What it's Like to Own a £250 Budget Timelapse Slider (Commlite Slider)

Well, £240 for the slider.

Background:

I've been getting out to do timelapses whenever I have had the time. For a while now it's been with just a tripod and the camera but I've decided to up my game. I was looking around at systems by Digislider and Rhino Camera Gear - They were very VERY expensive. Bummer.

Next best option I looked at was making my own - Not as easy as I had wanted it to be in my mind. This would require me investing in some sort of a half decent slider to convert and learning to write code for the Raspberry Pi or a similar small computer unit.

I then decided to hit up eBay to see if anyone was selling used timelapse sliders from the first couple of companies mentioned. Nope they were still too expensive. I did however come across this by a company called Commlite. It has no real model name but as far as I'm aware there are 80cm and a 100cm versions available. I've also seen the same slider sold under a different name in a couple of cases but usually the display picture on the listing is the same:

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Arrival

I decided to get one to try it out and really it was a bit of a risk because buyer pays the return costs on this kind of item and it was from Hong Kong.

It arrived in a very large box which I took to mean that it was already assembled inside. Not the case. It did come with a case though which was nice until I realized it would only fit in the case disassembled. Assembly itself wasn't too bad and required two sizes of hex keys (included) which you use to attach small screws to attach the 'legs' to the actual 'rail' part of the slider. There were various tough little bits of plastic which were used to set up the belt system to pull the 'carriage' part along. The instructions were useless as I had expected them to be - but still all in all the construction took around 20 minutes and was mainly okay to figure out on your own. 

The box had all the parts to build the slider with and make it move. So all cables, the motor and the battery were included. Again easy to figure out because all of the connections were different and the whole set up could only be plugged together one way. The basic principal was: Battery - Control Box - Control Box - Motor. 

The Product

Its worth mentioning that some of the connections are not very strong and are definitely not waterproof therefore protected from shorting. The motor connection especially just has the pins out in the open and the cable connector is small and potentially flimsy too if not handled correctly. Some re-enforcement with electrical tape and generally treating the connection a bit more gently than usual should save you any trouble. I messaged the seller that I bought it from to inquire about spare components should one break and they informed me that spare parts are NOT sold separately so keep that in mind and be extra careful.

The control box is not the strongest or the flimsiest feeling thing either. It's fairly simple. A power button, a reverse button, a speed knob and a joystick which doesn't seem to do anything that makes sense. The other three buttons do make sense mostly. The speed knob is VERY random. Selecting a speed of 10 means the slider will take 245 minutes to slide 1m. Crank that up a little bit to 20 and it takes 8 minutes. So god alone what comes in between. You can see the speed chart provided on the product page:

I found these timings to be a little off. Setting the speed to 100 for mean it will take 10 seconds for the carriage to travel 100cm.

I found these timings to be a little off. Setting the speed to 100 for mean it will take 10 seconds for the carriage to travel 100cm.

For reference I've done sliding night timelapses where we were doing long exposures of 10 seconds and a setting of roughly 15 took just over two hours to complete and caused no motion blur to occur on the footage from the movement of the carriage during long exposures. There's a lot of guesswork needed with this speed dial so some testing before an actual shoot may help you here. Be sure to set your timelapse off in the right direction, too. Nothing is worse than sitting around for two hours to discover you've set it to slide into the end of the carriage instead of along the slider! To check it is definitely moving and in the right direction keep an eye on it for the first five or so minutes to check it is moving.

The belt system is good because it means you can unhook the carriage to use it as a normal slider. The belt however is awkward to tighten to the point where no slipping will occur around the gears and will also blow in the wind causing vibrations on longer lenses that travel throughout the slider. An equivalent focal length of 85mm will require a tiny amount of warp stabilizer in Premiere Pro or After Effects but this only needs to be set at 1-5% and will not be noticeable. Wider focal lengths such as 28mm equivalent or wider you should be good with.

The motor on this slider is strong enough to pull a Sony a7sII with a battery grip and a Canon 24-70mm zoom (and ball head) steeply uphill and the battery good enough to do this for at least two, two hour timelapses. I've not tested the battery life beyond this but its worth knowing it only takes an hour or so to charge up with the included charger. Really you could use this slider with any DSLR setup and not run into issues. FYI, there is no battery level indicator so you'll really need to work out how long it lasts roughly with your setup.

When using this slider as a motorized 'normal' slider it performs okay. The battery lasts around 4 hours of constant(ish) sliding backwards and forwards at full speed. There is noticeable rolling shutter seen in the shots from the motor and belt. when not shooting at the standard 1/50th of a second shutter speed for video. Most/all issues are gotten rid of with some warp stabilizer set at 1-5%. Wind gusts are an enemy of this slider thanks to the way the belt flops around. 

When the slider arrived the carriage was not as tightly fastened down to the rail as I would have liked causing wobble whilst sliding at timelapse and normal speeds. Thankfully the carriage is relatively okay to disassemble and the fit of the carriage to the rail can be adjusted with a hex key and a little patience. This process is easier to do than it is explain in writing. If you've managed to attach the legs to the carriage you could definitely figure out how to do it! Another pointer for the rail - Oil it every once in a while. The rail was bone dry out of the box making the movement okay but this can be vastly improved when some WD40 or similar is applied. Also check the rail and underside of the carriage for debris before use as this will also effect the smoothness of the sliding motion.

The rail has three tripod mounting points: One at either end and one in the middle. 

You'll need a ball head to get level shots with the slider. DO NOT attach your camera straight to the adapter included to sit on the carriage as this is flimsy and if over tightened will snap off inside your camera's tripod mount. Bin the adapter and get a ball head..This ball head. I've found it to be super solid for the price and it attaches straight on to the carriage. 

The legs - well they're okay. They are awkward when you want to adjust them quickly as a lot of screwing is required. If you unscrew them too far they will simply fall off so be careful not to lose them! The feet are nice and made of rubber that will grip surfaces.

Transporting this thing is probably one of the most annoying things about it. It'd take just too much time to disassemble so it could fit into the case provided and won't really sit in my car any other way than across the two back seats. Not being able to disassemble easily means it all stays constructed which could result in damaging parts of the slider in transport.

All in all I'd say you need a few things to get the most out of this slider.

  • Protective container for wires, control box, battery and hex keys
  • Spare Hex Keys
  • A Ball Head
  • Some Oil (WD40 or similar)
  • Patience and a few test shoots
  • At least 1 half decent tripod

Here is an initial test of the slider at 20 speed, 1 second exposures @ 24mm Equivalent on the Panasonic GH4 (Warp Stabilizer @1%):

Here is a further test of the slider at around 85mm Equivalent, 18(ish) speed. Warp stabilizer applied @10% strength:

Here is the test of the slider mentioned at night. 24mm, 10 second exposures, 13-15 on the speed knob. Shot on the Sony A7SII with Canon 24-70mm (Warp stabilizer at 2%)

Here is a paid video where the slider was used extensively as both a normal speed electronic slider and a timelapse slider (1-5% Warp Stabilizer added in most shots):