Earlier this year Focus35 released a low-cost portable dolly called the Rotation 360 Skater Dolly.
The Focus35 Rotation 360 Skater Dolly is an ultra compact portable camera dolly system on wheels for camcorders and DSLR
video cameras. The entire dolly is only 8"L x 7.5"W (25% shorter than an iPad) and 2.3" in height. The compact size allows it
to travel with you, fitting nicely in many DSLR camera bag.
The Skater Dolly is made from strong 1/4" aluminum that Focus35 says can support up to 30 lbs. I didn't test it beyond 8 lbs, but the base plate is so rigid I have no reason to doubt the claim. On each end of the aluminum frame is a set of wheels that are connected to a "drive shaft," and that rotate independently of each other. The wheels are 2" in diameter and about 1.5" thick and have a ribbed tread to help reduce wheel slippage on smooth surfaces. The drive shafts are connected to the aluminum frame with bolts and washers and can be swiveled back and forth in order to position the wheels for different angle of movement. Just angle the connecting wheel shafts to create a curved dolly move, straight / reverse dolly move, push-in / pull-out style shot, or 360 degree rotation.
In the center of the aluminum plate is a hole for the included 1/4-20 bolt to mount a tripod head of your choice (tripod head not included). Focus35 also includes a 1/4-20 to 3/8" adaptor for connection to larger tripod heads.
The ultra compact dimensions of the Focus35 Skater Dolly also means that it doesn't use up valuable space on a desk, counter, or table top, which maximizes the space available for doing a dolly move.
Advantages of the Focus35 Rotation 360 Skater Dolly
While the Skater Dolly is a beautified DIY project, its $119 price means you probably won't bother trying to jury rig your own version. Even if you could save $50 doing it yourself, the time involved to make one probably wouldn't justify the savings.
Length of a slide is only limited to the surface
While track-style dollies are fixed at the length you purchased it at (18", 24", 36", etc.), the Focus35 Skater Dolly is only limited to the length of the surface. A cement floor of a warehouse might be 80' in length, while a coffee table, desk, or kitchen counter might provide a 60" surface.
Straight, Curved, and Circular Dolly Moves
The one capability that makes the Skater Dolly a must own, even if you already have a track-style dolly, is to ability for it to move around a product. Just by adjusting the angle of the wheel axle you can determine how wide of a radius the dolly will move in. These circular moves are ideal for product shots.
Ultra Compact Size
The Focus35 Skater Dolly is just 8L" x 7.5W" x 2.3"H which means it will fit into most DSLR camera bags. There's a saying that the best camera is the one you have with you -- and the same can apply to a portable dolly.
Smooth / Quite Operation
The Skater Dolly provides friction-free movement, making for ultra smooth and ultra quite slides.
Supports up to 30 lbs
I have only tested the Skater Dolly with about 8 lbs of gear, but as long as most of the weight stays centered over the aluminum frame you will be able to use it with virtually any camera.
Not for Every Situation
Track Dollies and Skater Dollies each have advantages and disadvantages so it's only fair for me to list the things that you cannot do with the Skater Dolly and one thing you need to be aware of.
- It won't roll smoothly on rough or uneven surfaces, although you could lay down a sheet of cardboard, poster board, or any other sturdy & smooth flat object.
- It is best used in controlled environments or on shoots where you can plan ahead for your needs. For example, doing a dolly move at the beach would be nearly impossible without planning ahead and bringing a length of board with you to slide on. Even then getting a level shot wouldn't be easy. A track style dolly would definitely be the best bet for these type of shooting situations.
- The only way to get an eye level dolly shot is to find an eye level surface. Unlike track-style dollies that can mount on a tripod, a skater-dolly must have a surface to rest on.
- The Rotation 360 does not have a brake or wheel lock, so don't let go of it on sloped surfaces. Really, the last thing you want
is to take your eyes off of it for a minute only to hear the sound of your camera crashing to the floor due to a table that wasn't perfectly level. I didn't have any issues with this
during testing, but I can imagine running over to my camera bag for a couple of seconds and having that happen.
At its list price of just $119 I wasn't expecting much in the way of design and the product lived up to these expectations,
but that's actually a good thing. Part of the appeal of this product is its simplicity AND the fact that it performs very
well -- without breaking the bank. All too often I see products that are over-engineered, which make them cost prohibitive
for all but commercial work. The Skater Dolly does not include a tripod head, but it ships with a 3/8" bolt and 1/4-20 adaptor
for use with your current tripod head. The best heads to use are either ball heads or video heads where the handle can be rotated
to point upwards. Ball Heads work great and make it easy to keep the camera level when the dolly is on a slope, while video heads
give you the ability to pan and/or tilt during a dolly slide.
Two years ago I started out using an indiSlider mini, a $100 track-style dolly that allowed me to get nice, short reveal
shots, as long as I pressed on the rear part of the carriage to keep it from wobbling. It worked fine for personal projects,
but as my needs grew I knew it was time to retire it in favor of the Glidetrack Shooter SD -- a slightly more expensive dolly
that I still use frequently for reveal shots. The new Focus35 Skater Dolly is another tool that I'll be adding
to my arsenal thanks to its smooth ride, small size, and ability to do curved movements. I absolutely love
the idea that I can fit a portable dolly into my camera bag.
There are plenty of DIY projects online for building your own Skater Dolly and I have no doubt that if you're skilled with
tools you could easily make one of these, but for the rest of us there is the Focus35 Rotation 360 Skater Dolly. At $119
it's a bargain.
For those looking for a full size tracking dolly, stay tuned for my upcoming review of the Focus35 Folding Track Dolly.
Get more information on the Rotation 360 Skater Dolly at Focus35.com
Focus35 kindly offered to send me the Skater Dolly to review and to keep for in-house use and further testing. My personal views and opinions
are always based on findings made during testing and are never based on whether or not I purchased the product for review
or got the product from the manufacturer.