Studio Scotland TV film & video production
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Hague Ladder Dolly (a working review)

This page has been updated for 2012

When it comes to many commercial video shoots where time is of the essence, budgetary constraints rule out elaborate camera rigs, transportation is an issue, particularly international travel, then the Hague Ladder Dolly is simply one of the cleverest little design pieces that deserves attention. Of course ladder style dollies are not new and certainly units like the CamTram, are beautifully engineered but come at a price. This is where I think the Hague dolly has found itself a market. Of course ladder dollies really make their case when you are trying to get a smooth tracking shot over an uneven piece of ground, and anyone who has had to lay down rails of any form to accommodate a tripod dolly knows only to well the time and hassle involved. They also come into their own if you want to track the camera through or over an object for an unusual perspective.

Of course ladder dollies can run on a variety of surfaces and are not just limited to ladders; basically, take a pair of beams, bars, angled plates or ladders, and place directly onto the floor area for low shots, or onto a pair of adjustable workhorses (a few supports will be needed over very long runs) and your in business.

Hague Ladder Dolly
  Hague Ladder Dolly in action

The Hague Ladder Dolly:

Hague don’t really have much in the way of any decent ladder dolly shots with commercial working cameras on their website so I thought we would throw a page together to show that this particular product is actually very good value for money and so easy to use... and yes it works very well with heavier camera models... and no we are not getting commission from Hague.

I had known of Hague products for some time and pondered over their ladder dolly, not really thinking it would be much use for professional broadcast cameras but a great little product for the lighter weight camera models. While our studio is fairly well equipped, we have always had a policy of hiring certain types of equipment for specific projects that would then be added to the client’s fee. As time marches on, a great deal of commercial projects no longer have the budgets they once did and production companies have to think carefully how they can achieve production value with tight budgets; smaller cameras and rigs have helped to address some of those issues. Another bonus for the Hague Ladder Dolly is, in these days of air travel hassles, it’s so easy to dismantle into a pile of small parts for transportation.

Travelling with the Hague Ladder Dolly:

So how does it work out when travelling abroad? It takes about a minute to dismantle the dolly into a pile of parts with the fluid head bowl housing left complete and when packed into a suitcase with clothing around the parts it adds very little in the way of weight. When using the dolly abroad, where possible we instruct our clients to make aluminium ladders or wooden beams available, and while we have had some rather unusual contraptions offered to us we usually get by.

This compact unit will make dollying in the tightest of spaces possible.
Quick and easy to assemble and breakdown, using the ladder dolly is certainly a simple solution to achieving tracking shots.

Alloy Ladders & Wooden Beams:

The model we chose has a 100mm bowl for fitting a fluid head; in this case we were using a Libec H60 head and Sony QR plate. In some of the photographs you will notice that we are using both aluminium ladders and wooden beams as rails for the dolly. Of course alloy is generally far better for this kind of work and in one case where we borrowed a very long ladder from the building company we were filming, it was necessary to take steel wool over the surface to smooth it out a little. For smaller areas such as dining / kitchen or office interviews we use a short aluminium ladder with a pair of lightweight work horses.

In another instance, filming an instillation project with plenty of building materials around us, we were able to borrow long wooden beams that enabled us to get a really long uninterrupted tracking shot, although in this particular case the beams were not as true as we would have liked. The very slight bumpiness was eliminated by using the smooth cam feature in Final Cut Pro 6.

Other uses we put our ladder dolly to, and this can apply to any dolly or jib rig, is to create the illusion that there are two cameras on a shoot. For example, by careful placement on a person being interviewed we can quickly change the camera position to give the impression more than one camera is present. Of course you will need to make sure you have worked out any lighting needs and / or, compositional issues with background / foreground subject matter.

Ladder made available on site.  Rough bits along the run can be smoothed out using steal wool.
  Wood beams can also be used for longer runs but watch out for warping and imperfections on the run surface.

Important User Points:

Important points are, make sure you balance a larger camera properly so that there is no danger of it toppling. There are two security brackets that can be adjusted to clamp under the ladder rail to stop the dolly from toppling over - do not forget to put them in position! There is a brake on the dolly and that should be locked if the camera is not in use. Particularly when using a heavy camera, it’s absolutely necessary to run the whole rig back and fourth to take out any flat spots that "Will" develop on the rubber "O" ring tyres if left to sit for any length of time. As a matter of course we always remove the camera from the dolly when not in use.

When using any form of separate beams or bars, it is necessary to clamp each end of the "rail run" to stop the poles from possible movement, and to make sure the camera dolly is not accidentally run right off the end by mistake. Hague can supply a pair of adjustable clamps that can be used as low level platforms, stops and or tripod / lighting stand mounting platforms. As with all things, practice makes perfect and everyone develops there own way of doing things, generally speaking, any rigged shot whether crane or dolly, looks more effective if you have an object in the foreground, or the angle is offset to your main point of interest so as to really show that the camera is moving. When the dolly is not in use we always store it upside down to keep the weight off the "O" ring tyres.

The Hague Ladder Dolly can be used with larger cameras but avoid leaving the dolly stationary under weight for long periods
Ladder and workhorse provided at location
Overall the Hague Ladder Dolly is a very useful and well made unit that doesn't cost the earth or takes up much space traveling to locations.  Addional wheels would have been useful for the heavier cameras.

Summary:

The Hague ladder dolly is simple in its steel / alloy construction, but solidly made, it can be adjusted to suit various rail widths, it is light, it can be carried easily or broken down to fit in a shoulder bag. With practice, it can be used very successfully with larger camera types. Repair or parts replacements would be a simple affair - all round, it's another great little tool in the cameraman's toolbox.

Would it replace a standard tracking tripod dolly? While it can do many of the same typical tracking dolly moves, and in the case where uneven surfaces are an issue, it will do them much quicker with less fuss, it should not be seen as trying to replace the traditional dolly, but only, as another option or approach to achieve a desired result. For the money it's certainly well worth a look.

Improvements? - When using a Sony F350 / PDW-700 XDCAM HD Camera fitted with rails, mattebox, Heavy duty battery, zoom controller etc, I would have liked to have seen a dolly model that possibly had more wheels on it, which in turn would mean that the supporting sections of bar tubing would need to be a little longer, similar to the CamTram model - I could be wrong but perhaps this might distribute the weight of a heavier system more effectively and cause less flat spots on the rubber "O" ring tyres without to much added expense.

We have been using our ladder dolly for quite a few years now and it has been to several countries with us and still remains in very good condition. Used with care its a great little dolly from an innovative UK engineering company.

 

Stewart Menelaws (Director of Photography)
www.studioscotland.tv