eMotimo Spectrum Review – Hands On Features & First Impressions
The eMotimo Spectrum St4 is a four axis robotic motion control system designed from the ground up for cinematographers and time lapse photographers.
With the Spectrum, users have precise control over pan, tilt, move (push/pull) and focus pull/zoom (four axis) movements during live video, preset motion sequences or time lapse moves.
I have used the Spectrum for a couple of weeks now and I thought that I would share my initial first impressions of the unit, and some of the more interesting capabilities that the Spectrum has to offer.
eMotimo Spectrum Review
My experience with the TB3 has always been excellent (click here to read my eMotimo TB3 review), and I have been impressed with eMotimo’s dedication to customer service since day one.
However, I am not associated with eMotimo in any way and I have tried to be as objective as possible in my review.
The eMotimo Spectrum St4 is primarily a robotic motion control system built for live action video – but it can also be used for time lapse filming.
The Spectrum was designed for a professional workflow – it can support payloads of up to 12 lbs, so even large pro gear like RED cameras and large DSLRs and telephoto lenses are no problem.
If you’re familiar with the previous eMotimo TB3 you’ll immediately notice that the Spectrum is much more responsive, sturdy and better suited to filming live action video.
Its also a much better looking piece of equipment!
The Spectrum is built with a milled aluminum body with a nice matte black finish and an OLED display. It looks great and feels very sturdy.
The Spectrum weighs 4.5 lbs (without a power supply) and measures 7.3 inches wide, 5.0 inches deep and 7.35 inches tall. It’s not small and it’s not light weight, so that may be a consideration if you plan on travelling to some remote locations with difficult access.
There are a total of nine ports on the Spectrum including power and control for 3rd and 4th motors and a camera shutter release port (see the diagram below for more information).
The unit is controlled with a genuine Sony DualShock4 gaming controller with a range of over 50 feet. The controller connects to the Spectrum via Bluetooth – however you have to have a mini USB Bluetooth adapter plugged into the USB port to use it.
I didn’t have any problems pairing the controller with the Spectrum, but the mini USB Bluetooth adapter sticks out a bit and I can see it getting bumped and damaged – it would have been nice if it was built in.
The Spectrum ships in a really nice plastic hard case and includes a 12V AC power supply. If you are planning on using the Spectrum off the grid, you will need a 12-24V battery with a minimum capacity of 2A (eMotimo suggests this external battery pack from Amazon).
4-Axis Motion Control
The key feature of the eMotimo Spectrum is the ability to precisely control 4-axis motion.
Mounting the Spectrum on a tripod provides robotic two axis motion control – pan and tilt.
Pan and tilt are controlled with the right joystick on the controller – up and down for vertical tilts up and down, left and right for horizontal pans left or right.
The controller is intuitive to use without looking and you can make very precise movements at different speeds depending on how far you move the joystick.
For linear movements (push/pull) you will need a dolly (or a cart), along with a stepper motor cable and a geared stepper motor. For my rig, I used a Dynamic Perception Stage One dolly and a 5:1 stepper motor.
The stepper motor is connected to the 3rd motor port and is controlled with the left joystick on the controller. Left and right for left and right horizontal linear movements.
eMotimo recommends the 5:1 stepper motor for video work because it is fast enough to match the speed of the pan and tilt movements from the built in motors – and all can be controlled with precision from the controller joysticks.
However, I did have a small problem with the 5:1 stepper motor stalling on the dolly during full speed movements.
Moving slowly was no problem – but at full speed the dolly cart would occasionally get stuck and the motor would stall. In particular this was a problem when the dolly cart was returning to start after a programmed movement (in this case there was no user input and the Spectrum was just trying to move the dolly cart back to its initial position as quickly as possible).
If you are planning on using a dolly on a slope, a 14:1 geared stepper motor might be a better choice. I also have a 27:1 stepper motor that is much slower for time lapse, and it is strong enough for vertical moves.
The 4th motor port on the Spectrum is for pulling focus or zooming your lens.
eMotimo is still finalizing the firmware and hardware components that will be used for lens control, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to test the capabilities of the 4th axis movements in the field.
Talking to the team at eMotimo – 4th axis lens controls are expected to be officially released by the fall.
For more information on the controls and capabilities available with the Spectrum St4 – eMotimo has released the following video:
Live Action Video – Live Motion Tracking
The Spectrum has seven Live Motion preset settings for tracking your shots in real time using the controller joysticks.
The presets vary the speed and acceleration of the unit’s motion and of course, you can also customize the speed and acceleration of your Live Motion controls to match your shooting style.
One very cool feature of the Spectrum is the use of dampening (acceleration) so that movements don’t have an abrupt start and stop – and again you can customize the level of dampening to suit your particular shot.
For filming interviews or other situations where you don’t want any additional noise, the Spectrum can be operated in quiet mode. During normal operation there is a slight hiss/hum from the Spectrum, along with the whiz and whir of the motors during movements. In quiet mode, the Spectrum is nearly entirely silent – even while in motion.
(According to the team at eMotimo, quiet mode uses slightly more battery power so that is why it is optional for when you really need quiet).
There is also a turbo mode for tracking fast moving subjects.
Another really cool feature is during Live Motion capture you can pre-program up to four preset points so that no matter where the Spectrum is oriented (through your real time control using the joysticks), you can return the unit to any one of those points by pressing a single button.
Finally, you can record and playback exact Live Motion movements for up to eight seconds in duration (eMotimo expects to extend this capability in the future).
Live Action Video – Programmed Shots
If you don’t want to track your subjects in real time, you can also program two point keyframe movements.
Basically you set a start point for all axis movements, set and end point, enter the duration of the movement (including options for pre-roll, post-roll and ramping) and hit go.
The Spectrum will return to your first point and then execute the exact movement you set to the second point.
The only constraint is that the movement that you set will progress linearly between the two points – so say you started at zero degrees pan as your first point, then moved to 180 degrees and back to 90 and set your second point – the movement would just travel to 90 degrees – not all the way to 180 and back.
Timelapse – Programmed Shots
Programming a time lapse sequence is very similar to programming a two point video movement.
You set your start and end points and the Spectrum will execute a precise movement between the points on all axis.
For time lapse you also set your shot interval (the camera shutter is triggered via a shutter release cable), static time (how long to keep the Spectrum stationary before moving), number of frames to capture (the Spectrum will display the capture time and playtime at both 24 and 30 frames per second), ramp (number of frames to capture between static and full motion), lead in and out (number of frames to capture before or after movement) and delay (start the sequence right away or wait).
It is important to note that the Spectrum only controls the motion of your time lapse sequence and triggers your camera’s shutter – it doesn’t control your camera so all other time lapse settings (white balance, ISO, shutter speed, focus, aperature etc.) must be set in camera.
In case you are wondering, there is no bulb ramping feature.
(According to the eMotimo team, they felt that bulb ramping was a complicated feature to include and felt that their development time was better spent perfecting the Spectrum’s core features instead).
Panorama, 360 Degree and Gigapan Photography
The Spectrum is not really designed for panorama, 360 degree or gigapan photography – but I feel like it would not take much to add this functionality as a firmware upgrade.
As it is, you can set a time lapse sequence (you have to shoot a minimum of 20 frames) and use the Spectrum to pan or tilt to capture a sequence that you later stitch together into a panorama.
As an example, this is a panorama that I stitched from 5 frames of a 20 frame time lapse sequence:
The eMotimo Spectrum St4 retails for $2300 direct from eMotimo.
There are not many other options on the market that offer cinematographers and photographers the capabilities that the Spectrum offers: this is a professional piece of gear that is designed and built for professional applications.
I really like the choice eMotimo made to use the PS4 controller (instead of relying on a mobile device touchscreen), especially for tracking moving subjects in the Live Motion mode.
It is just so intuitive and easy to control the Spectrum’s motion with a physical joystick.
I have always been a big fan of the simplicity of eMotimo’s user interface – I can’t ever remember how to set the time on my watch and the last thing I need is to have to rely on a user manual to set up a simple shot.
The Spectrum has many more features than the TB3, so the user interface is more complex and not quite as user friendly as it was, but the program menus are still well laid out and easy to navigate with a little practice.
If you are a working professional cinematographer or photographer, the Spectrum will fit right in with the rest of your gear and you should have no problem leveraging your initial investment.
If you are just getting into film making, robotic four axis motion control is probably a bit of overkill – however, you would certainly have room to grow with the Spectrum as you improve your skills.
If you are only interested in time lapse motion control, the Spectrum offers an opportunity to capture some very unique sequences. But unless you are a fairly advanced time lapser, it might take some time before you grow into the full capabilities of the Spectrum.
One negative aspect I found working with the Spectrum is the additional time it takes to setup and breakdown a shot.
There’s another battery to charge, mounting hardware to pack, cables to connect etc. It all adds up to a bit of a hassle if you’re used to shooting freehand.
Overall, I really enjoyed using the Spectrum. It is well designed and built, relatively easy to use and opens up a lot of artistic doorways.
The firmware is constantly being improved and updated and eMotimo has some exciting plans for future capacity upgrades. Once we receive a lens focus / zoom motor we will post a follow up article with some sample footage of the Spectrum in action.
If you’re interested in the eMotimo Spectrum St4, you can find out more in this promotional video from eMotimo:
UPDATE: eMotimo has published a response to a few of the challenges that I had with the Spectrum St4 and a some information of exciting new features that will be made available through firmware upgrades – it’s definitely worth a read if you are thinking about purchasing a Spectrum (click here).
What Do You Think?
Would you consider adding an eMotimo Spectrum St4 to your gear?
What shots do you think you might be able to capture the Spectrum that you can’t capture now?
Are there any features missing that might affect your decision to purchase a Spectrum?
Leave a comment below and let us know!
[full disclosure: eMotimo did provide DIYP with a Spectrum to review and I have also used an eMotimo TB3 for years.]
JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand. To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube. JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.