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Friday, December 16, 2011

3x Unboxing the Kessler Pocket Dolly

<< UPDATE: Video: NEX-FS100 on the Pocket Dolly >>

Anyone who has ever seen one of my videos, will know that I love to work with a moving camera. I have a Steadicam which gives me the freedom to steadily move the camera around in space, which I really like to use on shoots. But on some occasions you want a more subtle movement of your camera. That's why a few years ago, I came up with a solution which I thought hadn't been invented yet (haha!)...  A small long platform to put on your tripod, where you can mount your camera on top, to dolly it from one side to the other. Sounds good right? Well apparently that's why others also came up with this idea, which I found out, after I created a 3D model to visualize such a camera slider. Since I don't have the tools, resources, nor the skills to build my own camera slider (other then a 3D model, which is difficult to travel with...), you can imagine how happy I was to find out that sliders just had been invented and actually being build.

Now that you know a little bit about my history with camera sliders, you won't be surprised to hear that I bought one over a month ago. A month ago I tell you? Yes one month ago... one, un, en, ein, jeden, ένας, één, uno ...month ago. Then why not blog about it sooner - I hear you ask via your computer microphone or cool looking headset - ? Well, because I had a bit of a rough start with it. And with that being said, I hope you're happy to witness my first understatement of the day! ;)

Let me begin by saying that nobody is to blame. Not the store I bought it from, not the manufacturer and not me. Just a great example of bad luck rearing it's ugly head. But why is it alway's showing it's face to me, I ask..
Unpacking the Kessler Pocket Dolly V2.0 for the first time, looks awesome!

After unpacking my long awaited (and might I add: beautifully made Kessler Pocket Dolly V2.0) over a month ago... yes one, un, en, ein, jeden, ένας, een, uno ...month ago, and collecting all my different tripods and tools, it was time to see which configuration would work best. I have collected a few tripods over the years and it turned out to be a good decision not to get rid of them.

Let's start with the legs. I'm using my old Manfrotto legs (MB) which can handle a lot of weight. I unscrewed the original 501 head that was on it and replaced it with the Manfrotto (MN-357) Sliding Plate Adapter. This way I'm able to quickly get the Pocket Dolly on and off the tripod. The tripod is sturdy enough for center mounting the Pocket Dolly, but I also use two screws for mounting the long plate to the Pocket Dolly, for safety reasons. Now we've come to the head choice. I've tried to use my favorite DV 6 SB Sachtler head. I heard from Nino Leitner that he was able to put his Sachtler head on the Pocket Dolly (or CineSlider) by removing the screw from the bottom of the head and using a flat mount adapter on the Pocket Dolly. He uses a different Sachtler head (I believe a FSB 8), but I was able to do the same with the DV 6 SB. I mounted it on the cart with the flat mount adapter, but it didn't feel sturdy enough in my center mounted configuration. Just to much weight after adding the camera, but I think it could work with a DSLR on top. The Sachtler head weights 2,6 kg (5.7 lbs) and with a FS100 on top of it just became to risky in my eyes. So I decided to use a simple and light Manfrotto 128LP Micro Fluid Head instead. The main focus is on the dolly and not the pan & tilt movement although it would be a nice bonus.

So with everything ready, I was able to get my first sliding shots. But the cart was a bit loose and I was able to wiggle it on the rail. This caused small vibrations in my shots and there was also a lot of friction when sliding the cart up and down the track. So I contacted Kessler Crane for assistance and guidance. They were very helpful and advised me to also notify the store I bought it from, because the Pocket Dolly may had got damaged during shipping. At that point I was hoping that I could solve the problem by doing a cart adjustment and belt tension adjustment. Little did I know.

I searched together all my tools but soon found out I didn't had the ones that fitted. So I put the Pocket Dolly in it's nice looking travel case and went on a shopping spree for tools. I can tell you after visiting many stores and getting a lot of questions about the cool looking never-been-seen-before device (someone actually thought it was some kind of musical instrument..), the right size tools aren't available here in the Dutch shops. The last store I went too was specialist in tools and asked me a simple question. "Is this device coming from America?". And started to explain that I needed US size tools and that 'we' don't sell them over here. So I went back home and started to search online for the 9/64 Allen Wrench and 3/8" Nut Driver. It took me a while, but I was able to find them and order them through two webshops. When I received them, already a week had pasts since I got my Pocket Dolly. Yes one, un, en, ein, jeden, ένας, een, uno.... alright alright, I will stop doing that!

So to continue. I started doing these belt and cart adjustments. This took care of the friction problem and I was able to have the cart sit better on the rail. However, I did feel small vibrations on the cart when sliding it, but was hoping this would not show on screen. I started doing some tests with the camera on top and watched the result. When I looked at the edges of the screen, I could see small side to side movements, or let's call it a wiggle effect, since I don't know any other English words to describe this. At first I thought this was caused by center mounting the Pocket Dolly on the tripod, so I took it off and placed it on a solid floor. The problem remained. So I started to use different tripod heads and all with no effect. I don't give up easily and started making changes again to the belt and cart. To make a long story short, I've spent many hours doing small adjustments but without any result. I then made a short video of the wiggle-effect problem and send it to Kessler and the dealer. The dealer looked at the footage and said this may had something to do with the spacing of the rollers. Chris from Kessler Crane confirmed this and said that this "side-to-side" movement could happen if the two cam adjustable wheels are not adjusted evenly to the rail. If one is tighter to the rail than the other, then you can get a little side to side movement. Readjusting the cart so both are the same, could resolve that. He also said that if these adjustments didn't resolve this "side-to-side" movement, it was possible the wheel bolts where damaged during shipping.
The dealer said they would try to replicate the problem with one of their own Pocket Dolly's. In the meantime I tried to get a better result with adjusting the cams to the rail. So again hours and hours of trial and error.

Three days later I got word back from the dealer that they weren't able to replicate the wiggle effect, with belt and without belt, belt tension, roller spacing, with weight on top and without etc. And I would have to sent back the Pocket Dolly so they could have a look at it. A few days later I got an email back from the dealer that they've had a look at it. They made some small adjustments and sent me a short video to show that all should work properly now. I think this is a nice example of great service. The only problem for me, was that it had to be a small web video otherwise it couldn't been sent with email. So the compression made it difficult for me to see if everything worked as supposed to. I agreed on sending the Pocket Dolly back and the dealer assured me that if I wasn't happy with the result, they would take it back and sent me a new Pocket Dolly.

Second unpacking of the Kessler Pocket Dolly V2.0 is about to happen
We're now in week 3 or 4 of this story and I could unpack the Pocket Dolly for the second time. While holding my breath, I took it out of it's case, placed it on the ground and started to slide the cart by hand. I immediately noticed the cart gave a lot of resistance. When I moved the cart slowly, it went in little steps and I had to use quite some force to start the motion and when I stopped, the cart stopped promptly. The slider became a pusher after the adjustments made by the store. I thought it might be just a case of adjusting the belt tension. So I disconnected the belt and started to slide the cart by hand again, but I still noticed a lot of friction. Then, I loosened the belt tension a bit and connected it to the cart again. Unfortunately, all the problems mentioned above, remained.

I decided to get back in touch with Kessler Crane to hear what they thought about all of this. At that point I could've understand it if they were getting fed up with me and these problems. But instead, I got a nice response back saying I wasn't a bother at all and that they want to make sure I'm perfectly happy with my purchase and shouldn't hesitate to contact them. Again great help and service from Kessler Crane. Something that in my opinion, is just as imported as the product itself.
In the email I got back from Chris, he confirmed what I was thinking. Namely that the wheels were probably too tight to the rail from what I've been describing and that the wheels need to be loosened up just a little to free up the cart. This could take a little bit of trial and error to get it adjusted just right. If, after making these adjustments, the wiggle would still be there, it was possible that the wheel bolts were bent. Like he had mentioned before.

Before I started to make any adjustments to the wheels, I decided to put the camera on the Pocket Dolly again, to see if the adjustments made by the store I got it from, indeed had solved the "side to side" movement. I wish I could say it did, but unfortunately it didn't. The problem still was visible. Since I had nothing to loose, I tried making new adjustments to the wheels to free up the cart a bit. It worked and the cart was able to slide normal again. For a moment I was hoping everything would be OK now and placed the camera on the Pocket Dolly and started testing again. But the side-to-side movement was still there. It made no difference which lens I had on the camera wide or tele, I could still see the wiggle. The only thing that had changed after all these weeks, was that I could slide the cart without feeling any small vibrations, it went super smooth and I couldn't notice anything wrong with it. Unless of course, I was looking at the footage. That's why I contacted the store again to ask for a replacement. They agreed and I sent back the Pocket Dolly.

It's now one week ago that I've sent back the Pocket Dolly and I received the new Pocket Dolly. And here's the 3rd unpacking picture.

Third and last unpacking picture of the Kessler Pocket Dolly V2.0
I must be one of the luckiest person to have had the privileges to unpack a Pocket Dolly not once, not twice but thrice... eh, I mean three times. After trying out the new Pocket Dolly I think it's safe to say that the wheel bolts where in fact damaged during shipping. It now seems to work smoother and I can't wait to try it out in the wild and create a short video with it. I will post it here once it's ready.

<< UPDATE: Video: NEX-FS100 on the Pocket Dolly >>

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