Sunday, April 20, 2014

eMotimo TB3 Rover Testing

The motor on my custom DIY eMotimo TB3 time lapse rover was replaced with a 14:1 stepper that has a good combination of torque and speed. (Speed relative to the original 27:1 motor)  I did some testing over the weekend and headed down to Lake Geneva.  This series stretched 30 feet with 845 images over 70 minutes.  Outside building a ridiculously long slider, this type of time lapse wouldn't have been possible without the DIY Rover.  I have some ideas to try a time lapse sequence where the rover travels over 100 feet!



I did try another sequence at the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, the path I had to work with wasn't exactly straight.  The problem with the rover as it's currently designed is the inability to steer the rover while it's in motion.  I'm able to make manual changes to its direction, for example, like when it gets too close to the grass on the sidewalk.  However, this changes the angle of the camera along the way.  Ideally, the Rover would be set correctly before starting, with not adjustments needed.  Here is the first half of the sequence.  The full sequence, the rover drives over 80 feet in about 2.5 hours.  


I also attached a GoPro HD Hero 3 to the front of the rover during this sequence, and set the camera to capture every 10 seconds.  You can definitely see when the rover's direction is altered, as the GoPro is mounted to the front axle.  Interesting perspective, without needing a dSLR.  I certainly get better image quality out of my Canon, but the GoPro is a great addition.  What I learned from this session is that I need to be very precise in setting the angle of the rover axle, or I need to find locations where I'm not limited to a 4 foot sidewalk.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gigapixel Pano from Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas

Finally got to try the eMotimo TB3 on a large and fun subject:  The Las Vegas strip!  Using Panoramic mode, I used a 400mm lens to capture roughly 370 images to create this gigapixel panoramic.  Go ahead, Zoom in!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Testing the eMotimo Rover: First Run.

Spring seems to finally be here.  I needed to spend some much needed time cleaning up the garage, so I decided to put the new DIY time lapse rover to the test and let it run while I was busy doing other things.  I really wanted to test this thing outside, and snow sort of put a damper on that until recently.  The amazing thing about this custom rover, is that you're not limited to short distances like you would be with a slider.  This test footage was captured over about a 30 foot stretch of sidewalk for 1.5 hours taking a picture every 8 seconds.  The destination is outside my house, and not very exciting, but keep in mind that this is a only a test.


The great thing about the eMotimo TB3 is that you just drive the rover from the start point to the end point, and it does all the calculations for you.  You set the ramp up time, number of exposures, interval, etc.  The bad thing is that I currently have the slower (27:1) stepper motor on the rover.  Since you have to drive the rover from the start to finish, and then it has to drive it back to the start point, it takes a bit of time to get set up for a long distance time lapse.



eMotimo only offers 2 options for 3rd-axis stepper motors on their website, the (5:1) for faster moves needed for video and the (27:1) which offers more torque but slower speeds for time lapse.  Unlike my Dynamic Perception slider dolly with quick release mount, it takes a bit of time to get the motor mounted to the rover.  So, I've ordered and installed a permanent (14:1) stepper motor specifically for the rover, and hopefully, it will have a good combination of speed and torque and I'll never have to take it off.  Special thanks to Gunther at LRTimelapse for posting the proper wiring instructions.



This initial test, I set up the rover to go in pretty much a straight line down the sidewalk.  Since the sidewalk wasn't completely level, the rover did drift a bit.  I look forward to setting up a time lapse using a circle or arc, which wouldn't be possible with a slider.  I used Actobotics parts from ServoCity to build the rover, and it allows me to set the angle of the front tires.  Each time there is a break in the sidewalk, the rover dips when each of the wheels traverses the crack, causing a bump in the video footage.  I'll need to keep this in mind when finding suitable locations for the rover, and try and get as smooth of a surface as possible.  I'm not sure if there is a limitation to the distance the eMotimo can handle, but I plan on creating something this summer that is at least a couple hundred feet.



Headed to Las Vegas for a business trip this week.  Just need to decide whether to bring the rover to capture a time lapse of the Vegas lights, or stop by the NAB show!


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

eMotimo TB3 vs. AutoMate vs. Gigapan Pro

I recently upgraded my time lapse arsenal with a new eMotimo TB3 robotic panoramic head.  I've really gotten into time lapse photography in the past year, and wanted something that would work on a slider, in addition to 2 axis moves on a tripod.  In addition to time lapse sequences, the TB3 can be used for video sequences as well as creating gigapixel panoramics.


I also have an Automate by Gadget works, and have access to a, EPIC GigaPan pro, so I thought I would do a high level review and comparison of the 3 products.   Please keep in mind that each of these specialize in different things, but have some overlap on features.  I'll start with the Automate, since I've had that the longest.

Automate by the Gadget Works:


The biggest thing that Automate has going for it is the price.  $299.  I purchased mine a few years ago, as it was hard to pass up this sort of deal.  It allows for 2-axis, pan and tilt, time lapse sequences, and mounts directly to a tripod.  It is powered by 4 AA batteries, and seems to last for multiple sessions.  It does have a power input, so if you're near an electrical outlet, that would be good for longer sequences.  I added a quick release plate to mine, as it gave me more flexibility in trying to find the nodal point than the connection platform that comes with the Automate.  There is limitation to how much the camera can tilt up and down to about 30 degrees.  For most gigapixel panoramics this would not be an issue when shooting with longer lenses.  Long exposures can be used with the camera in bulb mode, as well as HDR bracketing.  Since the entire Automate enclosure rotates with the camera, you don't have restrictions on how much you can rotate. With the eMotimo TB3, the cable can become wrapped around the motors if you have it turn more than 1 rotation.
  • Support of camera and lens combination up to 6 pounds.
  • Built in HDR Support using bulb mode on Camera
  • Programmable delay before sequence starts
  • 2 Axis motion control
  • Android app with Bluetooth integration.  Also works with Pocket PC or legacy windows mobile.
  • External triggers can be added such as motion detection, light beam interruption, or Noise detector.
  • Ability to create and save custom programs
  • The automate grabs your GPS coordinates and emails them to you.
  • Automate works with the Promote Control with separate 2.5mm to 2.5mm stereo cable.

One thing that I find is that the Bluetooth connection from my android phone / tablet is sketchy.  I need to reconnect sometimes multiple times, and reset the Automate if it loses connection.  With the added antenna, you can be up to 100 feet away and still have connectivity to the Automate.  There is a remote control screen which allows you to move the robot in real time, as well as trigger the shutter on your camera at will.  The best feature in my opinion is the "Roll you own" option, which allows you to create custom programs.  I find that this is the best way to create motion time lapse sequences that have more than just a start and a stop point.  You can also save these custom programs to use at a later date, so you're not messing around with programming a sequence.  You can use roll your own for time lapse, or multi-row panoramics.  One issue that I have found is that the motor speed is not consistent, and varies based upon how fresh your batteries are.  There are nice features, such as the ability to ramp your motor sequence.

The app for Automate has not been updated since I purchased my unit.  The product might be a lot more useful if they opened up the programming with an SDK, or made the code open source.  There is an auxiliary port that could be used for 3rd axis motion via a slider, but the app would need updates for this to happen. For the price, it's hard to beat, but you have a longer learning curve.

Epic GigaPan Pro: 


This GigaPan EPIC Pro isn't mine, and I have the least amount of experience with it.  I belongs to a friend of mine who is a photographer, but was nice enough to lend it to me for the purpose of this blog post.  Right off the bat, this is a beefy mount.  The EPIC Pro supports up to 10 pounds, which allows you to use some pretty hefty lenses.  This badboy was made for creating Gigapixel panoramics using technology developed for NASA and the Mars Rover.  Additionally, it comes with the GigaPan Stitch software which will combine your photos into a seamless panoramic, and then uploaded to Gigapan.com, where you can share your images.  It does not come with a padded bag or case, which is a shame, since the size of this unit alone makes it almost a requirement to have it's own case.  This particular unit has a Really Right Stuff sliding mount to help eliminate parallax by adjusting the camera over the nodal point.  It has a proprietary built in rechargeable battery, as well as an AC plug in.  
  • Retail $995
  • Works with almost all dSLR Cameras
  • Support up to 10 lbs
  • Included Stitch Software
  • Parallax adjustment
  • Remote Trigger port
  • Multiple Triggering option for bracketing
  • Promote Control integration for HDR or Focus Stacked panoramics
The user interface is simple and I was able to create my first panoramic sequence in just a few minutes without any documentation.  Obviously, if you buy one of these, you'll want to read the manual and understand the best way to set up the EPIC  Pro.  The entire unit rotates with the camera, so there is no wrapping of any cables if you rotate too far.  

The timelapse option on the EPIC Pro allows you to capture a series of panoramics.  This is different from the Automate or the eMotimo in the fact that the time lapse sequences on those devices are single or bracketed images, where the EPIC does the entire panoramic series over and over so that you could create large format panoramic time lapse sequences.  

eMotimo TB3


TB3 stands for "The Box" 3-axis pan and tile motion controlled head.  It uses stepper motors which can support up to 8 pounds.  Tilt of 85 degrees up and 75 degrees down, depending on which direction you mount the camera.  The base has both 1/4" and 3/8" threaded sockets so you have multiple mounting options for most tripods.  The Wii type controller allows for remote configuration of the TB3 with a very simple and easy to understand interface.  The TB3 mounted on a tripod alone will give some great motion time lapse sequences, but I think where this unit stands above the rest is the ability to add a 3rd axis.  The wireless TB3 runs $999, but I waited until they had a facebook promotion and saved $50.  Obviously, you'll have to spend more for the slider, motors, and batteries, depending on what options you want.


TB3 Slider Integration


I will be using my TB3 with the Stage Zero Hardware and Quick Release system from Dynamic Perception. I also purchased the stepper motors directly from eMotimo, which work seamlessly with the quick release motor mount on the Stage Zero dolly.  Please note that I did not buy my #1030 rail from Dynamic Perception, but directly through the 80/20 store via ebay.  The only difference is that I wasn't able to get a royal blue rail, and went with black instead.  They are identical except for the color, but about half the cost on ebay.  The motors from eMotimo come with a cable, so it's plug and play right out of the box.  I got both the 5:1 and 27:1 stepper motors, so that I can do both slow time lapse, and also faster video transitions. You can also repeat sequences very easily, which can provide some interesting option in post processing.  I also like that you can use the Promote Control with the TB3 to add HDR or focus stacking into the mix.  I am using the 20000mAh Quad Port Portable battery unit by Anker to power the eMotimo TB3.


By ordering my T-Slot rail off ebay, I was able to save enough money to buy some additional parts to create legs.  If I want to run the slider on a flat surface, these legs will do great.  You can also see that I have my tripod mount on the bottom, so I still have the ability to use this with a ball head on a tripod or two.

Another look at the legs and feet of the slider on the far end.


Another tip that I found on another review of the eMotimo is the use of a swivel or tilt head used normally on a monopod.  Unlike a ball head, this head only swivels one direction, so mounted in parallel with the slider, you can easily level the eMotimo to the horizon, while the slider is not.  I bought the Manfrotto 234RC Swivel Tilt head, which will be used exclusively on this dolly.

Hyperlapse Rover


In addition to using the eMotimo with a 3rd axis slider, I built a "hyperlapse" rover to have a more mobile solution to time lapse photography.  The idea is that the eMotimo robot drives the rover in a shoot, pause, move sequence for greater distances than you could get with a slider.  My intention is to use the rover in scenarios where I can have the rover move along a flat surface over distances from 6 to hundreds of feet.  It can go in a straight path, or it can also arc or go in circles.  The eMotimo TB3 attaches directly to the rover using a 3/8" mount.

Panoramic


I took the eMotimo TB3 up to the roof of the Kennedy Manor in Madison last weekend to test the Panoramic mode.  I had not read any of the documentation that came with the TB3, and was able to figure out the best method for capturing a large, multi-image panoramic of the Madison skyline within a few minutes.  The TB3 is best suited for time lapse sequences, but the panoramic mode worked flawlessly.  I was able to capture a couple large panoramics of the Capitol, as well as the construction on the new Edgewater Hotel.  Just an FYI, software to stitch these images together are not included with the eMotimo robot.  I use Autopan Giga to create my panos.

Click images to view the image on GigaPan.com



Summary

Ok, a lot of information has been presented, and I'm sure I missed a ton of features that warranted attention. Each of these units works well, but also fill their own niche.  The Automate is packed with features, but has a steeper learning curve and inconsistent results in my tests.  However, for photographers who want to add a time lapse machine that also can do gigapixel panoramics, and stay within a $300 budget, Automate has a lot going for it.  I think if the owners of Automate opened up the software for further development, it would benefit everyone who owns one.  The GigaPan EPIC Pro is a workhorse for creating GigaPixel panoramics, and can carry very heavy lenses.  The ability to create panoramic time lapse sequences is a cool idea, but not sure how often I'd use that.  The real winner in my opinion is the versatile TB3 by eMotimo.  Simple and user friendly interface makes setup quick and easy.  Time Lapse, Video, or panoramic sequences gives me something I can use in many of my photography workflows.  For me, being able to use it on a slider as well as my rover for time lapse sequences make it something I can't wait to play with once the weather in Wisconsin breaks.

Monday, February 24, 2014

DIY eMotimo TB3 Hyperlapse Rover

I use the term DIY loosely on this, as the only thing that is custom is the rover itself. The eMotimo TB3 is a time lapse robot that is normally used by itself, or in conjunction with a slider. I do have a 6 foot T-slot slider that I'll by using with the TB3 and Dynamic Perception stage zero hardware with quick release. The problem is that the slider limits the distance you can make the camera travel. After my recent DIY Actobotics projects, including the Slow Motion Cable Cam, Mini Auto-Reverse slow motion slider, and adjustable width slow motion ladder dolly, I came up with the idea that a hyperlapse rover would be a complimentary addition to my Time Lapse fleet.  I call it a "hyperlapse" rover only because it has the ability to cover much larger distances, time and patience permitting.


I used Actobotics parts from Servocity.com to build this simple rover that uses a stepper motor and RC Monster Truck wheels to push itself forward.  The eMotimo TB3 allows for 3-axis moves in 2 or 3 step sequences, where you select a start point and then drive the rover to the end point.  Once you set the interval and how long you want the sequence to take, the TB3 takes over and drives back to the start point to begin the sequence. Unlike my ladder dolly, which moves very slow, but never stops, the eMotimo Rover takes a picture, then moves forward and stops, then repeats until you get to your end point.  Very simple set up.

The Wii Remote that controls the TB3, and ultimately drives the rover

One part that is missing is the Stepper Motor mount.  This is a mythical part that is supposed to be released soon, but I couldn't wait any longer and mounted the stepper motor directly to the channel.  The 8mm to 1/4" coupler had to be ordered from ebay, since that also wasn't available from ServoCity, but hopefully they'll release one at the same time as the motor mount.  To offset the motor from the axle, I used a combination of hub and pinon gears.

I have a 1/4" threaded mount on the front of the rover for a GoPro in case I want to do a low angle time lapse as a secondary camera.

I bought Traxxas truck tires for remote control vehicles to give it an aggressive look and some "offroad" capabilities. It can be rear-wheel or front-wheel drive depending on how you set the start and end points, but only one wheel at the moment has a drive train.  I'm using the 5:1 Geared Stepper Motor from eMotimo, and also have the 27:1 motor if I really want to slow the rover down.

The front and read "axles" are able to rotate, so the the rover can drive in an arc or in circles.  I didn't want to have the rover always going in a straight line, so I designed the rover axles to have a bit of rotation.

Unfortunately, the weather in Wisconsin has turned cold again, so I can only play with this inside.  If some of the snow melts, maybe I'll get out and get some initial test sequences.  I'll post as soon as I have something!







Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

When starting my slow motion cable cam dolly, Servocity.com coincidentally was running a contest for people who were creating custom projects using Actobotics parts and HiTec servos.  I entered my DIY time Lapse cable cam.  I won first place!  Awesome.


Here are the other winners:

2nd Place: 

3rd Place:

4th Place:

Congratulations to the other winners for their fantastic projects.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

50th Annual Camp Jorn Pancake Breakfast

The photo booth was set up this morning for the 50th Annual Camp Jorn Pancake Breakfast.  Fun group of Camp Jorn staff, alumni, and campers who participated in the photo booth.  This group made full use of the prop selection, and had a great time.

Click the image below to watch slideshow!


Click the image below to view more images from the Camp Jorn Pancake Breakfast Photo Booth.