Sliders – Good, Bad, Excellent

A slider is a device that allows you to attach a video camera and then move the camera side to side or backwards and forwards smoothly and precisely for interesting video effects, and can create a sense of movement where there isn’t any. Sliders come in many different forms and sizes, from small units no longer than a standard ruler and weighing a kilogram or so, to behemoths metres long and weighing tens of kilograms (in many respects you could consider a dolly a slider). Like tripods and gimbals, sliders are typically designed to suit specific camera weight ranges with some only capable of carrying a few hundred or so grams, to ones that can carry 100kg or more. Sliders also come in various operating configurations, manually operated or motorised, with the more sophisticated (read expensive) ones able to be operated via a mobile phone app or through built-in controls to provide all manner of sliding options. There are also sliders that can double their effective length through clever mechanics.

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick) - long dolly - (source: No Film School)

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick) – long dolly – (source: No Film School)

I’d hazard a guess that most videographers would have at least one slider, or most certainly would have owned or used one at some point in time. Sliders are just another video accessory that enables you to produce different effects and can be very pleasing when done right and in the appropriate circumstances. Video is always about movement and a slider allows you to produce camera movement, especially in any static scene, or it allows a change of perspective in a scene by creating subtle transitions. I own three sliders, one that’s 120cm long, a short 37cm one and an even shorter 30cm one. The measurement or movement distance of a slider is the actual distance that the slider will allow the camera to move from end to end and, as I noted about clever mechanics, the shorter sliders I own can have an effective length of almost double the static length, depending on how they are mounted. The principle used with these double extension sliders is the same as with linear bearings and they are, more or less, a linear bearing (but used in a clever way).

Linear Bearing - (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Linear Bearing – (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Like many, when I got my first slider it was a long one thinking that the longer the better for more versatility and, if I didn’t need the length, I could just use as much as I required. However, as I quickly realised, while this thought was most certainly valid, there’s the aspect of hauling around a very long slider and being able to use it effectively. You don’t simply put a such a long slider on a tripod and hope to use it, you need to support the slider at both ends and perhaps even in the middle if using a heavy camera to avoid bowing. Additionally, I had to motorise the slider as it was impossible to get smooth movements pushing it by hand. Now my long slider is a carbon fibre model and when using the provided feet on a solid surface, can actually support my camera rig reasonably well without exhibiting much visible bowing and it’s easy to place an extra support in the middle if needed. But my problem is that I wanted to take the slider on my bush trips and use it elevated, so storing it and the other supports in an already packed 4WD became an issue and so it always stayed at home.

Selens Carbon Fibre Slider - (source: eBay)

Selens Carbon Fibre Slider – (source: eBay)

So I decided that I needed a shorter slider and I ended up buying a very cheap alloy one, which was the 37cm model that actually proved to be of reasonable quality. But, not all that long after getting it, it developed a bump in the rolling mechanism that could best be described as similar to what you get with a shopping trolley if a piece of food or such gets stuck on a wheel. There’s a constant bump at each revolution and that’s what was happening with mine. I disassembled it several times and couldn’t find anything obviously wrong, but the bump was still there. This made using the slider problematic, as I couldn’t get smooth motion because with every bump the motion would be interrupted and spoil the flow. Additionally, because this slider wasn’t motorised, you needed a deft hand to keep the motion steady and the bump just made things worse. This wasn’t an issue with the long slider as it was easy to add the simple motor, which made it very effective.

Andoer slider - (source: Andoer)

Andoer slider – (source: Andoer)

Then one day I came across a video demonstrating a new manual slider that was similar to the short one I had, but designed in an entirely different way. While it used the clever mechanics to enable it to effectively double its length, the special feature of this slider is that it uses fluid (or viscous) dampening in the pulley wheels such that, even when moving by hand, the motion is smooth and controlled.  It’s the equivalent of a fluid head on a tripod and in this case the dampening is outstanding, comparable to an expensive tripod fluid head. I’m absolutely amazed at how smoothly the slider works, some might suggest that it flows like butter, but it’s more like thick treacle. And with this slider being able to carry up to 8kg, it’s capable of carrying any of my camera gear (just). My cinema rig is 9kg +/-, but after trying it out on the slider, the slider didn’t show any signs of being overloaded.

Zeapon Micro2 Micro Rail Slider - (source: Zeapon)

Zeapon Micro2 Micro Rail Slider – (source: Zeapon)

Another feature of this slider, which is different to most similar ones as far as I’m aware, is that it comes with a purpose designed plate (an optional accessory that was included in my purchase) that, when attached, allows you to place the slider on a flat surface and still get full movement. Most similar sliders use legs at the ends of the slider and that limits the slider to just half its movement. Of course in this configuration, using my cinema rig is more difficult because once the camera starts to move towards one end, the slider will start tilting. You can hold the plate at the opposite end, but that can become awkward. There are also some other design issues, which I discuss in my video, that make this plate less than functional. I wouldn’t recommend this plate as a separate purchase, as it doesn’t offer great value. This slider isn’t motorised, but I’ve heard that the manufacturer is looking into providing a motor. So I decided to test the two good sliders to see how they compared, using my cinema rig.

Overall, the motorised slider works well, but is somewhat limited because of its size and the cheap Andoer slider is pretty useless because of the fault. However, the Zeapon slider is outstanding and something that I would recommend to anyone considering a short slider, which is really all that you would require in most filming situations. The added benefit of the short slider is that you’re more likely to take it with you than a long one like the Selens.

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