Fly your camera over stadiums like the NFL? Charlotte Modular Cable Dolly

by Hugh Brownstone2 Comments

If David Koch has his way (not THAT David Koch), by March 2015 any planet5D reader with the desire and $1,300 will be able to do cable dolly shots just like the NFL with the Charlotte Motion Control system.

OK, he didn’t exactly say that, but the point is directionally correct: David Koch’s Kickstarter campaign to bring an affordable modular dolly system includes a motorized and computer controlled, 100’ suspended cable dolly capability.

Koch, a native of Ithaca, NY and current Los Angeles resident, has been tinkering with cable dollies since 2007. His goal is to raise $15,000 by October 24th to get the Charlotte Motion Control system into the market. At a projected price of $1,300 for the entire system (which in addition to the cable dolly includes wheel and rail variants), it’s an exciting project which just may take you to the next level in production values.

We wish him well. You can check out the project here.

Charlotte: A modular real-time and time-lapse dolly system

Via Kickstarter:

A 3-in-1 motorized dolly including a cable, wheel and rail dolly that lets you create beautiful time lapses and live action videos.

The Three Dollies

Charlotte Motion Control is a camera dolly system that allows photographers and filmmakers to expand their motion control capabilities. I wanted to make a modular dolly system that would be portable and versatile. The components can be configured to make three types of camera dollies: a cable dolly, a rail dolly and a wheeled dolly. Each of these have their own strengths. The cable dolly is amazing in its ability to take the camera through spaces that would otherwise be very difficult to move through. The rail dolly allows very precise stable shots on a platform that can be set up quickly. The wheeled dolly allows arced or straight shots over any smooth surface.

Cable Dolly

Cable Dolly Running Through a Gorge

Cable Dolly Running Through a Gorge

The cable dolly is really what inspired me to take on this project. Something about the idea of sending a camera alone through space and retrieving the images it captured along the way has always captivated me. The first videos I shot using home depot pulley wheels and a camcorder were shaky and noisy so I started incrementally making improvements. I eliminated noise and vibration by turning my own aluminum wheels on a lathe. I stabilized the camera platform by creating a twin cable arrangement that can be tensioned using a ratchet. I then added a motor and controller to capture both time-lapse and real-time film.

Cable Dolly with camera white bg

Motor and Controller

The brains and muscle of Charlotte are provided by a controller box and a stepper motor. To program the controller you enter in the total run time, total distance and number of exposures for your time lapse. The controller then calculates and displays the speed and shutter interval. The Charlotte controller brings a new level of precision to time-lapse. It combines motion control with shutter control. You can run test shots at a faster speed and make adjustments before you run the final shot. If you want to make a change to one of the parameters you can, and the others will be recalculated. The motor and controller can operate at very slow speeds for time-lapse and faster for real-time. This is one of the advantages of the stepper motor. While other dollies that use dc gear motors require you to switch between motors for time-lapse and real-time, the motor that's included with the Charlotte dolly is capable of speeds from 0 to 40 ft per minute. This means you can reliably capture very slow things like plant growth and fast things like a person walking in the same package.

Modular System

The dolly was built to be flexible so that it can be adapted to field conditions. Three sets of wheels are included which can be switched out to make the cable dolly, rail dolly and wheel dolly. The fasteners are all hand tightened to make field assembly easy. You never have to worry about forgetting the screwdriver. Another advantage of this system is that the dolly is very compact when it’s disassembled. The whole dolly can easily fit into a backpack.

Cable System

The cable dolly runs on two parallel cables that are tensioned using a ratchet tensioner. The two cable arrangement prevents the dolly from moving in windy environments. The cable is tensioned between two terminals so that it runs in a single loop with the tension equalized between the top and bottom cable. This creates an incredibly rigid system that can span distances of up to 100 feet.

Check out their Kickstarter Campaign “Charlotte: A modular real-time and time-lapse dolly system”

(cover photo credit: snap from Kickstarter)


  1. I have seen this dolly in action and watched it being made.  It is incredibly precise, strong and I would trust it with my very best camera, slowly and steadily working its way over any NFL Stadium

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