As a reviewer, there are times when I frequently conclude a review with, "Now that I have A, B, and C in this tool, what I really really want is for the designers to do XY and maybe even Z." If you stick around and review things long enough, you even get the chance to see some of those things come to fruition. It's an amazing feeling, and that's what it felt like playing with the new "interview monster" from eMotimo.

It's a little box that lets you set up a repeating interview tracking shot (or really any repeating shot) with only a single controller. It's amazing and is going to completely change the workflow for a lot of interview shooters and expand the possibilities of lower-budget product work.

Understanding the Importance

To understand why this tool is so great, you need to have a little handle on what it was like before. If you wanted to do a tracking shot, you needed both a motorized slider and a motorized head. On a big-budget job, you'd have a Mark Roberts machine that did it all, controlled by a single software.

But for us indie folk, we would have one company making your head, one making your follow focus, and one making your slider.

Mark Roberts Motion Control MachineMark Roberts Motion Control MachineCredit: MRMC

You'd then set that motorized slider going back and forth with one controller (often an iPad dedicated just to that purpose and that purpose alone), and then you'd need another controller to run the pan and till and focus and roll/cut on your camera. Every single take required at least two different systems starting at once. It was very frustrating.

The Interview Monster puts it all together under one controller. It lets you set up a DJI Ronin S3 Pro, which is a unit that many people already have, mount it to a slider, and then control the linear motion of the slider and the pan and tilt and roll and focus on the DJI RS3Pro, all with a single PS4 style controller. You can even add another axis to the whole system and control a turntable for product work if you do that kind of thing.  

The DJI RS3Pro being controlled by a PS4 style controllerAn eMotimo motor mounted to an iFootage slider

The beauty here is that it's just a single controller that is a dedicated unit with all the inputs you need to intuitively do your setup. It takes a process that was frequently hiccupy, frustrating, and slow and made it something where, once the slider was set up, you could have your shot ready to go in less than a minute. There are on-unit controllers, two little thumb knobs that let you get it set up in something like 20 seconds if you are in a real rush, but by pairing a PS4 controller, the whole system just snaps to life.

Img_4443The DJI Ronin S3 Pro accessory port

This dedicated controller is especially useful if you end up with a unit requiring Bluetooth control. It can be very frustrating to do with a phone, and having the PS4 controller solves that problem.

With a phone app, every time you switch to another app, you tend to lose pairing, and re-pairing can require quitting the app and losing your programming.

Img_4442The custom attachment eMotimo make to control the Ronin

The solution many have found is a dedicated iPad for each unit that needs Bluetooth control. However, even used iPad Minis aren't going to be as cheap as a PS4 controller, and having to charge and update and maintain a fleet of old iPads to control stuff is a hassle. On-unit controls and the PS4 controller are welcome improvements.

Testing, One, Two, Three

eMotimo let me test a pre-lease unit, which is why the attached photos show a 3D printed case, but they expect the final unit to be shipping this summer and will, of course, be manufactured to be a robust working unit designed to survive set life. eMotimo has been in this space for a while, and their ST4 is a workhorse industry standard, so we have every reason to believe this will match that quality.

Even with the prerelease unit, the system was a complete joy, and I can't wait for the release units to start showing up in the field.

Once your slider is setup (the unit has integrations for iFootage and Dana Dolly and others will come), you mount up the DJI and then use a custom-built attachment to mount to the accessory port of the Ronin that gives you full control of the unit. From there, using either the on-unit or PS4 controls, you can program the unit in no time.

Setting it up in "interview mode," bouncing back and forth and repeating itself in a loop to give you a dynamic "c-camera" take on an interview, was an absolute breeze.

What was even more fun was doing product work.

I threw together a quick shot using the eMotimo turntable, which was controlled with the same interface, and in a few short minutes, was messing around with truly fascinating product shots that previously would've cost a lot more to execute. I did two takes of the same shot and overlaid them here so you can see the high level of accuracy of the shot, which is surprising since I don't think of the DJI RS3 as being a "precision repeatability" unit since it's usually being held in someone's hand. But even with beta hardware and software, there is an impressive level of accuracy in these shots.

You can see some buzzing between the two takes, they aren't as perfect as a $200,000 motion control unit could do, but they are pretty darn close, which is amazing for the price of all of this together. If you want to do product work mixing and matching takes, doing focus stacking, or changing lighting for repeats, a lot of that is doable at a pretty impressive price point.

My biggest worry as I entered testing was the limits of the RS3 Pro for both accuracy and power. It carries the very popular Blackmagic 6K Pro just fine, so I was very happy there since that camera is frequently my C-Cam these days with a few Blackmagic 12Ks for A and B cameras for a 3-camera interview setup.

But the focus motor is not the world's most powerful. It has no problem pulling focus on a smooth modern lens like the XEEN CF units we used in the testing here, but I was worried about what we would experience if we tried a vintage lens with a harder pull.

eMotimo had already thought through that dilemma, and there is a port for powering other follow-focus systems, with support already in place for Tilta units. Presumably, if you wanted to use even more powerful motors, you could talk to them about a custom implementation.

Food for Thought

The weirdest thing about all of this is that DJI hasn't already done it.

Having something you pop on the bottom of an RS3 Pro to make it work with a single control for a slider seems like a no-brainer. But DJI is a massive company that is focused on higher volume products, and it's possible that this was too niche for them. However, their loss is to the gain of both eMotimo and the end user.

eMotimo has a long experience making an intuitive interface with the PS4 controller, integration with dragon frame, and integrations with various sliders, which makes this one time where mixing brands works well. It's nice to get a specialist unit for the very specialist feeling tools, and then they support a unit that is rapidly becoming industry standard (the RS line).

It's not a drawback necessarily, but the motor system for the slider draws enough power that you'll always need to be powering it from a V or Gold mount (or the newer 24V B-mount system) battery. This isn't a system that is going to run off 2 LPs anytime soon with a motor to power that needs to push around a camera and a Ronin. Most shooters will have some batteries around that will power this all right up, so it's not a massive issue to overcome, but it's something to think through as you build a setup and think about where to mount the batteries, where to mount the unit, and running the cables.

This lead me to one curiosity I had about the demo unit. The methods for mounting it easily on the system and routing cable weren't built into the box yet, but those seem like elements that will be easily addressed as they revise the system.

Overall it seems like this is a nice moment where an established small vendor (eMotimo) saw a hole in the market that they could fill. The end result is a tool that a lot of end users are going to love. It solves a pain point for many interview shooters that we've all been waiting to get fixed. And having used it, I can't wait for the release version to hit the streets so we can start putting it to use on actual jobs.