As a one-person production company I’m continually striving to create a look that rivals what normally is accomplished by teams of people. Today’s technology, such as smaller cameras with low-light capabilities, allows individuals (or very small teams) to do the job that in the past required entire film crews. (See Shane Hurlbut’s article on his team shooting on the high seas from a U.S. Navy sub for someone practicing this at a level I can only dream of.)
Many years ago we purchased our first set of kayaks. No moving parts, just a watertight shell. But after that purchase came the realization that “you’re gonna need accessories”… Paddles, PFDs, dry bags, gloves. It took several years before we could walk into an REI without avoiding a stroll through the paddling section.
Photography is no different. The camera purchase itself is, quite often, the tip of the iceberg. (For many years I’d tell folks that I had spent far more on lenses than camera bodies, although that balance is beginning to erode as my lens set is stable now but there’s a slow but steady march to upgrade the camera bodies.) Camera accessories can go in a number of directions: lighting, stabilization, filters, remote controls, etc. Add video to the mix and you have more lighting, microphones, matte boxes, monitors, and a wide range of stabilization options. There are thick catalogs full of wonderful ideas waiting to empty your bank account.
I recently decided that to be competitive in video production I would need the ability to have some additional ”camera moves” (providing movement within the frame) beyond the tilts and pans my fluid head could provide. Professional rigging equipment costs a lot of money. This isn’t a complaint: manufacturing equipment that performs at a high level of precision and is rugged costs money, but I have a limited equipment budget so I looked into some DIY portable dolly systems. One that popped out at me is affectionately known as the “Zazaslider” (after the creator who posted the instructions for building it in the DVXuser forum). I’m not what you would call particularly skilled at building things, but this looked within my abilities so I gave it a try. I won’t go into the construction details, those are outlined very well elsewhere, but I thought it would be fun to show my modifications, my plans, and a bit about how it is used. First the rig:
Here’s the slider with my current camera mount, a Manfrotto HDV701 fluid head. My slider weighs in at 6.4 lbs, and the HDV701 head (with a Arca-Swiss quick release plate on the Bogen quick release plate) is 2.4 lbs – so I’m expecting it to stay under 9 lbs even with anticipated additions.
This is the bare slider. The metal part is the primary piece, purchased from IGUS (just over the border in Rhode Island). The DryLin W rail is 1 meter long and features a lubrication-free guide that provides a smooth and low-friction platform.
I had to drill and tap a 3/8″ hole for the mounting bolt.
The rail comes with predrilled holes, so I could put a 3/8″ tap in the center one for a mount point.
The rail needs a few basic tweaks to be useful. The first is some nylon bushings tapped into the end that keeps the carriage from running off the rails. That would be an expensive problem with a camera attached. I added a couple of lightweight feet that are easily removed if needed (I need to give them a coat of paint). I recently added a nylon screw to one end to help secure the carriage during transport.
My original foot was just a block, but after my first trip into the field with the slider I realized that if you want to perch this on top of a log, you need something that isn’t flat along the base, so a quick trip to the bandsaw was in order.
I tapped a 3/8″ hole so that my Gitzo G1321 leveling base can “simply” screw into the rail. This works OK but makes setup a bit slow. I plan to put a sturdy quick Arca Swiss or Bogen release plate there so I can more easily attach it to a tripod head.
And finally the full rig attached to my tripod. The leveling base makes for quick work in setting up the slider. While this configuration is fairly stable, it still requires additional support when extending the camera the full 1 meter length.
There are two basic moves you can do with the slider: dolly zoom (forward/backwards) or dolly sideways (truck/tracking shot). Here is an example of a dolly zoom:
[qt:/video/20101-zoom-slide.mov 640 360]
And here are two examples of a tracking shots (one on the tripod and one with just the slider):
[qt:/video/20101-dolly-slide.mov 640 360]
[qt:/video/20101-floor-slide.mov 640 360]
The slider requires quite a bit of practice to use effectively. I’ve also noted that the rail system’s tolerances are very close so if condensation builds up on the aluminum rails (say, by bringing it indoors when it is cold outside) it can bind up a bit. I’ve used it in the rain and noted similar performance anomalies. (A dolly rig based on roller wheels likely doesn’t have this issue.)
I’ve used this for commercial shoots and nature videos. It is quite portable and definitely gets the job done for a very reasonable outlay (so far it has cost less than $200 for the parts and tools).
As I noted earlier I plan to add a quick release plate to make setup and teardown a bit easier. I may add a second setscrew towards the center as it is awkward to set up with the carriage at one end (or add a brake to the carriage).
I’m also interested in finding a variable speed stepping motor so I can use the rail system to provide movement in time-lapse photographic projects. I’ll be sure write about that when those pieces come together. (First I have to add a follow-focus unit.)
I hope you found this tour of the slider useful. You can find the same Igus technology used in some commercial sliders, so while this is a pretty simple DIY project it shares the strengths of a number of rigs costing a lot more.