Buying Guide for Motion Control
Purchasing a motion control rig is easy, but buying the right one for you will take a bit of research and time. There are lots of flashy features, over-marketing, and confusing jargon from all vendors. It's not easy to sort through the noise and find what's right for you.
The goal of this guide is identify the right questions for you to ask in order to help you sort through that noise and figure out your real needs and wants. Once armed with information, you will make a smart selection that will serve you now, and for years to come.
Let's get to it!
Answer these Questions
1) What cameras / lenses do you shoot with or plan to shoot with in the future?
This identifies payload capacity, geometry and potential slider choices to enable your kit to grow with you.
2) What are the most important shots you want help with now and in the future?
Automated interviews, Tabletop/product shooting, Visual effects with repeatable shots, timelapse, stop-motion, gigapixel photography, live studio shooting, and concerts/events are some of the shots you can use to narrow down your choices.
3) What do you own already or have access to?
Do you have manual / motorized sliders or dollies, focus systems, and grip equipment that could be leveraged into a solution? Do you have batteries or use software that you want/need to integrate?
4) Do you shoot professionally and make money from your work, or are you a prosumer or hobbyist?
What cameras / lenses do you shoot with or plan to shoot with in the future?
30% of eMotimo customers are DSLR / Mirrorless only, and use spectrum ST4 primarily for photography based usage with some product and interview shooting.
40% are both lightweight DSLR / mirrorless and Cinema Camera users including RED DSMC2 bodies with Montstro, Helium, Gemini, and Dragon brains, Canon C200, C300, C500, Sony FS700/ FX700, ARRI Alexa Mini, Black Magic Ursa Mini, and more.
30% are Cinema Camera users only.
DSLRs / Mirrorless
These size cameras are exceedingly capable and getting better all the time. If you only plan on using lighter weight DSLR / Mirrorless systems, our gear is going to look more expensive than entry-level systems that don't support heavier and larger cinema cameras.
If your only plan is shooting timelapse on mountain tops -there are lighter and less expensive solutions out there. These vendors focus on your specific needs, but have large limitations - most notably in speed, noise and stability for video. Do recognize these limitations though as most vendors of this time lapse-centric gear overstates capacity and capability when moving to larger rigs and basic video moves.
For general specs, the spectrum ST4 is a 4.5lb head and packs small with a divided backpack taking up low volume. The spectrum ST4 eats up DSLR/Mirrorless cameras and any lens for timelapse and video. The plus is, there is plenty of room to go bigger too. If you want the ability to shoot reliably with heavier and larger gear the spectrum ST4 can grow with you.
Mid Sized Digital Cinema Cameras
If you shoot, or plan to shoot with RED DSMC2 bodies with Montstro, Helium, Gemini, and Dragon brains, Canon C200, C300, C500, Sony FS700/ FX700, ARRI Alexa Mini, Black Magic Ursa Mini, the eMotimo spectrum ST4 was designed to support this size and weight. Our geometry is L-Shaped, to put the camera where it should be for better support throughout extreme pan and tilt changes, and for better optical properties.
In the last two years, we have seen other vendors enter this market and make claims about payload capacity. Some of our most satisfied customers are those that have tried other vendors rigs and found them lacking. Any rig that pans off the center of a lens, or tilts far off node, creates footage that looks like slides and translation. Additionally this creates issues where the further you tilt, the more torque that is put onto the tilt axis. This translates to twisting loads on the lightweight slider and support equipment.
Why would they choose this geometry? The design choices were made to make a compact rig to tout "pack-abilty". This is easy to market. You can spot these rigs by tilt capacity ratings that are based on angle. And usually to hide this, they tune their motor way down to be super slow so they have lower acceleration and force that cause stability issues.
The spectrum ST4 is strong and as compact without sacrificing stability and speed for these types of cameras.
Payload / Speeds and Geometry
Watch out, geometry, the shape of your rig matters here! Any solution that sets a camera on top of a rig and not in a L-bracket or U-Bracket is a solution that can't support cinema cameras well through the basic ranges of pan and tilt.
Far too often payloads are overstated by our competitors. Make sure you read the fine print before purchasing any product. Ultimately, you will find that yes, it can support a professional cinema camera weight without breaking, but the results are poor or impossible excepts for shots with limited tilt angles, and when going very slowly.
Because the eMotimo is designed with geometry to put the center of gravity in line with our pan and tilt axis, our motors don't have to work as hard to go through a full range of motion. This means we can pan faster, and tilt faster. It means that when we tilt, we don't off center the entire rig and create stability issues with the slider and stands. In short, since our geometry is better, we can do more than rigs with offset geometry.
What are the most important shots you want help with?
Interviews, TableTop Shooting, Timelapse, and Repeatable VFX are the four most important shots to eMotimo spectrum ST4 customers.
Typically our users purchase for an immediate need in one of these areas, and then begin to explore additional capabilities. Customers who shoot in 2 or more areas on a monthly basis appreciate the value of eMotimo more.
Additionally, we support customers that shoot stop-frame animation, gigapixel photography and panoramas.
If you shoot in all these areas on a regular basis - you are our ideal customer!
Interviews and Table Top
If you shoot interviews and products, having an easy to set up 4-axis rig where you coordinate pan, tilt, slide and focus is key. 3-axis rigs without focus control don't work as well in these environments. A key feature of any rig is it should be quick to physically set up and it should be easy and intuitive to program for both basic and advanced multi-keyframe shots.
The eMotimo spectrum excels in these environments. There are only 2 wires to plug in for a 4 axis shoot - you are up and ready for your first shot in just a few minutes.
For interviews, once on, you can program a basic move in seconds, or up to a 9 keyframe tracking move to keep your subject framed and sharp throughout the move. Most users find that a 4 to 5 point move is all they need for a perfect interview.
For table top shooting, you can use traditional programmed moves with keyframing, or work with eMotimo's open-ended keyframing called GoTo Frames where you define targets that make hitting your marks fast and easy.
eMotimo has been a leader in motion control timelapse capability since we entered the market in 2010 with our eMotimo PT and TB3 lines. We solved a lot of problems throughout the years and all of that work and those features are in the spectrum ST4. 4-axis timelapse moves are easy using our built-in intervalometer coupled to your DSLR / mirrorless cameras. The eMotimo brains help you figure our your runtimes / playtimes based on your choices. While we serve the highest caliber timelapse artists in the world, we have kept the interface simple and intuitive with very few settings. We will never clutter our interface with meaningless presets like a "Cloud" mode or "People" modes. Instead we give users the artistic choices and flexibility to get the shot.
In addition to SMS (Shoot-Move-Shoot) timelapse triggered from the eMotimo brain, we support all external intervalometers like Timelapse Plus View for advanced exposure ramping.
We have a great following of professional timelapse artists. What they love about our kit is it is extremely tough, reliable, and shoots in any environment hot or cold. It supports any setup with any lens. It is extremely power efficient, and takes industry standard batteries that can also power cameras for overnight shoots. Once done with a long term shot, you snap in another and are ready to go. It is a timelapse production machine.
Visual Effect requiring shot blending used to be reserved only for big budget productions that had the money to rent and crew some expensive equipment.
The spectrum ST4's pan/tilt/slide and focus moves are repeatable. We have no drift that is seen with encoded DC motors and servos. Drift kills VFX shots as the images ghost between passes. If you have used other solutions, sometimes costing more than $10K and seen them challenged in repeating a shot, the spectrum ST4 can help.
In practice, setting up a multipass shot is simply defining a programmed move on the unit, running it, and selecting repeat at the end of the shot. The rig moves back to "one" and waits for you to trigger another pass. We have a built in bloop light on the back of the gaming controller to make lining up passes easier.
If you have the need for complex keyframing (+9 keyframes), the eMotimo spectrum ST4 integrates to Dragonframe's keyframe interface enabling hundreds or thousands of keyframes. The eMotimo spectrum is the first and currently only motion control company to support Dragonframe's real-time interface.
Other motion control companies use propriety keyframe software that is limited in keyframing and functionality. They also might integrate to Dragonframe, but with functionality that doesn't support real time moves.
The spectrum ST4 enables productions of all levels to create convincing multipass VFX shots easily and reliably.
What sort of gear do you own already or have access to?
eMotimo has always been and will continue to be an integrator.
More than any other vendor in the motion control space, we choose to actively integrate to other solutions and brands. Our premier slider partners for integration are Dana Dolly and MYT Works, but we integrate to sliders from our competitors such as Dynamic Perceptions, Kessler and Rhino.
Already Own Gear that you love? Leverage it.
We integrate with dollies and sliders from Dana Dolly, MYTWorks, and even from various competing manufacturers like Dynamic Perception, Rhino, and Kessler. Our integration kits are small, inexpensive and enable the eMotimo ST4 to drive your slider or dolly.
Don't Own Gear ? Watch out!
For most brands and vendors it's their business model to get you into their ecosystem any way possible and lock you in. You can get started for only a few hundred dollars by buying these inexpensive modules that can grow with you and just add on . . . sound familiar?
The best case scenario for you if your requirements start expanding is that it will get expensive very quickly. The worst case scenario, and one that happens more often, is that you find capabilities are lacking as you grow out of and "invest" in additional expensive upgrades that will never meet your needs.
The best defense is to consider your needs now and your potential needs in the future. Evaluate it by looking at: 1) its capabilities so you don't lock yourself in to a brand or products that can't satisfy you 2) The price, as piecemeal solutions typically aren't less expensive 3) the complexity of the final solution. If you need two controllers, 6 wires that need to be managed, to get to your ultimate needs, you will never use it in practice.
Do you shoot professionally and make money from your work, or is this a hobby?
If you're making money on your shooting, you're going to want to have flexibility and the ability to expand your kit. That's why eMotimo customers love us. Our spectrum ST4 can do more, integrate with more, and allow you to adapt and grow with changing requirements and skill.
75% of eMotimo customers make money off their shoots and classify themselves as pros. Our spectrum ST4 is built for professionals, but the simple design and interface enables these pros to experiment and grow. Maybe they buy it for an automated interview set up, but then move into product and table top offerings after playing with the features in their spare time.
25% of eMotimo customers are those that don't shoot professionally, but are "prosumers" who really enjoy the depth of our capabilities and the ability to challenge their creativity. In addition to all the built in functionality, we have an open API to enable you to expand and tinker like no other product on the market.
A word about Phone and Tablet Apps
We know apps look great in demos and in marketing material, but we recommend you sort through the noise and ask some tough questions on usability.
At eMotimo we believe a dedicated controller with real joysticks is a superior primary interface than any touchscreen application on a tablet or phone. In short, we set up keyframe shots faster, and enable live and dynamic control. Have you ever seen someone try to drive a car with an iPhone app? Imagine looking at your hands for the right button or virtual joystick as you try to turn a corner and keep your eyes on the road. Another analogy is you can buy hobbyist mini drones that are app controlled with virtual joysticks, but you will find no professional model without physical controls that enable fine adjustment and a tactile feel.
You'll notice that most of the manufacturers who use apps as the primary interface have now started adding a physical controller in their newer generation products to attempt to address users complaints about reliability and usability.
eMotimo's controller is intuitive, reliable, and frees up your eyes so you can focus on the shot's framing. The PS4 dualshock joystick's connection is reliable, low latent (responds quickly) and easily replaceable if lost or damaged. Even if you have never played video games, or used one, it is exceedingly quick to learn. Additionally, there is an 8Way joystick on the side of the spectrum ST4 for backup control to set up programmed shots, or even leave the controller behind if only programmed shots are needed in the field.
If you are looking for a reliable production workhorse, you can't beat our usability and interface.
Keyframes and Control
Setting up a shot quickly matters. A simple 2-point move (set start and end points) move takes just a few seconds to set up on the spectrum. In fact, setting up a 9-point keyframe move with a consistent slide and tracking pan, tilt, and focus, takes just a minute or two to setup once you have gone through the procedure a few times.
If you want ultimate flexibility where you control every aspect of your video and timelapse shoot, we are the only vendor where you can turn over control to laptop or desktop control with Dragonframe's keyframing interface. Where time is money, most of our users program on box in a couple of minutes. But, the flexibility is there to add as many keyframes, 1000's if you wanted, to your shoot.
How do other vendors handle it?
Ask around and really figure this out - differences are huge. Maybe they only have 2 keyframes for focus like Rhino, or maybe you are limited to 3 keyframes, or have to change interfaces. Or maybe you have access to up to 10 keyframes on an iPad App, but the interface is buggy and take several more minutes to set up a relatively simple tracking shot.
If keyframes and control is a priority for you, you will really want to pay attention and do your homework on this.
Why do Video Creators Switch from other vendors to eMotimo spectrum ST4?
Their payload is overstated - read the fine print and you will find that yes, it can support a RED, but only with limited tilt angles.
Their app looks great in their demos, but it doesn't work for anything other than the basics. Some days it works, some days it doesn't.
Their speeds are too slow on tilt.
Takes too long to set up. Seems simple, but too many wires to plug in and manage.
Their focus module only has two keyframes - how can I rack focus reliably when you only have two keyframes?
I started with an inexpensive panning module, but it really can't expand . . or it can but it gets really expensive, and my payloads are still limited.
The internal battery failed and it was expensive to replace / had to be sent back.
Apps failed me in the field., forced updates before I could use it .
My shots aren't repeatable for VFX.
I have connectivity issues and getting the app to connect reliably. It won't connect in cold, or hot evironments.
I am limited in keyframing, or I can't focus well as I only get 2 points.
Their speeds are too slow on the track.
Their speeds are too slow on pan.
I can't get the shot I want with only 2 keyframes for focus.
Works well for timelapse, but doesn't hold up for video shooting.
Promised features are coming . . . tomorrow . . .stated months or years ago.
Primary interface is only with IOS, or Android - other app is coming . . .promised months ago.
I want to slide/dolly further and their track is fixed in length. I can't integrate to longer solutions.
The lifetime warranty is full of beans - it's for the lifetime that they are producing the product, not my lifetime, WTF? They iterate and innovate and then put another product out.