Not too long ago capturing motion control timelapses meant spending thousands of dollars. Sure, you could “DIY it”- it didn’t cost you much to put your camera on an egg timer and wait for the “spin cycle” to complete, but good luck programming that setup!
Looking around these days, though, you can easily find a motion control head under $250. The options and features abound, and many, like the Alpine Labs Radian Motion Control Timelapse head ($249 over at B&H) we’re going to look at today, started their life on Kickstater- this means there’s a community there out of the gate tinkering and making suggestions to improve the product. But how good can a sub $250 motion control head be?
What is it it?
Radian is a lightweight single-axis motion control head. Single-axis means you can capture tilts or pans, but you don’t get linear motion on a slider.
Radian is, light, light, light. It weighs just 15 ounces (425g for ye metric folk) and measures 4.57 x 1.77” (116 x 45mm). It fits very easily in my camera bag and I don’t mind carrying it along a hike. To put this in perspective my Canon 24-105 f/4L weighs 1.47lbs (670g). Think of Radian as a light 2nd lens you’re bringing along. This is a big deal! When you’ve walked 13 miles with food and water strapped to your back, you’re thankful for every ounce you’re not carrying!
It’s light, but it’s also all plastic. I wouldn’t call it flimsy, but I also wouldn’t call it a bullet-proof all metal design- keep this in mind if your’e hopelessly rough on your gear.
Setting it up is straight forward: Radian attaches to a 1/4″ screw (no 3/8″) so just turn Radian onto the bottom of your camera then attach it to your tripod head. Radian includes a little bubble level in the package. This is nice, but I really wish the bubble head was integrated into the unit – one gust of wind and that bubble level is gone!
Radian doesn’t have an LCD screen -you program it using your iOS or android device. What this means is the programming user interface is easy to use and, more importantly, Radian’s functionality is constantly being tweaked through Alpine Labs app updates. What’s also nice is you only program Radian using your phone: your phone doesn’t have to remain connected to execute the timelapse like other apps such as TriggerTrap. You just plug-in your phone, program, and disconnect. Once your phone is disconnected the Radian app keeps track of your timelapse’s progress. This lets you walk away and just pull out your phone to see if you need to go back to your tripod(s).
Take a look at images below to get a feel for the user interface.
The one bad thing I have to say about Radian is it does not like wind. Radian works just fine when the weather is calm, but wind will turn your camera into a sail that pulls Radian around. I’ve had a couple of occasions where I just couldn’t use the head because it was too windy. This may not matter for your application, but if you’re outdoors on the seashore all the time, this may be an issue for you.
You can talk about a device all you want, but in the end the question is: can it perform the job it was designed to perform? With just a little more ‘talk’, I’ll say yes. Take a look at the video below:
- It’s light
- Easy to program
- Battery lasts forever (it’s rated for 100 hours!)
- Fits easily in my camera bag
- Industrial design doesn’t scream elegant. It’s functional but not pretty. Also, materials could be more robust
- Susceptible to wind
- Bubble level should be integrated into the unit’s body
Should you get it ?
For $249 it’s a good timelapse device to have. It’s small, lightweight, and easy to bring along. If you’re shooting atop of mountains, or anywhere where wind is pervasive, I’d say look at something else. Outside of that, it’s well worth the investment for a single-axis timelapse head.
Where to buy
B&H – $249
Most discussions of hyperlapses go something like this:
- Make sure you point your camera at the same spot as you move
- Move about the same distance between exposures
- Take exposures at regular intervals
- Create the video sequence in post and stabilize it in Adobe’s After Effects’ Warp Stabilizer. Yah, you can use other stabilizers, but they’re just OK. You really want the stabilizer in Premiere or After Effects.
All this sounds great, until you do the math. Most photographers are paying $9.99 a month for Photoshop and Lightroom. Many are even content to stay on Photoshop CS6 while paying annually for the latest version of Lightroom. For those who are paying Adobe’s $9.99 subscription fee, however, the question is: does it make sense to up the payment to $49.99 per month just to create hyperlapses? In a word: no – especially for your typical hobbyist or semipro photographer. “There just has to be an alternative”, I thought – as I set about finding a cheaper way. And, in fact, there is – if you’re a Mac user (yes, I said cheaper and mac user.)
First: the editor. Adobe Premiere is great, but for $299, Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is an excellent non-linear editor you can install on multiple computers. It’s really a no-brainer – even if you hate the Magnetic Timeline.
Second: the stabilizer. Surprisingly, FCP X’s IntertiaCam stabilizer is pretty good at working its magic on hyperlapses. Unfortunately, however, fine grain control (like the ability to choose the stabilization area, or the ability to adjust stabilization in a specific axis) just isn’t there. For that you need a third-party plugin.
One stabilizer that came up often in my research is CoreMelt’s Lock&Load. Looking through blog entries, I saw a slew of folks talking about Lock&Load, but I couldn’t find examples of it being used with hyperlapses. So, I lined up the three stabilizers (InertiaCam, Lock&Load, and Warp Stabilizer) and created the video below comparing my raw sequence with the stabilizers’ output:
As you can see, the three stabilizers are pretty close in terms of the job they do. I was surprised by IntertiaCam – I just didn’t expect it to do that good of a job. It’s not perfect, but it far exceeded my expectations. I was also pretty surprised by Lock&Load; not only was it pretty fast at analyzing the motion in the clip, but it also comes with a slew of controls letting you fine tune the stabilization area and amount. Warp Stabilizer, ofcourse, did a great job as expected.
What to get?
If you need to do the occasional hyperlapse just get yourself a copy of FCP X and use IntertiaCam. If you’re wiling to spend an extra $99, Lock&Load is a very capable stabilizer that will serve you well. It gives you a lot of control over stabilization and it’s FAST. It can also accommodate 4K footage if you’re shooting video. Yes, you’ll spend just under $400 for FCP X ($299) and Lock&Load ($99), but that’s still $200 less than what you’d pay for one year’s subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Finally, Creative Cloud (though expensive) comes with a ton of tools (Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator – just to name a few) and many of you are already paying for the suite. If you’re already paying for the subscription then get out there, shoot, then fire up AE.
Note: CoreMelt provided a copy of Lock&Load for the purpose of this review.
You’re not a filmmaker; you’re a photographer. You deal in the moment; one image is all you need to tell a story. Filmmaking, you tell yourself, is another world – one that’s separate from yours.
Then, one day, you watch a timelapse and think: “I can do that – it’s just one exposure shot over and over again to convey the passage of time. How hard can it be?” So, you setup your tripod and camera, shoot a few hundred frames, and before long find yourself in a mystical world where reality is malleable and there you are: telling a story beyond one frame.
Now you’re hooked and it doesn’t take long for you to start wondering where to go next. A tripod and camera are nice, but motion is addictive. Sure, it maybe just the motion of a few clouds that gets you at first, but you want more. You want to create more interesting shots and take it to the next level.
Enter sliders, remotes, and motion control! Forget one shot to tell a story, you’ve gone over the edge now, and so has your budget! You thought lenses were expensive and heavy? Well, buckle up!!
Do a bit of digging and you’ll see motion control setups are all about modules. You have a slider, a motion control module, a timelapse module, and that’s just the beginning. Before long you’ll soon find yourself deciding what combination of gear you want: this slider, with that remote, with this motor, with this battery pack and at this or that length (this is not to mention accessories like ND filters and all the big bags you’ll need!). It’s not hard to spend $1500 – $3000 on a motion control setup.
I don’t want to say modularization is wrong. It’s not, in fact there’s flexibility in being able to assemble a rig to meet your needs. All I’m saying is it can get real expensive real quick.
In looking over the state of timelapse, the question Syrp asked was this: what if you could have a programmable remote and motion control unit for under $900? The question wasn’t rhetorical – Syrp put together a kickstarter campaign and delivered just that with the Genie. I want to give the Genie a full-on review in the near future, so for now, trust me when I say it’s a pretty cool. HDR: it does it; Bulb ramping, yep it’s got that; the ability to create pre-programmed sequences: sure. It’s claim to fame though is its ability to pull itself along any cable. Checkout the video:
The Genie is a great, but what was missing though was the slider. Syrp initially left the slider to you, but recently came out with their vision of what one should be with the Magic Carpet.
Syrp’s vision is this: the Magic Carpet is designed for the Genie – to complete the product line, but it’s also open to allow you to use the slider with your existing gear.
The industrial design of the Magic Carpet is fantastic. Here’s just a few examples of nice touches:
- Syrp incorporated a pulley system so you can add counterweights to the track allowing you to create rising or descending track shots easily
- The carriage has a quick release mechanism allowing for quick changes from a 1/4 “ to a 3/8” pin
- The carriage also has a tension adjustment to make sure it’s nice and taut on the track
- The end caps have legs with twist-out leveling adjustments
- The tracks have distance markings on the side so you can calculate the distance you want the carriage to move (you’ll use this a lot when working with the Genie)
Syrp’s video does a good job of breaking the features down. Check it out :
My Sample Footage
The above video is what Genie says it can do. But what can it really do? Here’s a short clip is shot with the Magic Caroet at blue hour.
The Magic Carpet comes as either a 2.6’ track or a 5.2’ track. You can just buy the track, but you’ll really want to spring for the kit with the carriage and the end caps. I’m not sure why you’d want the track itself, so let’s break down the kit options.
The 2.6’ track kit is about $300 on B&H
The 5.2’ track kit is just under $370 on B&H
The combo kit with both tracks, one carriage, and end caps set will set you back a little under $490 on B&H
Both tracks will support just over 15 lbs (15.4 to be exact)
Using it: Rigidity
I didn’t have any issue with rigidity with my setup on flat ground using the legs for stability. My typical setup, by the way, is a 5DMKII mounted on top of the Genie usually with the Sigma 35 1.4 DG HSM A lens or the Canon 24-105 f/4L.
The carriage, by the way is fantastic. It’s buttery smooth and taut. It glides through easily.
I did see some flex on either end of t he short track when mounted on a tripod using only the center mounting hole. Fortunately, all the tracks have 1/4″ and 3/8″ mounting holes on both ends of the track.
While I prefer the shorter track for portability, I often go to the longer track as it allows me to get a good amount of stability while using only one tripod (you can angle the track by setting the tripod height and just letting the other end of the track sit on the ground.) It’s all a tradeoff: carry around a long track and a big tripod or a short track and two smaller tripods (if you want to work on the extreme edges of the track). There’s no ‘right answer’. It just depends on your shoot.
Should you buy it
I’m a sucker for elegant design and the Magic Carpet is beautifully designed. Syrp puts a lot of thought and effort into industrial design and it shows. Yes, you will have some flex on the shorter track, but it is quite portable and a offers a good mid-point between rigidity and weight. Combined with the Genie, it’s a great slider to own. If you spring for the combo kit, you’re looking at under $500 that, in return, will give you a good range of timelapse options.
Syrp is one of those companies you’re happy to see succeed. Just take a look a Syrp’s team and how they describe themselves in their contact page to get a sense of the Syrp mindset: just plain cool. The company started with a successful kickstarter campaign to launch the ambitious, yet well-implemented, Genie Motion Control Time Lapse head. Not being content to just stay still, though, Syrp recently introduced two new products: the Magic Carpet Slider and the Variable Neutral Density (ND) filter.
I’ll get to the Genie and Magic Carpet Slider in upcoming posts. Today, we’ll be looking at Syrp’s ND filter.
What is it & A little bit of background
Constant and variable ND filters have been used in astronomy, cinematography, and photography for some time. Ask any amateur astronomer how they attenuate (i.e. reduce) the full moon’s light, and they will reach into their bag and show you a small variable neutral density filter. Cinematographers use ND filters to allow for shallow depth of field shots during the day, and photographers use them to create a sense of motion in brightly lit scenes. Ever lamented your inability to use a slow shutter speed to photograph a waterfall at mid-day? You would have been able to if you had a neutral density filter.
How Neutral Density filters work
Variable NDs are comprised of two polarizing filters stacked on top of one another. A polarizing filter, as you may know, works by blocking incoming light at 90 degrees to the filter. Stack two filters on top of one another at 90 degrees, and they can block out a significant amount of light. In the case of the Syrp variable ND filter, that amount of light varies from 1 stop (i.e. ½ the light) to 8.5 stops (i.e. 17 times less light) depending on the relative angle of the two polarizers to one another.
Think of it this way: if the relative angle of the two filters is zero, you get the minimum attenuation. Conversely, at 90 degrees, you get the maximum attenuation. Stated simply, you turn the variable ND filter one way you get less light; turn it another, you get more light.
Variable vs Constant Neutral Density Filters
Sounds great, so why aren’t all ND filters variable? Why do manufactures even sell constant filters? The reason for this is making a good variable neutral density filter isn’t easy. Variable ND’s are susceptible to color shifts. If not done right, a variable ND’s color shift can vary widely across the rotation range. On one end of the rotation you might get a blue-red shift, while on the other, you get a green shift. That said, even constant (i.e. non-variable) neutral density filters, have color shifts. But, those color shifts are, as might be expected, constant (for obvious reasons.)
Additionally, keep in mind a variable ND stacks two pieces of glass on top of one another in front of your lens. If the materials and craftsmanship aren’t top-notch, a discernable loss of sharpness can occur- often in the corners, but also in the center of the frame.
Large Vs. Small
Syrp created two versions of the ND filter: large and small. The small filter is 67mm and comes with step-up rings for 52mm and 58mm lenses. The large filter is 82mm and comes with step-up rings for 72mm and 77mm lenses. Both filters come with a sweet leather case (seriously, it’s a thing of beauty) and a cleaning cloth. Pricing is $139 for the small filter and $189 for the large filter.
Color & Sharpness
I was impressed with the filter’s optical performance. The Syrp Variable ND shows a consistent, and well-controlled, green color shift. I was expecting a lot more variance out of a filter at this price range, but it wasn’t there. Also, the shift is consistent across the rotation range and is easily correctable in Camera Raw or Lightrooom (i.e. you don’t get a blue shift on one end, and a green shift on the other). This is a big deal, because the last thing you want to do is color-correct for every little turn of the filter you might have made during your photo session. I also didn’t see much vingetting; that was a real surprise.
The image does get a bit softer at 8.5 stops than without the filter, but it is usable.
Take a look a the series of images below comparing an image taken with no filter vs images taken with the Syrp variable ND filter at various stops. Drag the slider to see more of either image. The last image you see in the series is a color-corrected image taken with the Syrp filter at 8.5 stops. Note: all the images were taken on a tripod within a few seconds of one another.
No Filter vs Syrp Variable ND at 1 stop
No Filter vs Syrp Variable ND at 3 stops
No Filter vs Syrp Variable ND at 5 stops
No Filter vs Syrp Variable ND at 8.5 stops
Image taken with the Syrp Variable ND at 8.5 stops – quick and dirty color correction in Lightroom.
The stops are clearly defined on the filter as I, II, III, IIII, IIIII, IIIIII, IIIIIII, IIIIIIII, IIIIIIII+ (the last being 8.5 stops). I like that the stops are demarcated, but I think the single notches can be hard to read after about 5 stops. It’s not a big deal, as I was able to tell what stop I was at. But, part of me wonders if it wouldn’t have been easier to just use digits.
Also, while there’s a small indicator dot to line up the stop to, it’s not clear whether I should be aligning the first “I” or middle “I” to the indicator. It would have been great to have a dot to show me where to align for a particular stop.
The stop marks and the indicator are minor quibbles. It’s really not hard to sort out what stop you’re at. Besides, what you’re really looking for when using an ND filter is a target shutter speed. You’re just spinning the filter until you get to your desired shutter speed. Do you really need to line up an indicator to a dot? No, you don’t.
I did have a bit of stickiness with the step-up ring to my Canon 77mm lenses. However, I never had to use a filter wrench to remove the filter. The filter motion is smooth.
Should you buy it
Some minor notes on numerals and stop indicators aside, the Syrp Variable ND filter is a strong performer. It shows a consistent, well-controlled, and manageable color shift across the rotation range while still yielding a sharp image. That’s a lot to pack into a sub- $200 variable ND.
At $139 for the small and $189 for the large filter, the price is well below comparable filters from B+W and Singh Ray (where you’ll be spending $300 and up). All-in-all, you get good optical performance at a decent price. Besides, you’ll really want that filter case!
What is it?
Let me start with what a hyperlapse is (in case this is the first time you’ve run across the term.) At its most basic form, a hyperlapse is a timelapse with motion. When I say motion, I don’t mean panning, tilting, or moving the camera on a track: that kind of motion does not a hyperlapse make. A hyperlapse involves significant motion through an environment with the camera moving across multiple axes simultaneously. Hyperlapses are awesome, but creating one usually requires you to use a tripod, some fancy camera gear, and Adobe’s AfterEffects or Premiere with the Warp Stabilizer plugin. In short, you can’t create a hyperlapse on the cheap. Well, you couldn’t: until today that is. Today creating a hyperlapse is free thanks to Instagram!
Instagram just released a Hyperlapse App for iOS (I’m sure an android app won’t be far behind). What’s interesting about the app is this: while video stabilization normally requires a heavy amount of processing power, Instagram’s Hyperlapse correlates the iPhone’s gyroscope motion data with the captured video to cancel out motion (aka shake).
It actually works really well. Check out the video I created with it today:
The app is dead simple. All you see when you open it is a record button that’s it. You hit the button to record and press it again to stop. When you hit stop, you’re asked how much you want to accelerate the video. You can choose from 1x to 12x. You also get a button to confirm or cancel. What’s cool is you get a preview of what the accelerated video looks like. Once you confirm you can then share the video to Facebook or Instagram, or you can save it to your phone.
It’s really a breeze to do. Just keep in mind: you don’t get any audio.
No YouTube or Vimeo sharing? I sort of understand Instagram/Facebook wanting to keep users within its walled garden, but it just doesn’t feel right not having sharing out to YouTube or Vimeo.
Also, if you happen to get a phone call while using the app, it locks up and becomes unusable. You have to kill the app and start over. Perhaps this is just specific to my phone ( I’d be curious to see if others are seeing the same thing.)
Should you Get it?
YES! First it’s free. Second, it’s simple. While it’s not perfect, it’s a lot of fun to use. I’m going to tool around Orlando with it and play around.
Here’s Instagram’s release video for Hyperlapse: