David Kong here, with my fifth and final post in this video/article series that is all about working with less gear, for less money, and making it look good. You’ll find the first four videos embedded at the bottom of this post.
In this video, I give an in-depth tutorial on how to build the custom motorized slider that I use. If you want to see it in action, check out my video A Portrait of Macerata, below. All of the sliding shots and well as the two crane shots were taken using this slider.
This video teaches you step-by-step how to build this slider from the basic components. I’m not discussing techniques for using the slider in this video, because I already covered that in part 1 (at the bottom of this post).
Now, I love this slider and use it all the time, but I want you to understand what it’s good and and what it’s not good at before you start building it. It’s not perfect, and I’d definitely recommend using a different slider for certain situations.
- It’s very cheap (about $175, altogether).
- It’s extremely durable. This setup uses no ball bearings, no belts or gears or pulleys. There’s nothing that can get knocked out of alignment if you drop the slider. The servo is housed in an extremely durable OtterBox. I could easily drop this slider on solid concrete (without the camera attached!) and not be worried about it breaking. It’s that solid. It’s just a single piece of metal.
- It’s light, compared to most motorized sliders, especially if you cut it down short, like I did for my “travel size.”
- It can run on a very light and flimsy tripod. The servo control box is connected to the slider by a wire, so your hands are never actually contacting the slider when it’s running. That means there’s no danger of bumping the slider and making it wobble.
- The batteries last for ages. I’ve not actually tested how long it’ll run, but it’ll go for days or weeks on a set of 4 AA batteries, depending on how much you use it. Also, since it runs on AAs, replacements are always readily available in a pinch.
- You can get the rail in different lengths, cheaply. Since it’s a single piece of metal, you can just cut it into pieces with a hack saw if you want a custom length. That’s what I did for the Portrait of Macerata video. I have a 3-foot version and a 2-foot version, and I can swap the motor between them in a few seconds.
- The design is modular. This design can easily be adapted to different sliders, since it doesn’t depend on a belt system. All you need is some way to mount the motor onto the slider, and it’ll work. You could even create a mount that allows you to swap from one slider to another with just a couple screws.
- It’s loud. This is a very big con. This basically means you cannot record audio while using the slider. No dialogue, no interviews.
- You can only move one direction at a time. Reset takes about 5 seconds, but you can’t record continuously in both directions. You have to stop the slider and pull the camera back to the other end manually.
- It’s not the greatest slider for hand operation (assuming you’re using the cheap Igus rail like I am). The Igus rail is perfect for a motorized slider, but it’s not perfect for operating by hand because it can be a little bit sticky. Sticky is actually better for the servo because it gives you better control, but it’s not as good for hand-operation.
- It can’t handle a big camera. The servo I’m using isn’t strong enough to pull a very large camera. That being said, you can upgrade to a larger servo for heavier cameras, but I don’t have much experience with those servos.
Most of these components are available from many different suppliers, but I’m giving you links to the places where I purchased them.
First off, you need a battery tray. You have a couple different options for this one. You need 4 AAs and you need them to attach to a servo cable. Unfortunately, if you want an on-off switch on the batter tray, you’ll have to solder the cable on manually. If you’re able to solder a couple wires together (or know someone who can), I’d recommend buying the tray that comes with a switch along with a servo cable and soldering them together yourself.
The servo. There are different options for different strengths, but this is the one I ended up with. It’s a nice compromise of strength and price, and it does the job well. Make sure that you get it modified for continuous rotation! It will NOT WORK unless you do that.
The driver. The cheapest and simplest driver is this one. It has a handy “center” button that I mention in the video that lets you freeze the slider quickly.
The mount. This allows you to attach the servo securely onto a mounting bracket, or in my case, onto the OtterBox.
The pulley. This is what you use to wind up the cable (in my case, fishing line) that draws the slider toward the servo.
The box. This is optional of course. I found it very handy because it’s extremely durable and just the right size to hold all of my components. But I actually started out this project just mounting it to a $1 metal bracket from Home Depot, and I upgraded to the OtterBox later for convenience.
Fishing Line. Most fishing line will work, but try to get something pretty strong, so that it doesn’t stretch under the weight of the camera. You can get it at any sporting goods store for a couple dollars.
Alrighty, that’s the end of this series. As always, please post your comments and questions below. Also, if you build one of these and have any improvements, please share them! I’d love to see how you can make this design better.
Part One: The Gear
The first video/article was all about the gear (lenses, filters, tripods, etc). If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here:
Part Two: All about the Camera
The second video goes very in-depth with the DSLR – I cover everything you need to know about formats, codecs, and dynamic range in order to get the most cinematic images.
Part Three: Magic Lantern
The third video was an in-depth explanation of how to use Magic Lantern and why I love it.
Part Four: Postproduction
And the fourth video was all about my postproduction workflow, handling DSLR footage, effects, color correction, etc.