Ten years ago, time-lapse photography wasn't really a big thing. Fast forward to now, and it's everywhere. GoPros and point and shoot cameras come equipped with easy options and can be stuck on anything from panning egg timers to $6000+ time lapse rigs. In a market full of options, Cinetics Axis360 is forging a new niche that any photographer interested in the genre should take a look at.
A couple years back, I attempted to construct my own time-lapse/video rig for a month long documentary project. Every option I could find online was either too simple in function or way too expensive for my budget. I thought it might be easiest to customize my own rig considering I knew exactly the kind of shots I wanted but didn't want to spend thousands of dollars on expensive gear. The project worked out okay, but my new shoddily made “rig” quickly fell apart after the project finished.
Where I failed to meet a balance between expense and quality, Cinetics has stepped in with their new Axis360 time-lapse/video rig. The group is still on kickstarter but has already seen immense support from the photography community with backings over $500,000. They are offering something that no time-lapse company really offers, flexibility and customization in regards to budget.
Though there are plenty of rig options out on the market, the Axis360 breaks down the parts and lets the photographer pick how complicated of a set up they want. Their gear set includes a slider, which can have an indefinite number of extensions, motors to power movement, the Cinemoco or “brain” which controls movement and shutter release, and several plates and tools to assemble the rig. As can be seen with their current component list and pledge breakdown, each group of parts can be used separately or combined together to get a full 3 axis movement setup.
Not only are users able to customize their own rig according to their budget, the gear comes with the ability to be completely broken down and rebuilt later. This means that a full gear set up can fit into a small backpack. It is extremely compactable and would be very easy to travel with.
The Cinetics group was kind enough to send me one of their 2 axis rigs to test out. Here is a little bit about my experience.
The slider is assembled using two rails which are secured by a central plate. The rails can be unscrewed and broken down onto 16 inch sections. Each section can screw into the next which allows for indefinite rail length. The central plate can be screwed onto a tripod. Alternatively, once the rail and plate are put together, they can rest on the ground with adjustable leg supports.
The carriage on the slider moves with wheels on both sides of the rail similar to a roller coaster. The movement is extremely smooth.
The Cinemoco, or “brain,” allows the user to control movements and time-lapse settings. A menu system allows for easy navigation between settings. When setting up a time-lapse shot, all you need to do is input your final frame rate, how long of a video clip you want, and the length of time you want the shoot to last for. The Cinemoco then tells you the longest exposure length possible and does the math for you. A 12 volt rechargeable battery charges the Cinemoco as well as the motors and can last many hours of constant use.
The motors are relatively simple. Although you can control speeds using the Cinemoco, each motor does have a maximum speed it can operate at. This really only hinders use with regard to video as sliding movements are limited to 2.4 cm/s.
The accessories which help assemble rig are both genius and frustrating. The ability to build, deconstruct, and reconstruct the rig into multiple combinations allows the photographer an incredible flexibility to change the kind of shot they want using the same pieces of equipment in different ways. As a user who is constantly weighing cost vs reward, this is extremely helpful in minimizing how much gear I might want to buy. It also is extremely helpful to be able to break down the gear into a very small space and travel with it easily.
On the flipside, having so many pieces can present problems. On a shoot, time can be of the essence and more pieces means more build time. The Axis360 does not offer the simplest user experience in this respect. In order to change your set up, you must have time and patience to reconstruct your rig. If in the process of reconstructing, you accidentally loosen one piece, you may have to adjust the others again as well. Lots of pieces also mean more things to lose or break. As a clumsy human, I have the tendency to do both. If one piece breaks or gets lost in the field, it could mean a whole axis is unusable.
Since I worked with a 2 axis system, I tried out the Axis360 in all the possible time-lapse movement combinations, both with a single axis and a dual axis.
Creating a single axis movement is the simplest way to use the Axis360. Using the Cinemoco, movement can be defined by distance/degrees or by key frames. Key framing movement allows the user to move the camera to a start and end point and lock in those points so they can be repeated for more than one identical shot sequences.
I shot three sequences for panning, tilting and sliding. Each sequence ran smoothly and only took a few minutes to set up.
The two axis sequences worked similarly to the single axis movement, just with more set up time. Although each motor requires a Cinemoco unit, the units can be linked as a master and slave. This allows the user to set up the shot using only one unit.
To test multiple options, I shot a vertical slide/pan, a horizontal slide/tilt, and a pan/tilt. Each sequence ran smoothly except for the vertical slide/pan. The set up for this shot was the most unsteady of all of them. Whether it was user error or instability of the equipment, the sequence had one or two minor hiccups in the camera movement.
The Axis360 can also be set up for video use. Like time-lapse options, video movement can be controlled by distance/degrees or by key frames making shot set up pretty simple. Video speed can be controlled varying between a minimum and maximum point. Speed can also ramped up or down at the beginning and ending of each run to reduce the chance for equipment shake (this option can be seen best in the sliding video). Additionally camera movements can be set for repetitive continual motion between two points giving the user the ability to leave a camera sliding back and forth without having to operate it.
I took three shots of video, each with a different axis of movement. I had my doubts that the equipment would stay stable and decided to test each movement as extremely as I could using a 70-200mm at max zoom. Each movement ended up having great stability despite being at full zoom and having a heavy camera and lens mounted on the rig.
What I liked
-The rig can be bought in pieces allowing photographers to budget and customize their purchase.
-Flexible design allows for different kinds of movement using the same parts.
-The rig is very easy to travel with.
-The gear is stable and easy to run when shooting both time-lapse and video.
What could use improvement
- Reconstructing the rig into different setups took up a lot of time.
- Since there were multiple pieces to the rig, it meant making sure multiple points stayed tightened and secure
- The loss of one small piece could ruin a whole axis movement.
The Axis360 by Cinetics definitely hits a new niche for time-lapse gear. If this project piques your interest, take a full look at their kickstarter page. They only have another day or so before their kickstarter is complete, so if you want to show your support, you better act quickly.