(Pocket-lint) - Look around online and watch some video, it won't take long for you to notice that production values don't rely on hand-held gear. And that's where the Vacion CineTrack Pro comes in: it's a camera "slider" for smaller scale gear - such as phone cameras, camcorders and DSLRs - that puts silky smooth tracking shots within your grasp.
If you don't know what a slider is, don't worry, you'll know the results it produces. Those on-rails smooth tracking shots that allow you to give your video life, and motion, rather than it being a still frame or handheld jerky capture.
Why's it exciting? Because the video tools of 20 years ago were bigger, more cumbersome and often cost tens of thousands of pounds. Today's consumer kit has not only shrunk by size, the price has been pinched too. The CineTrack comes in at just a few hundred of pounds which - while it might sound expensive to some - places it in the affordable bracket for anyone who's serious about making high-quality video. Everything from cameras to camera support systems, lighting and beyond are now within the reach of the up-and-coming director.
As always with video, things come alive with motion in the frame. Dollys, Steadicams and cranes used to be the preserve of movie crews, but these days there are startups on Kickstarter looking to produce things like a gyroscope stabiliser - used for helicopter tracking shots to make car chases and the like look as smooth as silk - for the miniature GoPro action camera. There's so much potential.
Affordable, fun and the first footsteps to your video masterpieces. Is the Vaction CineTrack Pro worth the investment and does it cater for pro-quality standards?
Load me up
Our 1m-long slider - there are 0.5m and 0.75m versions too - came with two sets of feet included. The first set are designed to keep it nice and close to the floor for those low-slung tracking shots and are small and hassle-free. The other set are height-adjustable, which is useful for variable surfaces, and are mostly hassle-free but are a bit more bulky.
On its own the CineTrack is fine, but it's a great deal more useful with a tripod head. There's a 3/8-inch screw thread onto which you can mount one on, but if you're mounting directly onto the unit then you'll need an adaptor to take on the smaller cameras, such as DSLRs, the GoPro or even an iPhone fit.
It's possible to further build up on the kit too: there are three 3/8-inch screw-threaded holes along the length of the slider that can be used to attach it to tripod legs. Most semi-pro tripods have this kind of detachable head and screw-thread arrangement. The only "problem", as such, is that you'll need to buy a tripod and they, but of course, cost just as much as the slider does, or potentially even more. But that's all part and parcel of production.
We have a Manfrotto tripod, so we took the head off and used the its 3/8-inch screw thread to attach the slider, then used the slider's screw-mount to attach the tripod head. That gave us a really decent rig that allowed us to height-adjust to perfection for when shooting people or other eye-level subjects.
This isn't unique to this product by any means, but it's a solid system that works really well. Anyone who has a tripod that's half-decent will be able to just sling the CineTrack onto it, and get started with minimal fuss.
This is really what matters: how smooth are the tracking shots? Well, the good news is that the CineTrack is more than capable of producing steady, smooth shots. But it's not without some bugs that you need to be aware of.
For one, we noticed that due the weight of the camera its "centre of gravity" really needs to be directly above the tripod mount (to whichever tripod head you are using). If the camera is front- or back-heavy then the slide's smoothness is compromised. This isn't a big deal though, and even if your camera is a little overweight, then you can compensate by putting more weight on the back to balance, or pushing the slider from as close to the centre as possible.
Some gear won't include a centre-aligned tripod mount - it might be offset to the side of a camera, for example - which you'll also want to be aware of. If it's better placed for weight distribution then that's great, but if it's not central to the device's lens then any tripod head movements that you make need to be considered if you're hoping for those symmetrical pans and precision. Not a problem with the CineTrack, just an inherent issue with various gear and tripod mounts as a whole.
The Vaction CineTrack Pro also includes a friction control dial on the slider, designed to help you slow down or speed up the tracking speed. It works well, but remember that when used for slowing, you tend to put more pressure on it which could mean you tip it over if it's tripod-mounted - assuming the tripod legs aren't set wide enough apart. We mostly used the minimum friction setting, and controlled the speed ourselves by hand, but the friction control does do the job well if the slider is standing on its own feet, or your tripod is properly set up.
Another thing to be aware of is the speed of your motion and the consistency of that motion. We found that we would start movement slow, speed up, and slow again as we approached the end of the slider rail. This is a fairly natural response, but you need to plan for it in the edit. It's hard not to slow down as your shot ends - it's inherently human - but you might not want the look it produces. When you come to edit it's best to simply cut the shot early to get a more consistent look. We found with this, and other camera-movement systems, editing really is essential to get the most impressive and crisp look to shots.
Because of the adjustable feet, there's quite a lot you can do to get interesting shots. We made some clips of a car, where we held it vertically, and moved the camera up and down. We also managed the same by hanging the CineTrack from a door. Adjusting the feet means you can keep it stable, but it gives you a much smoother shot that you could never manage hand-held.
Pushing the camera forward on the rail makes for some really lovely shots too. We tested this out in our Xbox controller hands-on, and many people remarked on how great those tracking shots look. But be aware that it can be easy to get part of the track in shot if you're not careful.
We also managed to shoot on a staircase by adjusting the height of the feet. Putting the slider at a slight angle like this can give you some great results too. Certainly, if you've got the imagination, then you can come up with some really nice ideas that will look great on "film".
In terms of price, we think the £320 is pretty reasonable. It's cheaper than similar systems, such as the GlideTrack or pricier Kessler kit, and considerably cheaper than the systems aimed a professional users. Pound for pound we think this is the most affordable systems that we've seen.
Do remember though, you'll need to add on a proper video tripod head if you want the best results, and those can cost £500 on their own.
Vacion also has a motorised version of the CineTrack coming soon, and we think there's some definite merit in that - it will open up shots that are incredibly smooth minus the risk of unwanted slowdowns or speedups as you track. The only problem is likely to be the price, set to be £1000 at launch - but there's room to upgrade if you find the CineTrack Pro a solid workhorse.
We've enjoyed the Vacion CineTrack Pro camera slider. It's not without some minor bugs, but for a reasonably low-cost "slider" we think it's well worth considering if you have aspirations in filmmaking.
Smoothness can be an issue, especially on heavier cameras, and when you try to push an off-centre weight over it. However, get some practice and soon enough you'll be producing shots that look amazing. If you have a suitable tripod, then adding the slider makes for amazing extra functionality.
Overall the CineTrack is an easy way to add flair to your work. It's miles beyond the limits of handheld and a grade above straightforward tripod work too. It's that point of difference. Combine the CineTrack with a bit of zoom, nice shallow depth-of-field, and soon you've got video that looks like it belongs on TV.