In the last year, I’ve found myself constantly shooting time-lapses, where previously I would have taken a single landscape shot (maybe HDR, if I had a tripod) and moved on. If I went anywhere with a camera and a tripod, there were bound to be a few time-lapse shots produced. When things all line up, time-lapses can make a very interesting, different impression on your audience.
One thing I wanted to experiment with, though, was having some camera movement in my shots since a bit of movement can make a shot much more immersive. Unfortunately, all of the motion-control systems I looked at that allowed precise movement over a long period of time were extremely expensive and proprietary. Then I heard about a cool new solution called the Genie from the New Zealand company Syrp.
While most motion-control systems require you to use a specific slider or camera base, the genius of the Genie is that it runs along a simple nylon cable. As a result, you can use it with any slider out there, or even a dolly. I’ve mounted the unit on several different sliders, a little Pico dolly and even on a soft cloth to slide across linoleum! Just tell the Genie how far you want it to go (in metric and imperial) and how long you want the move to take. It’s a simple, well-thought-out interface. Syrp has already released a number of major firmware updates since the product was released, so you can expect new features all the time.
Another nice ability of the Genie is that it allows camera triggering through the unit directly. Just buy the appropriate cable for your DSLR or mirrorless camera, and the Genie will trigger a still once all movement has stopped, ensuring sharp images. One of the most interesting features released on the latest firmware update is called Bulb-Ramping. When you want to shoot a time-lapse transition from day to night, simply dial in the starting shutter speed and the ending shutter speed, and the Genie will smoothly change exposure for you during the time-lapse. No need to bring a laptop or separate programmable intervalometer!
I’ve been emphasizing the time-lapse potential of the Genie because I think that’s the most exciting part for photographers, but you can also set the unit to Video mode for smooth, real-time video movements. This has proven invaluable for me for product shots. When using a conventional manual slider, I often find myself doing multiple takes just to make sure the movement is smooth. The Genie gives me smooth, consistent results every time.
While I find the Genie system most exciting for making linear movements (where the camera physically moves in one direction), there is also a secondary base plate included that will let you do motion-controlled pans or tilts as well. These can be very useful for panning from a dark portion of the sky to a lighter one as the sun goes down, or vice versa. Just remember, if you want to do a tilt, you’ll need a ball head or L-Bracket to give you enough clearance for the width of your camera.
While I was testing the Genie, a very cool new product arrived called the Genie Mini. While this will not allow linear movements, it will allow you to perform pan or tilt motion control, and it’s very reasonably priced. The exciting thing about the Genie Mini is its ability to communicate with the Genie (with an accessory cable), allowing you to do 2-axis movements. You can have the camera moving left to right, while panning to keep your subject in the same portion of the frame. It’s a very dynamic effect, and most 2-axis systems easily cost twice what a Genie/Genie Mini combo does. I’m also a big fan of the Genie Mini’s interface; it runs through your Android or IOS smartphone with a speedy, intuitive layout.
While I’ve had plenty of success with the Genie system, there are still some annoyances. The buttons on the main unit are quite recessed, and it’s difficult to tell if you’ve pressed the buttons in the cold, especially when wearing gloves. Also, make sure you take the time to properly roll up and unroll the cable. I had a time-lapse fail because the cords were still twisted from my hasty pack-up job from the previous shoot.
Despite these minor annoyances, the Genie system is fast becoming one of my favourite tools. It’s allowing me to get the results I wanted, at a price I can actually afford. If, like me, you’ve started dabbling with time-lapses and want to take them to the next level, the Genie system is well worth taking a long look at. Check it out at thecamerastore.com or syrp.co.nz.