Grip Gear Movie Maker 2 Simple
In 2018, almost every one of us has a camera that can film HD or even 4K video. Videos can be uploaded to Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, or Instagram with the click of a few buttons. What once was reserved for filmmakers or TV productions with giant budgets now is available in everything from full-frame DSLRs to GoPros to the smartphone in your pocket.
So how do you make your videos stand out in a sea of cats flushing toilets and grandmas dancing the funky chicken? A whole accessory segment has grown to try and help you do just that. External microphones, add-on wide/tele lenses, and gyroscopic stabilizers can all polish up your footage and give your videos a far more professional feel (even if you’re just filming your kid’s piano recital). But what if you want something that will stand out even more? The Grip Gear Movie Maker might be what you are looking for.
What is it?
The Grip Gear Movie Maker is a compact (claimed to be the world’s smallest) motorized motion control slider/dolly. It's aimed at smartphone or GoPro photographers but has a 750g/26oz weight limit high enough for most mirrorless cameras and even a few smaller DSLRs as well.
Having a tool like a slider gives video-makers access to some of the most iconic shots in cinematographyFor those not familiar, a motorized camera slider is a set of track, single in this case, frequently double in larger rigs, with a motor mount designed to allow a camera to be attached. The motor allows the camera to move along the track at very precise and consistent speeds. Having a tool like a slider gives video-makers access to some of the most iconic shots in cinematography. Tracking, dolly, and push-in shots are some of the foundations of scene building and emotional communication. Adding them to your videos will make them stand out in a way that an add-on wide angle lens never could.
Setup for the Movie Maker is fairly easy. The slider track itself is a modular design that clamps together with each section of track being about 12in/30.5cm long. This both allows easier transport and gives you the option to purchase additional sections. The motor unit slides onto the rails and has a small ball head with a standard tripod screw, and a spring-loaded smartphone holder is also included.
Power is supplied by an internal rechargeable battery giving a claimed run time of up to two hours. The battery’s micro-USB charging port also allows the use of a USB battery pack for far longer run times. The track has three pairs of adjustable feet that allow basic leveling on uneven ground. They also offer the ability to wrap around something like a pipe or fencepost to allow the camera to move vertically. More importantly, there are 1/4-20 and 5/8 tripod mounts on the bottom of the track.
How does it work?
While the rails and connecting/mount hardware are aluminum there is unsurprisingly a lot of plastic in the Movie Maker’s construction. You definitely don’t feel like you are holding a high-end device – but at $130, you also aren’t paying for one either. The little ball head is of middling quality and care needs to be taken when connecting the rails to make sure there is no gap between the sections of plastic teeth. But overall, construction is just fine for the intended purpose and price-point. The Movie Maker also breaks down into a surprisingly small package. While packing for a family vacation, I tossed everything into some extra space in my suitcase and took it along with no trouble.
Mounting is both a simple affair and a bit limiting. While the adjustable feet to allow some tolerance for uneven ground and vertical mounting, they're also not all that large or strong so you won’t want to rely on them if you are using a camera at the top of the Movie Maker’s weight limit.
The lightest travel tripod I had in my closet held the Movie Maker quite wellPerhaps more importantly, you’ll quickly find that using the feet pretty much locks you into low angle shots. You’ll be forever dragging tables across the room or trying to set the unit up on a car hood in order to get your camera off the ground. The answer to this is going to be the tripod mount. This gives you far more options to find the optimal height and placement for your shot. And given that the whole unit doesn’t weight that much and doesn’t work with heavy DSLRs, you don’t need much of a tripod at all. The lightest travel tripod I had in my closet held the Movie Maker quite well (assuming that you aren’t filming in a windstorm).
That said, the design of the Movie Maker's tripod mount is somewhat frustrating. In an effort to offer both 1/4 and 3/8 tripod mounting options, the mount is a 3/8 thread with a 1/4 adapter nut screwed into it. This would be fine except that for those of us using standard 1/4 tripod screws (most everyone), this means that there is very little surface area to prevent wobbles or twisting as the camera is on the far ends of the track. I ended up using gaffer tape or zip-ties occasionally to keep everything steady. A better design would have had the 1/4 screw go directly into the Movie Maker and include a 3/8 adapter for those who want one. As is, I would probably rig up a tripod plate with a 3/8 screw if I were going to be using the Movie Maker regularly.
Controls for the Movie Maker are quite simple. In fact, there are only four buttons: two that control starting/stopping/direction and two that increase/decrease the motor speed. There are nine speeds to choose from, the slowest being a very slow crawl and the fastest being moderately quick. There is even a handy guide printed on the track that tells you how long the motor will take to cross the whole track at each speed. I would prefer to have seen a few more speeds on the “fast” end and I’m unsure how many people will find the slowest speeds to be useful. Generally, though, the speed range works just fine for most purposes.
One thing worth noting is that, unlike with higher-end sliders, there is no option to pan or tilt the camera while it is running on the track – it is locked to whatever angle you set the ball head at. On a Hollywood production, this would be a significant limitation. But on a slider at this price-point, it can easily be forgiven.
With just a few exceptions, the footage is generally outstandingWith just a few exceptions, the footage is generally outstanding. Using the same camera, I’m not sure that you would be able to tell the difference between a shot on the Movie Maker vs one done on a slider that was three times the price. But about those "exceptions" – the first is that the camera’s microphone can pick up motor hum, especially at the faster speeds. The motor isn’t loud, but it isn’t silent either. The second is something I alluded to earlier: gaps in the plastic teeth. When assembling the rail sections, you need to make sure that there are no gaps where the plastic teeth come together. If there is a gap, you will see a noticeable bump as the motor unit tries to crawl across it.
The final exception isn’t the fault of the Movie Maker at all, but it is something that must be mentioned given that Grip Gear is positioning the Movie Maker as a tool for “mobile filmmakers”. When using a tripod, gimbal, or other external stabilizers, your camera’s internal optical image stabilization system must be turned off. If left on, it can introduce vibrations on its own just due to the way that these systems operate. The late Canon guru Chuck Westfall described the situation like this:
"The IS mechanism operates by correcting shake. When there is no shake, or when the level of shake is below the threshold of the system’s detection capability, use of the IS feature may actually *add* unwanted blur to the photograph, therefore you should shut it off in this situation. Remember that the IS lens group is normally locked into place. When the IS function is active, the IS lens group is unlocked so it can be moved by the electromagnetic coil surrounding the elements. When there’s not enough motion for the IS system to detect, the result can sometimes be a sort of electronic ‘feedback loop,’ somewhat analogous to the ringing noise of an audio feedback loop we’re all familiar with. As a result, the IS lens group might move while the lens is on a tripod unless the IS function is switched off and the IS lens group is locked into place."
This is bad enough for still images, but it is even more noticeable when shooting video. Most mirrorless and even many compact and action cameras offer the option to turn their OIS systems off. However, this becomes more tricky for smartphones. Some Android phones and software appear to allow the user to turn off OIS, but you will need to verify this for your own phone.
Far worse is the news for owners of iPhone models 7/8/X. As far as I have been able to tell, there is no way to disable OIS on an iPhone. This makes the Grip Gear Movie Maker somewhat frustrating for millions of phone owners. As I mention above, this isn’t Grip Gear’s fault and iPhones have the same issue with gimbals, tripods and other stabilization devices. But it's also an important issue that can’t be ignored.
There are a few extras that give the Movie Maker additional functionality. The first is that the motor unit can be removed from the track and with the installation of an included mount, turns into a motorized head for panoramic images or time-lapse video. While fairly basic, this works surprisingly well.
Sadly, due to the use of the motor to drive the camera rotation, it is impossible to use the panoramic functionality and the slider at the same time. While understandable, especially at this price point, it’s kind of a bummer because timelapse slider videos can be really neat.
The second extra is something Grip Gear calls a Micro Dolly. It is essentially a small three-wheeled platform that uses the motor unit from the Movie Maker for power. It is a small unit, and the wheels are made for smooth terrain. But even so, in the right location, you can get essentially endless dolly type shots.
Additionally, the two “steering” wheels can rotate allowing the Micro Dolly to run in various size circles. I could see this being useful for portrait, product or even unique time-lapse videos.
What’s the bottom line?
All told, this is a clever and inexpensive kit that does what it claims to. You can get some unique video shots that are unlike what you see 500 times a day on your friends’ social media posts.
Are you going to make huge dolly shots with two feet of a track or a little rolling cart on a table? No, you aren’t. This isn’t for Hollywood films, it’s for phones and GoPros. It would make a fun birthday/holiday gift for someone you know who enjoys making short videos for YouTube or Instagram. I could also see it being an easy way to add some style to videos for Kickstarter projects or Etsy sellers.
Would I put it on the top of my list of “most useful video accessories”? No, probably not. But is it in the running for “best value in a fun video accessory”? Absolutely.
What we liked:
- Unique shots
What we didn’t:
- Subpar tripod mount
- Weight limits
- Weak ball mount
- Interaction with phone OIS systems that can't be turned off