I wonder if sliders for some of us are like gear bags for others: we keep looking for the perfect one. The SmartSlider Reflex S is the first slider I've used which has a separate variable drag control. The slider is robust, and the drag control works. It's a fascinating and worthy alternative to the sliders I have: Cinevate's Duzi, and Syrp's Magic Carpet.
Whenever sliders are promoted for their smoothness, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up the same way they used to decades ago when I was looking for an apartment in New York and I'd see the words "water view."
I wondered then what they WEREN'T telling me, like maybe they mean the view is of a water tank on the rooftop across the street, which blots out everything else.
For sliders, I wonder: but is it rigid and vibration free? Is it controllable?
When I've had occasion to use a slider over the past couple of years, I've relied either on Syrp's Genie motion control [B&H|Amazon] with their Magic Carpet slider [B&H|Amazon] or a Cinevate Duzi. In fact, there are only two times in my commercial work where I've used just my hands for a slider shot. While they got the job done, each required many takes to get it smooth -- and they still weren't as smooth as the Genie.
Not by a long shot.
Can you tell I like electronic control? But there are times when you'll be tracking an actor and will need the ability to vary the speed the way only a human can, or you'll want to travel light and simple. These are the times when manual controllability becomes critical. That's also when rigidity becomes even more critical, because you really don't want to carry multiple light stands or tripods to guarantee a robust sliding platform.
Turns out the water comparison is particularly apt, because when the folks at SmartSystem sent me their SmartSLIDER Reflex S 22 for review, the feature which piqued my curiosity was that it uses a fluid drag system.
Is it really fluid drag? Confirmed by email: "The reflex s has the fluid friction instead of the old version (reflex without s) that has an old friction system."
I received their 22" SmartSLIDER Reflex S ($722 at B&H) for test and I liked it. I mounted it to a Manfrotto 100mm half-ball on a set of Cartoni sticks; there was little discernible flex. I'd say it was more rigid than the Margic Carpet, about as rigid as the shorter Duzi. Once I attached a Manfrotto 502HD to the slider itself, added a Sony a6300, and dialed in the right amount of drag, I got nice smooth shots, better than what I could get on the Magic Carpet or Duzi under my own power.
But I wouldn't hire me to do slider shots -- at least not manually, nor for this long (14 seconds).
I wish I were better at manual slider shots. Then again, I wish I were better at a lot of things. Tough when you're a one-man/occasionally two-man band.
Areas for improvement? Sure.
While I like the low profile of the entire unit and especially the slider tray (and the thumbwheels contribute to this), the thumbwheels themselves are small. I wish they were bigger, grippier, and/or shaped differently so that they allowed more leverage.
I wish the brake had a detent or marking so that I knew when it was completely off (it only took me a minute or so to figure this out, as at first I thought maybe one of the rails was uneven. Nope: I simply hadn't fully released the brake.).
I wonder how I can possibly use it manually while attempting a vertical or angled slide like the one I shot for planet5D without a crank or motion control unit (and if their available motion control unit can handle it).
I prefer the smartSLIDER Reflex S my Cinevate Duzi for controllability, and to Syrp's Magic Carpet for robustness and manual smoothness -- but without motion control or belt drive with a hand crank, I don't know how I could generate footage like this. Then again, both the Duzi and the Magic Carpet cost significantly less, and a motion control kit is available ($504 from B&H). I didn't have the opportunity to check it out.
There are many different brands and models to choose from when it comes to sliders, and I confess what gets me most excited are those which -- beyond being rock solid, reasonably priced, smooth, and controllable -- can take smartphone-based motion controllers, achieve vertical or angled slides, and manage parallax.
But you'd have to pay much more to get one.
Then again, I'd guess the Reflex S' most natural and comparable competitor is Kessler Crane's Stealth Traveler (I know it by reputation and spec only, having never tried one myself). At around $800 without case, this belt-drive, hand crank slider is in the same price bracket and can be upgraded with motion control and parallax accessories as your budget and business allow.
With all of this written, it boils down to this: if you're looking for a straightforward, well-built, compact and manually controllable slider for horizontal shots, Smartsystem's SmartSLIDER Reflex S should be on your short list. In this context, I actually prefer it to the Duzi and the short Magic Carpet - but the good news is you get what you pay for, and if your budget doesn't stretch to the smartSLIDER, check out the other two.
In any case, happy hunting: the kind of dynamic shots a piece of kit like the smartSLIDER Reflex S can help you capture will add significantly to your production values.
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