Using The DIY Mini-Rail Dolly

Last time I described how I made a mini-rail dolly. I finally found a little time to take it out into the backyard and try using it. Here's the result followed by a few tips and tricks for using it:

I couldn't find any real instructions on using a slider so here is what I learned after using my home-brew device once (there should be more authoritative voices than mine out there but I can't find them):

  • Have a planned start and stop point for your move and pre-focus accordingly.
  • If you're rolling into a focus point pre-focus with your camera in the final location and use a finger to mark where that position is on the rails - your finger makers a pretty soft stop point.
  • Don't use the end buffer of the rails as your stop point - the way the camera stops is too sudden. 
  • Give yourself 5 seconds with the camera still at both the start and end points of your move to give yourself more options when you come to edit.
  • Start the movement slowly and end slowly - avoid sudden acceleration and braking.
  • Don't move the camera too quickly - you want to induce a feeling of sophistication not motion sickness.
  • It's really hard to move the camera consistently at a very slow speed.
  • Pulling focus on a DSLR while rolling is very hard - avoid if at all possible.
  • When you're trying to get a smooth move you can hold the sled or head but it seemed to work best for me if I held the camera itself.
  • Objects must be close or mid-distance to work effectively with small movements of 5ft and less
  • Keep your tracks, horizon and horizontal lines level - shim the tracks to achieve this and make sure they don't rock part way through the move as the center of gravity changes.
Again, these are just my personal findings. If you know better I'd love to hear from you.

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