eMotimo Spectrum Review – Hands On Features & First Impressions

Jul 8, 2016

JP Danko

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.

eMotimo Spectrum Review – Hands On Features & First Impressions

Jul 8, 2016

JP Danko

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.

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Our friends at eMotimo were recently kind enough to send us a brand new eMotimo Spectrum St4 to review.

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.

On location with the eMotimo Spectrum St4

Overview

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!

emotimo TB3 versus Spectrum St4

Build Quality

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.

On location with the eMotimo Spectrum St4

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).

emotimo spectrum ports

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.

emotimo spectrum review controller

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).

emotimo spectrum st4 review
emotimo spectrum st4 review in the box

In addition to a battery power supply, you will also likely need a camera shutter cable (for time lapse) and an L Plate to get started with the Spectrum in the field.

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.

emotimo spectrum pan and tilt robotic motion control

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.

dynamic perception stage one dolly with emotimo spectrum st4

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.

dynamic perception stage one dolly with emotimo spectrum st4

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.

On location with the eMotimo Spectrum St4

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.

On location with the eMotimo Spectrum St4

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).

On location with the eMotimo Spectrum St4

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:

milky way panorama emotimo spectrum

 

Final Thoughts

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.

On location with the eMotimo Spectrum St4

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.

Stock Photography JP Danko blurMEDIA

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.]

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JP Danko

JP Danko

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.

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21 responses to “eMotimo Spectrum Review – Hands On Features & First Impressions”

  1. Smith Avatar
    Smith

    Only if the 5th axis capability for focus/zoom was added this would have been a clear winner as of now.

    1. davidahn Avatar
      davidahn

      @Smith, While I agree a 5th or even 6th axis would be nice to have, if you’ve ever programmed an eMotimo robot, you know they have no equal, so the ST4 is still the “clear winner.” More axes would also add all kinds of complication to the planning and programming. You could add one or two Lenzhounds for simultaneous focus, zoom, and aperture control if you were so inclined.

  2. Brian Avatar
    Brian

    Great overview and thanks for playing with the spectrum st4. I think you are spot on and hit the high points well. There are a few areas that we can elaborate and explain from eMotimo’s point of view too if a reader is interested. We put up a blog entry on our site here to do just that. http://emotimo.com/project/diy-photography-review/

  3. davidahn Avatar
    davidahn

    JP, you state the Spectrum is “not small and it’s not light weight.” 4.5 lbs is less than most full frame DSLRs with a decent lens, less than a 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, similar to a 150-600mm lens. It weighs way less than the Gigapan EPIC Pro is 8 lbs which has no 3rd and 4th axes. The Spectrum is an amazingly powerful tool that is well worth the price and weight if you need its functionality for a given project.

  4. Chris DeAntonio Avatar
    Chris DeAntonio

    Thanks for the overview and for calling out that it doesn’t do bulb ramping. I’m trying to wrap my head around how someone would incorporate bulb ramping with the Spectrum.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      The method I’ve come across is with LR Timelapse – here’s a tutorial: http://lrtimelapse.com/gear/dslrdashboard/

      1. Chris DeAntonio Avatar
        Chris DeAntonio

        Yeah…sadly, qDslrDashboard doesn’t play very well with my Sony A7R II. It only allows to automatically changing some exposure settings and only to a certain point. Sucks. Others have reported this as well. Thank you for the suggestion, though!

        1. udi tirosh Avatar
          udi tirosh

          Chris, are you using the latest Sony firmware and remote control app? Upgrading to the latest version of both opened up many dslrdashboard options for me

          1. Chris DeAntonio Avatar
            Chris DeAntonio

            Did that all dashboard to automatically adjust shutter speed AND ISO?

          2. Chris DeAntonio Avatar
            Chris DeAntonio

            So I updated my A7R II’s firmware and remote app to the latest versions. Thanks for that suggestion. I’m still not really getting the AutoHolyGrail to work in qDSLRTimelpase. Are you using a separate intervalometer or the one built into qDSLR? I’m using a separate one to set my interval and number of frames and then enabling AutoHolyGrail, but the application isn’t changing my shutter speed when I darken the scene. What is your order of operations to get these things to work together?

          3. udi tirosh Avatar
            udi tirosh

            sadly, I never used that. I just noticed that updating my sony opened up a ton of options that were not there before. Hoped it will solve the ramp thing as well.

            the guy at QDD is really responsive and friendly. have you tried dropping him a line?

          4. Chris DeAntonio Avatar
            Chris DeAntonio

            Good suggestion. Can’t hurt to try. I shot Zoltan an email. And also donated some $ to the cause :)

          5. JP Danko Avatar
            JP Danko

            That’s great – let us know if you get it sorted out. Totally love qDslrDashboard and developing apps for free is a thankless task.

          6. Chris DeAntonio Avatar
            Chris DeAntonio

            Ask and you shall receive…a new Beta version of qDD, that is… Zoltan provided me with a new version which had some Sony fixes. After doing some testing, AutoHolyGrail mode looks like it’s working better with my A7R II. It successfully auto-raises my shutter speed to the max I set and then does the same for ISO (in Sunset mode). It only works with qDD’s built-in intervalometer, though, not my separate USB external remote. I passed a bunch of findings and settings to Zoltan. A step in the right direction for Sony ppl!

          7. udi tirosh Avatar
            udi tirosh

            Zoltan is awesome that way

        2. JP Danko Avatar
          JP Danko

          Hey Chris – have you tried auto exposure on your A7R II? Lock down the aperture, white balance and everything else as you normally would and let ‘r go on shutter priority with auto ISO. Then clean up your footage with LR Timelapse. One of the reasons eMotimo didn’t build in bulb ramping is because they felt that auto exposure settings were getting so good they will soon make bulb ramping obsolete – and the Sony A7R II is a top performer. Love to hear about it if you give it a try.

          1. Chris DeAntonio Avatar
            Chris DeAntonio

            Hmm…I will definitely give this a try, but a bit confused when you say “lock down the aperture.” How would I do that in shutter priority mode? Auto ISO and a static WB make sense.

          2. JP Danko Avatar
            JP Danko

            Sorry – I got mixed up – aperture priority – you only want the camera to control the shutter speed and ramp the ISO as required. Everything else should be locked down (focus, white balance, aperture). Auto doesn’t work on most cameras but the A7R II isn’t most cameras. The other method that works surprisingly well is to monitor the camera and manually ramp the shutter speed and then the ISO one stop at a time as you go. It’s a bit of a pain and you have to be really careful to make the adjustment quickly while the camera is between shots, but it works. LR Timelapse will smooth out the jumps and you get a holy grail sequence. Gunther has a tutorial for this on the LR Timelapse website somewhere too.

          3. Chris DeAntonio Avatar
            Chris DeAntonio

            Yeah I’ve been down most of these roads. I’ve shot a lot of sunrises and sunsets in Aperture priority, but when transitioning from day to night, I need full control and in some instance like with water, I don’t want to lengthen my shutter speed that much because things look inconsistent during playback. And with touching the camera physically, I’m trying to incorporate motion so that complicates things and also the window in which I have to actually make a successful change is really small in most cases.

          4. JP Danko Avatar
            JP Danko

            I hear you – that’s why it’s called the Holy grail ?

  5. Brian Avatar
    Brian

    Topic – Bulb Ramping and Exposure Changes – If you are a holy grail chaser or want to change your exposure automatically during the shot the spectrum ST4 like its TB3 predecessor has and i/o port on the side. Any timelapse can be remotely triggered by this port. Most standard and upcoming bulb ramping hardware like Timelapse View or BramperPro have ports and simple cable to send move signals to motion control solutions like the spectrum. If you are using a hardware bramping solution, this works great.

    Alternatively, for cameras with a Native PC (flash sync) port like pro canon and nikons, we have a cable that goes from that port to the i/o port – http://store.emotimo.com/camera-pc-cable-p42.aspx From that signal the spectrum can always understand when a shutter has completed and its safe to move.