It has been a long time since i’ve contributed to my blog. With the warmer weather approaching after a long winter hibernation, I think I’d start to throw up the occasional product review here and there. While i’m still primarily into photography, the temptation to dive into a bit of HDSLR videography is too great to resist.
Cinematography usually involves a large arsenal of different types of shots and setups to achieve a specific purpose or effect. In many films, cinematographers will commonly involve a shot where the camera appears to be almost following a smooth railroad track approaching or retreating in a specific direction. This is commonly achieved using a track dolly or camera slider. A track dolly commonly involves at least the camera tripod (and in the industry, the actual operator as well), while a camera slider is a fixed length of track that is only meant to mount the actual camera and video fluid head. A camera slider is limited to lengths of about 4ft, while a track dolly can be as long as you want, limited only by the length of the track. The flipside is, that the camera slider is quicker to setup, while a track dolly requires time to move the lengths of track and re-setup for your next shot.
Today, I’m reviewing Focus35.com’s track dolly system.
At first glance, this appear like any basic tripod dolly. On the topside, it has adjustable receivers for each tripod foot and a tightening bolt for locking each foot down. The difference is the wheels are designed with 45 degree “skateboard” wheels. This allows the tripod dolly to run freely along a “track.” The track in this case, is cheap pvc conduit available at any home reno store for $5-$10 each for a length of about 12ft of conduit. In my case, my car can’t fit a length of 12ft, so I cut it down to about 104″. Focus35 mentions that their track dolly can use 1″ to 1-1/4″ diameter pipe, but I found 1-1/4″ pipe provides the best and smoothest motion. Make sure you don’t try anything larger, because the wheels can easily slip off the sides if you do.
The two pieces of conduit are laid parallel to each other on a surface. To prevent the track dolly from running off the edge of the conduit, I also bought 4 1-1/4″ end-caps which I slipped on the edges. The ridge it creates provides a hard-stop in case you get too involved in your production and run your entire setup off the edge and crash it into the ground! In my case, I decided with 104″. If you want a longer track, you can also acquire wooden dowels and insert them inside the pvc conduit. This will act as connectors and allow you to extend the track to longer lengths if needed. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ll update this post if I ever get the chance to do that.
At this point, the tripod can be set-up and placed into the track dolly and tightened down, and the entire setup can be placed on the track. Two sets of wheels will sit on one track and one set of wheels on the other. I had to run the dolly up and down the length of track a few times to “settle” in the conduit since I may not have laid them out perfectly parallel. Other than that, it is ready to go.
The hardest part at this point is practicing how to slide such a long length of track while minimizing body movement. It does take some practice. Since I’ve also used a camera slider before, The surface the track sits on has a large impact on the slide movement. Soft surfaces like grass or soil can produce a very smooth slide, while concrete surfaces may produce a less than perfect slide if the surface has loose gravel or uneven irregularities. A camera slider by comparison always sits on a fixed length of track and is not supsceptible to these types of imperfections.
Once the shoot is done, the track dolly collapses into a small shoulder bag (included with the dolly itself) and can be tucked away in the trunk. In a pinch, if you found yourself needing to travel, you can always acquire pvc conduit anywhere you plan on heading to since the track dolly itself is very small.
I found the track dolly a great tool to add variety to my videos and at $199 (+shipping), also very affordable. For those just getting into HDSLR video/cinematography, there is a myriad of equipment just to get yourself in the door and solutions like this are innovative without breaking the bank. I also plan on probably reviewing a camera slider for comparison at some point in the future for those unsure of which way they want to go!
In the meantime, I put together a 1min video of misc. clips I did with the track dolly. You can watch it below: