Time lapse photography has recently evolved into a spectacular fusion of the best of still photography and motion film making.
With the growing popularity of time lapse photography, and the increasing complexity that time lapse photographers are integrating into their films, we are seeing a steady stream of truly spectacular time lapse films (many of which we feature here on DIYP on a regular basis).
If you have tried your hand at time lapse photography, sooner or later you will come to realize that while static time lapse film sequences can be fabulous, time lapse films really sing when you add motion.
We were recently lucky enough to get our hands on a Syrp Genie for review and spent some time testing it out in the field.
Read on for our complete hands on review of the Syrp Genie.
The Syrp Genie – All In One Time Lapse Motion Control
Syrp markets the Genie as:
A simple, affordable and extremely easy to use device used for motion control and image capture for Time Lapse Photography + more.
That pretty much sums it up, but is perhaps a bit of an oversimplification of the capabilities of the Genie. With the Genie, you can control your time lapse sequences and incorporate panning motion (rotation or tilt), or linear motion (push or pull).
For panning motion, you simply setup the Genie on top of a tripod. For linear motion, the Genie allows for motorized motion control of any slider, dolly or even a cable cart.
The Genie is essentially a sophisticated winch. In pan mode, the Genie simply rotates around the winch axis. In linear mode, the Genie uses a rope to pull itself along either a dolly or a mobile cart.
The following video from Syrp explains the capabilities of the Syrp Genie in more detail:
First Impressions – What’s In The Box
The Syrp Genie comes with the main Genie unit, a mount for linear movements (the panning mount comes pre-installed), and a charger with a number of different outlet configurations.
The Genie uses a built in 11.1 volt lithium ion battery that also comes pre-installed in the unit.
Syrp recognizes that time lapse photographers are often in some pretty remote places in the world, so it is nice that they have thought to include a 110/240 volt charger with pretty much every outlet adapter there is – so no matter where you are, you can always charge your Genie.
(Update: In the video we stated that you need a male-male USB cable to update the Genie firmware. In fact, you just need a USB key. Here is a link to an instructional video on how to update the firmware: https://vimeo.com/68751060)
The Genie also comes with a shutter release cable, but if you plan on using your Genie with more than one brand of camera, you can order additional shutter release cables (I regularly use both Canon and Nikon cameras, so I have shutter release cables for both brands).
To use the Genie, you will also need good quality tripod and a sturdy ball head which you can also order directly from Syrp if you don’t already have one.
I almost always use a graduated neutral density filter for my time lapse work (which you can see attached to the camera in most of the sample photos) because I would rather get my images as close to perfect as I can in camera. Cokin makes a nice little graduated neutral density filter kit that is affordable and suites my purposes quite well. Syrp also offers a circular variable neutral density filter, which can be quite useful for more advanced time lapse work.
The Genie also comes with a 3m long non-stretch rope for linear movements. If you are planning on using the Genie for linear movements longer than 3m (or roughly the length of a typical dolly slider), I highly suggest that you purchase additional rope directly from Syrp (available in 10m, 50m and 100m lengths). The rope Syrp sells is non-stretch and is the right diameter to match the Genie’s winch system – I have tried other rope, such as 550 paracord and it just doesn’t work as well.
The Syrp Genie was built from the ground up to be professional grade. The unit is solid and just from the feel of it, you can tell that it is built from strong, durable components.
The LCD and control buttons are well laid out and easy to use. The settings on the LCD screen can be difficult to see in bright sun, but that is an issue with all LCD displays.
I really like that the Genie comes with a built in lithium ion battery because it makes the unit much more compact and I don’t have to worry about how the battery will be strapped to my gear. This might be a concern for some, because you can’t change the battery -but Syrp advertises a seven hour run time on a full charge (with just three hours to reach full charge).
In the field, I have never come anywhere near to using a full charge, even on really long cable cam runs where the Genie is doing a lot of work to pull itself along. In most circumstances, the battery in the Genie will far outlast the battery in your camera.
Of course, if you are in range of an outlet, you can always run the Genie off AC too.
I have had the Genie set up in some pretty harsh conditions – such as on a very exposed beach overnight and in cold weather and I have never had a problem with performance of the unit due to environmental conditions.
Set Up and Filming Time Lapse Video With the Syrp Genie
The Genie has a built in intervalometer that allows for complete control of your time lapse photography sequences.
It comes with three pre-installed time lapse presets: Clouds, People and Stars.
To be honest, I have never used any of the presets, but it is nice to know that if you are new to time lapse or if you need to set up a shot sequence very quickly, you have the option to just pick a preset and go.
In normal operation, the Genie’s intervalometer simply trigger’s your camera’s shutter and captures a photo based on the settings you have your camera set to in a standard time lapse workflow.
Generally, this means that you have your lens set to manual focus, your ISO, shutter speed and aperture are set in manual and your white balance is locked down.
Time Lapse Variables
To program your own time lapse sequence, you have four variables to set in the time lapse control menu: Record Time, Play Time, Interval and Movement.
If you are experienced with time lapse, you will notice that Play Time is dependent on the Record Time and Interval and will depend on the frame rate that you render your finished video to. Unfortunately, there is nothing on this screen that tells you how many images will be needed for the programmed sequence – you won’t know that until you press start.
This can be a problem if you program a sequence that will requite more photos than you can fit on your camera’s memory card.
When you are programing your sequence, it can be a little annoying that Record Time, Play Time and Interval are programmed to be interconnected. For example, if you set your Record Time to 5 hours, and your interval to 10 seconds, the Play Time will display as 60 seconds at the default 30 frames per second.
However, if you then decide that you only want your sequence to run for 3 hours and you change the Record Time the Play Time will stay at 60 seconds and the Interval will self adjust to 6.5 seconds – which is not necessarily what you want. If your camera was set for an 8 second exposure the Genie self adjusting the Interval to 6.5 seconds is not going to work – in most cases you would want the Interval to stay the same and you would just end up with a shorter play time.
I would personally prefer to be able to just set the Interval and the number of shots and have the unit tell me what the resulting Record Time and Play Time are.
Time Lapse Motion Control Setup
Programming motion control is relatively simple, but there are a few difficulties to consider.
To program a pan or tilt movement, you simply enter the angle of rotation in degrees and the direction – clockwise or counterclockwise (I wonder how many people that will use a Genie have never seen an analogue clock…).
That sounds simple enough, except it can be difficult to eyeball an exact angle of rotation in the field. For example, if you are starting facing due north with the north-star in the middle of the frame and then you want to pan clockwise through east, south and stop due west when a specific rock is in the middle of the frame – you would enter 270 degrees clockwise.
Personally, I would prefer to set the Genie to start at one position, then move to its finish position and tell it to run the time lapse sequence between those two points.
The process for programming linear motion is almost the same – instead of programing an angle and direction, you set a distance and direction.
Setting the direction is straight forward as well – the Genie unit is marked with “++” on the right and “–” on the left when the control screen is facing you. So if you set the linear motion direction to “++” the Genie will move to the right. “–” moves the Genie to the left.
However, setting the distance presents the same problem as setting the angle of rotation. In the field it can be hard to tell exactly how far you want the Genie to travel.
This is especially difficult on long cable cam runs where it is pretty hard to estimate how far your run is and you can’t really measure the distance, so you have to make an educated guess.
On very long cable cam runs, the process is further complicated by the amount of slack in the control rope relative to how far the Genie actually travels.
Saving Time Lapse Sequences
Once you have programmed in your time lapse sequence, you can either run it right away, or save it.
I have never bothered to save a specific time lapse sequence as I personally find that every single time lapse sequence that I film is different in some way, so I end up programming them from scratch every time anyway.
However, if you do want to film the same scene multiple times, or if you have a series of time lapse settings that work for you in multiple instances, you can save your settings for future use.
Advanced Time Lapse Settings
In addition to the Genie’s capabilities for running standard time lapse sequences, there are also a number of more advanced settings available to more experienced time lapse photographers.
You can set the frame rate that you would like the Genie to use when calculating your clip lengths. The default frame rate is 30 frames per second, but you can change that to 24 or another number to suit your particular project.
If you prefer to incorporate HDR photography into your work, the Genie fully supports bracketed HDR photography.
You can also program an ease in / ease out time to your movement control. With an ease in / ease out time, the Genie will gradually ramp up and down your sequence motion control so that your finished time lapse footage has a nice gradual start and stop.
Finally, the Genie has a “Bramping” or bulb ramping feature built in that can be used to gradually ramp your camera’s shutter speed. Bulb ramping is normally used to film large changes in light – such as so called “holy grail” time lapse sequences from night to day or day to night.
It is important to note that the Genie’s current bulb ramping function can only ramp shutter speed from a minimum of 1/10th of a second to a maximum of 30 seconds (you can use longer shutter speeds, but shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds are not typically useful for time lapse). There is no support for ISO ramping or the use of neutral density filters – which means that the current bulb ramping function is limited to a light sensitivity range of about 8 stops. As full day to night / night to day sequences require over 20 stops of variation, the Genie’s bulb ramping function is not really useful to capture full day to night / night to day holy grail time lapse sequences.
I have spoken to Syrp about this and they are planning on releasing improvements to the bulb ramping feature with future firmware upgrades.
Set Up and Filming Live Action Video With the Syrp Genie
The Syrp Genie is not just for time lapse photography.
All of the motion control capabilities that the Genie brings to time lapse can also be used with live action video – and in many cases, the Genie is even more useful to live action film makers than it is to time lapse photographers.
Using the Genie for precise motorized motion control for pans, tilts and linear dolly moves can result in video that is much smoother and controlled than trying to animate similar shots by hand. Add to that the Genie’s capabilities to perform controlled long distance live action cable cam shots and you have a very powerful and versatile tool for live action film makers.
Setting up the Genie for live action video is similar to setting up time lapse sequences. The Genie comes with two pre-programmed video modes – “fast” and “slow” or you can program your own video movement.
In video mode, you select the duration of your video clip and the movement and you’re ready to go. Similar to time lapse, you can also save your video preferences as a preset and program an ease-in / ease-out time as well.
Finally, you can also use video mode to preview a time lapse movement.
Filming Cable Cam Hyperlapse With The Syrp Genie
To me, the biggest capability of the Genie that separates it from other time lapse and live action motion control devices is its ability to run long distance cable cam shots.
There is no other device on the market that can do this.
To test the Genie out, I set up a cable cam run on a remote beach. The full run was about 200 feet long (a little over 60m) from end to end.
(Full details on how to build your own DIY cable cam rig coming soon).
There are a number of advantages to using a cable cam rig to film a long distance time lapse sequence over the traditional hyperlapse technique of incrementally moving a tripod along.
First of all, even though the cable cam cart does bob and move slightly between shots, the resulting video is much more stable frame to frame out of camera than hyperlapse footage usually is before it is stabilized.
Secondly, you can run cable cam shots over terrain that would not be possible to manually move a tripod along, such as over a rocky beach, over water or off a cliff.
However, even though my cable cam footage was fairly stable out of camera, I did have a very hard time stabilizing the footage in After Effects. I believe that with the amount of water and sky in my shots, Warp Stabilizer had a hard time finding enough high quality tracking points. In fact, it was so bad that Warp Stabilizer actually made the footage worse – so I had to resort to manually stabilizing the horizon using manual tracking points.
This method resulted in a stable horizon, but you will notice in the sample footage that there is still a little jitter in the foreground.
(More details on stabilizing cable cam time lapse footage coming soon).
Over the 200 foot run, I shot about 800-900 photos per sequence, which was based on a desired run time of around 30 seconds at 24 or 30 frames per second. In hindsight, it would have been better to take two or three times the number of individual photos at a much closer interval so that the footage was more consistent from frame to frame.
It would also have been helpful to frame my shots with more definite and consistent tracking points. Obviously, this is not always possible, but it is something to keep in mind if you plan on using the Genie for your own cable cam time lapse sequences.
Would You Recommend the Syrp Genie to a Friend?
The Syrp Genie has a retail price of $890 USD, so it is a fairly significant investment for any photographer or film maker.
However, if you are a professional photographer, a professional film maker or just someone that is serious about producing high quality time lapse and live action video, the Syrp Genie does offer a lot of versatility in a well designed, well built package.
Overall, I did find that setting up the Genie in the field was a little more complicated than I would have liked – and there is a definite learning curve to filming truly spectacular animated time lapse film sequences – but I feel like the potential is there.
Personally, I am pretty excited about getting the Genie back into the field and thinking of new and unique ways to utilized its cable cam capabilities to film time lapse and live action video that would otherwise be impossible to capture by any other means.
I think that there are many other photographers and film makers that also strive to create work that is different – work that stands out from the crowd, so if you have that type of imagination and desire then I would certainly recommend the Genie as a tool that will help you to achieve your creative goals.
Do you think the Syrp Genie would fit into your time lapse photography of live action video workflow?
What dynamic shot sequences would the Genie allow you to shoot that you can’t achieve now?
Leave a comment below and let us know.