Shots of static objects and people become boring quickly, which is why professional video shooters use dollies and sliders to add some motion to such clips. The motion produced by slowly dollying or sliding the video camera along a rail adds visual interest and keeps viewers’ attention focused on the story. For medium-sized camcorders and dSLRs with video functionality, a Scottish company has developed a cost-effective slider system called the Glidetrack Hybrid.
The Glidetrack Hybrid is a system that is made up of four components:
- A sturdy anodised aluminium rail with 1/4 and 3/8 inch drillings in three places
- A carriage with (special composite) plastic bearings and rollers, fitted with a 3/8 inch stud and a friction bolt
- Two support feet, one for each end of the rail
- Four adjustable feet (Dumbbells) with rubberized ball feet.
The Glidetrack Hybrid HD uses the last-generation Igus slider system with additional components that are targeted at increasing the efficiency and comfort of using the system. Unique about the Glidetrack is that it has an open architecture, meaning in this case that you can easily disassemble the carriage to fix it when things go wrong, and that you can swap shorter rails for longer ones (up to 2 metres on the Hybrid — Glidetrack also sells a system for heavier kit, with even longer and sturdier rails; and you can order custom systems as well).
The unit comes in a flat cardboard box. No plastic is wrapped around the carriage and the rail, and the reason why I’m mentioning this futile detail here is that it’s not as futile as it looks: my test unit had contamination on the rollers; some cardboard lint got inside the carriage, making for a less than optimum ride — literally.
The good news is that it is easy to remove dirt, dust and other stuff that could get inside the carriage: just rinse with running water! There’s nothing on the Glidetrack that will corrode, so water is all it takes. I did ensure the components were dry before re-assembling them, but using an air duster (air in a canister) there was no drying time.
How smooth is the Glidetrack?
After having cleared the slider/roller mechanism, the Glidetrack was relatively smooth to operate. I did not encounter any friction anymore, nor did I run into places where the carriage seemed to be ‘stuck’. After having tested the Glidetrack over the course of a six month period, I did notice occasional lock-ups and ‘hesitations’ when sliding. These could be solved after cleaning the system, but if you’re relying on this equipment, it may frustrate.
I tried the device with very lightweight material as well as a camera weighing in at 4 kilograms. The latter will be about what the Glidetrack Hybrid HD is made for. But even when loading the Glidetrack Hybrid with a 6 kilogram camera system, it performed well.
There is a performance curve, though. With a very lightweight Sony HVR-A1E (less than 1 kilos), I had trouble controlling the fluidity of the motion I had to make; in other words, I couldn’t control my arm muscle well enough to keep the camera moving smoothly from start to finish. This became worse as I decreased the speed. Using a Sony NEX-FS100EK with all options (almost 3 kilos) made things a lot easier and better.
The heavier the gear you install on top of the Glidetrack carriage, the easier it gets to obtain very smooth motion. Nevertheless, I found it a pity there is no way — officially supported by Glidetrack anyway — to install a motorised belt system.
Still, even without a motor, the Glidetrack Hybrid is easy to operate.
Since video also involves sound, I also kept en eye (or in this case: an ear) out for noise. Before the rinse, the Glidetrack made a ticking noise, loud enough to be picked up by a microphone mounted on top of the camera. After rinsing the carriage clear of the cardboard lint, the noise had gone and only a “swishing” sound remained. This is loud enough to necessitate an external microphone away from the slider to be on the safe side.
Although I have yet to review other slider systems, I honestly doubt whether more expensive systems are absolutely silent. Unless a slider operates without friction you’ll always have noise.
The Glidetrack’s many tricks
Except for its smooth operation, the Glidetrack Hybrid HD offers the ability to use it at different angles. The rubberised ball feet are a clever addition in that they allow you to use the Glidetrack Hybrid:
- very close to the ground,
- at some 10 cm elevation,
- on uneven surfaces,
- with the Glidetrack sloping from higher to lower,
- vertically (hanging from the feet),
- mounted on one or two tripods,
- and even upside down.
Mounting the Glidetrack Hybrid on a tripod does require the tripod to be strong enough to carry for the load, as well as a head that can manage the weight of the Glidetrack, the camera and its mounted accessories. You really should mount your camera on the Glidetrack using a video head; this gives you the ability to both slide and pan simultaneously. That trick does require a bit of training in order to get it right (read: smooth).
So, is the Glidetrack Hybrid HD an essential piece of kit? I do think so, as a dolly or slider can add considerable visual interest when shooting static objects or scenes. The Glidetrack company has other models both for smaller and larger gear, but for medium-sized cameras, the Hybrid HD is the best choice. Having both bearings and rollers allows for a very smooth operation with very low noise. The “open architecture” means you can quickly — with minimal effort — clean the whole system and keep it in pristine condition.
My test unit was the 75cm one, and I found that length to offer a good degree of usefulness, while it still is easy to carry around. The good news, though, is that you can buy an extra rail and swap rail sizes, e.g. the 75cm one for field work, and a 1.5 metres one for studio jobs.
There are only two things that I missed: the option of having a bag and the option of buying a motorised belt accessory.