Movement For Video: Sliders, Gimbals and More!

Movement. It adds a dynamic and progresses the narrative in the films and videos you make. Lets take a look at the types of camera movement and how you can create them.

(Cover photo by Lucy McPhee, featuring Sony a7S, ZEISS 2.8/21, Zhiyun Crane).

Motivated movement is lead by a subject, character or object that is moving in your scene, it could be following a character as they walk, or something much simpler such as a push in or pull out when the character moves closer or further away from the camera.

The movement of the camera with a character walking adds pace and a sense of progression, or moving forward, with the direction playing an important role too. Moving forwards or from the left to right of frame keeps that feeling of progression and real-time action. The camera moving backwards, with the character walking towards the camera has a deeper engagement with the audience, especially if you're using a presenter to convey information or a narrative.

Moving the camera from right to left seems somewhat unnatural and backwards, with a disjointed feeling of uncertainty.

Unmotivated movement is where, you guessed it, there isn't a moving character or object in the frame, and the camera moves to possibly reveal a scene or orient around a character or object. The video above is an example of unmotivated movement, as the subject (the camera rig on the tripod) was static, but the camera movement revealed certain aspects of the object in the frame.

This kind of movement can be really nice for showing detail, and is very popular in wedding films and product adverts, showing intricacy and focuses on the object.

Sometimes it's nice to mix it up a bit and orientate around your character or object in a circle, keeping them in the centre of the frame. It shows their importance, with a lower angle having a powerful feel, and a higher angle making the character or subject weaker/less important.

This also creates a parallax between the foreground, the subject/character and the background, which as a pleasing effect to the eye. The foreground object moves slower than the background, creating a sense of grandness in the location or scene.

Creating The Movement

For short distances, using a slider is a cost effective and small-footprint option for adding the movement. If you're shooting a wide angle, it's best to frame your subject with some object in the foreground, which will further define the movement. For tighter framed shots, you'll have to move the camera slower, so a slider with a dampener or speed control is important.

Manfrotto Slider 60cm setup with Sony a7S II, Canon 135mm and Rode Videomicro

The Manfrotto Slider's are an ideal choice for a go-to slider. I have the 60cm version which is ideal for myself as I can travel with it. It's heavier than other sliders I've used (like the ProMediaGear Arc Slider), but the solid rigidity keeps the movement smooth and steady. It also has a dampener to add pressure to the slider track, so the camera dolly moves slower, which is important for those close up shots I mentioned earlier.

Manfrotto Slider 60cm

Interestingly, I haven't seen many people use the ProMediaGear Arc slider, and it's truly unique. It's got a straight rail on one side, and you flip it over and it has a curved/arc rail. The arc side is really cool for orientating around characters or circular objects like tables, or an object on a table. However, the dolly is wobbly, it's about 80cm long so needs proper support otherwise the rail will lean on either end when the camera is there.

Rhino EVO Arc slider, photo coutesy of Teralon
Rhino EVO Arc setup, photos courtesy of Teralon.

Rhino EVO Arc setup, photos courtesy of Teralon.

For interviews, a great way to create separation between your subject and the background, as well as adding some polish to the look of the shot is to use a motorized slider such as the Rhino EVO. Combine this with a panning head, and the shot can orientate around a subject during the automated movement, and of course this movement can be programmed and repeated.

ProMediaGear Arc Slider and Dolly Track

Free Flowing Movement? Gimbals The Answer!

Longer distances can be achieved using a dolly track, useful for large camera setups, but what's more convenient is a gimbal solution. If you're shooting on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, there are so many to choose from, from CAME-TV to DJI to Zhiyun Crane (my choice). These allow smooth walking and moving shots that are stabilized by motors, and have options for pan/tilt/roll control and follow modes too.

Zhiyun Crane hand held gimbal with Sony a7S and Sony 16-50mm

Because these hand held gimbals are small, its easy to create a long moving shot around a scene or location, going from a low angle up to a high angle adds depth too. Optical stabilization in the lens, or sensor stabilization in the body can eliminate a lot of the bumpy up and down movement that is hard to remove without perfecting a funky walk too!

Adam Plowden using the Zhiyun Tech Crane V1 and Sony a7S II

The Zhiyun Crane has a payload of up to 2Kg (with a firmware upgrade), and I have seen images floating around the internet of loading an FS5 on there, which would be fantastic if its possible. 

One problem that you may face when using a gimbal is focusing. If you're shooting with native lenses on a Sony or Canon camera with fast auto focus tracking (such as the 24-70 F/4 from ZEISS, or the Sony 10-18 F/4 (APS-C)) then wider shots tracking a subject should reliably stay in focus. However, using non native lenses through adapters often makes auto focusing slower and inaccurate, or manual prime lenses like the Samyang Cine lenses or ZEISS Loxia primes. In the photo below I'm using the ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 prime lens, manually setting focus.

Adam Plowden framing and focusing on the Zhiyun Crane, Sony a7S, ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 prime lens, Atomos Shogun

I combated this through two methods -

  1. For shallow depth of field shots: set a focus point/focal distance to the subject before filming and try to stay the same distance away from the subject when moving.
  2. For wider shots not needing a shallow depth of field: reduce the aperture below f/8 and set the focus point/focal distance to between 3m and infinity.

Of course if your framing or subject changes during the movement, the second option won't work for you, and using an auto focusing lens is the way forward. I've heard great things about using the ZEISS Batis 2.8/24 from Nino Leitner.

Adam using the Zhiyun Crane gimbal, Sony a7S, Atomos Shogun, Rode videomicro

These gimbals are ideal for smaller cameras as you can see, but for larger cameras like a Sony FS5, RED cameras or even the ARRI Alexa Mini, you need to ramp up the gimbal setup to a MoVI M5, M10 or Letus Helix. Many of you reading this probably wont be at this level, but it's worth mentioning if you're considering equipment that is flexible and will be versatile.

So, that's a wrap on this post about movement, drop me a comment if you have any questions, and please share your videos too!