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Review of the eMotimo Pan & Tilt Motion Control Head for Video & Time-lapse

Review by Ron Risman, March, 2012

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What is the eMotimo PT

The eMotimo PT is a motion controlled pan & tilt head designed for video applications and motorized time-lapse sequences. The eMotimo PT features a 1/4-20" and 3/8" mount designed for use with tripods and motion dolly systems.

My Hands-on Video Review of the eMotimo PT

My Hands-on Written Review of the eMotimo PT

When you're ready to take your video production or time-lapse photography to the next level, you'll want to get the camera moving to help create a 3D space within the frame. Movement helps to create interest as well as increasing the overall production value. The eMotimo PT is a motorized pan & tilt head that offers a wide-range of important features such as ramping, static frames, integrated intervalometer, repeatable stepper motor, video mode, and shoot-move-shoot (SMS) mode - yet is incredibly easy to operate.

Attach it to a tripod and you'll instantly have a way to move your camera from point A to point B over a set duration of your choosing and the eMotimo will do the rest. When using the eMotimo for time-lapses you'll connect the eMotimo to your camera's control / remote port, set the interval between pictures, duration of the entire sequence, ramping speed, and the amount of static frames you want at the beginning and end of your sequence and the eMotimo will do the rest. It will even calculate the amount of frames the camera will shoot, based on the interval and duration you set. Once you hit start the eMotimo will keep you informed every step of the way - thanks to the LCD counter that shows you how many shots have been taken in the sequence and how much time is left before it ends.

The eMotimo arrived at a perfect time as I was just about to head to Florida to shoot time-lapses for COX Media. On my flight to Florida the eMotimo came on board the plane with me, fitting nicely inside my Lowepro X200 roller bag. I also brought along the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero Dolly and MX2 Controller in a padded double ski & snowboard bag as checked baggage. Throughout the 4-day shoot I used the eMotimo PT on all but one of the time-lapse sequences and combined it with the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly to create a motion sequence of the station's newsroom. The real power of a pan & tilt head come when you mount it to a motorized dolly, but for the sake of this review I will try to stay focused on the eMotimo PT itself. I will be creating another video that shows you how to integrated the eMotimo PT with the Stage Zero Dolly & MX controller in just a few days.

Build & Construction

The eMotimo PT is a 4.95" square orange-colored box (3.30" high enclosure) that surrounds the computerized brains and motors. The unit can be purchased with a wired or wireless gaming remote that makes it easy to setup. The chassis is made of aluminum, while the top portion of the unit and platform are made of acrylic. The unit weighs 2lbs 15 ounces and includes a standard 1/4-20" and 3/8" mounting holes on the bottom.

Overall the eMotimo feels very well designed and the orange color and see-through top definitely adds to the charm. I'm not crazy about the acrylic arm as it wasn't as rigid as I was expecting it to be, but the only time you'll notice a bit of bounce is when moving the head from point A to point B to set your start & stop points. Once you're shooting, the small incremental movements will not introduce any sort of bounce from the unit. My only fear is that using the eMotimo on a windy day could cause the platform to bounce, which during use could cause unwanted jitter or movement in your final sequences. I never had a chance to use the eMotimo with any significant winds, but when I was shooting in the newsroom I did have an issue of the camera 'bouncing' a bit when someone would walk by the tripod. I was shooting at the back of the newsroom where there was a tiered floor design (up about 1' higher than the rest of the newsroom). The floor had some flex to it, which when a heavy footed person would walk by, caused the camera to bounce during the exposure. The final time-lapse had just the slightest 'jitter' to it, which I was easily able to remove using Adobe After Effect's stabilization.

The acrylic arm that holds the camera offers a 3-slot design, making it easy to position your camera, regardless of the width. The camera connects to the arm using the 1/4-20" screw that is integrated into the arm. I would like to see eMotimo add a bit of rubber 'grip' to the section that houses the camera, this would help prevent the camera from slipping and pivoting This never happened during shooting, but the camera can slip a bit when you're first mounting it and framing your shot, or even when change memory cards. You can easily add a thin rubber layer yourself, so this really isn't a big deal.

eMotimo's website does mention the issue with wind as well

Simple Operation - Powerful Features

I don't care how capable any product is - if you can't figure it out or you need to be a math major to do so, then most of its power will go untapped. This is not the case with the eMotimo PT. The user interface is so simple that once you have had an initial run through you're ready to go. Even the remote control included is a 2-button Wii remote with joystick - simple and non-intimidating. This paragraph, to me, is the most important reason why I highly recommend the eMotimo PT for anyone looking to add motorized pan & tilt to their video or time-lapse shots. It works, it's simple, and it's affordable - at least compared to other motorized options on the market.

Here's a quick run through of how to operate the eMotimo PT:

  • Powering the eMotimo PT
    This can be a compact Li-ion battery pack, more powerful (heavier, but inexpensive) sealed lead acid battery pack, AC Power (supplied) or even using Canon's LP-E6 when connected to a JAG35 Battery Plate.

  • Load a previous routine or Reset for a new movement

  • Move the camera to START POINT then hit the top front button (C)

  • Move the camera to the END POINT then hit (C)

  • Set INTERVAL between shot
    This should be at least .3 seconds longer than the camera's Tv value). Press (C). When shooting video you can set this mode to "VIDEO" so that the motion is continuous without stopping to capture stills.

    Static time is the amount of time you want the eMotimo to hold still. This should be set to (no more than).1 second longer than the camera's Tv (exposure) value to insure that the motor doesn't start to move while the camera is still exposing the scene and to give it enough time to get to the next position. When the camera is set to Aperture-Priority mode keep in mind that the camera's exposure value (Tv) will get longer as the sun goes down. Both this setting and the INTERVAL setting should be set with the longest exposure value in mind.

    When shooting time-lapses sequences sure to leave enough extra time for all 3-exposures to fire. Remember to keep in mind that as day turns into night your intervals will get longer, so you'll need to take that into account when setting both the INTERVAL and STATIC time. Also, the STATIC time cannot be set longer than the INTERVAL time. Common sense, but easy to forget since you've already moved past the INTERVAL setting.

    Ramp speed = acceleration. The amount of frames that you want to motor to use as it goes from 0 to full speed and vice-versa It allows for a smooth transition from start to full motion. The amount of frames you select will be identical for both RAMP UP and RAMP DOWN.

    Select the total duration of the entire sequence from the START point to the end POINT. This can be set as long as 33 hours.

    This setting allows you to select how many pre- and post-frames you want the eMotimo to stay stationary before starting it's movement.
Tip #1: As you navigate through the pre-shot setup, keep in mind that you can easily move backwards through the settings by pressing the "Z" button on the remote (bottom-front button).

Tip #2: Whenever you're shooting a time-lapse with the eMotimo PT at slower shutter speeds it's a good idea to leave about 1-2 seconds between the STATIC time and the INTERVAL time. This will give the eMotimo plenty of time to move to the next position before triggering the camera again. So if the STATTC time is 20.1 seconds, try to make the interval 21.6 or 22 seconds (or longer if needed).

Tip #3: The eMotimo is designed for a camera / lens / battery combination under 5 lbs. This should work fine with all but the largest DSLR's with battery grips. Even with some set ups under 5 lbs, the tilt motor 'may' stall depending on how high the center of gravity is for the camera. So battery grips could potentially limit your tilts to approx. 30-degrees up/down. Left / right pans should not be effected by the center of gravity.

Tip #4: Very helpful information from eMotimo.

Weather and the eMotimo

While I've already covered the effects that higher winds could have on the eMotimo, you also want to take precautions from wet weather. Time-lapse sequences often occur over durations that last over an hour - sometimes much longer - and the weather can quickly change during that period. A passing rain shower is all you need to potentially short out the motor so please take precautions by covering your camera and the eMotimo with a plastic bag.

When I was shooting in Florida a couple of weeks ago I encountered a couple of days of on and off rain showers. Nothing new when shooting in Florida. At one location it was already raining when I got there, but I knew the wet roads would enhance the night time portion of the time-lapse, so I grabbed a plastic bag from a local clothing store, tore a hole in it and stretched the hole over my camera lens, while letting the opening of the bag drape down over the camera body and the eMotimo PT. I then tore a vertical slit up the back of the bag that allowed me to preview the screen while the time-lapse was running. I ended up with a perfect 70 minute time-lapse, despite the wet conditions, and protected the camera and eMotimo without spending a dime.

Review Summary

The eMotimo PT is a bargain in the world of motion controlled (MOCO) pan & tilt heads for video and time-lapse photography. At $505 including carrying bag and wired remote or $525 with a wireless remote, the eMotimo PT will save you at least $1000 over other professional quality pan & tilt heads designed for motion controlled time-lapse applications.

Not only will the eMotimo save you money, it is also simple to operate, and I know that when things are easy to use, you'll use them. It ships in a compact bag that is just big enough to hold the eMotimo and cables, but it should also fit nicely in your backpack - just remember to take precautions to protect it regardless of which bag you use. I protected it by putting bubble wrap between the body and the acrylic arm and placing a thin piece of bubble wrap over the side of the unit facing up.

If you are serious about time-lapse photography or would like a pan/tilt head that offers repeatable moves for video you would be nuts not to consider the eMotimo PT or the newer eMotimo TB3. While not perfect, it offers professional quality moves without the pro price.

P.S. I have also included a lengthy video tutorial on how to use the eMotimo PT as a stand alone 2-axis Pan & Tilt motor for time-lapse. In the coming week I'll also be adding additional videos to show you how to use it with the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly and MX2 controller.

Helpful Links

My Hands-on Video Review of the eMotimo PT

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