How To Choose A Slider. Or Which One Is Right For Me?
It seems like these days everyone and their grandmother is making a slider. And with the deluge of options on the market, it can be tough trying to figure out which is the right one to buy for your setup. I'm going to take a look at three different systems, and address their issues in an effort to better help you navigate your purchase or rental decisions.
Over the years I have really come to like working with a slider, as it allows me to work faster, in smaller spaces, and get the motion I need in the shot. While it doesn't come close to replacing a dolly with an experienced dolly grip, it is a great pairing to the tight schedules, shrinking budgets and crews that we all have been experiencing in recent years. After working with a number of slider systems, I have found that they can be grouped into three categories: Micro, Medium, and Large. Here is what you can expect to get out of each category...
I classify any slider that I can fit in or easily strap to a backpack as a micro slider. These sliders typically weigh in around 5 lbs, have a flat base to screw on a tripod head, and are usually well below $500. To aid in movement, some sliders only offer felt pads like the Igus, while others like the Konova offer bearings. At first glance these systems seem cheap and not worth the money they cost. Never-the-less, I have found them to come in handy on several productions that I have worked on throughout the years. What I really like about these types of sliders is their small size, weight, and ease of use. If you are traveling, hiking, or otherwise having to carry all of the gear yourself, there is a lot to be said for a piece of kit that can add a lot of production value and not break the bank or your back.
But before you go out and buy this type of slider, you should be aware that the very things that make them appealing are also their Achilles heal. Often times to keep costs down on these micro sliders cheaper materials will be used - especially when it comes to the bearings. This results in uneven movement, and makes it tougher to operate. The locking mechanisms also tend to be weak, or wear out after use. Since they offer a flat mount, the majority of time you'll find them paired with Manfrotto heads, and due to the non-truefluid nature of these heads, it only compounds the issue of trying to operate and get smooth, precise movements when using this gear. The last frustration that I have with these sliders is their narrow base. The narrow base of these sliders makes balancing a camera problematic. It easy to introduce wobble and shake into the image- especially if you want to add any accessories (like an external monitor) to the camera. The larger the camera gets, the higher the center of gravity, the more pressure the narrow base sees, and then physics wins resulting in wobble. Which is why I always laugh when I see claims by manufacturers that these little sliders can support 40+ lbs. I don't doubt that they can support that much weight - but with a camera rig of that size will you really get a usable image? I think not. Realistically, the camera rigs should be in the in the 3-7 lbs range.
(You might also like: How To Make A Camera Purchase)
So who are these sliders best suited for? If you find yourself hiking, traveling, or carrying all of your gear by yourself, and you are using smaller cameras (DSLR's) without any accessories, then I wouldn't hesitate to pick up any of the micro sliders out there. You will get the best results out of these sliders if you limit the moves to one direction- push in/push out, track left/track right. As soon as you introduce a compound move into the equation - like a tilt up, pan right, while you track left, it will get frustrating.
A slider that falls into this category is one that can be carried, operated, and transported easily by one person, but is not small enough to be backpacked into a remote location, or would need to be checked as luggage if flying. These sliders offer better bearings and construction throughout the product. They will typically weigh in at 8-15 lbs, and can support massive camera packages. My favorite slider in this category is the MYT Glide. While it is more costly than others in its category, I have found it to be worth every penny. The MYT has a wider base than the others I've used. This makes it able to deliver smoother results when using longer camera packages. As I work with a wide range of camera packages, I need a tool that can scale accordingly. (I'm not interested in owning 5 sliders). Every other slider I have worked with to date has not been able to be used with such a wide range of camera systems. At the top of this article you can see the slider being used with an Alexa, and pictured above I'm using it with a 5D MKIII.
All of the manufacturers of medium sliders also claim heavy payloads of well over 50+ lbs, but just like the Micro Sliders, it is not the weight of a camera package that will prohibit smooth operation and movement; it will be the length and height of the rig. The longer and the higher it is, the more force is put on the base and eventually physics takes over, preventing smooth movements. This is why I have become picky about the width of the base of the sliders I use. Increasing the base from 5" to 7" may not seem like much, but it is enough to make a longer camera package operate smoothly on a slider. An Alexa shooting with prime lenses is probably as longest camera that you would want to use on a 7" base. Any longer than that, and you'll need a wider base.
These sliders are definitely not for remote backpacking expeditions, or when packing space is severely limited. In addition to taking up more room than the micro slider, medium sliders also take a little more time to setup. While you can support these sliders with just a tripod, the heaver camera systems that are typically used with them dictate that you have to use end supports. (Which also adds to their cost). I have also found that for heights in-between ground and tripod level, apple boxes work best. (Which is again an added expense and more setup time).
Medium sliders are best suited for productions where a small footprint, quick setup time, and smaller crews are used. As long as you have a slider with a wide base, any camera system from a DSLR up to a small Alexa package will work well on this setup. The wider base of these sliders also makes it possible to pull of more complex/compound moves. In my opinion, medium sliders are best suited to 4 feet or less. Once you get above a run of this size, ease of operation, stability and support throughout the run become an issue, in addition to the practical considerations like storage and transport of longer sliders.
Any slider that is longer than 4', has a base that is greater than 12", or requires a junior stand, falls in the category of large sliders. These sliders can be really expensive, or like the Dana Dolly they can be surprisingly affordable. Their base is typically greater than 12", and they can easily weigh in at 20+ pounds when you include all of the hardware needed to use the system. Due to the wide base of these systems, their claims of supporting 100+ lbs are more realistic, as physics is actually working with these sliders instead of against it. What I really appreciate about the Dana Dolly specifically, is that they use a wide base, custom bearings, and an ultra low ball mounting position. This combination allows for the ultimate in stability in a slider system while doing complex moves. I've flown a fully kitted out Red One package and it doesn't flinch, even after a 10 foot move.
The biggest drawbacks that I have encountered when using a large slider have been increased setup time, crew, and figuring out transportation. The Dana Dolly itself packs down small, and so do the stands- it is the speed rail in 6' and 10' sections that can get tricky if you are driving in a smaller vehicle. And while large sliders are not complex to setup, I have found that due to the physical length of the system, it is best to use two people to set it up, level it, or to change its height. Otherwise, it can get a bit cumbersome lining everything up. (It can be done by one person, at the cost of decreased speed). You can also use shorter lengths of speed rail to get shorter runs. However, the wide base eats up a good portion of the run defeating the benefits of using the Dana Dolly in sections less than 4'.
Larger sliders are best used on productions where a longer camera package will be used or the track needs to be longer than 4 feet. It will also be highly beneficial to have an extra set of hands available to help setup and adjust these sliders. The Dana Dolly (specifically) could also be very useful for a traveling production that is able to source speed rail and stands locally, as its small size travels well.
What About Time-lapse?
When sliders first came out, very few of them were motorized or programmable. These days, just about all of the sliders on the market offer some way of controlling and motorizing the slider. (MYT has something in the works, and Dana Dolly has a solution as well).
What About Do It Yourself Builds?
There are a number of tutorials online (And here) that cover how to build your own slider, and I even show you how to build a Dana Dolly. For the ultra budget conscious these solutions can be the answer to limited funds. The drawback to anything DIY is the limits of your own craftsmanship and availability of supplies. When you buy a well made product, you know it will last, and it will not give you the same headaches that something that you personally made might give you. (If you are less than proficient in building custom rigs).
What have you found most helpful in a slider? What slider do you recommend, and for what applications are they best suited?
Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot!