Choosing the right support can transform an average shot into a cinematic marvel. Let’s look at the best sliders, dollies and jibs on the market today. Then, we’ll go over the specs you’ll need to consider when choosing the camera support.
Manfrotto MVMXPRO500US XPRO
The Manfrotto MVMXPRO500US XPRO is a flexible tool that improves your shooting capabilities. Made from aluminum and weighing around four and a half pounds, the Manfrotto Xpro is not a burden to carry around. We like its build quality and the fact that it can extend to be very tall yet collapses small enough to fit in a carry-on bag. The three-stage legs make getting the right height a cinch, and its three-pronged foot makes it able to stand with minimal support.
Rhino Slider EVO
Starting as a Kickstarter campaign, the Rhino Slider EVO is an affordable and fully capable addition to any production arsenal. The EVO comes in a few different configurations with your choice of length and material type, ranging from 24 inches all the way to 48 inches in either stainless steel or carbon fiber. The payload weight limit ranges from 15 to 100 pounds, depending on the configuration. Also, there’s an optional Flywheel that allows for better control and a smoother outcome for an added $75.
Kessler Crane Pocket Jib Traveler
The Pocket Jib Traveler comes in a small bag and weighs 5.5 pounds, ideal for a mobile jib. It’s equipped with many different camera mounting options and has a weight capacity of 10 pounds. While this jib extends up to six feet, it collapses down to just 27-inches. Designed for travel, this jib is easy to set up and use, and it has a solid build quality.
Best Motion Control System
We enjoyed using the Cinetics Lynx. It shoots beautiful time-lapse and is easy to set up. Costing $2,000, it’s robustly built and has a great value in the marketplace. With a motorized slider, plus tilt and pan control, the Lynx works great for both video and time-lapse. The Lynx system is intuitive to use and not hard or time-consuming to set up. For even easier camera moves, it can also be controlled through Bluetooth via the Cinetics smartphone app, providing wireless control via a touch joystick or your phone’s accelerometers.
Equipment to Support Your Vision
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: 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, you’re always telling a story. Remember that your camera is the eye through which the audience sees the world that you are presenting to them. How the camera moves, how the shots are framed, how they are lit, and how your color is rendered will greatly determine how your audience reacts. You should always plan the types of camera movement you need to support the story you’re telling before you choose your equipment.
Types of camera movement
Many of your planned camera moves will likely combine some of these techniques:
- Dolly Forward/Dolly Back: move toward subject or move away from subject
- Truck Left and Right: move the camera to the left or right
- Pedestal Up and Down: camera moves up or down vertically
- Pan: twist the camera left or right
- Tilt: pitch the angle of the camera up or down
- Crane Up and Down: boom arm swings up or down
- Crane Left and Right: boom arm swings left or right
Once you can visualize the types of shots you want, it’s important to relate these to how a camera moves while supported so that you can choose the tools you’ll need to properly execute your concepts. Finding the best choice for camera support should be based on the combination of the shots you need and your production environment. Here’s an overview of your camera support options and the important features for each type of support.
Sliders have a carriage that travels down fixed tracks or rails; the carriage supports the camera. Slider movement is typically straight, but some sliders do have curved tracks. Many sliders can be transported fully assembled, which can save you valuable production time; the downside to this is that the travel length of the carriage is limited, often from 12 inches to 48 inches. Most sliders have manual movement; however, motor controls can often be added to these systems. Some come fully automated.
While sliders are typically used for dolly and truck movement of the camera, many can also be mounted vertically to give you pedestal up and down movement. They can also be used at an angle to give a combination of camera movements. However, since sliders are most commonly used while level, the weight capacities listed are often only for use while level. Putting the slider at an angle or completely vertical puts more strain on the hardware. Some motion controlled sliders have a limit to how many degrees of angle they can be pitched; others can’t be used vertically at all.
Skater dollies are possibly the simplest to set-up and often the cheapest dolly option. They’re like a fancy skateboard for your camera, but if you don’t have a smooth surface to run on, they are not very useful. Like sliders, you can even find skater dollies with motion control systems.
Dolly and Track Systems
These types of systems often consist of rail sections called tracks and a dolly which is a flat platform with track wheels on the bottom. The dolly can travel on tracks that go straight or curve and can often run as far as you can lay the track. A tripod or even a tripod and jib can be mounted to the dolly. When combined with a tripod and jib arm, you have the ability to compose a vast array of cinematic shots. Larger dolly and track systems can support a full camera rig, tripod with jib arm, and even an operator. However, the setup time and cost of equipment can rack up fast. It can also be challenging to prevent seeing the track in your footage.
Tripod dollies attach wheels to the base of your tripod legs; however, you’ll need smooth ground to roll on to capture steady shots. That said, many shooters find tripod dollies useful to quickly reposition the camera between takes and don’t use them at all to add motion to shots. It should also be noted that some tripod dollies can be adapted to use track wheels for dolly tracks.
A jib arm is a kind of camera support that attaches to a tripod or stand that allows you to create crane type camera movements. Jibs are generally smaller than cranes. The front of the jib holds the camera and the rear holds a counterbalance. In the center is the fulcrum where the jib pivots and twists. Pull the rear of the jib down and the camera rises, push the rear up and the camera will dip. Likewise, if you swing the rear of a jib to the right, the camera will swing left. Because of this, it takes a bit of time to get comfortable operating a jib or crane.
Length and travel distance
When looking at the specs for jibs, figuring out the size and boom travel length can be a little tricky. Some manufacturers only list one of these measurements. A jib has an overall length as well as the length from the fulcrum. This is the distance from the pivot point of the jib arm to the front of the camera platform. This is essentially the front section of the jib. The boom travel length is the distance between the highest and lowest point the boom can reach.
Jib arms usually have a length of 24 to 48 inches from the fulcrum to the camera platform. The rear of the jib is often around the same length, so a jib with a 48-inch front section would be about 96 inches overall.
If you have a jib that has a 48-inch front section and you boom up 90 degrees, it will raise your camera 48 inches; if you boom down 90 degrees, it will lower your camera 48 inches. Thus, the jib has a total of 96 inches of travel. Some jib arms have larger front sections than 48 inches but their overall boom travel distance is still limited. Often, jibs can’t get much lower because of the height of the tripod or stand it’s mounted on.
Many jibs can be operated from the rear and have a self-leveling camera platform. Some jibs have a manual tilt control, giving you more options when operating from the rear of the jib. Some are compatible with motion control systems that allow you to control the pan and tilt of the camera remotely. Simple record triggers or other remotes can also be very handy when operating a jib. Many larger jibs have mounts for attaching a camera monitor to the rear of the jib for ease of operation; some jibs even include a monitor.
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. Of course, operating from the front of the jib does limit the vertical position to the height you can reach to control it.
Proper balance of your jib is a must for easy operation.
Balance and stabilization
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 with additional accessories can make this easier; the added weight can also help with smoothing out your camera moves.
There are camera stabilizers designed to work with small cameras and mobile phones that can be controlled remotely via a mobile app. These are another good option for mounting to a jib arm. With one of these mounted to a jib, you’ll not only gain control pan and tilt. However, the stabilization of the gyro would also help eliminate any vibrations, making your movement even smoother.
Get A Head
With many of these systems, you will need a head. Typically, fluid heads are used when you need to tilt or pan the camera during a shot. Ball heads are used when the camera can stay in a fixed position. Chances are, you already own a good usable head that is attached to your tripod or other camera support. If you plan to mount a head to a jib arm, slider or skater-style dolly, look at what type of mount the head has. Flat mount heads can attach directly to a camera plate or quick release plate. Bowl mounts, usually 65mm to 100mm in size, will need a compatible bowl mount or adapter (like a high hat).
Just like you’ll see heads bundled for sale with tripod legs, you’ll also see them in packages with sliders and jibs. One of the advantages of a package is that it ensures the separate pieces of equipment are compatible with each other.
Two Heads Are Better Than One
You may find yourself needing multiple heads for the shots you want. A good example of this would be if you need the camera to truck left and pedestal up at the same time. To achieve this, start with your tripod legs set-up with a head attached to them. Now mount your slider onto the tripod head and mount a second head onto the carriage of the slider. Mount your camera onto that second head.
You’ll need to start by adjusting your tripod head so that the slider is not level; for this shot, you want it lower on the right end and higher on the left end. Now adjust the second head on top of the slider so that your camera is level. Then with the camera on the right end of the slider, begin your truck left. As you do so, the camera will also pedestal up since the slider is angled. This same idea could be applied to any number of combined camera movement. Don’t be afraid to get creative where your setup allows.
Not all heads are created equal
If you plan on using a fluid head on a tripod for the boom movement of a jib, then features like drag adjustment, locks and counterbalance are much more important than if you were just mounting a camera. It’s a lot easier and often safer if you can lock down your tripod head between shots. If the locks on the head aren’t strong enough, it’s going to make operation difficult.
To get smooth shots with a jib, proper balance is critical. This can be a lot easier if the fluid head you’re using to boom the jib up and down has a counterbalance system to help compensate for the weight of the boom and its payload. Drag adjustment is also very important. It slows down the movement of the head, making it easier to control. In general, the longer your jib is and the more weight you have on the fluid head, the stronger you’ll need it to be for it to function well.
Watch that Weight
When you’re looking at the payload capacities of camera supports, you’ll need to consider the weight of everything that you’ll mount to that equipment. Use the weight of your entire camera rig — not just the weight of your camera. If you’re shooting with a small camcorder, this may be your camera weight plus that of a head and 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. That’s a lot of accessories so it’s easy to see how your payload could now weigh much more than you camera body alone. Additionally, you need to think about the extra strain that a slider or jib can put on a head. You’ll always want equipment that’s rated to handle more weight than you plan to put on it.
Less Weight Doesn’t Mean More Options
There has been a big push in recent years for camera support to be lighter and lighter. Using carbon fiber in place of steel or aluminum can greatly reduce equipment weight, but there are limitations. Carbon fiber is great for the rails of a slider or the leg sections of a tripod but not for machined parts like drag adjustments, mounts and locks. These are typically made from heavier metals. Lightweight models often lack these features, which can make them harder to use in some situations. This isn’t as much of an issue for support built for large, heavyweight camera rigs. The weight of the support equipment is not as much a concern when the camera rig, itself, is already heavy.
Make Your Move
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.
Getting cinematic and dynamic footage for your next production is as simple as planning out your shots and finding the right gear to help you get them. Remember to keep all of your production demands in mind when choosing your equipment, and you’ll be off to smooth shooting.
Contributors to this article include Odin Lindblom and the Videomaker Editorial Staff.
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