We don't cover a ton of pro-level camera gear here at Engadget (though it's far from unheard of). But, a cool gadget is a cool gadget whatever it's for -- and this new motorized slider system from Rhino is one of them. For the uninitiated, sliders are what allow videographers and photographers to get those smooth, gliding shots. As for Rhino, they came to my attention through their GoPro accessories -- in particular the 360 swivel mount which is about the most fun way to wear your action camera. While camera gear can get pretty expensive (and complex) very quickly, my experience with Rhino's GoPro kit has been that is sits right in the "prosumer" sweet spot, so when I heard the company was making a motorized slider, I was particularly keen to try it out. The Rhino Slider Evo is currently launching on Kickstarter (it's fully funded already), but I managed to get some time with a pre-production unit to test it out.
Gallery: Rhino Evo Slider | 19 Photos
Gallery: Rhino Evo Slider | 19 Photos
This isn't Rhino's first Kickstarter, and the working unit I tested shows that all the design and development heavy lifting has been done already. The system itself is modular depending on your needs (more on this later), and the price is $1000 for the basic slider plus the motion control system. This isn't pocket money, but if you've looked at similar options from the likes of Kessler, you'll know this is where things start for something solid.
The model I tried is the 24-inch carbon-rail version. I already have one of Rhino's regular/non-motorized sliders, and am a big fan. You might prefer metal rails (this is an option too), but for me, the added ruggedness of the carbon fiber is actually a bonus. I strap my current slider to the outside of my backpack when I head out without a worry. Perhaps not something you want to do with the Evo though, as the motion system throws in a few more delicate parts (like a rubber belt), but all that to say, the carbon fiber rails are great for outdoor use.
My biggest frustration with all manual sliders though, is that I kinda suck at keeping a steady hand. It's something you have to practise, so that you get a perfectly smooth motion, but I struggle. Also, more advanced moves like starting fast then slowing down, or vice versa, are difficult (for me, at least). Oh, and if you want to do those time lapses that include a bit of gliding motion? That's pretty much impossible with a manual slider too. The Evo is hardly the first one with motion control (a motor to move the camera), but it definitely solves all the above problems, along with some other neat tricks.
The basic slider is good to go out of the box. It has a brake, and adjustable feet for uneven surfaces. Just put your camera on top and you're sliding. The motion control part isn't much more complex. There's a motor that clips on one end, and a controller unit that plugs into that (the controller's also magnetic, so it can stick to the motor). And that's it for setting up. The magic is in the controller itself. There's a decent size display, a large, clickable dial and a simple UI that lets you select different modes for video or time lapses. The basic controls include distance, duration and any "ramp" in or out speed for a custom slide. I had a motorized slide going in about three minutes after opening the box. The first thing I noticed? It's surprisingly quiet.
Perhaps the features that interest me most, are the ones I likely actually need the least. Example: you can accessorize the Evo with a "parallax" mount that will rotate the camera on an axis as it slides, or skip the motor completely, and use an optional "inertia" wheel for judder-free slides that require no power at all. This is a great compromise for me, as I love the power-free convenience of a manual slide, but the smoothness that the wheel provides. Battery life isn't too much of a concern though, in an afternoon of testing, (and plenty of slides) there was still well over 50-percent remaining. If, like me, you don't really need the extras, the basic kit has everything you'll need, plus easily updatable firmware means new features could come at a later date. You can also make the slider longer just by slotting in more poles. There's a lot of flexibility here.
I've been toying with the idea of getting a motorized slider pretty much since I first tried a manual one. I just love the smooth results that a motor provides, and I'm a sucker for moving time lapses. If your camera is compatible, Rhino's controller can trigger your shutter, too, which is especially handy for night time lapses, as it only takes a picture when it's not moving (so avoids blurring).
The Evo's biggest selling points for me are how easy it is to use, and that it's pretty rugged. The option to be able to upgrade it with other accessories (and to some degree, it's also backward compatible with previous models) is also an indicator that you might get more life out of it than you expect. A thousand bucks is certainly a chunk of cash for the initial investment, but if you're teetering on the edge of doing professional work, or already earning a living from you camera, these numbers shouldn't be daunting. Rhino Slider Evo is planned to ship by August.