Syrp's Genie is a time-lapse and video controller capable of pre-programmed single axis movement.
There are many different products for producing motion control within timelapse and real-time video though no one can match the simplicity and portability of the former KickStarter backed Genie by Syrp. With a $789 MSRP, this product can add a whole new perspective for your time-lapse or video sequences by way of pre-programmed movements that are precisely smooth and seamless no matter the direction that you configure it.
In the following article, I'll touch on my experience using the Syrp Genie for a three-week period. Our review sample was provided on a temporary basis by the great people at B&H Photo to make this evaluation possible. Rest assured, no outside influences or bias have played any part in the review process, and the final verdict is based solely on my hands-on experience.
Design & Build Quality
One of the largest advantages to the Syrp Genie is its small form-factor and portability. The unit itself is comprised of a small rectangular design that is slightly taller in height than it is in width or depth. While compact, the Genie is rather substantial in the hand so this may become an issue when mounted to cheaper tripod heads that can't support the total payload of the Genie plus a larger camera and lens.
All six of the control buttons for the Genie are found on the backside along with a small LCD screen that is backlit for ease of viewing in dark environments or night scenes as well as bright enough to be viewable in direct sunlight.
Each of the other three sides harnesses a connection or component:
- USB port, interface port and camera connection port
- Quick release latch (for swapping linear/panning accessories)
- DC Power Connector 12V-15V (for charging internal battery)
On the top of the unit, there is a non-slip coating with a small circular bubble level as well a 3/8″-16 mounting screw. The use of this size mounting screw means you will be required to attach a separate tripod head to the top of the Genie as most modern DSLR and mirrorless bodies only offer a 1/4″-20 mount upon their base.
There are two removable mounting plates that connect to the bottom of the Genie, and they each have a particular purpose of which I'll get into more detail on within the next section.
Considering the high price-point, I think the build quality is well suited with Syrp choosing durable and premium build materials for all of the Genie's visible components.
In my case, one of the buttons (the right arrow button) seems to be a defective straight out of the box with a mushy feel that doesn't match the tactile, responsive performance found with the all of the other buttons. I'm pretty sure that I just got bad luck with my sample unit though I can still utilize the button, it just takes a bit more effort to make it execute correctly.
The Syrp Genie can be broken down into two core elements that have the ability to be used in tandem.
Single Axis Motion Controller
First off, the Genie is a full-fledged motion controller with the ability to trigger movement either at set intervals for time-lapse or in a fluid, continuous motion for real-time video use.
The single axis motion means that you can only perform a pan or linear motion independent of one another so you won't be able to execute a sliding motion while simultaneous panning. This limitation won't be lifted via a future firmware updates as there are separate panning and linear mounts required for both actions.
For someone with a higher budget, you can also invest in a Genie Mini ($250) to attach to the top of the standard Genie which will offer 2-axis motion when coupled with a sync cable.
In a timelapse setting, you have full control over the pattern including interval timing and range of motion as well as the ability schedule time-lapse motions to trigger on a specified date/time.
Unlike some more expensive motion controllers, the single axis motion is limiting for video as well limited ability to perform repetitive actions. This is not the optimal solution for a single shooter that wants to be in front of the camera while the Genie repeats a sliding motions with a B camera (this isn't possible).
You can repeat the panning motion to some degree, but not this is still relatively limited and introduces significant noise issues.
You should expect this feature at the $789 price-tag, and Syrp integrated it into this unit by way of a rather simple implementation. You can configure your capture based on a designated record time or your desired outcome timing along with the ability to tinker the interval to alter these two criteria.
In my tests, I didn't utilize the built-in intervalometer since my unit was on a temporary loan and did not include the required link cable. However, my GH4 and a7S both offer built-in apps for this purpose, so I was able to capture moving time-lapse sequences by syncing the internal camera settings with that of the Genie. It wasn't always easy to sync these (I'll touch on this later on), but it was a temporary workaround for my review needs.
I expected one of these cables (there are multiple types based on camera body) to be included in the box although it appears Syrp only includes a free link cable for those who purchase from their website's store. Unfortunately, this was not the case when ordering from B&H so be sure to budget the extra $19 for a link cable if you wish to use their built-in intervalometer and prefer to shop through B&H.
By way of a recent firmware update (free), the Genie now supports both HDR timelapse functionality as well as bulb ramping for ease of use when shooting in drastically changing lighting environments such as sunsets and sunrises.
Interface & Presets
From the outside, the Genie looks like it would be a complicated tool to utilize, but this is far from the truth. The menus are well laid out and organized without much confusion. Syrp integrated multiple built-in presets for those who are new to time-lapse photography and do not have enough experience to determine the exact settings to use.
These presets include individual profiles with specific intervals for capturing moving people, clouds, and stars. Once within these presets you can tinker with the settings and revise/overwrite the default configuration or save an entirely new pre-set should you have a certain custom setting that you want to repeat often.
Function & Real World Performance
Over the few weeks that I had the Syrp Genie in my possession, I was able to run it through its paces and get a good grip on the potential of this device. From a personal standpoint, my interest was more in its real-time video capabilities than time-lapse movements although I'm sure plenty of you guys reading these are the exact opposite so I'll do my best to cover both aspects as well as any other notable factors that played a role in real-world use.
One of the largest complaints in regards to the execution of the Syrp Genie is the design of the mounting mechanism. Straight out of the box, you get two mounts with one being designed for panning and one for sliding. While this design keeps the device from being able to slide and pan simultaneously (2-axis movements), it also doubles as a quick release mechanism.
This type of design seems great on paper, but in reality there are two aspects that hinder its effectiveness. When mounted with full camera rig, the Genie has a noticeable amount of give when it comes to its connection to the mounting plate. Depending on your shooting environment, this can be an issue since it can result in some wobble and shakiness especially in high winds or on surfaces that can be affected by movements around it.
If it is seated correctly, this movement isn't an issue of stability it just isn't locked down tightly like you'd expect with a mounting solution like a tripod head.
Speaking of being properly seated, I had some situations out in the field where securing the Genie to the mounting plate was tougher than expected especially at awkward angles like on an inclined slider.
At one point, I thought I had properly snapped it into place (the back lock symbol was showing) and went to turn on the Genie only to realize it wasn't properly secured to the mounting plate and had the potential to fall to the ground damaging about $4.5K in photo equipment (a Sony a7S, Metabones adapter and Canon 24-70mm f2.8L II lens).
After a bit of fumbling around, I was able to get it locked into place and was able to successfully utilize the slider yet it was a scary moment since it appeared to have been seated appropriately.
This type of thing would make me want to double check my connection prior to utilizing any movements and would give me some hesitation in a situation where I'd be mounting the Genie upside down as a makeshift cable-cam (I've seen people do this on YouTube).
Another issue I experience when switching mounts occurred when the black plastic crank used to operate the movement disconnected from the Genie's body without me realizing it. It ended up being stuck to my linear mount thus rendering my panning mount useless until reattached this piece. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be glued in place, but this type of thing can be a large issue if you leave for the day with a single mounting piece just to discover this piece is nowhere to be found as the Genie cannot perform any motion without it.
Whenever I'm testing a product out in the field that has a non-removable internal battery, I always have some worries that the battery may fail or the life of the battery will be too short for a long day of shooting. Fortunately, my experience with the Syrp Genie's battery life has been overly positive.
I only charged the Genie twice during my three weeks of testing and those charges weren't due to any low battery warnings, I just felt the desire to top off the battery before a day of shooting. I can't say exactly how long the battery will list in all circumstances although, for me, I went a solid 8+ hours on a single charge and for that I was impressed and satisfied.
Real-time Video Performance
What intrigued me most about the Syrp Genie was its ability to execute smooth and consistent movements for my real-time video needs. I've always been self-conscious of my lack of consistency when it came to pans, tilts, and slides so I thought investing in a motion controller such as this would be a worthwhile purchase.
Compared to similar products, the Genie is more portable and able to be used on a multitude of gear including a tripod, slider, or jib. Straight out of the box it was compatible with my Manfrotto tripods and iFootage Shark Slider so this was a big advantage in my eyes.
Since my Shark Slider utilizes a weighted pulley system, the use of the slider clamps to tie off the Genie's rope wasn't ideal as rubbed against the lower belt. To overcome this, I simply tied the strings to each of end of the slider's base as there happened to have been pre-drilled holes that were the correct sizing of the rope.
Overall, the real-time video performance was adequate although it has some significant drawbacks that I think should be emphasized so any potential buyers know what they are in for:
Audible movement noise
When executing real-time movements on the Syrp Genie, you will get some significant noise from the internal motor that can easily interrupt any audio recording that is going on in the scene. This makes it difficult to use in an interview or cinematic environment where you are expected to capture live audio while executing these motorized movements. For an example of this noise in a variety of scenarios, check out the embedded sample video below.
Unlike some competing motion controllers, the Genie is only offered in a single motor variant, so the speed of movement is limited to some extent. For example, at max speed it will course a 39″ (100cm) slider in 23 seconds, and it can pan a full 360-degrees in 5 seconds. While this is suitable for my needs and likely the average consumer, I think it was worth noting for any situation where you may require a faster movement.
The Genie does not officially support the ability to perform motorized tilts although it can be done via a little workaround. You'd need two tripod heads with one connected to the tripod and tilted at a 90 degree angle (the back of the Genie is parallel to the floor) and the other would need to be connected to the Genie's 3/8″-16 mount and adjusted 90-degrees to keep the camera level throughout the tilting movement. For a more visual example, check out the embedded video below.
Limited re-playable movements
Besides the audible issues with the Genie, there isn't much built-in support for making it a “second shooter” when filming live events or interviews. You have no way to continuously execute a pan or linear movement with only the option to repeat a panning movement for a set amount of times. I do not see why this would be so hard to program as the Genie can perform pans and slides in both directions with ease. Hopefully, the developers will add this feature by way of a free firmware update in the future.
Utilizing the Genie within a timelapse environment allows you to generate motion over time different than that of the typical zooming or panning that can be done in post. You can generate a timelapse with full rotations of 360-degrees and with the slider mount, capturing linear motion along a somewhat unlimited length (all depends on the size of your rope) is simple and straight-forward.
My biggest issue with the timelapse function was more of a personal issue since it didn't include the proper link cable for my a7S, GH4, or 5D Mark III which meant I had to rely on the internal intervalometer on the GH4 or a7S. Syncing these settings in tandem to that of the Genie was more difficult than expected since slower shutter speeds would often result in the Genie executing a movement while the camera's shutter was open thus causing some serious blurriness in the captured image.
Had I been supplied with the proper link cable in the box, the Genie's built-in intervalometer wouldn't trigger a movement until the shutter was closed and this circumstance would have been avoided. Again, this is not the Genie's fault though it was just another small argument that a link cable should be provided in the box regardless of retailer you buy from.
Shooting outdoors under ample lighting, I found the shutter speed was quick enough to use without running into any syncing complications. The timelapse functionality offers greater satisfaction than the real-time video as limitations like operating noise or movement speed will not play a factor in your resulting shot.
Syrp's Genie packs some impressive motion capabilities into an ultra-portable, user-friendly package. Unfortunately, I found the product to be rather underwhelming at its $789 price-point with some small yet notable design flaws as well as significant limitations especially when it comes to its real-time video use.
At its current price, there isn't a ton of value to be had unless you are solely focusing on improving your time-lapse sequences by the way of a single axis controller. Based on my own impressions and experience with the product, I'd be much more willing to recommend the device in its current state should it have been priced in the $450-$600 range as I think this is where you'd really see a notable gain in terms of value on the dollar.