DIY motorized camera slider

(you can see video of this slider in action at the end of the article)

Idea behind it.

I built my slider based on Vimeos user “XCM” who in turn based it on Stage Zero Dolly.
Igus slider rail is main chassis holding everything together. Special platform attached to the igus carriage platform has geared motor and set of pulleys. It moves itself along HTD-5 timing belt that’s attached to the rail at each end with clamps. Whole system is driven by MX2 Dolly shield and Arduino.  It’s capable of capturing a movie while it’s moving horizontally or vertically (yes it’s that powerful) and controlling camera’s shutter for a time lapse photography.

Part sourcing

If you just read only this part of my blog it will be worth it. Finding all the parts in USA was a nightmare, but I managed to locate them!  Because whole system is built around HTD-5 timing belt (High Torque Drive with 5 mm pitch) I had to find right timing belt pulley. But here’s the issue. Belt is metric so pully is metric to, however gear motors that I could find have shaft of 5/16″ which doesn’t fit any HTD pulley I could find. Fortunately a company in Long Island, NY makes metric pulleys with imperial cores!  And they sell timing belts too!
Another problem I encounter was with belt clamps. Very few companies sell HTD clamps, and the price they charge for them is astronomical. $60-90 per clamp, which is nothing but a small aluminum plate with ridges.  It probably took me a week to find a company in New Jersey that makes these for just under $8!  Not all parts were off shelf. Motor mount was made from old power supply cover which was made out of thick aluminum. Tension rollers were taken out of DLT tape drive but you can also find similar rollers inside VCR.
And now the list:

Qty Part Description/Specs Source Cost
1 DryLin® W1040-A Igus Slider 1 meter long. Pre-drilled  and tapped is also available but costs extra. Amazon $93 w/ tax & shipping
1 QB-HTD5-1145-09 HTD- Timing Belt
1145 mm long, 9 mm width, 5 mm pitch
Econobelt* $8.46
1 QPEHTD5A15024F10 HTD5 Belt Pulley (aluminum, 24 teeth, 5/16″ bore) Econobelt* $9.38
2 5M-09 Belt CLAMP PLATE Aluminum. 41.mm Lengh, 8mm thicknes, 5M Round Tooth Pitch, 27mm Width Polytech Design * $8.40
1 Dayton 2L007 Gear Motor 8.8rpm, 12vdc, 5/16″x1″ shaft Drillsport $54.97
1 Aluminum strip 1/8″ thick, 48″ long (usual size sold at HD). For L-Brackets. If you find shorter that’s fine (as long as it’s around 25 cm long) Homedepot $12
2 #6-32 Machine Screws 1 1/2″ long (for tension pulleys). If your pulleys have different boars, you will need different screws Hardaware store $2
2 #6-32 Nuts Must be Nylon Lock type Hardware Store $2
4 #8 Nuts For attaching Gear Motor Hardware Store $2
8 #10-24 Machine Screws 1/2″ long. You can use socket head or Phillips or flat, up to you. Homedepot $10
1 3/8-16 Machine Screw 1/2″ long. For attaching camera’s head to Igus rail Hardware Store $.60
1 Arudino Uno For best results pick Rev. 3 Amazon $35 w/tax & shipping
1 MX2 Dolly Shield Kit Soldering required Dynamic Perseption $61 w/ tax & shipping
1 CL-N3 Cable NX3 to 2.5mm audio jack for Canon cameras. Yours can be different. You’ll need it if you want to do time-laps photography eBay $7.39
1 2.5×5.5 DC connector For connecting motor to Dollyshield. Radioshack sells them under size N variety. They not be best quality btw, but I was in a rush Radioshack $3.69
2 Tention Pulleys From DLT drive or old VCR Free
1 Aluminum Plate 1/8″ thick, 180x100cm for motor Mount Free
* They charge extra fee for handling on small orders.

Total Cost for me was around $320 without tripods/heads.

Post a comment if any of the links don’t work.

Optional:

Manfrotto 501HDV head (for quickly attaching rail to tripod). This goes around $170
Manfrotto 701HDV head (for attaching camera to rail), around $130
Tripod(s)

Tools

The most useful power tool for this project is without a doubt a drill press.  Mine is 10″ Ryobi and I got it for under $100 at home depot. Currently is the most used single piece of equipment in my basement, I strongly suggest you get one if you have room.
Other tool and supplies you will need:

10-24 Tap with #25 drill bit (or 5/32″ can be used too)
3/8-16 Tap with 5/16″ drill bit
Cutting oil
7/32″ drill bit
Hacksaw with metal blade.
Table Vice
Drill Vice (if you are using drill press)
Flat file (for filing down roughly cut aluminum)
Hex ranch (not sure about size, it has to fit hex screws used on Igus slider)
Soldering iron, lead, cutters, wire strippers, 3rd hand tool, wires, etc.

Build

Igus Slider

If your Igus slider is not pre-drilled you will want to drill and tap a 3/8-16 thread hole in the middle of carriage plate for the camera’s head.  In the middle of the rail I made another 3/8-16 thread for attaching rail to tripod.  If you plan to use two tripods make two more holes/threads on each end of the rail. It might be a good idea to use 1/4 thread instead of 3/16 if your quick-release plate doesn’t have 3/8-16 screw.

Aluminum Motor mount

Plate with motor and pulleys

Take your aluminum plate and cut out approx 100x180mm rectangular piece with hacksaw.  Use special blade for metal. Adding a little cutting oil to it will help along, but might create more mess.  Cut edges will be rough so filed them down to smooth finish removing any sharp pieces.
Next I drill holes for attaching mount to the carriage. To do this take carriage off the rail (removing all 4 hex machine screws), and used it as template to mark the 5 holes on the motor mount. 4 for the corner screws and one in the middle for the head screw.  For corner screws I drilled over-sized holes with 7/32″ drill bit, and for the middle one I used drill bit large enough to clear 3/8″ screw. Before drilling large holes it’s recommended to  use small size bit to drill pilot holes.  After cleaning holes with round file,  try it on the carriage platform to make sure it fits nicely. If your holes misaligned slightly you can make them bigger, just make sure they are not larger than machine screw heads that will hold them.
Next mark 5 holes for attaching gear motor. Drill them, making central one big enough to clear 5/16″ motor shaft. If everything aligns secure motor with nuts to the mount.
Find good spots for the tension pulleys.  Make sure they won’t interfere with Igus rail or tripod’s head. This is how I placed mine.

Plate with motor and pulleys

Drill and tap holes for the right size screw that will hold them, and secure with screws and nylon lock nuts. Don’t make it too tight, they should rotate freely.

Belt Clamps

Assembled clamp

Belt is held at each end of the rail by aluminum clamps attached to an L-bracket, which in turn screwed on to the rail with two 10-24 machine screws. You need to be careful with making those to make sure they are right distance from the rail and right height. Good idea would be to attach L-brackets with woodworking clamps, use more clamps to hold timing belt and thread it thru  all the pulleys. This will tell you distance from the rail that belt needs to be held. Also notice which way belt’s grooves will be facing. I made a huge mistake by putting those brackets backwards and had to completely scrap and buy aluminum from home depot (a $12 and day and half worth of time mistake).
On my setup, belt got to be about 3 cm away from the rail, and on the same level as rail edge. To make L-bracket cut from a flat strip of aluminum I 11 cm long pieces and bent them at 7.5 cm mark to 90 degree angle. Use hacksaw to cut aluminum. To bend it put it in the wise and use rubber mallet and whack the heck out of it until it bends. Make sure it’s straight in the wise, or your bent will be crooked.
Drill and tap (10-24 thread) two holes on each clamp. Make sure distance between them is sufficient to fit 9mm timing belt, and also try to make lowest whole as low as possible.  You can make 4 holes if desired, or cut each clamp in half (they are too long anyway).
Now using it as template mark holes on the short part of the L-brackets and drill large holes in the brackets with 7/32 drill bit. Your 10-24 screws will go thru L-brackets and screw into clamps from the ridged side.
Drill and tap 2 10-24 threads on each side of the rail. Using it template mark holes for the L-Brackets and drill brackets with 7/32 drill bit.  This is where screws will go in that attach brackets to the rail.

Tripod and heads

You can attach whole slider directly to tripod via 3/8″-16″ thread, however it’s very cumbersome and you can’t really change rail angle.  So for best result attach it to a head. Then your second head (for the camera) will go on the igus slider carriage platform attached via short 3/8″-16″ screw.
I already had pretty heavy Giottos tripod with Manfrotto 701HDV video head. But surprise surprise, whole setup with Canon 5D MkII camera and 24-100mm lens was too heavy for 701HDV head so it would not hold when camera was closer to the rail end 🙁  It looks like head that holds more load is needed. I think Manfrotto 501HDV will do.  I will use my 701HDV for the camera.

Controller

Initially I had a lot of issues with DollySheild controller, and didn’t get it to work as neeed yet , but eventually got it working with some modifications to the hardware and code which I will not cover it in this post.

Update: I now posted new article about building DollyShield. Read it here

Let me know if you have any questions or comments, I’ll try to reply to all 🙂

Here’s video of slider in Action:

 

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Comments: 24

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  • Mike D

    I am considering using the MX2 as a controller for my slider project…you said there were problems. What difficulties did you encounter? Jay has been great in answering my questions.

     
     
     
    • I had 2 issues, both because of arduino uno R2 edition. First, it would freeze after turning off and back on. Second was due to not being able to load firmware due to its large size. Somthing about my version of bootloader. I fixed both. First with diode, second with making code smaller by removing “merlin” functions. It works great now, i will post updatE shortly.

       
  • dan

    awesome stuff, thanks!

    i’m still looking for a battery, what did you use?

     
     
     
    • I use Energizer XP8000, it has 12 volt output and adapter plug that fits Arduino. Its overkill, but I already had it. If u buying new one get something that can provide 9 Volts, battery will last longer

       
  • Chris

    I’m making something very similar – using MX2 and Arduino Uno – and i’m running into the same issues you had with the Uno. Can you please elaborate on what you had to do to get the firmware uploaded? I haven’t had the freezing problem yet. Thanks for the great tutorial.

     
     
     
  • bratan

    Basically you need to make sketch smaller. I did it by opening source code for the “merlin” module and deleted most of the code inside functions. Made sure it still compiles. Now sketch became small enough so it uploaded into Uno. I will post link to the modified code shortly.

     
     
     
  • Hi – great article!! I appreciate the level of detail you’ve provided, and the parts/suppliers list is invaluable.

    I’ve been trying to find the drive belt pulley (QPEHTD5A15024F10) but it isn’t listed on the QTC site anymore. I’m wondering if I could have a 0.250″ bore pulley bored out to 0.3125″ at a local machine shop…

     
     
     
    • It’s there. Go to Products -> HTD5 Belt Pulleys (http://www.econobelt.com/Q460/RFQ/default.asp?Page=Pg_1-151_1.html).
      From Pull-down menu choose:Aluminum Double flange 24 to 40 teeth (it’s second item).
      You will see QPEHTD5A15024F10 there (second row). It’s 24 teeth .3125″ bore. (currently 12 in stock)
      If you already have 0.250″ bore, sure you can drill it down to 0.3125″ 🙂 As long as set screw will still work…

      P.S. Arlen, those are some incredible HDR photos you have! 🙂 Great work!

       
      • Thanks bratan – I just had one of those ‘duh’ moments and realized that by simply advancing to the next page on the QTC site I would’ve seen the right part number! {heavy sigh}

        I ordered the pulley in aluminum and steel (QPEHTD5S15024F10) to see if there’s a significant difference in the amount of noise.

        Glad you liked the images!!

        Arlen

         
  • HangGlider

    Greetings!

    I’m making progress on my homemade dolly, but I’m struggling to find the idler pulleys. Can you share the brand/model of DLT tape drive you found your pulleys in? Do ALL DLT tape drives have similar pulleys? Maybe I can find a dead unit on eBay…

    Thanks!

    Arlen

     
     
     
    • It was Quantum DLT, but I don’t remember which model. I’m sure all of them have rollers, but they might be different. You can also use parts form old broken VCR (I think those will be even better).

       
  • Arlen Fletcher

    Bratan,

    Thanks for the reply. I ordered a broken Quantum DLT drive from eBay for $9, and I can see the rollers in the picture the seller provided. I looked into a bunch of old VCR’s at local thrift stores – but couldn’t see anything useful in any of them. All the later models went to plastic idler pulleys I think.

    Thanks for the help!

    HangGlider

     
     
     
  • mydixonsider

    Quick question,
    How much battery life do you get out of that Energizer XP8000 you use? Would you recommend to get that one or something else? I saw you mentioned something about 9 volt being better…whats that about?

    Thanks for being so specific. I had seen XCM’s and a few other sliders but really couldn’t keep up without more specific instructions. You really nailed it. Thanks!

    MyDixonSider

     
     
     
    • Sorry for late reply, my WP stopped sending me notifications on new comments for some reason, I just saw it.
      I actually wouldn’t recommend XP8000. I didn’t have a chance to use it for long time, but it looses charge pretty fast. Even when I wasn’t using it it kept discharging. There are better packs out there with more suitable voltages.

       
  • mydixonsider

    Also, a quick note about the belt clamp. You can buy them on the same QTC site as the timing belt and pulley. I ordered two but I suspect one will be long enough to cut in half.

    http://www.econobelt.com/Q460/RFQ/default.asp?Page=Pg_1-151_1.html

    It’s the second one up from the bottom, QBCLMHTD5090.

     
     
     
    • mydixonsider, let me know if you got those clamps working. I also bought them, but couldn’t use it because they made for clamping belt ends together and not for attaching belt to another surface.

       
  • Quick question. I’m planning to make this same setup but to begin with it’s going to be more for live video, later down the road I want to rig it with the MX2 for time lapse stuff. Right now I want a controller with a big knob that you can ramp up and down the speed, as well as move both directions without a switch. I’m not incredibly wiring savvy, so do you see anything wrong with this controller I found working with the linked motor? I might actually get a higher RPM motor as well to do faster movements.
    http://www.canakit.com/bi-directional-dc-motor-speed-controller-pwm.html

     
     
     
    • That controller looks like it should work with the setup!

       
  • Raj

    Hii! 🙂 You have done a good job! Congrats!! 🙂
    The Igus slider which you have used is 3 feet, i would like to know whether there is a 6 feet slider available?

     
     
     
    • Sorry for late reply. Yes I believe Igus makes rails of pretty much any length.

       
  • Raymond Lau

    Dear sir,

    I would like to know if you will sell the Motorized Slider with controller and tripods/heads in full ready to use finished product? I come from Hong Kong and planning to start a small business about photography.
    I cannot find the slider as good as yours.
    outlooking is doesn’t matter. Could you be so kind to help?
    Thanks a lot.
    Raymond Lau

     
     
     
    • Take a look at http://dynamicperception.com/ My slider is based on theirs, they already selling commercial product. I’m nowhere near ability to make more of these, although I can try in the future 🙂

       
  • Faisal

    Hi, i’m just starting to build my slider. Would you be kind enough to share the dimensions for the aluminum plate, including the drill holes and sizes?

    THANKS!

     
     
     
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