Want those sexy, chocolatey-smooth dolly shots but don't know how to keep them consistent and wobble free? The Kessler Pocket Dolly might be the solution. I say might for a reason. Read on...
The gold standard in the dolly world is the "Pee Wee" system developed by Chapman Leonard. It's heavy, bulky construction is more tank-like than most filmmakers are used to but the heavy body and low center of gravity make them ideal for hoisting heavy camera systems. Additionally, hydraulics can lift said camera systems effortlessly and smoothly - when you're watching a film in the theater and you see a dolly move, odds are it was done on a Chapman-Leonard system or one just like it.
Today's DSLRs are smaller and lighter and thus demand a more compact solution. I recently had the opportunity to shoot with Kessler's pocket dolly system, a lightweight dolly slider designed primarily for the DSLR market and one of the few such systems priced below the $1000 mark. Below is a brief rundown of my first impressions.
SIZE AND WEIGHT:
The Kessler Pocket Dolly consists of a 3 foot section of track that weighs about 7lbs and various mounting options. You've got options for mounting the camera on the pocket dolly itself as well as a few different ways to secure the whole system to your tripod of choice. The mounting options are just that, options. The pocket dolly will work just fine with any mounting solution and there are many ways you can use it without specialized mounting accessories, so for the purposes of this review I'll discuss the pocket dolly only and leave the research on mounting options for another post. As long as you can attach a camera to the pocket dolly, you can get sexy-smooth (or smoove) moves. This means that you don't have to haul a bag of extra gear around with you just to get the system on and off of different surfaces. You can quite literally place it flat on the ground if you want to or use bundled up towels to lift it/level it slightly, making the unit much easier to manuever around the set or location than, say a skateboard dolly and 8ft sections of PVC pipe.
EASE OF USE
I found that using the Pocket Dolly was about as simple as it gets. Simply mounting a Bogen 503 fluid head to the slider using the included mounting hardware allowed me to position the 5D at pretty much any angle I could think of and then use the handle attached to the fluid head to gently slide the camera along the track. Movement was buttery and smooth but I was annoyed at how incocistent MY arm was. I routinely had to re-do each shot 3 or 4 times to get a consistent slide. Often I'd get halfway down the track only to find my hand wobble ever so slightly, a move that would kill the shot every time. I would have much rather had the elektraDRIVE BUNDLE PACKAGE with ORACLE Controller for smoother motion. Trial and error eventually allowed me to get the shots I wanted but not without a fair amount of time invested into each shot. If I'd had the ability to set a time or speed for each shot I could have designed my shoot around each dolly move and known precisely how many seconds and at what speed each move would happen. This would have eliminated the variable of 'camera operator' and given me one less thing to worry about. Using the pocket dolly 'by hand' DOES give your production value a tremendous boost but motorizing the pocket dolly would be the magic wand. I'd highly reccomend it if it's in your budget. At the very least I'd recommend using an external monitor so you can accurately judge if your hand-powered moves are smooth enough for your needs.
- Small, portable, easy to carry & set up
- Can be a 'one man' solution; doesn't require a lot of extra help to use
- as smooth as a skateboard dolly if used by hand (smoother if used with motorized system)
- center of gravity is fairly high above the track
- using the system by hand produces inconcistent results
With the camera mounted on the track, I found that it was easy enough to lock the camera in place and swing the track around like a jib. This resulted in some interesting compound moves but make no mistake, the pocket dolly is NOT a jib. I would not trust the track to hold up to the repeated stresses of hoisting a 10lb camera rig hither and yon for very long without sustaining damage. IF you can support the pocket dolly properly you CAN make a few jib-like moves - just don't count on it replacing a jib.
I also found that by mounting the pocket dolly at a slight angle I could let gravity pull it from one end to the other, giving me a smooth tracking move but at the sacrifice of consistent speed. The camera tended to move faster the longer it was in motion as... you know... physics demands.
In summary, the pocket dolly system by Kessler is worth a look. It's not a total solution in and of itself and if you already have a nice skateboard dolly system you may want to look elsewhere for a place to spend your hard-earned cash. It solves a need and can improve your production value in a significant way. That said, the near $650 price tag may make you think twice.
If 1 was a 'get this the hell away from me' and 10 was a 'must buy' on the recommend-o-meter I'd give the Kessler Pocket Dolly a rating of 6.5
If you have additional questions or there's something I didn't cover, hit me up! Also, don't forget to subscribe to the blog via the email subscription form in the upper right corner to stay abreast of future posts on gear and technique.