Hands off with the DC slider + motion control

Recently I went to Los Angeles to shoot a campaign for the young fashion label, ENZOANI with director Tonaci Tran. It had been some years since I worked in LA and I was a bit nervous. I was also excited. This was because I had the opportunity to use some equipment I've been wanting to try for years but which is not readily available in Vietnam. I had a list. The the k5600 Big-Eye Fresnel and the DC Slider topped the list.

From the moment I saw the DC Slider announcement I knew I wanted to use it. It's perfect for a place like VN. I routinely work in very small spaces. DC Slider could be an excellent space saver. Based on the marketing material, I expected that the DC Slider could readily replace a doorway dolly, two sticks of 2m track, and a jib-arm in most circumstances and be able do more besides.

My directors love those low angle tracking shots. I could finally dispense with the high-hat on skate wheels trick, since proper low-mode for dolly isn't available here. Neither are hydraulic booming dollies. I imagine no end to the cool stuff I could do if I put a DC Slider on my dolly...

HCMC has restrictions on which hours of the day I can move my trucks. If I can fit my camera and some lighting into a van, that saves a lot of trouble during daytime company moves. DC Slider looks like a perfect companion for a mobile equipment package like that. I don't care to be in the rental business, but the one expensive piece of kit I've seriously considered purchasing for my work here is a DC Slider HD.

In preparing for the shoot, the director and I agreed that a dolly did not make sense for us. The schedule was tight and the crew was skilled, but few in number. Lots of moving around. We did not want to spend time and energy mucking about with dolly track. So we choose to use Steadicam and the DC Slider instead. No dolly. I went with DC Slider sight unseen. I am not one to be swayed by marketing material not created for Apple.

At this point I observe that my expectations for the DC Slider were unreasonably high.

It did not disappoint.

Well... mostly. But nothing a DC Slider HD wouldn't fix.

Some BTS. Top right shows how I used the DC Slider for the first time.

Day One found us at Blush Bridal wedding boutique in Tustin, CA. Considering to the way they treated our production team, they would be my first choice in the unlikely event I found myself shopping for a wedding gown. Anyone who can accommodate the needs of a DP at all hours when it is not their day job can surely accommodate a bride-to-be most exceptionally when it is their day job.

On this day, since I had a lighting crew of two whom I kept quite busy, it fell to our indefatigable producer Sean Hunter to set up the DC Slider. Since Sean does not make his living as a camera grip, I have good reason to believe the DC Slider can be assembled and used by every capable filmmaker.

Looking at the photo above, even though we would have had sufficient space for that shot on a dolly, the DC Slider saved us the trouble of moving some expensive white dresses and a nice couch. Every second matters. Also, expensive white dresses in the dirty hands of a film crew often fail to remain white.

I am a big fan of camera sliders in theory. In practice I've mostly been disappointed. Too bumpy. One of the things that got me excited about the DC Slider in the first place was the counter weight. I like some heft to my camera support to smooth things out. I've been known to hang a sandbag off a tripod head when shooting handheld with a lightweight camera whereas most people would simply fly the camera around with one hand. That counterweight is right up my alley.

On this shoot, we were using Red Epic. The DC Slider was designed for a lesser... that is, lesser weight, camera. We were pushing the weight limit. This resulted in a setup which was top heavy and a bit bumpy if operated by hand. While the remote focus unit and on-board LCD could not be removed, we found that using lightweight lenses, a slim-profile battery and removing the matte box to reduce weight helped matters, but not without drawbacks.

With a little practice, I was able to use the DC Slider and a stripped-down Epic for acceptably smooth moves executed manually. However, I would highly recommend the DC Slider HD over the DC Slider if you plan to use cinema-grade camera equipment. On day exteriors, we found taping ND filters to the lens rather inconvenient.

For Days Two and Three I was reunited with the incomparable key grip Tom Hunt. Were I to find myself hanging out the side of an airplane by a rope held by a lighting crew of one with a hurricane approaching, I would chose Tom. Again. Partly because he saw me and the plane through the hurricane safely, but more so because he did it with such aplomb and good humor. Few people who look at that footage would imagine that our lighting equipment fit into a small car.

Tom Hunt prepares the DC Slider with motion control.

With no prior experience, Tom, who does on occasion make his living as a camera grip operating 100ft Super Techno Cranes, assembled the DC Slider and had the Motion Control System working within a few minutes.

Utilizing the motion control unit largely eliminated the challenge of keeping overweight camera movements smooth and bumpless. It worked a treat.  Even though we were pushing the weight limit, the equipment managed some pretty steep inclines.

While I won't pretend the DC Slider motion control system didn't inquire about the possibilities that downward movement had to offer, still, it handled steep upward movement with an Epic on board rather well.

Now, as I said, this is a basically hands-off review. I wish I would have had more time to experiment with this equipment myself but I was busy doing my job. I had capable people handling my DC Slider.

I can say that it mostly did what I expected it to do, however unreasonable that may have been. It also did it quickly. I had enough to worry about on this shoot. With the exception of a bit of top-heavy bumpiness during day one of three, the DC-Slider gave me no trouble and that made me happy.

On Day Three we had a pair of matching track-in close-ups on where the actors were situated on steps. It would have taken a significant amount of time and apple boxes to set the same shot with a dolly in the usual manner. Having a DC Slider cut the setup time significantly while giving us exactly the moves we wanted.

When the sun started getting low in the sky and we got hurried into what my Vietnamese crews call "monkey time," the DC Slider was a lifesaver.

We finished principal photography with a downward moving slo-mo magic hour shot. Due a limited amount of flower petals and the exigencies of circumstance, it needed to be a one-take wonder. With our Epic on the DC Slider and Tom handling the motion control, we got it in one.

Setting up for a one take wonder.

I did not have a chance to use the DC Slider and motion control in the myriad ways I would like to try them. However, they met my needs for this shoot and met my expectations for what a slider should be. Quite frankly my biggest disappointment was that I did not have a chance to try to do the kinds of things I hope to do with them.

In conclusion, the DC slider (or, for preference, a DC Slider HD with motion control) has earned a place on the very short list of gear which goes missing from my equipment list only if I can think of a faster, cheaper way to do the job without it.

I would like to thank the folks at Matthews. They did not sponsor this review, though they did facilitate getting a DC Slider and motion control system onto my set. I really want to thank them for making such useful equipment available to filmmakers worldwide who are working in small spaces with a limited budget. Red cameras have taken the Vietnamese film industry by storm by virtue of the price/performance value proposition. I expect the DC Slider to do the same.

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