The best motorised mini slider we’ve tried – DIYP reviews the Smartta SliderMini
Of all the tools and devices on which we can place cameras, sliders have always been the one that intrigued me the most. I’ve used quite a few of them over the years and I still really enjoy using them whenever I shoot with one. Especially motorised ones. I’ve even spent some time over the last few months working on motorising one of my own sliders.
For the last couple of weeks, though, I’ve been trying out the new Smartta SliderMini. It’s a mini motorised slider for video and timelapse with remote app control from your Android or iOS smartphone that just launched on Indiegogo. So far, I quite like it.
Smartta SliderMini Overview
The unit I received came in a rather unassuming white box which upon opening presented me with a brief user manual. When I say brief, it’s one side of a sheet of paper. It’s brief because there’s really not much to learn. Underneath this manual is a pullout containing a number of small white boxes. Inside each box is a short cable. One is a Type A to Type C USB cable for charging and the others are for connecting the SliderMini to various cameras.
Now, I shoot Nikon and none of the cables that were included fit any of the Nikon cameras I own. Two of the three included cables are for Canon and there’s a micro USB type for Sony. You can see a full list of compatible cameras with the supplied cables in the FAQ on the campaign page.
If you’re using a brand of camera that isn’t supported with the supplied cables, chances are you may already have a cable that you can use for your camera if you own another device capable of triggering your camera. And if you don’t, they’re fairly inexpensive to purchase separately. If you don’t want to use the cable, you can always use the camera’s built-in intervalometer. Well, you can if you’re not shooting Sony.
Below these, is the SliderMini itself which, as you can imagine, is quite small. Of course, with a name like SliderMini, one would expect it to be. It’s a little over 26cm (10 1/4″) long and offers around 20cm (8″) of travel. On the front are two sockets. The 2.5mm socket I mentioned earlier for connecting it to your camera, and a Type-C USB socket for charging the battery.
On the end is a single button with four tiny LEDs indicating the charge remaining in the battery. The button serves multiple purposes. Primarily, it’s for turning the unit on and off with a long press. But it also offers some level of automation so that you can use the SliderMini without the app. We’ll get back to that in a minute, though.
Underneath the SliderMini, there’s a 3/8-16″ socket, which comes with a 1/4-20″ adapter fitted. This allows you to attach it to a tripod plate and mount it on your tripod.
Finally, there’s the carriage onto which we mount our camera. I was a little disappointed to find that it’s not a standard 1/4-20″ socket as found on most sliders. It’s actually a 3/8-16″ socket, commonly found on the top of tripod legs in order to mount your head. The SliderMini didn’t come with any kind of head to mount the actual camera, but that wasn’t a problem as I simply used the mini ball head which came with the Manfrotto Element Carbon.
I reached out to Smartta about this, as I think a 1/4-20″ thread would generally be more useful. They told me will be supplying a panoramic adapter head with the SliderMini which will convert that 3/8-16″ screw into a 1/4-20″ screw. This way, you will be able to use those GoPro, smartphone and other small mounts that only have a 1/4-20″ socket.
The Smartphone App
The app for the SliderMini is called Smartta Go, and it’s available for both Android and iOS. I’ve primarily been using it with my ASUS ZenFone 5, but I have also tested it with an iPhone SE. It’s a no-frills app with the basic set of features required to use the slider. When you fire it up, it connects straight to the slider over Bluetooth with no need to enter codes or numbers. It just works.
The app offers three main shooting modes.
- Stop Motion
When I typically use a camera slider, I generally use one that’s quite long, around the a metre in length. But there are many times when a short one will do the job just fine. I have a small manual slider that’s of a similar length to the Smartta SliderMini. But the problem with such a short slider when moved manually, though, is that it’s difficult to maintain a consistent speed for video and they’re impossible to use for timelapse or stop motion.
As video is the default screen that comes up when we load the app, we’ll start there.
The main reason I like manual sliders for video, despite their lack of consistency, is that they’re so quick to get up and running. Just place down the slider, stick the camera on top, and you’re ready to go. Most of the motorised sliders I’ve used require some assembly in the field. Then you’ve got to hook up a controller of some kind and one or multiple batteries. That’s not very efficient when I’m on the go and just want to get a quick slider shot.
With the Smartta SliderMini I can be up and running just as quickly, because everything’s self-contained. You don’t even really need to load the app. You can use the button on the end of the slider to get the carriage moving, too. When you turn the slider on, the carriage moves all the way to the left (noted by the large “L” on one end of the slider). Tapping the power button twice will make the carriage move all the way to the right (that’s the “R” on the other end) at 100% speed. Tapping it three times makes it move back to the left at 100% speed.
Obviously, though, you can also control it with the app, too.
The default app screen for video is fairly simple. You tell it what speed you want the slider to move and it tells you how long it will take to get from one end of the slider to the other. The fastest it will travel is 1cm per second. It has a 20cm travel distance, and it will take 20 seconds at 100% speed to go from one end to the other. You may, however, want it to take longer, so you can dial down the speed. Dropping it to 50% means it’ll take 40 seconds to go from one end to the other. 25% is 80 seconds, 10% is 200 seconds, and so on.
While, for video, you may not want to drop it all the way down to 1%, it will go that low. This provides a travel duration of 2000 seconds, or 33 minutes and 20 seconds. If you have a camera that can only shoot video, and not timelapse, then this might be a good option for you to make some timelapse in post rather than in-camera. If you shoot a 30-minute clip, add it to the Premiere Pro timeline, speed it up to last only a few seconds and turn on frame blending, you can get a fairly convincing result.
One feature missing on the video side of things is a “bounce” feature. Something that will let it just continuously go from one end of the slider to the other and back again until I tell it to stop. It’s a feature common to many motorised sliders and can be very useful. It’s something I do with other sliders when shooting behind the scenes b-roll. It lets me have a moving camera recording while I keep my attention on whatever it is I’m trying to capture behind the scenes footage of.
I spoke to Smartta about this feature, too, and they tell me that it will be coming to the app at some point (it may already be there by the time you read this review). I’ll still take the SliderMini out with me to record behind the scenes footage on shoots, but it will be infinitely more useful once a bounce feature has been added.
Some kind of acceleration and deceleration would be nice, too. Right now, when you tell the slider to start, it’s full speed from the first frame all the way until the last. Being able to have it speed up and then come to a slow gradual stop at the end of a slide, would be extremely useful for those close up detail shots. For my own needs, that usually means product shots, but I could also see it being useful for wedding filmmakers sliding into a ring shot or other details of the day.
For shooting timelapse, there are a couple of different ways you can do it. The first is to simply tell the slider to move across its distance over a set amount of time and use your camera’s built-in intervalometer to tell it how often to take a shot. The other method is by plugging your camera into the SliderMini and having it control the interval at which your camera shoots each photo. The latter method is generally the most useful because your camera’s not going to carry on shooting after the slider has finished its run.
I mentioned above that the SliderMini only comes with cables for Canon, Sony or a 2.5mm sync port. Nothing for Nikon. But I’m me. If I have a device that’s supposed to trigger a camera and it has a 2.5mm socket on it, then I’m going to try every cable I’ve got that can possibly fit. I have a number of Nikon trigger cables that came with my Godox X1R flash receiver for firing a camera.
I have cables for both the 10 pin port found in Nikon’s higher-end DSLRs, as well as the smaller rectangular connector found in just about all their other bodies. Initial testing at home revealed, to my pleasant surprise, that they worked just fine. So, I’ve been using those to trigger the camera on the SliderMini out in the field. Smartta have since told me that this functionality was intentional to offer compatibility with as many cameras as possible through already existing cables.
The only thing I need to remember is that if I switch from shooting timelapse to shooting video, I need to unplug the cable. Otherwise, even if I’ve already started the camera recording, it forces it to take a shot at the beginning of the slide and then another at the end, with no video in between.
You can see that the screen for shooting timelapse is a little different to that for shooting video. The timelapse screen comes with several presets pre-loaded for different types of sequence. There are presets for the milky way, start trails, cars, people, clouds and various other ssubjects. You can also make your own custom presets, too, if you wish.
Once you’ve set the interval, record time and play time, just enter in a name and tell it to save. You can also add your own photo at the top to remind you what it is. You can duplicate and edit pre-existing presets, too.
One thing to note with the timelapse is that the SliderMini doesn’t control your camera’s shutter speed like a regular intervalometer might. All it does is tell your camera to fire. It is possible that this could change in the future, but right now you need to set your shutter speed on the camera itself. Or, you can just use the SliderMini to move the camera and stick with a regular wired intervalometer if you need shutter speeds that your camera doesn’t offer.
I’ve loved the concept of stop motion animation ever since I was a kid. Back then, though, I didn’t have the gear to be able to do it. Even if I had, it was way beyond my skill set These days, I do have the gear, but I just don’t have the patience for it. I’ve tried it a few times over the years, but then I move something too much or not enough and I can never quite get back to where I was to recover. So, in the end, I just quit trying and prefer to just watch the brilliance of others.
For those that are interested in creating stop motion with a slider, though, the app offers basic but useful features. It’s very simple to use, too. Simply select the number of frames for your animation, whether you want the slider to move from left-to-right or right-to-left and then tap next. A big red button tells the slider to shoot a frame and then advance to the next spot. If you mess up and make a mistake, you can hit the “back button” to move the slider and frame count back to where you messed up and continue on again from that point.
What I liked
When I compare the Smartta SliderMini to my manual mini slider, the biggest advantage is immediately apparent. Control. The Smartta offers a great level of control through the app that’s simply impossible with a manual slider that you have to push by hand. But unlike many motorised sliders I’ve used, the unibody design means there’s nothing to assemble and no external batteries to deal with.
Smartta doesn’t say what the capacity of the internal battery is, but it charges up through the Type-C USB socket on the front of the slider in about an hour and a half. But it lasts for a very long time. I went out to play with it yesterday while we had some good weather and ended up shooting around 40 clips in total. Most of them were video and a few were timelapse. When I got back home, the four LED power indicators were still all lit.
But it will also charge while it’s in use. So, even if you do spot it getting low, you can always plug it into a USB battery or something like the Novoo AC Power Bank to top it up. And you can keep using it while that’s happening.
I like that it uses standard 2.5mm trigger cables for connecting the SliderMini to your camera. This means that no matter what you shoot, even if the cable for your camera doesn’t come with the SliderMini, there’s probably one out there that you can use.
One thing I haven’t mentioned so far is the load capacity. Smartta claims that the SliderMini can handle up to 15kg (33.33lbs). I haven’t had a need to put anything approaching this weight on the slider, but it had no problem dealing with the D5300, D7000 or D800 cameras I used with any lens, even with a fairly steep climb. Every slide was steady and smooth.
What could be improved
The 3/8-16″ screw thread on top of the carriage I feel is something of an oversight. Although it is one that Smartta are correcting with the future inclusion of a 3/8-16″ to 1/4-20″ panoramic head adapter. Fortunately for me, I had a small ball head that I could use with the SliderMini to make this review. Fortunate because the adapter I ordered from eBay two weeks ago has still yet to arrive.
The other issue I have is with the app and the lack of a bounce feature when shooting video. With the manual slider I’ve been motorising myself, this was the first feature I wanted to implement. As I mentioned, though, Smartta tells me that this feature will be coming to the app in the future. Once it does, the SliderMini will become my go-to for mounting cameras to capture behind the scenes and b-roll video on photo shoots.
The SliderMini is a no-nonsense slider that does its job very well with the minimum of fuss. It’s well built and small enough that you can take it just about anywhere.
For the Indigegogo campaign early bird cost of $199, the Smartta SliderMini is definitely something of a bargain. Once the campaign is over, the full retail price will be $399. This might sound a bit pricey for such a small slider, but when you look at similar sliders such as the Edelkrone SliderONE Pro, this still comes in at a much lower price. The ROV slider from Rhino Camera gear, while also inexpensive is still a bit pricier than the Smartta (at Indiegogo prices). But Rhino seems to be slacking on the deliveries. The ROV was expected to ship out in April 2018, but looking at the comments on the campaign, it looks like quite a few still haven’t received theirs, or have but with parts missing.
As far as the software goes, the features offered in the app, which can only really get better over time, provide a quick and easy experience for capturing both video and timelapse footage. It’s already replaced the small manual camera slider in my vlogging & behind the scenes kit bag.
So, if you’re thinking about switching from a small manual slider or even considering your first mini slider, the SliderMini is a great option, especially at the current campaign price.
If you want to get your own, you can back the campaign now on Indiegogo. Items start to ship in October.
Update: Smartta has been in touch with DIYP to address some of the points mentioned above.
- The battery built into the SliderMini is a 1500mAh lithium battery. It takes around 90 minutes to fully charge and the battery will last around 48 hours in normal use.
- Acceleration and deceleration – They tell me that this can be implemented with a simple firmware update and that their engineers are working on it.
- Externally controlled shutter speed for Bulb mode shooting – This is a feature that they say they’ve already started to implement in the software and it will be coming in a future version.
- A bounce feature for video is also in development and should arrive in a future version of the software.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.