Are you looking for silky smooth camera shots? Depending on the type of shooting you have planned, you may be in the market for a jib, slider or dolly: perhaps, even all three?
For an operator, camera support is like shoes for a runner. There are many different shoe options designed for specific terrain, distances and speeds. So, no one shoe is going to be the right fit for every run. Camera support is the same in that an operator needs to find not only the right gear to get the needed shots with ease, but also the equipment that will match the production environment and the speed at which the production moves.
Technical Tools for Creative Compositions
It’s very easy to get dragged down by just looking at specs and features of dollies, jibs and sliders and to lose sight of what is most important, which is the answer to one question: how does the camera need to move for this production? Camera movement should always be used to drive the story, no matter what that story is. With a wedding video, feature film or even a commercial, the camera is the eye through which the audience sees the world you are presenting to them. How the camera moves, how the shots are framed, how they are lit, and how color is rendered will greatly determine how your audience reacts to them.
You should always plan the types of camera movement you need to support the story you're telling before you choose your equipment.
You should always plan the types of camera movement you need to support the story you're telling before you choose your equipment. If not, you risk your creative options being limited by the camera support you happen to have on hand or the gear you may have chosen for other reasons.
Understanding The Moves
Once you can visualize the types of camera moves you want, it’s important to relate these to how a camera moves while supported, so that you’ll know the tools you’ll need to properly execute your concepts. Many of your planned camera moves will likely combine some of these techniques. Here are the basics movements of fluid heads, sliders, dollies and jib arms:
Fluid Head Moves:
Pan (twist the camera left or right)
Tilt (pitch the angle of the camera up or down)
Dolly Forward/Dolly Back (move toward subject or move away from subject)
Truck Left and Right (move the camera to the left or right)
Vertically Mounted Slider Moves
Pedestal Up and Down (camera moves up or down vertically)
Jib Arm Moves
Crane Up and Down ( boom arm swings up or down)
Crane Left and Right ( boom arm swings left or right)
These jib/crane moves are often referred to as pan and tilt, but they are not the same. Here's an example: In your initial position, your jib arm is level, and the arm and camera is facing your subject. You crane up, and your camera will move away from your subject changing your framing. Likewise, if you start in the same initial position and crane left, your camera will move further from your subject which does not happen when you pan or tilt your camera.
Use Your Head
There is a good chance you already own a fluid head that you have attached to a tripod to give your shoots smooth pans and tilts. Fluid heads can also be attached to many jib arms, sliders and skater-style dollies, giving you more shot options.
Sliders Vs. Dollies
It’s not about what is best, rather what is better for what and where you need to shoot. Skater dollies are possibly the easiest to set up and often the cheapest option. They’re like a fancy skate board for your camera, but if you don’t have a smooth surface to run on, they are not very useful. The same is true for tripod dollies that attach wheels to the base of your tripod legs; you need smooth ground to roll on. Sliders set up easily, but their rails are only so long, and they don’t curve. Conversely, sliders with flywheel controls or motors can work great vertically, while dollies do not. Dollies on tracks can go straight or curve and can often run as far as you can lay the track, but the setup time and cost of equipment can rack up fast. It’s really about what works best for your shoot. Sometimes, it may be some or all of these options.
Many jibs can be operated from the rear and have a self-leveling camera platform. Some jibs have a tilt control for the camera platform to give you more options while operating from the rear of the jib. Most jibs allow for a fluid head to be mounted to the camera platform. This will allow you to pan and tilt the camera as the jib arm moves, giving you many more shot options. It's important to note that operating from the front of the jib arm does limit the vertical position of your camera to how high you can reach up to control it.
Proper balance of your jib is a must for easy operation. This can be challenging for small cameras. Sometimes adding extra weight to the camera platform, like a quick-release base and plate, cheese plate, or other camera accessory, can make this easier; the added weight can also help with smoothing out your camera moves.
Payload Capacities: It’s Not Just The Camera
When you're looking at the payload capacities of camera supports, you’re not just looking to see if it can handle the weight of your camera but of your entire camera rig. If you're shooting with a small camcorder, this may be your camera weight, plus that of a shotgun mic or an on-camera light. If you're shooting with a cinema camera, this may also include a recorder, monitor, lens, lens support, follow focus, matte box, audio recorder, camera cage, handles, quick-release, rails and cables. Through this example, it's easy to see that your payload could now weigh three or four times more than you camera body alone.
Lighter Is Not Always Better
Camera support equipment with lower payload capacities tend to be lighter in weight, more compact, and often cheaper than heavy duty gear — but not always better. Support like sliders, dollies, jibs and even tripods that are built for heavy loads often have more features built into them, like locks and drag adjustments, giving the operator more control over camera motion. Typically, gear with very large payloads, because of heavy weight, doesn’t vibrate as easily, which makes getting smooth shots easier. However, gear made of carbon fiber is a common exception because it is extremely strong and rugged, yet it doesn't have the weight that comes with other materials.
All The Right Moves
Once you’ve planned the types of camera movements you’ll need for your production and figured out the best types of equipment to use, you're ready to start looking at some of the gear that’s out there. Here's a selection of gear that might fit your needs:
Glide Gear AX100 Smartphone Action Jib $50
Payload Max: 2 lb
Weight: 1.9 lb
With a max camera weight of two pounds, the Glide Gear AX100 can accommodate phones, smaller mirrorless and DSLR cameras, and action cams. The jib attaches directly to your arm, can adjust from three feet to five feet long and has a self leveling camera platform.
E-Image Cinema Skater 3 Wheels $90
Payload Max: 33 lb
Weight: 2 lb
There is no shortage of options when it comes to skater dollies, but this model from E-Image has a massive payload capacity. At 11 inches wide, it can carry a fluid head and a sizable camera rig. The Cinema Skater 3 has adjustable wheel positions, allowing the dolly to roll straight, curve or even move in a circular motion.
Syrp Magic Carpet Short Track $280
Payload Max: 14.4 lb
Weight: 3.9 lb
Syrp Magic Carpet Short Track is a small, lightweight, 24 inch slider with a modular build. The 39-inch Medium Track and 63-inch Long Track uses the same end caps and carriage. So, if you need a longer slider, you can just buy a longer track and not a whole new slider. To upgrade, the Medium Track is $150 dollars and the Long Track is $190 dollars.
CobraCrane Backpacker 5’ Jib $300
Payload Max: 6.5 lb
Weight: 6.5 lb
The Backpacker offers metal construction, a tilting camera platform, and a lifetime warranty. The jib has an 8-foot range (low to high), but its weight will require a hefty tripod and fluid head.
Kessler Crane KC-Lite 8.0 Jib $400
Payload Max: 10 lb
Weight: 12.5 lb
The KC-Lite 8.0 Jib's arm has a 5.5-foot distance from the tripod mount to the camera platform, giving it an 11-foot vertical travel. The jib attaches to your tripod's quick-release plate, making it easy to detach. The KC-Lite 8.0 also lets you independently tilt the camera while moving the jib.
Ikan Mini Jib Arm Carbon Fiber (JIB-01C) $445
Payload Max: 13 lb
Weight: 7 lb
The JIB-01C offers a tool-less assembly, tilt and pan locks and extends a full 50-inches from its tripod mount. The camera platform comes with two mounts: a quick-release mount for direct attachment of a camera and a 75mm bowl mount for attaching a fluid head.
VariZoom Solo Slider Dolly $595
Payload Max: 45 lb
Weight: 26 lb
Dolly and track systems are often thought of as being heavy, hard to set up, and expensive: however, the Solo Slider Dolly doesn't fit that description. The setup of the dolly and its five track sections is tool-less. It comes with 16 feet of track, and the whole system fits in a 41x7x13-inch case.
Rhino Slider EVO 42” Carbon $600
Payload Max: 7.25 lb
Weight: 4.25 lb
With this 42” long slider from Rhino, the carbon fiber rails keep the weight down while still being able to carry most camcorders and small cinema camera rigs. If you need more payload capacity down the road, you can purchase stainless steel rails for the slider. Rhino also offers range of motion control add ons for this line.
Glidecam VistaTrack 10-48 $800
Payload Max: 10 lb on legs or single tripod, 30 lb on two tripods
Weight: 14 lb
The VistaTrack 10-48 offers a 48-inch track, quick-release camera and tripod plates and the ability to work with heavy camera loads. Glidecam also makes a 36-inch VistaTrack 10-36 and 24-inch VistaTrack 10-24, if you're looking for something a bit more compact.
ShooTools Slider Pro 150 $1,155
Payload Max: 110 lb
Weight: 7.8 lb
If the massive payload capacity and 59-inch travel of the Pro 150 aren't enough to make this slider stand out, there is one feature that will: all of the Slider Pro series has magnetic dampening. So, when the carriage reaches the end of the rails, it eases to a stop. This feature is designed to eliminate the hard stops of traditional sliders that can ruin shots. Made in Italy, the Slider Pro has a lifetime warranty and has features such as a tension knob and brake lever on the carriage. Additionally, Shootools also makes motion control units that work with the Slider Pro line as well as other brands of camera support.
Benro MoveOver12 Kit $1,550
Payload Max: 26.5 lb on slider, 17.6 lb on fluid head
Weight: 34 lb
The MoveOver12 Kit includes a carbon fiber belt driven slider, S8 Pro Video fluid head, a pair of carbon fiber tripods with levelers, and a carry case. It’s everything you need to start getting dolly and truck shots with a large camera rig.
Acebil PRO3500KIT Dolly, Tripod and Jib Arm $2,660
Payload Max: 22 lb
Weight: 47 lb
This kit from Acebil comes with their T1200 tripod, D5 dolly, PRO2500 jib arm and carry bags. The camera platform supports 100mm bowl heads and has an operating height of eight to 118 inches. The tripod and dolly both have a max payload of 200 pounds so you don’t have to worry about them being strong enough to support the total payload of the jib arm, fluid head, and camera. The D5 dolly has 5-inch wheels designed for use on flat surfaces, but Acebil also has compatible track dolly wheel and rail kits available.
Edelkrone SliderPlus and Motion Kit $3,500
Payload Max: 7 lb
Weight: 15 lb
The Edelkrone SliderPlus is a compact unit, just over 25 inches long, but it gives you about 35 inches of travel. The unit really stands out when paired with the Motion Kit. The kit offers three-axis (pan, tilt, and travel) motion as well as focus control, all of which can be programmed and operated via an iOS app. There is also an upgrade available for heavier camera loads.
Shopping for jibs, sliders and dollies is all about finding the right mix of gear that will get you the shots you need, in the places you need to go and in the time that you have to do it. Once you’ve got that locked down, you’ll be off to smooth shooting on your next production.
Camera Motion Research LLC
Dot Line Corp.
Glidecam Industries Inc.
Libec Sales of America, Inc.
Lite Pro Gear
Matthews Studio Equipment, Inc.
Miller Camera Support Equipment
Rhino Camera Gear
Odin Lindblom is an award winning filmmaker who creates and produces commercials, corporate videos, and documentaries.