Cinetics Cine System
Not too long ago, we posted an article featuring the top Kickstarter projects in the photography realm. Though many of the inventions were or are still seeking crowd-funded financial backing, a few made it into the limelight. Justin Jensen's CineSkates camera dolly system was one of them, garnering enough interest and capital to send the product to major retailers. Shortly after our Kickstarter article was published, Justin contacted me about reviewing his Cine System, which includes the CineSkates dolly and CineSquid suction cup mounts. I was keen to see how it performed, and in this review I'll be taking you through the system and how it works.
The Cine System begins with the CineSkates dolly system, designed for seamless panning of DSLRs, Camcorders and smartphones. CineSkates is composed of a Joby Gorillapod Focus tripod with Ballhead X head mounted to three rugged plastic cups on top of what are basically skateboard wheels, aptly named CineSkates. Jensen went with Bones metal bearings, which are some of the highest quality bearings on the market. I know this because I have experimented with several inline skate bearings over the years and ended up relying on Bones for the smoothest, fastest and most durable ride.
The skateboard wheels actually feature ruler marks for rotating the system consistently during time-lapse photography. Also included with the CineSkates is the SkatePlate, which is a triangular base for the Gorillapod to sit atop to raise the height of the camera and provide added stability. The Ballhead X can also be connected to the base of the SkatePlate for an ultra low point of view, foregoing the use of the tripod entirely. The CineSkates system can support up to 2.3kg (5 lbs.).
|The recommended setup of the CineSkates dolly system using the smartphone adapter to mount an iPhone 5.||The SkatePlate adds rigidity and height to the CineSkates system, and is adjustable.|
I tested the CineSkates system with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 24-105mm lens on a variety of surfaces. Each individual wheel has the capability of spinning a full 360-degree revolution. This way, all three wheels can be setup for moving the tripod in a curve (arcing), panning horizontally and moving toward or away from a subject rather quickly (tracking). In order to configure a particular camera path with the CineSkates system, I had to rotate the wheels accordingly. For instance, to get an even horizontal pan, I had to align all three wheels parallel to one another. For arcing shots, I had to angle the front two wheels and leave the rear wheel perpendicular to the center axis. Rotating all three wheels in relation to the center axis allowed for spinning shots around a fixed fulcrum. One caveat I found with the CineSkates system is that the wheels must be angled correctly when using the setup without the SkatePlate, or you'll lose that fluid motion.
Once I was able to dial in the CineSkates system, I was pleasantly surprised. On smooth floor surfaces such as finished concrete or laminate flooring, I was able to pan seamlessly without any compromising shake. Because the wheels are small, I found that I had to adequately clean the floor surface before using the CineSkates system. The reason is that even the smallest particle of dirt can cause a bump in the road. So, on a well cleaned, smooth surface, the CineSkates system performed exceptionally, thanks to the rigidity of the system and buttery smoothness of the Bones bearings. Tight, intimate shots are ideal with the CineSkates system, as well as capturing home interiors or outdoor landscapes by setting up on a counter top or bench. My favorite shots were fast zooms, achieved by thrusting the system forward and landing a few inches away from the subject. With a wide-angle lens, the effect was even more exciting. The versatility of such a small and affordable dolly system will be hugely attractive to budget filmmakers who don't have the funds or space to hire a Hollywood-grade rig.
|The CineSkates system relies on high quality Bones bearings for a smooth ride.|
Here's the obvious con of the CineSkates system. Rough surfaces, such as weathered asphalt, gravel and any textured floor are out of the question. This is because of the size of the system's skateboard wheels. The wheels are very small, and this amplifies any small bumps into problematic jolts and jittering in the final footage. Because of this, the CineSkates system is really only destined for specialty shots, but with a little creativity, that potential can be stretched. For instance, if a shot needs to be made way out in the woods, a small platform could be made with a smooth surface on top. Yes, it will add to the transportation load, but it shows that there are ways to increase the versatility of the CineSkates system. Just don't expect to obtain the sort of results you'll get from a professional dolly system with inflatable tires and a motor.
The other half of the Cine System is composed of the CineSquid mounts. These are three high quality suction cups that attach to the ends of the Gorillapod legs for securing the rig on glass surfaces. The obvious advantage of the CineSquid system is the ability to mount to vehicle windows and shoot panning landscapes or point-of-view traveling shots. This is a huge bonus, and a must for shooters who want the added versatility. What I liked most about the CineSquid system was that I could slap the setup onto any medium sized or larger window and orient the camera at unique angles. This was particularly useful for getting bird's eye view shots in a room and other unconventional angles.
|Here's the CineSquid system mounted on a window. After several hours, this rig was still firmly planted.||Need some landscape b-roll? The CineSquid system will mount to your vehicle and stay put.|
I was almost more impressed with the CineSquid system than I was with the CineSkates setup. In order to test the rig, I suctioned my Canon EOS 5D Mark III to a large window in my house and let it sit for three hours. When the time was up, I grabbed each leg of the tripod and yanked firmly. All three suction cups were still firmly affixed to the window, as the glass window caved slightly with each tug. I then suctioned the setup to the windshield and driver's side window of my truck and took a drive. Some of the roads I drove on were asphalt, some were dirt, some were gravel. Of course, being in New England, potholes are a common occurrence, so I had to deal with some relatively rugged terrain at times.
For the most part, the footage was impressively smooth and jitter-free, but of course there are a myriad of variables. For one, I have a truck with generous suspension - I would probably have seen very different results in a car designed for city driving. In addition, I deliberately kept my driving smooth and controlled, and my speed was always kept under the limit on slow back roads. I recommend traveling slower anyway, for footage can always be sped up in post, and at wide angles, footage always looks like it was filmed at faster speeds than it was.
The main point of the test - the CineSquid's ability to remain attached to my vehicle - was achieved. I will admit, I was quite concerned connecting a $4,000 camera system to the windshield of my truck, but fretted no more when I pulled over and yanked on the suction cups, to find they were just as firmly attached as when I first mounted them. I also received a few priceless looks from rubberneckers, I guess because seen from a distance, the CineSquid system looks rather like a giant spider attacking the vehicle. After spending quality time with the CineSquid system, I was very impressed and I'm pretty confident that it would be a valuable addition to any budget filmmaker's tool belt.
Test Video (zooming, panning, rotating, and driving with CineSquid)
Throughout my tests with the Cine System, it became apparent that Mr. Jensen has poured a hefty amount of time and research into its creation. While the system may seem simple - a trio of skateboard wheels and suction cups - they can be used in numerous environments and shooting locations. The CineSkates and CineSquid systems compliment each other nicely, and users will find which scenarios fit which system the best over time. Most importantly, this stuff is solid and well-made. Suction cups remained firmly planted, wheels glided seamlessly across smooth surfaces, and the Gorillapod Focus tripod with Ballhead X coped easily with the weight of my 5D Mark III. While the Cine System may not attract big Hollywood cinematographers, it will certainly find ample space in the budget filmmaker and TV producer genre.
What we like: Numerous uses, budget friendly for low cost productions, structurally sound, invites creativity without massive cost
What we don't like: Surfaces must be perfectly smooth for CineSkates to work optimally, limiting usefulness outdoors, and wheels must be carefully aligned for smooth panning when Skateplate is not used
Mike Perlman is a freelance photographer and writer, based in Bar Harbor, Maine. After a spell reviewing camcorders at Camcorderinfo.com, Mike moved to infoSync World as the Senior Photography Editor, before taking up a role at TechnoBuffalo.com as the head of the Photography department. These days, Mike runs his own photography business and contributes to dpreview between shoots.