Undeniably, a small slider, or mini dolly, is something that should never be missing from a filmmaker's equipment. Simply because it opens up a whole world of expressive potential; because it gives the shots a bit of the flavour of cinema, making them appear more professional; and because nowadays you can find types that suit everybody's tastes and budgets!
But the problem is always the same: which model should you choose, from the many that have recently inundated the market in the wake of the success of reflex videos?
Of course, there cannot be just one answer to this question. It depends on each person's needs and budget, although there are some general considerations that can be made regarding the features that a slider must have and which, when choosing one, must not be ignored.
As a general rule, the longer and heavier a slider is, the better it is.
The quieter and smoother-sliding it is, the better it is.
The more it can be customized and the more it can hold various types of accessories, the better it is.
But despite being important (almost obvious, I'd say...), this "wish list" should be interpreted on the basis of further considerations that come, instead, from practice and experience.
And it turns out that what seemed obvious and evident is not so obvious in the end...
Weight and length, in fact, never get along well with the requirements of ease of use which documentaries or TV productions in a "live filming" style almost always demand.
Not only – if the slider must also fit into the ski holder on my backpack and be carried together with the rest of my equipment (a requirement which by now I'm almost obsessive about concerning any piece of my equipment), then its size becomes a key factor.
In addition, the smoothest-sliding and most efficient sliders (as well as being expensive...) are generally very sturdy and suitable for work with heavier movie cameras; but for this precise reason they work best only with that type of weighty camera. It may seem strange, but without sufficient pressure the mini dolly's sliding base doesn't slide properly, and paradoxically, a highly expensive and sturdy slider could turn out to be quite disappointing and "bumpy" if used with a reflex or a video camera that's too lightweight for its pressure requirements.
Another thing that doesn't go well with the concept of a small, tough, reliable slider.... and one that passes the 'backpack test'..... is an excess of accessories (various knobs, pulling systems, release buttons and weight setting buttons, attachments for electric motors).
The Pocket Dolly v2.0 by Kessler Crane is a perfectly decent portable slider, designed and built keeping in mind the above considerations and with the usual high quality of this American manufacturer.
Its target are the more adventurous videomakers, the ones who often work on their own, and want to take a dolly with them wherever they go.
Although I don't consider the Pocket Dolly v2.0 to be the slider with the best overall performance, it has nevertheless become part of my personal standard equipment, because together with its good quality it is also extremely portable – and for me this is indispensable.
Indeed, since this slider is available in 3 versions that only differ in the length of the rails, the model that best suits my needs is the "Traveler", which is the halfway sized version: the shorter version ("Mini", length 53.9 cm; weight 2.13 kg) is definitely the easiest to carry, but the dolly’s maximum extension - just 33 cm – is really too small, almost useless, for me; the longer version ("Standard", length 100.3 cm; weight 3.4 kg) is, on the contrary, a little too bulky and heavy, without providing significant advantages in terms of operation. Its maximum extension of 78.7 cm, in fact, is far too much for a “rough and ready” slider to be used in the field.
All things considered, the "Traveler" (length 69.8 cm; weight 2.72 kg) is the best compromise between logistic requirements and functionality, even if its 48.2 cm extension lacks another 7 – 8 cm, which would make it ideal.
In addition to its small size and acceptable operating extension, the Pocket Dolly v2.0 "Traveler" also has another two features which, to my eyes, make it more appealign than many other lightweight sliders, despite the fact that it is more expensive: the first feature is the fact that it supports video cameras with a maximum weight of 6.8 kg and is thus suitable for many professional camcorders too, while the second is that it can be mounted on just one tripod (within certain limits...) so you don’t need to carry a second support around with you.
The v2.0 symbol is to indicate that the slider is equipped with a toothed belt drive system operated by a removable crank handle. This is an accessory that I would not recommend, because it allows smooth camera movement but only with a huge amount of effort and above all because, seeing as it sticks out towards the dolly, it ‘steals’ several centimetres of the video camera’s extension. It also increases the slider’s level of maintenance, its weight and ...its price. In the end, this accessory should only be chosen if you intend to equip the mini dolly with the expensive "elektraDRIVE" Time-Lapse motor control kit.
Nevertheless, aside from the “crank system”, the Pocket Dolly v2.0 is a sturdy and reliable slider that you’ll be able to count on in any circumstance and in all and any weather conditions. While shooting my documentaries all types of stuff has got between the wheels and the rails (dust, pebbles, twigs, grass), but even when I’ve only been able to give it a quick, perfunctory clean, it has carried on working smoothly as usual.
In the lower part, at both ends, in the middle and on the base, the dolly has various threaded holes of both 1/4" and 3/8", which can be used with a large variety of tripods, stands, video heads, detachable feet and every other imaginable accessory.
In conclusion, the Pocket Dolly v2.0 is a very well-made tool with perfectly satisfactory technical features, and it also has the merit of managing to meet my requirements as a documentary filmmaker trudging around with a heavy backpack.
On the other hand, if you intend to use it in a more conventional way, it probably isn’t the best choice; also because – especially in Europe – its price is a little too high and even the most basic accessories (like the adjustable base braking system or the perfectly ordinary adapter for mounting a flat-base video head) are only available separately, at prices that aren’t exactly competitive. And they’re not even always available here in Europe.
For a very small amount of money a friend of mine used his lathe to make me one of these adapters and he even made it exactly the thickness that I wanted...