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Grip Gear Movie Maker: Our first take

The Grip Gear Movie Maker accessory puts smooth panning into smartphone videos

Smartphone videos are only as good as your grip. So after introducing a stabilizer to steady those shots, Grip Gear took it one step further with the Grip Gear Movie Maker set, a motorized slider for smartphones, GoPros, and other compact cameras.

The track mount and motor moves the camera along at a steady pace. It offers an easily accessible, fun way to shoot videos. But can the Movie Maker really give smartphone videos the Hollywood treatment?

Design, features, and setup

Setup is fairly straightforward, though the instructions could be more informatively written. The slider sits in two pieces for easier transport. After sliding the motor onto the second piece of track, that railing slides into the middle base and tightens with a screw. A ball head sits inside the motor with a standard tripod screw for using the slider with a compact camera or GoPro, or you can add the smartphone holster to the top. The smartphone holster slides apart and the spring mechanism makes attaching a camera incredibly quick. The holster will adjust for devices up to 87mm and it will also accommodate a smartphone case within those dimensions as well.

Grip Gear Movie Maker
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

Oddly enough, the easy-to-find AAA batteries for the motor were included, but the less-accessible button cell battery for the remote was not included (even though the instructions said the opposite). The slider also has a Micro USB port for using an optional lithium-ion power bank.

The ball joint allows you to adjust the angle of the smartphone in different horizontal positions for videos. However, it isn’t steady enough for vertical positions, so the mount is limited to horizontal orientations. That’s too bad because slider would have allowed for smooth panoramic still captures, which requires the phone to be in a vertical position.

The Movie Maker offers an easily accessible, fun way to shoot videos with a Hollywood-like quality.

Three pairs of feet at the bottom of the railing hold the track steady on a flat surface, or can fold around an object to move the camera up and down instead of the usual side to side. For example, we used the feet to secure the slider to the leg of a chair; this upright orientation allows the mount to move the camera vertically. The feet alone won’t support the weight of the slider when it’s off of the ground, but they work well enough to keep the slider secured in a vertical position while resting on the ground and against an object for support.

The Movie Maker includes about two feet of railing, with extra track selling in one-foot pieces for about $15 each. But the motor unit can also work independently of the track, and the base is capable of rotating 360 degrees to create panoramas.

Performance and use

Whether used on the rail or on its own, the user can pick one of eight different speeds. The top speed (eight) moves along nicely, taking around a minute to complete the entire length of the included rail. The slowest speeds, from about one to four, are barely perceptible in the video. The motor could benefit from a few more fast speeds and fewer slow speeds, but the range is good enough.

Grip Gear Movie Maker
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

The Movie Maker can be controlled through either four built-in controls or the included remote. Operating the Grip Gear is as basic as operating a smartphone camera. The arrow buttons start the camera moving in that direction. Pressing the same arrow button stops the motion while pressing the opposite one changes the direction. The plus and minus buttons control the speed (the on/off switch also lets you quickly pick a high or low speed). Both the speed and direction can be changed while the slider is already moving, and when the motor reaches the length of the slider, it heads back in the opposite direction automatically.

The slider can also be moved manually – pulling out a pin allows the entire motor and mount to move freely along the track by hand. With the motor completely removed from the track, a second mount sits on top of that same pin, allowing the motor to turn the camera 360 degrees. While the dual purpose is pretty neat, this particular design means the motor can only do one at a time. Unlike some high-end camera sliders, you can’t tilt the camera while it’s moving along the track.

Results

The footage from an iPhone 7 was shaky – initially, we thought it was from the movement of the motor along the track. But the footage was an odd, almost distortion-like shake. On a hunch, we tried a GoPro Hero4 Silver instead and got perfectly steady footage, except for a slight bump where the two tracks meet.

Operating the Grip Gear is as basic as operating a smartphone camera.

So what’s the problem? The shake in the smartphone shot actually isn’t the Movie Maker’s fault. The iPhone 7 has image stabilization. We know from using the stabilization on a DSLR that if you ever mount the camera on a tripod – or in this case, a slider – the stabilization has to be turned off or the stabilization system will actually introduce more shake while trying to correct shake that doesn’t exist. Essentially, the electronic image stabilization over-corrects and creates a shaky video.

The issue isn’t unique to the slider either, as some gimbals have the same issue, including the well-received DJI Osmo. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t give users the option to turn that stabilization off to eliminate the issue, which leaves iPhone 7 users with shaky track video and iPhone 6 users with smoother footage.

Except for a small bump where the two tracks meet, smartphones and cameras without stabilization (or cameras where the stabilization can be turned off, like the GoPro Hero5), the Movie Maker adds smooth controlled motion to videos. The inability to turn the stabilization off on the latest iPhones, however, makes the slider hard to recommend for iPhone 7, 7 Plus, and 6s Plus users, even though the issue isn’t likely something that Grip Gear could have prevented.

As the motor moves along the track, the video also picks up a noticeable hum. The noise will be less noticeable in scenes that aren’t silent, but the sound will either need to be edited out or drowned out with other noises, or you would need to use a separate recorder for audio and sync it with the video in post-edit. The iPhone 7 footage, while shakier, seemed to pick up the motor hum less than the GoPro.

Conclusion

Like a smartphone camera, the Movie Maker is simple, convenient, and fun to use, but it also has some of disadvantages, like fewer features than higher-end sliders. We would have liked some advanced controls, like the ability to tilt the camera while it is moving down the track. The motor is noisy, but the slider is a fun way to add some flair to smartphone videos.

The Movie Maker isn’t the first slider designed specifically for smartphones and compact cameras, but, retailing for about $130 (you can get it for $99 from Amazon), it does one-up other options in the price range. There are several that appear to have fewer plastic pieces, but no actual motor with only manual sliding – though those models wouldn’t suffer from the same motor noise. The few that have motorized sliding don’t do double duty as both a rail slider and 360-degree rotating base, at least not at a similar price range.

Should you buy the Movie Maker? It is a good accessory for users that like to play with the video capabilities on their phone or GoPro, particularly for those who continue to play into the editing process, since there’s a motor hum that will need to be edited out of some shots. It’s also a good option for users that like their gimbal but want to do a little bit more. The Grip Gear Movie Maker isn’t a pro or even enthusiast level accessory – it’s designed for simple use with simple cameras. The device you plan to use with the Movie Maker matters too – it is not great for smartphones with stabilization that can’t be turned off, like the iPhone 7, 7 Plus and 6s Plus, because the stabilization system makes a fairly smooth track system appear rather bumpy. Overall, the Movie Maker is effective, but you will need to make some adjustments and use the proper camera.

Highs

  • Easy to use
  • Motor for track movement, 360-degree rotations
  • Inexpensive

Lows

  • Motor is noisy
  • Not compatible with stabilized smartphones
  • Some batteries not included