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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Solutions: On The Slide


Slider dollies add interest to your DSLR time-lapse and motion shooting


Cinevate Atlas 30 DSLR Slider with all-terrain, nonskid feet.

The recent trend in jerky, handheld, rapid-fire, jump-cut TV defies this rule, but novice filmmakers would do well to start with less nausea-inducing techniques. As DSLR filmmaking has taken off, camera movement has become more common. The small, light cameras lend themselves to handholding and other motion, so talented cinematographers have found ways to make good use of the mobility without necessarily resorting to any kind of crazy movement. Handheld shoulder rigs from Novoflex, Redrock Micro, Zacuto and others are popular mobile options for some situations. Steadying rigs from VariZoom, Glidecam and Steadicam give a different look—smooth while allowing a camera to move big distances without any of the telltale bouncing of a shoulder rig. On a tripod, pan/tilt fluid heads always have been popular for small movements, and they remain so for DSLR filmmakers, as have full-blown dollies that let the camera move on a cart. A device that has taken off with DSLR filmmakers is a sort of hybrid between a dolly and a pan/tilt head: the slider dolly.
There always has been a general rule that when you're shooting video, the camera should record motion; it shouldn't create motion.
Slider dollies are often mounted on a tripod or on a pair of similar supports. They also can be mounted directly on the ground or another surface if they're equipped with the right feet. The slider dolly is usually comprised of a pair of straight tracks with a central camera support and some kind of belt to drive the camera support along the tracks. High-quality slider dollies are precision devices. They have to be because the camera needs to move smoothly with no shudders, shakes or bounces. Unlike regular dollies, a slider dolly is used for making the camera move a few feet at the most. Those few feet are frequently ideal for making slight changes in the perspective of your shot. As most landscape photographers know, a slight change in the camera position can make a big change, even to a broad Ansel Adams-esque landscape. And in video, that slight motion can be used to add interest to anything from a grand landscape to a tight shot across a field of flowers. It can be like the Ken Burns effect, but instead of moving across a photo, you're moving across a portion of the landscape.

Slider dollies are also useful for time-lapse shooting. As time lapse has exploded in popularity, people are looking for ways to add interest to theirs. Incorporating some camera movement can make a dramatic impact. Check out time-lapse videos on YouTube and Vimeo that show a camera breaking through cornfields and tree branches or that look up at the night sky and have the camera moving throughout the shot. Compared to basic nonmoving time-lapse, having the camera on a slider dolly will make yours stand out.

Some of the most popular slider dollies for DSLR shooting are made by Kessler Crane and Cinevate. The Kessler CineSlider is made for heavy rigs, and it's overkill for most DSLR work.

For DSLRs, the Kessler Pocket Dolly, Kessler Stealth and the new Philip Bloom Signature Series Pocket Dolly are solid options. Cinevate makes the Atlas 10, Atlas 30, Atlas 200, Atlas FLT and Pegasus Carbon sliders. To see individual specs and prices, go to their respective websites at www.kesslercrane.com and www.cinevate.com.

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