DSLR Filmmaking Support Devices - dummies

By John Carucci

Although feature films can use smaller techniques to move the DSLR camera through a scene, support devices are sometimes used. A great many shots are done using more sophisticated apparatus like a camera dolly or crane.

Camera dolly

This rolling camera platform is used in film and television production to create smooth movements through the scene. It’s also known as a tracking shot. On a motion picture set, the camera is often mounted to the dolly, which moves through the scene like a small train on tracks. Some dollies have rubber tires and don’t require tracks.

Here are some of the terms for using a camera dolly:

  • Dolly shot: Moves the camera toward or away from the subject.

  • Tracking shot: A dolly move that moves perpendicular to the subject.

  • Dolly zoom: This technique refers to using a zoom lens and zooming out (focal length getting wider) while moving the dolly toward the subject (zooming in while moving away). The technique produces an interesting change in perspective that has been used in numerous motion pictures to depict an unsettling effect. Alfred Hitchcock used it in Vertigo to show Jimmy Stewart’s character’s fear of heights.

Camera cranes or jibs

Maybe it’s that shot going over the crowd at a football game or the sweeping aerial that ends a movie. In either case, the shot was comprised with a camera mounted on a long arm riding over the action. An accessory known as a crane does it.

You’ll notice the term jib being bandied about, and those two terms are the source of much confusion. So here’s the dirt: The crane and jib basically operate on the same physical principle and even do the same thing, but with one major difference: The crane carries an operator and is usually built bigger and sturdier than most jibs.

As the name crane implies, the camera is attached to a boom arm above the action. Professional cranes either carry the camera operator or are controlled remotely.

The jib is a long extension for your DSLR that allows you to move it above and through the scene. It attaches to a tripod or dolly and uses a counterbalance on one side and a mounting plate for the camera on the other. Its long arm is controlled manually by an operator, usually at ground level.

Because the camera controls are at the other end of the boom, it’s necessary to use a remote control for the camera and have an LCD screen to monitor the action.