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Humble Monkey 360-T2 Camera Truck Review

Reviewed by Ron Risman -- May 2010

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The Humble Monkey 360-T2 Camera Truck is a portable dolly designed to allow for lengthy tracking shots without the need for tracks. While the Humble Monkey can handle the typical left/right or fore/aft slides like that a portable slider, it also has the ability to slide and turn at a dialed-in radius unlike most portable dollies on the market.

The platform of the Humble Monkey is made of acrylic and is shaped like a tricycle platform. Each of the three Humble Monkey wheels is centered around a 72mm zero-drag skate wheel. Zero-drag skate wheels are considered 'best-in-class' and are designed for the ultra-smooth motion. In the center of the main platform is a 3/8-16" screw for mounting a tripod head, of which a ball head is highly recommended since pan/tilt heads have handles that could prohibit camera tilt.

The Humble Monkey platform is designed to support up to 45lbs and also features an integrated 'foot' brake to ensure that your camera doesn't roll away when you're not looking.

What is a camera dolly?
A camera dolly or truck provides the ability for a camera to move along a track or path in order to follow a subject or action in a scene. Traditional camera dollies are large platforms that hold both the camera and cameraman - while a second person pushes the dolly over a set path. Most often these dollies run on tracks that are made of aluminum or steel. This provides for smooth motion regardless of the surface.

These traditional dollies can be found on virtually every movie set, but are quite large and expensive for filmmakers on a smaller budget. For years filmmakers have used wheelchairs or golf carts as makeshift dollies since they were readily available, inexpensive, and didn't require tracks. Whatever the method used, the idea is the same, to move the camera along a set path.

Portable Dollies
With the growing interest in budget filmmaking, a lot of new tools have hit the market that allow videographers and cinematographers to create smooth tracking shots - but in a downsized, portable package. Most of these portable dollies are called "sliders," as they provide the ability to slide a camera down a short track (usually 18" - 40" in length). Because of their limited track length sliders are most often used for short reveal-style shots, where the camera starts out focused on one subject and is then slid to the side to reveal another subject. They are also used to move the camera toward or away from a subject or scene, either to heighten the focus on a particular subject or to reveal more of the scene as the camera is pulled away.

Humble Monkey 360-T2 Camera Truck
The Humble Monkey 360-T2 camera truck provides the portability of a portable dolly but without the limits of system that requires a track. Does this mean that the Humble Monkey is the ultimate portable dolly? Unfortunately, no. While a wheeled system has advantages, it also has disadvantages, so it will ultimately be up to you to decide whether it fits your needs.

Since the Humble Monkey rolls on wheels it requires a very smooth surface to get smooth dolly moves. At first, this doesn't seem like a problem, until you realize that most surfaces are not perfectly smooth. Roads, driveways, walkways, and carpets are not smooth and will prevent the Humble Monkey from providing satisfactory results. Even surfaces that I had assumed would yield great results, such as hardtop tennis courts and (my) hardwood floors, provided good, but not great results. However, when you give the Humble Monkey a smooth surface (floors, counter tops, table tops, pool tables, glass, etc.) its capabilities really shine.

The Humble Monkey 360-T2 arrived to me from Humble Monkey in their optional carrying case, the Rigid XtraCase ($250). This is strong case made of polypropylene with a custom foam insert designed to keep the Humble Monkey fit and snug when traveling. The case has two large buckle closures that are easy to open or close. I have to assume that the review unit had been sent around to a few others before arriving to me since the plastic hinge on the left side of the case split the first time I opened the case. This ultimately caused the right side of hinges to split due to the uneven opening and closing of the case. Personally, I love the case for transporting the camera truck but was disappointed that the hinges had problems so early after the products release. It is possible that the damage was caused by the shipper or at least the abuse of being shipped. Either way, the Humble Monkey 360-T2 itself arrived safe and sound, which is the main purpose of the case. In the long run I would think that metal hinges would be more reliable.

The Humble Monkey arrives fully assembled and no tools are needed to make adjustments. Shipping units also include a hex key tool for the tripod mount and locking pin. The review unit didn't include a hex key, but truthfully I didn't know it was needed. I just happened to read it on their site that the hex key tool is provided with new units. In the center of the camera truck is a 3/8" tripod head mount. The use of a ball head is recommended as you won't have to worry about clearance between the ball head and the platform, but a video head like the Manfrotto 501HDV, 503HDV, 701HDV, etc. can also be used as long as you remember to turn the handle upwards. If you keep the handle in its normal 'down' configuration you won't be able to tilt the camera up. Since the Humble Monkey is often used on a floor you will find yourself needing to tilt the camera upwards more often than not. The company also sells a set of riser disks ($99) that allow you to raise the camera off the platform by 1", 2" or 3" or you could opt for a Manfrotto 120-38 Tripod Spacer if you wanted to save some money.

During testing I only had available a Sunpak pistol style ball head. Unfortunately the pistol grip prevented me from tilting the camera upwards and the review unit did not include any of the optional risers. So for this review I attached a spacer bar of my own. In my demonstration video at the top of the page you'll get to see the ball head and 'spacer' bar that I used during testing.

The three wheel system allows the Humble Monkey to roll straight or in a circular arc based on the settings of each wheel. Each wheel housing has markings to help you dial in the perfect angle and figuring out the radius is a simple trial and error process. If you want to keep the camera focused (aimed) on a particular point while the camera truck takes a curved path toward or around the subject, just make sure that the center of each wheel (the axle) is aimed toward that point of reference. There is even a white mark on each wheel base that makes it easy to line up. Once set, the camera will track in a curved motion, keeping the camera aimed at the same point.

Setting up the Humble Monkey is quick and painless. The hardest part is finding a smooth surface in the right location. If there isn't a table, countertop, or desk in the location you plan to shoot, then you'll need to make sure the floor is smooth. Even though the camera truck will roll on uneven and rough surfaces, you'll be subjecting the camera to vibration - bad for the video and probably worse for the camera. Just a run down my driveway caused severe stress on the camera.

Here is a video that demonstrates footage captured with the Humble Monkey on a wide variety of surfaces.

I tested the Humble Monkey is a few locations: tennis courts, a skate park, on my kitchen counters, hardwood floors, and on my pool table. Aside from some basic testing around my house, an outdoor tennis court was the first place I headed to test it out. For the most part the tennis courts were smooth enough to get decent footage, but any crack, slight dip, or debris on the courts caused some slight vibration or bounce. If I were actually filming some players hitting the ball you wouldn't normally notice the slight vibration, but since no one was on the courts, the slight imperfections stand out since the only thing about the scene that's moving is the camera. Keeping lens stabilization turned on (on the Canon 24-105mm) did help to reduce vibration a little bit, but not enough to completely remove it. I also noticed that I could dampen vibrations even further by keeping downward pressure on the rig while it was rolling. This isn't always practical, but maybe adding some extra weight on the platform would help.

I then headed the local skate park to get permission to do some test filming. They were very receptive and even hooked me up with a couple of young skateboarders. The surfaces in the skate park were either smooth hardwood or cement and both proved to be a great test bench for the Humble Monkey. I was able to capture some tracking footage while the kids worked their boards - carefully avoiding the roving camera. I used a Sigma 20mm wide angle lens on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II to capture the footage. My only wish was that I had used an external, pivoting, monitor on the 5DMKII as I ended up spraining my right ribs while filming, due to twisting and contorting my body at such a low-angle to see the LCD display (for framing and focus). Here is a short video I put together from the skate park.

The next set of tests were done on hardwood floors, counter tops, and on the felt of a pool table. The hardwood floors were smooth to the touch and the Humble Monkey rolled smoothly, but not perfectly. Since hardwood floors are not always even from board to board there can be some subtle vibration as the wheels cross from board to board. Again, if you are tracking a subject (child crawling or taking his first steps) the subtle imperfection will go unnoticed by everyone except you. My suggestion would also be to roll the camera truck down, instead of across, the floor boards.

Next, I positioned the Humble Monkey on a granite countertop and the rolling action was silky smooth. Positioning the camera truck on a table is a great way to capture a family dinner or conversation around the table - or on a kitchen counter to capture food preparations. I often use a portable dolly on a table during a bride/groom prep to reveal rings, a photograph, invitation, or flowers that may be laying or sitting on the table. For small tabletops, the wide stance of the Humble Monkey might make it less usable than a slider system, but for larger tables the Humble Monkey will provide both a smoother slide and the ability to turn itself toward or away from a subject.

Review Conclusion

For anyone considering the purchase of a dolly system to capture low-angle footage, the Humble Monkey should definitely be a consideration. The smooth rolling three-wheel system allow it to follow a preset motion path just by turning one or more of its wheels, making it ideal for videographers who often need to track around a subject or for those who capture a lot of in-studio footage (model shoots, stock footage, etc.). Unlike length-limited 'sliders', the Humble Monkey can provide dolly shots that can be as long as your room or surface allows.

While the Humble Monkey is not one-size-fits-all, what product is? The company instead set out to create an entirely new product, a dolly system that would allow for lengthy dolly moves without the bulk or expense of setting up tracks, and it has accomplished it at a fairly competitive price. If you create a lot of video footage inside a studio, where the floors are smooth and tables can be repositioned, then you'll find many uses for the Humble Monkey. Likewise, if you shoot a lot of corporate video you'll also find that the Humble Monkey is a tool you'll use often. With that said, you still need to think about what you need a dolly system for. Out in the real world, surfaces are often less than ideal, so you'll need to consider whether or not the Humble Monkey is the right tool for the type of work you do.

Wish List
Often times when testing out a new product I start thinking of things I would change or add if I were the manufacturer. So this paragraph is a compilation of ideas, sort of a "wish list" if you will. It's very possible that the manufacturer has already thought of these and ruled them out for one reason or another, but I thought I would mention them anyway.
  • The first item on my "wish list" would be to add small cups on each wheel base so that I could slip the legs of my tripod into them. This would allow the 360-T2 camera truck to double as a tripod dolly. While this wouldn't replace the need for a track-based system, on smooth surfaces it would allow users to capture some great rolling footage from a raised camera height.

  • My second item would be to offer an optional monopod 'pole' that could attach to the center of the camera truck. Since the 360-T2 is so wide and sturdy a large, a lightweight (carbon fiber?) pole with about a 4" diameter could snap onto the base to allow for increase camera height. It wouldn't necessarily have to be as tall as a tripod since that would raise the center of gravity to a point where it could make the unit tip over - but just high enough so that your ground shots don't always have to be shot from such low angles.

  • Vibration absorbing head. This would allow the smooth capture of video on a wider variety of surfaces.

  • Wireless Remote Control. Does this one really need explaining?
Get more information

The Humble Monkey regularly sells for $879 and is currently being offered for $749 (as of 5/12/2010) for a limited time. Get more information from the Humble Monkey web site

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