One key to keeping viewers engaged in your story is creative camera movement. Dollies, cranes, jibs and tracks are among the oldest technologies for achieving this. A new variation is "the slider," a compact camera platform that moves linearly along some sort of parallel track to achieve tracking shots and dolly moves. They replace much larger wheeled platforms, are typically operated at ground level, and usually are considerably smaller and more portable. One of these, the tommy-Track, is being marketed by Green Mountain Video. It's an exceptionally lightweight and portable unit.
The tommy-Track slider in use in a slightly unusual environmentFEATURES
The standard length (36-inch) tommy-Track is a camera tube dolly device with the track fabricated from a pair of sturdy polished aluminum tubes. In the latest version, the tubes are fastened to a clear 1/4-inch Lexan plastic base and sides.
The unit is designed to mount on a "headless" tripod via a single 3/8-inch bolt, with a large steel washer to help secure it to the tripod bowl. Two smaller holes tapped for set screws help prevent the tracker from slipping, especially when the operator is panning with some drag added.
Once mounted atop the tripod, the tommy-Track can be deployed and re-positioned quickly for multiple setups, just as if the camera were mounted directly on a tripod. The unit's compact size and portability make it ideal for use in offices, labs, and homes—and even on staircases or other uneven footing where a traditional camera dolly can't be used.
Eye-level shots with the tommy-Track are achieved by mounting the dolly on a tripod. Depending on the capability of the tripod, medium- and low-angle shots are also possible with the device. As the tommy-Track is designed for optimal operation when perfectly horizontal, a bubble level mounted in the base plate is included for this purpose.
In order to fine-tune the shooting angle, the camera is mounted to the detached tripod head atop a moving platform. The so-called "tommy carrier" is a rectangular aluminum frame with its sides angled to allow the skate wheels to ride at the same angle when they're attached. The wheels ride along the outer edge of the rail, sloping inwards, which provides much better balance than a typical vehicle with wheels that ride directly atop the rails. The carrier wheels are set at about 45 degrees, with the angle chosen to deliver optimum smoothness and stability. A small set of Allen wrenches is provided for quick and easy attachment and re-tightening of component parts. There's also a single mechanical, bicycle-style brake for locking the camera-mounted carrier in place atop the track.
The first step in deploying the tommy-Track in most applications is mounting it to a tripod. (While it can readily be placed on any relatively flat surface and used that way at modest angles, the "track-box" is really designed for tripod mounting.) Attachment to a "headless" tripod is accomplished with a single bolt, using a pair of wrenches for tightening to ensure that there's no slippage. A pair of setscrews mounted 180 degrees apart flank the large mounting bolt to further guard against slippage. (For my evaluation, I mounted the tommy-Track to a Vinten Speed-Loc tripod with the head removed.)
Once snugged onto the tripod, the tommy-Track and I were good to go. I found that I was free to move around as easily as I could with a camera mounted on a standard tripod head. As mentioned, in using the tommy-Track, the tripod head bolts onto the "tommy-carrier," a flat-topped sled with diagonally-mounted skate wheels, that straddle and ride the rails.
For my tests, I elected to use a fairly lightweight Manfrotto 503 head, as it was ideal for use with the Canon XH A1 camera chosen for the evaluation, and was also fast and easy to disassemble and re-assemble when removing the bowl. The trickiest part was snugging it to the sled tightly enough to avoid slippage due to the somewhat undersized fastening knob on its underside. (A larger knob would've provided more torque, ensuring a snug lock—I wound up using leather work gloves to snug the Manfrotto head to the carrier plate. )
The big test was in being able to pan the 503 head with fairly heavy drag, and without the head loosening up on the carrier, as this would not only ruin the shot, but also consume valuable production time.
The advantages of using the tommy-Track indoors were readily apparent, especially in tight quarters with barely enough space to open a tripod. As long as there was space for me and the 36-inch track, I was able to shoot and do track moves. Moreover the tripod selected made it possible to do fast setups from eye-level to knee-level.
The location of the included bubble level halfway from the tripod bowl to the end of the track made it easy to set up the tripod, as the smaller bubble level on the head was often not visible. While being perfectly level isn't critical in all situations, it's nice to be able to level up quickly and accurately when it's a necessity.
After a little experimentation, I built up enough confidence with the tommy carrier's brake mechanism to move the entire rig during my shoot by leaning it on my shoulder; however, this was only attempted when the camera and carrier were in the center of the track. Otherwise, it was too easy to create a sudden imbalance that could have hurt either me or the camera or both.
I finally decided to err on the side of safety and removed the camera from the head whenever I changed locations.
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