Sliders

Sliders

My first memory of noticing the parallax effect was probably when I was in second grade playing an NES game called “Snoopy’s Silly Sports Spectacular”.  This was a side scrolling game and for one of the challenges the cartoon character Snoopy was in a sack race and as he moved forward the background plate never moved but the houses a little further away would slightly advance and the street under Snoopy would advance the fastest as Snoopy neared the finish line.  I thought this effect was so cool.

Slider with Accessories

Slider with Accessories

Fast forward about 19 years to 2009 and sliders start gaining popularity.  They opened up a whole new way to create shots and could make less than interesting scenes hold an audience’s attention.  They do require a little bit of time to set up but require much less space and time than a traditional dolly.  One of the downsides however is that it can be difficult to keep the sliders rail  out of the shot if the camera is pushing in on a subject, and the lengths of the moves are usually limited to under five feet.

Slider in Action

Slider in Action

I purchased the Kessler Pocket Dolly in April of 2009 for $549.95 after being amazed at seeing what other people were doing with them.  I  tested it at a balloon glow with my roommates  Canon 7D and a 24mm f1.4 L series lens.  The results were so good that I knew it would be getting a lot of use.  I found it strange that less than a year earlier I had been working at a TV station that was still using Beta SP cameras on fluid head tripods that when new probably cost over $40,000 and I could now create nicer looking videos for under $5000.

 

Since purchasing the Pocket Dolly, Kessler has released an updated version of it to overcome some of the initial flaws.  This review will be for the first version of the slider.

 

The slider has a few cool features.  The track has a 3/8’s hole drilled in the center and also a ¼” 20 hole on each end.  This is very convienient when you want to get the camera up off the ground on a tripod.  The slider can be centered over the tripod and a magic arm can hold up one or both of the other sides of the slider to keep the ends level as the camera travels to ends.  This makes for a pretty light weight and very portable rig and adds a lot of production value to a shoot quickly and easily.  Another cool feature is that the slider is belt driven and comes with a weighted hand crank so you can crank the camera along the track.  I find that hand cranking provides somewhat jerky results.  Instead push or pull the slider at the camera’s base with the hand crank still attached.  The crank works like a flywheel to smooth out the move and reduce sticking.  Even with the hand crank attached the slider will sometimes bind if the camera is not balanced well enough over the slider, and your moves probalby will never be completely consistant since we aren’t as precise as motors are.  To get really consistant speed moves, Kessler offers a motor upgrade that is compatible with both the old and new version of the slider.  It’s an expensive upgrade but if you want to do more advanced things with your slider it’s nice to have.  If you’re just pushing the camera on the slider you will be limited to doing real time moves which isn’t bad, but with the motor upgrade you can repeat a move precisely over and over again which is neat for motion control compositing.  The motor upgrade also enables the slider to be used for timelapses.  Obviously the motors can also imitate hand moving the slider but requires much less concentration to get a smooth take.  At some point in the future I’ll do a more in depth review on the motors, but this post is primairly about the slider.

Slider Moving Towards House

Slider Moving Towards House

I believe that the original version of the Kessler slider used Igus parts and if you want to pick up a stripped down version of these check out the Igus site at the following link.

http://www.igus.com/wpck/default.aspx?pagename=filmtechnology

On the page there should be another link you can follow to their amazon.com page and the price should rangefrom between $130 to $250 depending on the slider you want.  Alternatively ebay has tons of sliders also available and some are almost an identical rip off of the original Kessler slider.  If you can afford to go with name brand stuff for paying work I would spend a bit more and buy gear from companies who continue to invent and push camera technology further instead of reverse engineering an existing product.  After all research and development take time and money and I would like new and exciting products to continue to come out in the future.

 

Overall the slider was a very good purchase and has gotten an incredible amount of use and will continue to.  The Pocket Dolly Version 2 has overcome many of the drawbacks of the original but does cost a bit more.  If a used original Pocket Dolly goes up for sale it’s still a worthwhile buy but I wouldn’t want to spend more than $300.

Magic Arms

Magic Arm without Accessories

Magic Arm without Accessories

Overview

Few pieces of gear are as versatile and useful as the Manfrotto Magic Arm.  It’s rated to hold objects up to 6.61lbs (3Kg) in about any position you can think of.  I bought my first Magic Arm in 2008 and I’m still finding new ways to use it.  Most pieces of gear have some sort of a flaw, but as of yet I haven’t found any negatives to the Variable Friction version of the Magic Arm.  Even a couple months ago I was still finding new features I didn’t know existed on this device.

I’m sure I haven’t discovered everything about this yet but I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.
There are two versions of Magic Arm.  One uses a lever to lock all the joints in place, and another that uses a twist knob to lock everything.  If there is any possibility of moving the magic arm in the future pay the extra $12 and get the twist knob or “Variable Friction Magic Arm” version. ($12 difference as of June 6 2013).

From this point on VF will stand for “Variable Friction Magic Arm”
I stared with the lever version and when locked does work equal to the VF.  However the problem with the lever is in locking.  The lever has to be flipped 180 degrees to tighten everything.  Moving the lever takes a good deal of effort and when the lever locks, the final position of the Magic Arm moves somewhat.  To avoid this problem get the VF instead.  It may take an extra couple of seconds to tighten but the decreased frustration makes the extra $12 easily worth the price difference.

Accessories

Magic Arm Accessories

Magic Arm Accessories

If you are going to buy some of these make sure you get some “Super Clamps” aka “Mafer Clamps”.  These will allow you to clamp the Magic arm on objects about 2″ thick, like a pipe or edge of a desk.
I also recommend getting a camera platform attachment so a camera can be easily mounted on the arm.
My final recommendation would be to pick up a Kessler Flat Mount Adapter.  This will allow you to attach a tripod head or a quick release plate to the magic arm.  Note in the above picture to the far right there are two sizes.  Kessler originally made a smaller diameter version for some reason.  I believe the smaller version has been discontinued but even if you can pick it up for free I would stay away from it.  The diameter is so small that you often have to use a pair of pliers to remove it from things because you can’t get enough leverage with your hands.  The newer larger version has fixed this problem.

Magic Arms In Use