These days, you can hardly log on to the internet without finding incredible timelapse videos of cities, stars, or… putting your kids to bed. In fact, some of Pond5’s most popular (aka best-selling) clips are timelapses, and we’re constantly seeing better and better videos come in as the tools and technology improve to give our artists more dynamic options with their filmmaking.
That’s where Syrp comes in. The New Zealand-based company has opened up a whole new world of motion-controlled timelapse filmmaking with its high-quality camera tech. From the basic Genie Mini and ball-head setup to the more complex Genie outfitted with a pan/tilt bracket, two Genie Minis and a Magic Carpet, I have been
playing around with professionally demo-ing Syrp’s full arsenal for the past week, so here’s what it’s all about.
You can use the Genie on its own or complete with a linear movement kit
It’s Extremely Well-Built
All of the Syrp products are sturdy, and their designs are sleek and compact. It feels like you could use the gear for a long time and it would never break. I definitely appreciate the lack of cheap plastic parts, which can be the downfall of other filmmaking gear. Quality is a necessity when you’re out in the field.
Anyone Can Use It
Having limited experience with three-axis motion timelapses, I was a little overwhelmed with all of the options at first. You can really move your camera over, sideways, and under using the Genie and pan/tilt bracket. However, once I got it all put together, it became really easy to use. I updated the Genie and Genie Minis to the latest firmware, installed the app on my phone (more on that in a bit), and was ready to go within about 20 minutes. The thing that took me the longest was actually setting up my tripods (yes, I used two of them) for the motion timelapse, but once I got them in position I just snapped on the Genie and hit start.
It’s all Wireless (Except for a Couple of Wires)
The design of the products allows you to control everything without having to loop, clamp, or bungee wires out of the way of your timelapse*. The Genie Minis can be controlled by the app via bluetooth, and the full-size Genie by the front LCD screen. You charge the units from a USB port or wall outlet, then unplug and you’re good to go for a long time (5+ hours for the Genie Mini in video mode and 48+ in timelapse mode; 6+ and 24+ for the Genie, respectively).
*There are wires that connect from your camera to the devices and control your timelapses, acting as intervalometers, which is really nice. And although they are wires, they’re small and don’t get in the way of any moving parts, keeping the “wireless” feature intact. More on these later.
The Genie three-axis setup with linear motion
There’s Not Much on The Menu, and That’s a Good Thing
The Genie’s LCD interface is easy to use and, as I said earlier, I was pleasantly surprised with how fast you can start shooting with it. You just select your record time, interval time, play time, and movement distance, then hit start. It works the same way as the Mini with the link cord; you plug it in directly to the camera and it activates your shutter in timelapse mode, just as an intervalometer would. You can even preview your programmed move to see what it’s going to look like. You can also switch between imperial/metric and set your camera model, frame rate, auto focus, and time/date. This works the same way with the app for most settings.
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s talk about the different actions you can accomplish with various setups.
Using the Genie Mini
The Genie Mini holds about 8.8 pounds (4kg), so you can put a pretty beefy camera setup on it, but it’s also compatible with GoPros, point-and-shoot cameras, and smartphones. It pans 360-degrees around, so you can set your in and out points in any direction, watch it spin around, and get a new fantastic point of view along the way. Most DSLR cameras connect to the Mini with a link cord, so you need one if you want to control the camera with your movement. Check out the Syrp tutorials for specifics with the Mini.
Notes on using the Syrp app: Controlling the Mini is done with the free app, and it’s relatively simple to use. You adjust your camera settings, pair it with the device(s) you want to control, and set the start/end points, the move duration, and the final video playback duration, then hit record. It will do everything automatically from then on.
Controlling the Genie Mini is easy with the app
The only thing I couldn’t understand right away was setting the angle in/out point using the app. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I wish there was a line or mark on the Mini body that denoted 0-degrees (or the “front”), so I could easily know which way was which. Depending on how you screw it on, the app and the Mini can be facing completely different directions, and you’ll have to spend some time dialing it in. This applies mostly to the pan/tilt bracket setup.
Using the Genie
At its most basic level, the full-size Genie works the same as the Mini and pans in a 360-degree rotation; at a more complex level, you can use it as the base for a three-axis linear timelapse on a slider/Magic Carpet on all types of terrain — even vertically. It comes with timelapse presets like clouds, people, stars, or cable cam, and you can program your own settings and save it as a preset.
The Genie can hold 33lbs/15kg, (as long as you’re on a level surface), which is amazing, and 3lbs max in vertical mode. I used a 5D with the 24-70 L lens for my timelapses and the pan/tilt bracket with Minis attached, on an incline, and the Genie worked great. I did have to adjust the string tightness at one point, because I had it too loose and the Genie’s motor was just spinning without gripping, but it worked beautifully once I made the adjustment. Here’s one of the shots I got earlier in the week.
I then hooked up a RED Epic to the Magic Carpet on flat ground to see how it would do with the Genie, and although it supported the camera, it did make me nervous*. I wouldn’t dare close my eyes or turn my back on it while it was in operation. I think if you hooked the camera up directly to the Genie or used a small(er) lens, it would feel more solid, but then you could only point it in one direction. If you want be able to adjust it with a tripod head, it makes the center of gravity higher and wobbles the camera, especially at the beginning/end of the movements. I tried looking for tutorials or examples of other filmmakers using the RED with the Genie, but unfortunately I couldn’t really find anything.
*Update: I did read on their website that the Magic Carpet tracks, plus the carriage and end caps, has a carrying capacity of 15.4lbs (7kg), so that could explain the shakiness with my RED setup.
Using the Magic Carpet
With a hundred-thousand things to see and shoot, having the Magic Carpet track(s) really expands your filmmaking. The website says both tracks hold over 15 pounds, which is pretty good for sliders in this price range ($299 for short and $369 for long). The things I liked best about the slider were the carriage and end caps. The carriage is wonderfully smooth, and the end caps are solid. The quick-releases make adjusting the legs incredibly easy and fast, and the lock on the carriage is nice as well. You can also adjust the tension on the carriage to really get it dialed in.
I was able to move between a more complicated two-tripod setup to a basic ground-level setup really easily. I did a few 30-minute timelapses and then some real-time videos all in a row with very little difficulty moving it around into different positions.
Finally, we’re at the pinnacle of the Genie’s powers. You hook the rope around the end caps (make sure it’s tight!), adjust the carriage where you want it to start, then place the Genie on top, making sure it locks into place with a click. Then it’s on to the settings. Below is a timelapse of me setting up the timelapse with the app (meta!), then the actual move.
It was really easy to navigate through the menu the first time I turned it on. You can easily select timelapse or video and set your recording time, interval, play time, and movement length, and the numbers will automatically adjust so it fits within the parameters given. This can be a pain for some who want to set each parameter individually, however. You also need to be sure to double-check the numbers before you hit start, because some of your parameters can stay the same as you change others, which may give you completely different results.
The LCD menu is a snap to navigate, as well as to create and save your own movements or use the presets. The rope and movement can be literally any length if you’ve got the space and long enough rope for the move, and you can even use it as a cable cam, like they show in their reels and tutorials. Here’s a linear timelapse final result from my setup earlier.
Using the Genie’s Advanced Settings
The advanced settings vary between timelapse and video, giving you the ability to set the move-shoot delay, turn on HDR, set your ease-in/out, and tell the Genie what to do after it’s done with its set recording.
The post-recording options are great, because you can add continuous movement to your b-cam in an interview situation, or you can do the same move over again if your light changed or your subject changed, or you can just get it back to your starting position to do quick changes.
With bramping (short for bulb ramping), you can set your first exposure, then your ending exposure, and this will ramp your exposure to compensate for changes in light. This is best for day/night or night/day timelapses, or “holy grail” timelapses.
Bramping while camping
Advanced settings for video are setting your ease-in/out and your post recording, which work the same as a timelapse. They do have a “fast” and a “slow” preset, but you can always create and store your own moves as well.
It’s easier to make videos, because you just set the capture time and the movement length and hit “start.” You do have to hit “record” before you start the timelapse, which is the main downside, but is really only a problem if you’re not planning on being near the camera. I’m using the app below in this clip for the video move.
Video moves would work great as a b-cam in an interview, like I said before, but you can also get some incredibly smooth tracking shots or pans/tilts to add to your project, which is an underrated feature, in my opinion. I only wish that it could move just a little faster, because big moves on the long Magic Carpet take a full 40 seconds to accomplish. Although they look great, it’s rare that I would ever use a clip that long in my project. This is a real-time shot of the camera in video mode below (with a cat cameo (cameow?)), to give you a sense of how long the move is.
A few final notes: they sell ND filters (a necessity if you’re shooting during the brightest parts of the day), longer ropes for larger moves, and the ball head, as well as a few other important accessories. The ball head is very well-made (like everything else), and works perfectly in shots with a tilted shot. Without it, the camera’s horizon would be off, so make sure you take that into consideration when you’re setting up a slanted move.
Overall, the Genie is a great tool to add to your filmmaking bag, and I imagine that with lots of practice and interesting angles, you can really discover some magic.