planetMitch note: This is the first of many reviews to come from James Rhodes – also now forever known as ‘planetViking'. I've known James for a couple of years now (he was featured here: A call for help in Haiti – the Nap Kenbe Project – get involved!) and were glad to have him on board!
Over the last decade there has been an explosion of small companies that manufacture camera support equipment. They range from fully invested companies to Average Joes working out of their home garages. A few companies immediately come to mind when I think about camera support gear. Kessler, Zacuto, RedRock Micro, and Jag35. RedRock and Zacuto dominate the market right now for shoulder support rigs and are also at the high end of the pricing spectrum. Kessler definitely dominates the dolly and crane market, and currently, I don’t see anyone coming close to competing with them.
I will be the first to admit I don’t know much about machining metal and manufacturing these products. As a consumer, I can say that the items I wish to buy from them are pretty much out of my price range. However, I find that Jag35 is trying hard to bridge that financial gap for low budget consumers. It’s obvious to most of us that when you buy less expensive equipment, more times than not you are sacrificing build quality and durable materials that will stand up to rough treatment and thus will last you longer. With that said, I truly appreciate the craftsmanship of these companies and know that it is neither cheap to design nor is it cheap to mass produce these items, and if I ever find myself with a stack of cash, I will most certainly drop the serious dollars it takes to buy from them. Until that day, I have to be creative about how I solve the problem of support gear.
But then I stumble across companies like moveyourcamera.com. A blue collar guy who knows what he is doing in the machine shop, has all the tools to make whatever he can dream up, and caters to the low budget customers like myself. When I say that what I mean is that it’s hard when you have little money to put some faith into the horde of smaller companies. I for one have extreme reservations about build quality. So it’s easy to defer to the bigger companies simply because they have a reputation to uphold, and if there is something wrong with the equipment, you can have a little peace of mind that you will get decent customer service. But moveyourcamera.com, like Jag35, is working hard to build your trust while bridging that financial gap in the market.
I shoot mostly social documentary work and fund my projects out of my own pocket. It’s hard to find major funding for these projects, and thus doesn’t allow me to budget for such pricey gear, like shoulder rigs from Red Rock or Zacuto, even for rental. One solution has been to make my own. Last year I went to Haiti for 2 months to start a long-term documentary project focusing on the recovery effort following the 2010 earthquake. I invited 6 other photojournalists to join me. I chose to team up with still photographers instead of filmmakers since photojournalists would know more what to expect in the field. Unfortunately, most of them had never shot much video, and therefore, didn’t have a good idea about what kind of gear to bring to stabilize the camera. Not many photojournalists work with tripods, and most of us know by now that holding your camera with your hand produces a lot of shake in the footage. So I set out to find a solution to the problem by making three hand-held stabilizers similar to the Bogen/Manfrotto FigRig design.
After all was said and done, I spent nearly $100 each on 3 rigs. Now I for one love the idea of building my own rigs, but I soon came to find that fitting the quick release plate (which was the most expensive and important part) to the rig would prove to be a problem. Once I did finally get the plate fitted, it slid around and never worked quite right. There were many other problems I encountered along the way; like having the metal cut to size, figuring out how to mount audio recorders, and how to zoom and focus with both hands occupied by the rig. Needless to say I was disappointed that I spent so much money on something that didn’t work and was never used. Especially when that money could have been better spent in other areas like feeding my crew or paying the Haitians that were helping us work. It was an expensive lesson to learn, and I resigned myself to leaving them in Haiti as a failed idea.
My point with all of this is that many things have to already be in place for you to make your own rigs. Most of all, you should already be a fairly skilled craftsman. I’m not saying it’s rocket science or that you can’t learn as you go, but figuring out everything takes some time and experience, trial and error to get this right. The 2nd part of the problem comes with either having to hire a machine shop to prep your metal, or having to buy the machining tools, which can be very costly. The 3rd part of the problem is the time it will take for proper trial and error, especially if you are using it for a project. People might be impressed initially with the fact that you built your own rig, but the moment you have to stop to adjust or fix something, your crew will quickly become annoyed that you are slowing down production. So in my experience I would say that more times than not it’s just easier and a more logical decision to put your money into a tried and tested product.
I’ve had moveyourcamera.com’s Cinemover Plus since just after Christmas, and I have to say that from the moment the small package arrived, I have been thoroughly impressed. Taking a gamble on a smaller company can be risky, but at less than $100 for the Cinemover (including shipping), it is well worth the roll of the dice, and I think that’s saying something about the company as well. They know that it’s hard to trust a company that doesn’t have the clout companies like Zacuto and Red Rock have. So by making one product instead of a whole line of products, and making that one product very affordable, people are more likely to give them a shot. Trust, I think, is something moveyourcamera.com takes very seriously.
The concept and design of the Cinemover are pretty simple, but the possibilities are numerous. However, what I really love about the company and this product is that they designed it with the idea that you can mount the slider just about anywhere, not just on proprietary tracks. J.G. Pastejak, owner and designer of the Cinemover suggests, heading to Home Depot and purchasing a plastic fence post as the go-to railing for your slider, mostly because of its light weight. But by adjusting the long bolts you can fit the Cinemover just about anywhere. And if for some reason you can’t fit it over something, you can just flip the Cinemover over and use four of its wheels to slide along any flat surface. Pretty genius in my opinion.
Most other companies will not just sell you the slider; they will sell you track and a slew of other proprietary accessories that could cost as much as the slider itself, if not more. What’s great about moveyourcamera.com and their Cinemover is they encourage you to just head to the nearest Home Depot, pick up a few saw horses and either a plastic fence post or a 2×6 (I actually prefer the 2×6)…then VIOLA!!! You have yourself a slider with a track length of your choosing, or at least as long as the longest length of 2×6 you can buy, which I think is 8 feet. Pick yourself up a couple heavy duty screw down clamps and you have a great little slider with “track “or “rail “ for well less than $200 bucks ! One thing to note: on moveyourcamera.com’s site there are a few videos of users who have come up with their own track solutions, and it’s interesting to see the different solutions people come up with. I have to applaud the companies support of the DIY enthusiast; it tells me they have a real passion to solve the problems of the low budget filmmaker. I really appreciate the community they are trying to build, and the DIY spirit it embodies.
You can adjust the tension of the wheels depending on your preference. Some people like a looser slider that glides effortlessly, and some people like a bit more tension. I personally like the wheels to glide freely, even though the looseness makes it so you have to keep an eye on the rig when your camera is on it. If you are on even a slight incline and you let go, the Cinemover might just roll right off the end of the 2×6. Obviously an easy way to fix this is to create a bumper at each end of the 2×6 by wrapping duct tape around the ends 6-7 times. Some screw-type clamps would also work really well here. You can get more technical if you like; I’m just presenting the easiest solution.
There are still some things I’d like to see in future versions of the Cinemover.
#1. 100mm bowl mount support: I like the fact that you can flip over the Cinemover, but it would be really awesome if in doing so you could attach a flat board with a pre-cut hole or even a larger cheese board for a 100mm bowl.
#2. Accessory wheels: It would be great to be able to switch out wheels. It comes with standard polyurethane skateboard wheels, but it might be kinda cool to switch them out with rollerblade wheels or even small inflatable RC car/truck wheels.
#3. Automation: I’m almost sure there is a low budget solution to this. By attaching a couple of I-bolts to the chassis and using some wire and a few motors, I think you could achieve a variable speed motorized dolly. Sliding by hand is great at certain speeds, but what if you want to creep the Cinemover at a really slow speed? It’s not really possible to do that by hand, but a motor could do the trick. I think this would be a really cool addition that would be very valuable to time-lapse enthusiasts.
Overall I'm really impressed by the Cinemover Plus, its a definite addition to my travel bag and will most surely come in handy in lots of circumstances. I wish I had a project to use it on right now but I will once I shoot over the summer I will write a small follow up on how I'm using it in the field on my documentary films.
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(cover photo credit: snap from Cinemover)