What is cinema? While there are many different definitions that have evolved over the past century, one can think of a common-sense definition of the word as the art or technique of making motion pictures. As digital technology has evolved, the cost of admission to the tools capable of photographing cinema-quality images has rapidly shrunk, as have those tools in size and weight. One of the hottest films that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, director Sean Baker’s feature film Tangerine, was shot on an Apple iPhone 5s and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures for distribution. Can a film shot on a phone be considered cinematic? Obviously, a major motion-picture distributor certainly feels that way. But besides lighting, what aesthetic quality separates home movies from "real" movies?
Up until now, smooth, professional camera moves were costly to create. Camera movement can add meaning and emotion to a scene, but the key is knowing when to use it. When used judiciously and effectively, camera movement can draw the viewer deeper into the experience of the characters in narrative storytelling, or can move the viewer along with the host or examine a subject in a compelling way in nonfiction filmmaking. Methods for moving smaller, lighter cameras have steadily evolved and improved over the past few years. Cinematic camera movement that was once the realm of only high-budget projects has now become available to almost every production. Let’s take a look at some of the most effective tools available for smoothly and precisely moving your camera, and enhancing your production value.
SLIP SLIDIN’ AWAY
Camera sliders are sort of a smaller version of the traditional camera dolly, and can add smooth and subtle movement to any shot. They’re used to make dolly-like moves with much smaller resources and crews. Today’s state-of-the-art camera sliders are perfect for when you want to add subtle and tasteful movement to almost any type of shot.
For tight budgets, the Konova K5 Slider is surprisingly well built for the money ($455 MSRP). This simple, basic camera slider is designed for smooth movement of smaller DSLRs and video cameras. Constructed mostly of aluminum, Konova’s K5 line is available in several lengths, and the most popular length is the 31.5-inch model. konovaphoto.com
For midrange productions, Kessler Crane offers a compact, 39.5-inch camera slider, the Pocket Dolly V2.0 ($649.95 MSRP), which lets you achieve smooth, short-run dolly shots with cameras weighing up to 15 pounds. It features ball-bearing wheels, a belt-drive system and a removable hand crank that combine to deliver quiet, consistent and fluid camera movements. The belt-drive system allows you to add Kessler’s optional elektraDRIVE system for motorized slides, time-lapses, memory/motion playback, digital dampening and more. www.kesslercrane.com
Moving your camera on a slider by hand often will suffice for basic shots or when you’re on a tight budget. Working with a higher budget will allow you to buy gear to shoot time-lapse video or to create the smoothest, repeatable movement possible. The Cinetics Three Axis360 ($1,699.85 MSRP) is a motion-control system that lets you create sequences with fluid and precise motorized slides, pans and tilts. The kit includes the Axis360 Pro Motorized Slider—complete with a 32-inch slider, AxisPro Motor, Controller and Mini Tripod Kit with Ballhead—and two additional Axis360 Motors and Controllers for 3-axis motorized movements. cinetics.com