Making A Panning Camera Slider Fun & Interesting
Unlike many of my recent projects, I really didn’t have this planned. It was more or less a spur of the moment idea that developed after I found a suitable motor to power it while out buying parts for another build. Even then, my first thought was to use the motor to drive my camera gantry, but after looking at all of the potential problems that would create, I decided to make this instead.
The main component is a straight piece of maple that is 1-1/2″ thick and 3-1/2″ wide to use as the beam. Originally I was going to make it around 70 inches long, but figured that would be too bulky and take way too long to travel the full length.
The carriage would be driven by a threaded rod, for a smooth consistent motion.
I went back and forth on how to make the carriage and eventually settled on a very simple approach. I cut strips of UHMW plastic (low friction) to act as bearings, then simply screwed those onto pieces of plywood that would wrap around the maple beam:
The traditional way is to used ball bearings of some kind, but since this is a very low speed operation and the motor / screw drive will overcome any small amount of drag, these will work fine.
For a snug fit on the beam, I clamped the parts in place with a slip of paper used as a shim, then drilled the pilot holes for screws:
Remarkably smooth and quiet, it takes very little force to move the carriage. While the UHMW plastic makes a difference, I think the same results could be had using hardwood that has been coated with water based polyurethane. The poly makes the wood slippery, reducing the friction.
A 3/8″ t-nut mounted in a hardwood bracket is screwed to the back of the carriage:
And the threaded rod is screwed in. I used more of the UHMW plastic as a bearing for the end of the rod, nothing fancy, just a slightly oversized holed drilled through:
Next step was to get the motor mounted. The one I bought had a large drive wheel attached, so the first thing I did was to remove that. I used vinyl tubing to couple the motor shaft to the threaded rod for a quick test, then discovered that the motor had stopped working. I wasn’t sure why and really didn’t want to put the time into taking the motor apart to find out what the problem was.
After this setback, the project sat for months while I did other, more important things:
To finish the project, my intention was to either find a new motor to use, repair this one (or try to, the motor housing was spot welded together, so not easy to take apart), or use the power window motor I had previously used on my camera dolly tugger.
In the end, I went with the third option, mainly because I had not used the camera dolly at all lately, so couldn’t see the need for keeping the tugger together.
The biggest problem with this motor was its much slower speed. The first one turned around 180 rpm (best guess, based on what looked to be three revolutions per second), while the power window motor turned at around 60 rpm.
To simplify operation, I added an on / off switch plus a switch to reverse the motor direction:
As with the dolly tugger, I used a 12 volt lead acid battery to run it. I added an end panel so that the slider can be stood up to work vertically:
With the sliding part of the build done, I started on the panning mechanism. The main part for that is a rod that can be set at an angle that will rotate the camera platform as the carriage moves from one end to the other.
I made and attached brackets to the ends, then made clips that fit on them:
The rod is just a piece of spruce cut to length with slots in the ends for the clips:
The camera platform swivels on a single screw. Again, not getting too fancy – no need to use a bearing for this. The arm that connects to it is made from plywood with a slot cut for adjustment. Before cutting the slot, I made a groove for the 3/16″ nut to fit into:
The guide pins are just 3/16″ bolts with 1/4″ plastic tubing slipped on:
This was more or less a kind of Jerry-rigged first attempt to see how well it would work. Ideally, the back guide pin would be spring loaded to keep them tight to the rod.
I made a simple “L” bracket that is screwed on to mount the camera in the vertical position:
The guide rod will make the camera pan vertically as the carriage goes up and down.
At this point, I made a video going over how it was built and showing it in action:
Encouraged by how well it did work, I pressed on with a change that would make it go a bit faster. Replacing the 3/8″ threaded rod with a 5/8″ one would increase the speed by roughly 50%, since the thicker rod has less threads per inch.
In order to couple the thicker rod to the motor shaft, I turned the end down on my wood lathe:
After drilling a centre hole in the end, I used an angle grinder to begin with, then switched to a file.
With the rod so close to the beam, the 5/8″ nut had to be cut and ground to fit. I just used epoxy to fasten it to the plywood strip:
There was one significant problem with this new rod: how strong it is and how it is nor perfectly straight. As it rotated, it would alternately lift and lower the carriage slightly and you could see that happening in the camera. To fix this, I removed the screw and made brackets that loosely couple these together. The plywood strip the the nut is attached to is free to wiggle with the rod, but will still move the carriage back and forth:
To solve the guide rod / pin problem, I cut it in half and added blocks to the ends to create a slot for a single guide pin:
As it turned out, the thinner rods flexed too easily and to fix that I added a bridge to the top to connect the two rods. The bridge has a groove cut wide enough to allow the bolt head to go through:
To power the unit I switched to an 18 volt battery from my cordless tools. I made a battery bracket using the connector from an old, broken impact driver:
The motor gets a lot warmer, but does run much faster. Since this will only be used occasionally and for very brief periods, I don’t think the higher voltage will have any detrimental effect on the life of the motor. Plus there’s the added convenience of using these batteries, which are always charged and ready.
The finished unit is a bit on the bulky side, but does work extremely well. It can be set up on a table flat like this, or even inclined at any angle up to vertical. It will even run upside down, if needed:
It’s difficult to say how much I’ll actually use this in upcoming videos, but it was an interesting project none the less.