Saturday, January 7, 2017

Initial impressions of the eMotimo Spectrum St4

As part of a year end promotion, eMotimo gave a discount on their new Spectrum St4 four-axis motorized controller, so I jumped in on the upgrade from the TB3. Unfortunately, it's 6 degrees outside today in Wisconsin, so I'll be testing this in the comfort of my basement. Here are my initial thoughts on the St4.

TB3 vs. Spectrum St4

I purchased the eMotimo Tb3 Black almost 3 years ago to increase my time lapse capabilities. The cost at the time was $999, which also included the remote, camera cable, and soft case.  The Spectrum St4 is listed a $2,299 and includes the remote and hard case.  You need to replace any cables for use with the stepper motors that were purchased from eMotimo, or replace the plugs on 3rd party stepper motors.  You will also need to have an "L" bracket.  I already owned the Really Right Stuff "L" bracket for my 5D Mark III by canon, so I was set. 

The St4 is definitely geared towards the use of video than the Tb3.  While the TB3 can do video moves, the motors are loud and not as fast as the St4.  The spectrum St4 uses a Playstation controller, which feels better and more natural to use.  I personally don't do a ton of video, but the real time motion control smooth and also features a quiet mode. One change is the implentation of Arca Swiss plates and mounts.  This makes it very easy to attach to the tripod or rover.  It has built in levels which is very nice.  Since the TB3 had the motors external to the controller, you were limited to about 360 degrees of rotation.  With the St4, if you attach the battery pack to the side, you can rotate unlimited times, since the there are no cables to get in the way.  The interface and menus are easy to navigate, and are easy enough to follow if you ware familiar with the Tb3. One nice feature is the addition of a built in joystick on the St4 unit.  This will be valuable if the battery on the controller ever dies.

Rover Modifications

I needed to make a few modifications to the DIY Rover I used with the TB3 to be compatible with the Spectrum St4.  The stepper motor connectors were different.  I have documented the process and wiring diagram here.  Driving the rover with the Ps4 Controller is great, and it now has a slightly lower profile.  Now that the St4 has 2 external motor ports, I may modify the rover to be able to turn in the future.

After eMotimo released their version of the mobile cart, I built one with ServoCity Actobatics parts for smooth surfaces.  I will need to replace the plug on this cable too.

I needed to completely rebuild my follow focus / zoom rig.  However, since the St4 has multiple motor ports, I should be able to to linear motion on the slider as well as use zoom or focus. I need to order a few more parts to clean this up, but when I'm done, it will have the ability to modify both zoom and focus. Right now, it will only do focus.  eMotimo is releasing the Fz, or Focus, Iris, Zoom, which is a much more elegant solution for use with the St4. This just shows the DIY's that it's possible to save a little money by building your own.

Final Thoughts

I really like the ease of use of the Spectrum St4.  I did the upgrade offer where I saved off the purchase of the St4 if I sent my TB3 back.  I haven't done that yet, as I thought maybe I'd do a time lapse using both, but not sure if the weather will cooperate.  I am not sure the St4 has that many more features to be worth the cost more than double that of the TB3, as I have had to do a lot of work to get all of my custom integrations to work.  I really struggled deciding whether to pull the trigger because of the price, but think now that I have it, I'm happy with the purchase.  The hard case is a nice touch.  It seems to be similar, although maybe slightly lighter than most of the pelican cases that I have.  I personally love the quiet mode and real time control of the 4 axis motion. The quality of the new build is exceptional, and looks more professional than the TB3.  I look forward to using the Spectrum at a big part of my photography and video workflows.   

Goodbye TB3!

eMotimo Spectrum ST4 Wiring for 3rd Party Stepper Motors

I recently upgraded from the  eMotimo TB3 black to the new Spectrum St4. Although the products are from the same company, the interface to the stepper motors is different. I have built a number of custom projects that work with the TB3, like 2 rovers, a rotating turn table, and zoom adjustment rig.  I also have a 6 foot slider that I'll use with motors purchased directly from eMotimo. In order for the St4 to work with the 3rd party stepper motors that I purchased online from, I had to purchase a bunch of new interface plugs. I don't have an exact part number for these, as I acquired mine from eMotimo directly with my purchase of the Spectrum St4. If I had to guess, I would say it's a 4 pin aviation connector of some type.

Here is an image of the wiring for the new plug that ships from eMotimo for the motors that they sell with the wiring connections exposed.

Here is the connector that is specific to the stepper motors that eMotimo sells. Luckily, the 3rd party motors that I have use the same color wiring.  

For the TB3, the wiring on the Molex jumper connector is not the same colors, so you would use this as your conversion.
        • Black Motor –> Black jumper
        • Green Motor –> Red jumper
        • Blue Motor –> Orange jumper
        • Red Motor –> Yellow jumper
For the Aviator plug to be used with the St4, here is how I soldered the connections:

The only thing I did differently than the cables that eMotimo provides is put a little heat shrink on each cable after I soldered them.  (Make sure you slide the heat shrink on the cable before soldering it!)

Here is the completed cable after replacing the old molex connector.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

DJI Mavic First Impressions

I had a chance to play with the DJI Mavic today on 2 occasions and not only test our the DJI Go, but also the Litchi app.  It was a little colder in Wisconsin today, but a very nice and sunny fall day.  The wind in the first session was about 15 mph, but the Mavic performed great.  I finished the day by doing a sunset session to try and test the waypoints and pano features in the Litchi app.  

Basically, my experience with drone were from the MultiWiiCopter that I built a few years ago.  With that drone, I had to concentrate on flying it and could never take my eyes off of it.  With the DJI Mavic, it flies itself.  Add litchi to the Mix, and everything can be planned out ahead of time.  No flying skill at all is necessary, and I was able to concentrate on what I wanted to capture from a photo and video stand point.  Where I need to spend some time now that I'm comfortable letting the Mavic fly itself is the photo settings.  Everything I did today was just set to Auto, as I wanted to ensure that I could safely move the drone around and land it safely.  I really enjoyed the sessions I've had this week, and think that the Mavic will allow me to get back into aerial photography, and start to dabble in aerial video.  More to come!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

DJI Mavic Test Flight & Images

The Mavic is my first drone from DJI. I built a Y6 Multiwiicopter a few years ago that takes much more skill to fly than the Mavic. I am pleasantly surprised at how stable this drone is, as I will primarily use my DJI Mavic for aerial photography. I've had the drone for a couple of days, and went home on lunch today to get some test shots. The drone is very stable, and pretty much flies itself. Here are a couple of shots from the quick session.

Looking down at my house, you can see my shadow on the back patio.

My other goal was to do a panoramic to see how well the image merge together.  The shot above has 32 portrait images that we're combined with Autopano Giga.  I think that I'm going to have a ton of time with the DJI Mavic pro.  Too bad that I missed the fall colors and it's dark at like 4:30 now.  I'm planning on going out this weekend and spending a lot of time flying and shooting.  :)

DJI Mavic Pro Custom Pelican Case

Just like every other photographer who pre-ordered the DJI Mavic, I too had to wait while DJI got their act together, but it showed up earlier this week.  I've flown every day, and hope to have some sample shots up soon.  I went with the Fly More package, which came with a camera bag.  However, I plan on traveling with the Mavic, and with everything else in my car, including dogs, I didn't think that the satchel they provided offered enough protection for my new toy.  I went with a Pelican 1400 case and ordered the Kaizen foam to customize the inside.  I don't think that the pick and pull foam that comes with the Pelican cases works very well.

As you can see, the Mavic fits comfortably in the foam cutout, along with 2 spare batteries, the controller, the car charger, memory card holder, and battery to USB converter.  I have the multi-battery charger at home, and didn't think that I would need to try and fit that in here too as the batteries should be fully charged when on the go.  The 1400 case will work well when I just need a bit more protection for the Mavic

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Long Term Time Lapse Project

I have an opportunity to capture a construction project over about 8 months.  I have an old Canon G11 camera that I can use to capture the time lapse sequence.  I have created a prototype enclosure that will be securely mounted on a pole at the job site and take pictures every 30 minutes or so.  I also have a couple of options on how to get the camera to trigger, but we'll cover that later.  Here is the initial design.

Basically, I used a step up adapter ring to mount to the front of the case to hold a UV filter and protect the camera and inside of the case.  The camera slides on the internal mount so that the lens extracts flush to the UV filter glass.  There is enough space left in the case to add the power adapter and physical shutter release.  The plan is to physically mount the case to the job site telephone pole using lag bolts.  This will make it semi-permanent, and locks can be added to the box to deter theft.

Parts Used:

1 x Sensei 49mm Lens to 77mm Step Up filter
1 x 77mm Pro Series UV Filter
1 x Andoer Arca Swiss Adapter Plate
1 x Arca Swiss Plate
1 x Actobotics 90 degree Hub Mount Bracket A
1 x Actobotics Large Screw Plate
4 x 6-32 Socket Head Machine Screws
2 x Machine Screws

I already have an AC adapter for the Canon G11, and they are going to install a power outlet onto the pole this case will be mounted to.

SDM, CHDK, Eye-Fi, or Physical remote???

I have to decide how I'll trigger the camera using either SDM/CHDK and a time lapse script, or a physical intervelometer. Here are the pros and cons of each:

Using a custom script with CHDK or SDM will allow me to set the timeing for triggering the shutter to anything I want, and get it to only take pictures during daylight hours.  There are some limitations with CHDK and the size of the Memory cards.  Using this method means that I cannot use the 16GB Eyefi mobi card that I have for wireless access to the pictures.  This means that I will need to remove the memory card from the camera to retrieve the images.

Using a physical shutter release means that I'll have to purchase one off Amazon, and that the images will be taken 24 hours a day.  However, I can then use an EyeFi wireless SD card and be able to get the images off the camera without having to open the box and take the memory card out.  I'm leaning towards this option.

This will be an ongoing blog post as the construction project gets moving forward!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Ice Caves

Mark another bucket list item off, as I was fortunate to visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Ice Caves a couple of weeks back.  It was a long round trip journey just to ensure that I was able to see them, as the ice caves were only open for a few weeks this year.  After walking out on the ice after getting to the parking lot a 6:45am, I was able to get some decent shots of the caves.  The total number of people at the caves that day was about 15,000.  Highly recommended if you ever get the chance to make it up north in Wisconsin.