flat bed. The support frame consists of a system of lightweight, interlocking metal tubes and struts--the other side of the portability coin. The surface itself stands just over 2 ft above the floor--a good working height whether standing or seated, depending on your shooting angle.



This wooden puzzle practically fits in your hand. I positioned digital lights on either side (A). While this was adequate, adding a third light underneath gave the puzzle the appearance of floating in a sea of white light (B). As the set shot shows, I added a white diffusion panel over the light on one side and a bounce card overhead for the final rendition (C).
All Photos © 2008, Jack Neubart, All Rights Reserved

Assembly Required
All the parts are clearly labeled. You can put this table together and take it apart without any major tools--it comes with a couple of hex wrenches, and they're used sparingly. The first time around, allow about an hour for assembly. The instructions are somewhat cryptic--it's like trying to put together a do-it-yourself bookcase. Follow the drawings--there are no written instructions to speak of--but use common sense. I nearly had the whole thing put together, until I hit a snag when trying to assemble the sweep section (back wall)--the larger hex wrench is used here. Luckily, I had the opportunity to examine the table at a trade show the next day and noted how the back support fit. Logic would have revealed the error of my ways: You'll know you've got it right when you can raise and lower the back after releasing/tightening the large knobs.

The plastic base comes as a rolled sheet. Adding this component is where I felt an extra pair of hands was definitely needed. In the end, I clamped the plastic to the upper part of the frame at the back and carefully rolled it out and into the grooves at the front end. I then squeezed the sheet into the grooves at the sides. The grooves are part of guideways, or what the instruction manual refers to as "stoppers." These stoppers should face inward from the sides and upward from the bottom. They stop the plastic from sliding around. Bearing the JTL logo are two plastic strips (which the manual refers to as "transparent boards")--one on either side--that are used to firmly hold the large sheet in place. The smaller of the two hex wrenches comes into play here. Now, I was ready to put the table to the test.

There is one thing that you lose when opting for lighter weight. You may read the specified load capacity is 18 lbs, but I'd stick with a more conservative number. I filled a crystal bowl with apples, and the table appeared to support this 8-lb load without too much trouble--I used that as my maximum load. Remember, if you spread the load evenly around, you may be able to exceed this limit.