November 4, 2019
Field Test

We Took the Syrp Genie II for a Spin (and We Have Some Thoughts)

Sleeker, more integrated, and with sophisticated app control, Syrp is pushing hard to dominate affordable powered camera movement with the Genie II.

New Zealand motion control, cable cam, and slider maker Syrp have come out with a major revision of their original Genie motorized slider, the new Genie II, first shown off back at NAB 2019 and now shipping. 

We used one of the original Genie systems for making a motion ident two years ago and we were very eager to see what the new unit offered in comparison. What we found can primarily be defined in terms of more integrated hardware and more sophisticated app control, something we failed to appreciate the first time around.

Here are our first impressions of the Syrp Genie II after using it on set.

The Hardware

The hardware refresh is the first major item that stands out. While top of the line units like the Milo and mid-range units like the eMotimo tend to be "all in one" units where you mount a camera and go, at the entry-level price point (the Genie II full kit still comes in under $2400 depending on outfitting) you often have a lot of modular parts you need to sync together and assemble in the field. Not the end of the world, but a nicely integrated unit can make it easier to pack up and transport when traveling.

By integrating pan and tilt into a single unit, then on top of that designing the "linear" drive unit into a separate piece that clips right on to the top piece, Syrp has made a more compact, easier to manage piece of gear. It also reduces the number of batteries you have to worry about (a single battery powers both pan and tilt) and means no bulky wound cables to worry about snagging on a stray stand as you crank around set.

USB-C Support

You can still work with the old school shutter trigger cable (you'll see one in one of our test photos), but Syrp is pushing hard for USB-C here, both for charging the unit and also camera control. 

USB-C is showing up in more cameras, and USB, in general, is in almost all. A USB-C to camera cable is going to be cheaper and more common on sets and require fewer backups. If your camera has a USB-C in, you'll likely find many USB-C to USB-C cables in your office or any set, if your primary cable breaks. 

Beyond that, the USB-C connection is more robust and allows for newer features to be installed or revised as time goes on. It's also likely going to make for some cool interactions between the camera head and the camera as manufacturers work together to make the most of the protocol.

Battery Power and Charging

This is very much a small unit, with all the plusses and minuses that come with that. Syrp has its history tied up with action, sports, outdoor and adventure, and this unit really does reflect that heritage. 

Where this shows up is in things like power, where it uses proprietary internal batteries. This is great for keeping weight down and makes for a more compact unit that feels like it is going to more easily fit into a small case.

However, currently the main way to charge it is in the unit itself; you can buy spare batteries but not yet a spare charger. This means we often worked to keep the unit plugged into USB power between takes when using it for second shooter duty, but that's more out of paranoia than need. We're so used to "one set of batteries working while another charges" that we never really pushed the internal batteries to their limits. 

We set up the Genie II as a second shooter (actually a third shooter, but an A and a B camera) on a music video and rather than remove the pan/tilt head to change the battery, we found it easier to just plug the unit into USB-C power to charge between takes. That let us avoid the hassle of losing our programming for the shot when taking off the pan/tilt head but still let us have a useable method for getting a lot of use out of the battery runtime. 

We wouldn't mind seeing a dedicated charger in the future that is designed to be sleek, plug into the head without a lot of stray cables, and run to a stinger for these kinds of situations.

The battery in the linear needs to have the pan/tilt unit removed to replace, but can be charged while it is still in the unit.

It stores those batteries inside the unit and spare batteries are available for around $60. The drawback is that battery swaps are going to require a little more effort in the field since you have to take off the pan/tilt motor to charge the linear battery in the event you run out of power. You won't likely run out of battery when doing a super long time-lapse, of course, since the unit is very smart about power management and won't draw much for the slow, creeping moves that time-lapses require. But if you set it up as a "second shooter" type unit doing a repeated move during an interview, you can eat through a ton of battery pretty quickly. 

Changing the internal battery for the pan/tilt just means taking off the side plate, which is easier, but the linear motor is doing more work dragging the unit back and forth along the track so that is more likely the battery that will need replacing.

Larger units that are design more for traditional set based work are going to use external batteries, usually V-mount. This is going to lead to longer life between battery swaps, and easier battery swaps when the battery dies, but are going to be heavier to carry around since the batteries and charger are going to be heavy.

If you forget or pack one of the USB-Chargers, you might be able to charge the Genie II with your laptop charger if you're in a pinch. Not that you can't use the Genie II on a set, you absolutely can, just that it is a unit that is focused more on being a self-contained tool used both on traditional sets and in a variety of other shooting situations as well. 

V-mount batteries don't seem like a hassle on set because there are already likely a lot of them around, but you don't want to hike them up to a cabin if you can avoid it. The Genie II can do great service on set, but it can also go with you into the woods for second unit easily as well.

Rope-Based System

One thing to be aware of is that the useable space for linear moves is a little constricted by the nature of a rope-based system (and this applies to most rope based systems). Basically, the rope stretches out from the base unit to the end, and in the middle of the slider move, there is a little slack in the line since it makes a triangle.  As the slider gets closer and closer to the end of the track, the angle that the rope needs to travel gets steeper and steeper, which took out the slack from the line. 

In our testing, we were able to have the slider cover about 85-90% of the slider on a regular basis before it would get too tight to hit the full end.  This is something that a belt-driven slider avoids since the belt is generally rigged up straight, but of course, that drives up the price quite a bit. 

The unit is still wildly useable, but it just needs to be thought about when planning out camera movement lengths.  

Because the capstan is off to the side, forming a triangle, tension on the string is highest when the unit is closest to the end of the slider, and slackest in the middle. Be sure to take this into account when setting your string tension.

 

Repeatability

We did a repeatability test on a 135mm prime, moving it through the same path three times on a loop without cutting the camera and overlaying them in post to see how well they matched, and were very happy with the results, especially for the price point.

This kind of high contrast B&W image is designed to highlight the flaws, and the long lens is going to exaggerate changes between takes, but we saw a very consistent path take after take. 

You will notice in the footage a slight twitch on a few frames. Looking at the footage closely, we actually believe that the shots line up perfectly but that the timing of the shutter doesn't. Most shots in motion pictures are shooting 180° shutter, meaning the shutter is open half the time and not open half the time. Since the camera is on a "loop" path, doing the move, resetting then going again, it's not "starting" its loop at the exact same moment in the "shutter open/close cycle" every time.

For this kind of shot to work perfectly, the shutter would need to be open for precisely the same time in every take. This requires the camera and the controller to interface and sync up the shutter opening with the same position in the camera move. 

Syrp is pushing hard for USB-C throughout the unit, and honestly, we suspect that Syrp is ready on the drive unit side to control cameras that allow that kind of USB-C control for motion (as they do for still images).  However, it's more likely that not many manufacturers are going to support that kind of frame-accuracy in USB-C control. When working in Stereo 3D (where shutter-sync is also a huge issue), it was a tricky issue, and it's likely nothing you'll see in lower-end camera offerings.  

One workaround would be to shoot these types of shots at a 360° shutter, though of course, the motion will feel differently than our traditional 180° shutter. However, as always the answer is to do a ton of tests.  Depending on the motion of your actors, the staging of the scene, the lighting and lens choice, and the dressing of the set, you might find a 270° shutter helps with shutter alignment while still providing all the accuracy you need.

Firmware Update

One small frustration we had was with firmware updates for the unit. While it has USB ports, there isn't a desktop app and firmware updates happen over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi from a mobile device. This worked fine occasionally but failed often enough to be frustrating. It's a known issue on Syrp forums, and the advice was to try to find a less radio intensive areas. 

Living in New York and working in an office building made this hard, but we did find a spot (oddly, by our window) that seemed to more reliably function for updating firmware.

The App

Outside of hardware revisions, the big update is the robust Genie II app. Programming moves has long been one of the more frustrating aspects of working with motorized sliders, but the Genie II app made the process much easier than we've seen from other competitors in the space and is truly the halo feature here.

In addition to being easy to design a move and refine it, best of all, the saving/loading process is easier than it has been with other setups, which is great since nothing is quite as frustrating as getting a move with a full setup only to have it disappear to a battery change. This is maybe the most dramatic change and the one we appreciated least when we first saw it at NAB. Apps are now so much a part of our landscape that we simply thought, "Of course, an app!"  

We are using the Syrp press photo for the App since we had our camera on the Genie II and our iPhone photos of the app in action just didn't look that cool. We should buy another nice stills camera, is the lesson here.Credit: Syrp

In reality, however, the app here is a major improvement over the interface for most of these systems. Most similar units run on something that feels very engineering-driven, with a text interface that just doesn't feel intuitive and is a nightmare to reset, reprogram, or tweak. They feel like you are going to spend an hour setting up a shot and that is going to be the only shot you get that day. 

The Syrp app lets you set up a shot in minutes, and best of all, fine-tune that move. Competitors often left us feeling like we had to get the move perfectly or start over from scratch, whereas here the revision process to really dial a move was fluid and very useful. 

With the app, you can keep revising your move in a way that feels more intuitive, especially to users familiar with nonlinear editing platforms. Keyframes can be placed and moved, and even more importantly they can be eased. By clicking on the "bezier" symbol at the bottom of the app, the slider will then "ease" through the keyframe more gradually, smoothing out your camera move. You could even do it from the monitor if you have a wireless system like a Serv Pro to preview what's going on with your camera.

If there is one thing we wish for a future release of the app would be eventual integration with a FIZ system of some sort. Focus/Iris/Zoom for "affordable" price points is definitely coming, and while weight limits on the system mean you aren't likely to have an Alexa LF on the Genie II any time soon, an EVA1 with a lightweight prime and motors is probably possible, or even the XH1 and Fuji MK Zooms. It would be great to sync together focus, iris and zoom repeatably with the sliding move.

While most affordable follow focus units leave a lot to be desired, they are advancing rapidly, and hopefully, there will be a way to tie that control into this app as well, especially if it's coming from a Creative Solutions stablemate.

Price and Availability

The Syrp Genie II Pan Tilt and Pan Tilt Linear are available now for $1599 and $899 respectively. You can bundle both in a kit for $2498.

Tech Specs

Genie II Pan/Tilt

  • Payload Panning:  13.2 lb / 6 kg 
  • Payload Tilting: 60°: 16 lb / 7.3 kg 90°: 13.2 lb / 6 kg  180°: 7.9 lb / 3.6 kg
  • Pan Speed: 25° per second 
  • Tilt Speed: 15° per second
  • Pan & tilt  Resolution: 0.01 °
  • 3 x USB-C for charging, camera trigger, camera control
  • Bluetooth 4.2 LE: Smartphone app connection
  • 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi: Image transfer and processing
  •  1/4"-20, 3/8"-16 screws
  • 3/8"-16 thread, (includes 1/4"-20 to 3/8"-16 adapter)
  • 5.4 x 4.7 x 4.4" / 137 x 120 x 112 mm
  • 3.1 lb / 1.4 kg 4.2 lb
  • Rechargeable Battery Type 11.1 V, 2600 mAh Lithium-Ion 

Syrp Genie II Linear

  • Payload Horizontal: 16.5 lb / 7.5 kg
  • Payload Vertical: Up to 11 lb / 5 kg 
  • Linear Max Speed: 4.3" / 110 mm per Second
  • Minimum Resolution 0.0004" / 0.01 mm
  • USB Type C 
  • 1 x 2.5 mm Jack
  • Battery Life: Time-Lapse Mode: 14 h, Video Mode: 8 h
  • Battery Charge Time3 h
  • Dimensions 4.9 x 4.6 x 2.8" / 124 x 116 x 70 mm
  • Weight2 lb / 0.9 kg

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