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Focus35 Folding Track Dolly Review

Reviewed by Ron Risman -- November / December 2010





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Focus35 Folding Track Dolly Review


Video Overview and Test Footage



Review

After contacting Focus35 about reviewing their Skater Dolly (read review) they also asked if I would be interested in reviewing their folding track dolly. Since I had yet to review a larger track dolly I thought it would be a perfect time to give the readers of the site my thoughts on one, especially one with such an aggressive price.

Focus35 is a company that seems to take popular DIY (do it yourself) projects, cleans up the design a bit, and then sells them at a price that should tempt even hard-core DIY'rs. I know there are many of you out there that love running back and forth to Home Depot, using your drill, measuring and re-measuring bolts and washers, using your vice grips and saw. Then there's me, and probably many others like me, that don't want to spend a lot of money, yet lack the necessary skills and tools to successfully "do it yourself." This is where Focus35 comes in. Better made DIY stuff for cinematographers at prices that you can more easily justify.

What is a Camera Dolly

What is a camera dolly? It is a tool used by filmmakers to create smooth camera movements. Camera dollies comes in varies sizes, the most portable being products like the Skater Dolly that I reviewed last week. The next size up would be portable track dollies or sliders that are usually based on a short length of aluminum track or carbon fiber rods that a tripod head sits on, allowing it to smoothly slide or roll the length of this track. For sake of portability, these sliders are short, running 18", 24", or 36" in length. From here we can move up to larger track dollies that sit at ground level and have longer tracks lengths, sometimes even curved tracks. The camera and operator usually sit on top of the track on what is called the dolly 'truck', which is pushed from behind by a person known as a dolly grip.

What is a Tripod Dolly

A tripod dolly, also referred to as a spider dolly (for it's design), is a folding three or four-arm wheeled platform that your tripod sits on top of. This allows you to easily move your tripod around a room with ease, and on smooth surfaces it can be used to do moving dolly shots. Since normal tripod dollies are not designed to work on tracks, smooth dolly shots are only possible on perfectly smooth surfaces. Any cracks, seams, sand, etc. will add vibration to the dolly move, often rendering the shot unusable.

How is the Focus35 Folding Track Dolly Different?

The Focus35 folding track dolly is based on a traditional tripod (spider) dolly, but instead of single wheels on each arm, Focus35 has replaced them with dual wheels attached to a 360° rotating aluminum block. Each set of wheels angle-in toward each other, which allow the dolly to glide smoothly down a track and above surfaces that would normally be unusable. Since a track is required, it is less convenient to use than a traditional tripod dolly, but much more effective if your goal is to create long, smooth dolly shots over a wide-variety of surfaces.

The tripod dolly is designed to fit most tripod legs. The ends of each section are adjustable to fit most tripod legs and can also slide in and out to adjust for different lengths. between tripods.

Inexpensive Dolly Track

Since this is a low-cost dolly option, it only makes sense to use tracks that are also low cost. The Focus35 Track Dolly is designed to fit use any 1.0" or 1.25" tube. I used inexpensive 1.25" PVC pipe that I picked up at Home Depot for about $4-$5 for a 10' section. If you need a longer track you can connect two or more PVC sections together. You want to make sure that you connect them internally to keep the connecting point as seamless as possible. I purchased some flexible tubing that I could bend and insert into the ends to connect two sections of PVC, but I think a better solution would be to use 1.25" dowels. Despite the same measurements, 1.25" dowels are a fraction smaller than the inside of the PVC, so you'll want to wrap each end of the dowels with tape or something similar to achieve a snug fit. You should also pick up some PVC pipe caps (less than $1 each), which will help reduce the chance of the track dolly rolling off the ends.

With the need for a track, some may argue that the product isn't all that portable and in some ways I agree. The folding (spider) dolly itself is extremely portable. When folded it has a smaller than a tripod, slides into the included zippered case, and can easily travel with you. The part that isn't so portable is the track itself, but since you can get PVC pipe in virtually any hardware store, you could just pick up the 'track' when you get to your destination. At $4 for a 10' section you won't mind leaving it behind when your shoot is over.

Obviously, if all you need is a short reveal shot, a slider / glidecam / etc is a better fit, but if you want the ability to do longer reveal shots or tracking shots of 5 feet, 10 feet or longer, there is very little on the market that will compete with this for size and price.

The ability to use any 1.0" or 1.25" tube as your track opens up a ton of possibilities. I suggest using PVC mainly due to it's low price and low weight. PVC can also be cut to any length, so if you drive a car that won't hold a 10' length it's easy to have it cut to any length you desire. You can connect two 5' sections to make a 10' length of track, giving you the length you need but with the ability to break it down to fit where you need it. Of course you'll need two pipes, one for each side of the dolly. Need a 30' track? Simple! Just connect three 10' lengths of PVC together for each side of the track.

Note: If you do cut the PVC make sure it's a clean (smooth) cut. This will prevent the wheels from skipping a bit when gliding over the connection point. The hardware store should be able to cut them smoothly but you can also pick up portable handheld PVC cutter.

Product Suggestions

The biggest thing lacking in this track dolly, and something I hope Focus35 will consider adding in the future, would be to add the ability to swap out the track wheels for standard rolling wheels when needed. This would allow the Track Dolly to be used as a standard tripod dolly when long dolly moves aren't needed. Chances are these dollies are purchased by Focus35 with the original wheels so the real cost would be in the redesign, allowing the user to quickly change out one for the other.

I would also like to see Focus35 offer a low-cost custom track kit. Maybe a set of eight 4' foot sections of track that would seamlessly connect together to create a dual 16' track. It would all fit into a compact bag or storage case.

Review Summary

Once again I think Focus35 has made a product that does exactly what it is supposed to and it does for much less than a typical track dolly. It folds to a compact size, can use inexpensive 1" or 1.25" tubing or PVC pipe as its track, and provides very smooth dolly shots on a wide variety of surfaces.

Despite it's low price, I do realize that anyone with craftsman skills can build something similar for less. Purchase a typical $50 tripod dolly, replace the wheels with an aluminum block with two inward facing skate wheels, and you'll essentially have the same kit. The real question is whether it's worth it to save $50-$100. Most DIY'ers often don't include needed tools when calculating the real cost of a project, but if you already have them and don't mind taking the time to do it yourself, you might be able to save a bit.

For others, like me, it's a pleasure to have a company willing to 'mass' produce a low-cost option. Even if I had the expertise to do it myself (which I don't), I surely don't have the time to fool around with it. I would much rather be out shooting than inside drilling or driving back and forth to Home Depot.

While I was a bit disappointed that the track dolly wasn't able to be used also as a standard tripod dolly, that disappointment went away as soon as I set it up and used it for its intended purpose. My dolly shots were silky smooth using $8 worth of PVC pipe. You should also pick up some PVC pipe caps (less than $1 each), which will help reduce the chance of the track dolly rolling off the ends.

Here is an overview video along with test footage (Same video is located at top of page). The video will give you a better idea of who simple this is to set up and use.

Additional Information

Get more information on the Track Dolly at Focus35.com



Full Disclosure
Focus35 kindly offered to send me the Track Dolly to review and to keep for in-house use and further testing. My personal views and opinions are always based on findings made during testing and are never based on whether or not I purchased the product for review or got the product from the manufacturer.

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