I’d forgotten all about my childhood dreams of achieving world domination using my very own robot army until I switched on the TB3 from eMotimo. As soon as I synched up the wireless remote and started panning and tilting this robotic tripod head, I was transformed into a grinning 8 year old boy who believed he could do anything.
I expect that the eMotimo exhibit at trade shows is usually ringed by a troupe of grinning time-lapse photography nerds like myself, who just realized they stumbled upon a truly legendary tool for photographic creativity.
My example footage
The short time-lapse movie above was made entirely using the TB3 with my Sony A7R Camera mounted on the Rhino Slider Pro 4ft. What started out as a couple of quick test shots turned into a fully fledged trailer when I realized what I could achieve with the TB3. Once I stuck it on a slider, things got awesome real quick.
What does the TB3 do?
For those of you who have no idea what’s so great about a device like this, let me throw the term ‘Motion Control’ at you. If you want to shoot videos or time-lapse movies that offer the viewer a more captivating perspective than just a plain old dolly/slider shot, you’ll be wanting one of these TB3’s.
Theallows you to add high production values to your footage by moving your camera along two axes while shooting. It can pan AND tilt all at the same time. Combine this device with a slider and you’ve got yourself a powerful three axis rig for making fascinating cinematography and time-lapse photography. Your footage will appear to have been shot with a camera that magically floats through the air.
Create multi-gigapixel panoramic photos
It’s not just about time-lapse and video. The TB3 also allows you to take multi-gigapixel images such as panoramas. For landscape shooters who want wall-filling image resolution, this feature is a major bonus. When you add in the awesome time-lapse and video shooting capabilities, you’re getting a lot of functionality for just under a $1000 USD.
Programming the movement of the TB3 requires a small learning curve. The interface is a very basic LCD screen with abbreviated titles and you navigate through this by using the included remote control joystick. It takes a while to get used to but if you’ve ever used a video game joystick you’re already half way there.
Two-point or three-point movement and reverse moves
You can decide how many points of location your film sequence will have. If you want a simple A to B movement you select a two-point move. You tell the TB3 where you’d like to start and where you’d like to end, and the TB3 fills in the blanks.
With a three-point move you can get more creative by adding a less obvious direction to your movement. You could even program the TB3 to go into reverse after you’ve reached point two, or point the camera in the opposite direction, whatever you like. This is great for taking your audience on an unpredictable ride through your scene.
‘Reverse’ moves come in really useful when you’re using a slider and need to save valuable battery life by cutting out the ‘return to start’ move that the TB3 has to do once you’ve programmed in your move. You basically work backwards and tell the TB3 to start shooting from your last position. This is essential when doing vertical ‘jib’ shots on a slider which sucks a LOT of battery power.
When I first saw the word ‘Ramp’ in the interface I thought it referred to Bulb ramping or ‘Bramping’ for time-lapse, but it actually refers to the degree of acceleration used when the TB3 moves to its start and end points. This is a really cool feature as it gives your camera motion a very smooth, but dynamic movement, as the TB3 gradually speeds up and then slows down to its end point. Most of the scenes in my video feature a ramp setting of 70.
Another great feature of the TB3 is that you can specify a static ‘no movement’ period to either end of your shooting sequence. This is great if your sequence ends and you then fade up some titles in your video but want to keep the movie playing in the background.
This is a sturdy unit. It kind of looks like something you’d expect to find under the skin of a young Arnold Schwarzzeneger during his debut as the world’s favourite cybernetic assassin. It’s built for functionality, not looks, and I expect it will appeal to the gadget geek in all of us due to its no nonsense appearance.
As well built as the TB3 is, I wouldn’t want to drop it. There are lots of exposed moving parts so it’s best to handle it with the care and attention it deserves. Encasing it in rubber would perhaps give it more protection but would add more weight. The interface cable that connects the moving parts to the brain of the unit could be more rugged as it’s already started to fray after light use.
Weight and size
Lets face it, if you’re doing serious time-lapse movies or cinematography, you long ago accepted that you’d be lugging heavy gear around. The TB3 isn’t that heavy in itself but it’s yet another bag to carry along with your camera bag, tripod(s) and slider. For what this gadget does, I think they’ve packed a lot of tech into a relatively small device but I can’t wait to see a ‘Sonyfied’ future version that won’t add to my chiropractor bills. Till then, just deal with it.
Battery pack required
Yet another essential accessory for the time-lapse and video shooters – the external battery pack. eMotimo were kind enough to lend me the ‘Anker Astro Pro’ battery pack which powers the TB3 and many other devices such as your phone and camera. Although this adds yet more weight to carry, it’s great to know that when my Sony A7R battery inevitably lets me down (which it does daily), the battery pack will allow me to recharge in the field.
The TB3 is compatible with most major camera systems but as you’d expect, the best compatibility is reserved for the two major giants Canon and Nikon. I’m a Sony shooter so this posed somewhat of a problem for my plans to shoot the time-lapse movie shown above. eMotimo managed to get around this problem by providing a simple IR (infrared) transmitter cable that I taped to the IR receiver port on my Sony A7R. Not as slick as the Canon/Nikon cabled version but it did the job. I’d like to see a wired solution from eMotimo pretty soon though as it looks like Sony is starting to gain traction with their new range of cameras.
For time-lapse shooters that use advanced bulb ramping devices like the ‘Promote Control’, you’ll be glad to know that this can be integrated with the TB3. eMotimo also provides motor accessories for various popular sliders so you have some different options for the 3-axis motion control shown in my example video.
Things I love about the TB3
- Super smooth motion – this really is the most important part of any motion control device. It may not look like it in my video, but before the dreadful internet compression butchered my film, I can assure that the footage is buttery smooth. Not all motion control devices are made equal and eMotimo have totally nailed this most essential aspect.
- Rugged, no-nonsense construction. I filmed time-lapse sequences in all kinds of weather, even heavy rain. The TB3 handled it all with indifference.
- The cool little sound effects that it makes while you pan/tilt the head using the joystick.
- Tech support – eMotimo is a small company in San Francisco with a very hands-on approach. All of my foolish newbie questions were answered with patience and resolved quickly.
Things I don’t love about the TB3
- The carry case seemed like an afterthought. It doesn’t fit very well and I was forever worried about accessories falling out. I’d rather buy a larger all-purpose camera bag and put the TB3 in that.
- The programming procedure could be more accommodating. The TB3 has a cool ‘repeat/reverse’ function that you can set off immediately after your time-lapse sequence is finished. Sadly, I couldn’t figure out a way to edit the settings, which is essential after the sun has gone down and the light has changed. Maybe a firmware update could fix this?
- The ‘Fotomate’ mounting plate onto which you attach your camera was a little fiddly.
Would I buy the TB3?
Absolutely. The TB3 has enjoyed something of a cult following among the rockstar time-lapse and DLSR video shooters. It’s not just because eMotimo were there during the early years of the time lapse video phenomenon, it’s because they make a very versatile and rock solid product. When you factor in the sub $1,000 price point and the awesome tech support, I really don’t see any other contenders.
My star rating
Our rating system doesn’t allow for a 4.9 so I’m forced to give the TB3 5 stars. I could have given it 4.5 stars but that just wouldn’t be enough. If eMotimo can fix my two main gripes of having a better carry case and some form of improvement on the Fotomate mounting plate,and fully deserving of 5 glorious shining gold stars.
Want some time-lapse tips? Try these:
- Timelapse Photography Tutorial: An Overview of Shooting, Processing and Rendering Timelapse Movies
- Capturing the Northern Lights in Timelapse Video
- Discover the Wonder of Time-Lapse Photography