Camera Pan & Tilt Motors (NT-Head)

Panorama images can be incredible images that help to immerse someone in the scene, but often these images consist of multiple images which are stitched to create one overall image. The bigger the panorama (often) the more images are required to be stitched in order to create the detailed scene.

Whilst the advantages are clear, this identifies the disadantage of Panoramic images, the need to systematically capture lots of images in semi-precise ways to ensure that the images can later be stitched (i.e. there is enough overlap between each image).

Image 1: Nic-O-Pan/Tilt Motor (image from Black Forest Motion)

Whilst this can be done manually, it becomes a giant pain in the backside and you can often have less than fantastic results due to overlaps not being sufficient, and potentially the movements being different between shots. With that in mind I wanted to discuss a great new product I have been playing around with called the NT-Head which is a kit that is available from Black Forest Motion. The aim of this kit is to help you automate some of the repetitive actions so you can get more repeatable and consistent results. The kit consists of two individual motors (called NT Single Axis), and can also include (optionally) a connection kit which includes rails.

This kit (NT-Head) is essentially a set of high powered and machined stepper motors, before I go into these a bit more you do need to note that these are just the motors, so in order to use a product like this you need to have a motion controller (in my case I use the PINE II).

Image 2: Image of the Pan/Tilt kit with rails to change position of the motors (image from Black Forest Motion).

The Base NT-Head kit includes two motors, however, depending on the types of images you want to take you may need to consider adding on the optional connection kit and adapters. These adapters allow you to move the motors and nodal point around which are important to best position the camera lens to avoid parallax issues. If you are only doing basic timelapses this may not be needed, but in my case I did need this so I have been trying out the kit with the connecting rails, the L-Bracket and the Nodal Slide.

The motors themselves are fairly heavy weighing in at around 1kg each however they are very well made, and sturdy. They appear to be aluminium milled and painted black with a connector on the side for the motor, an Arca-Swiss compatable rail profile milled into the side (with several 1/4″ and 3/8″- 16 threads) as well as having an Arca-Swiss mount where the motor rotates that you can connect your camera to (with a compatable arca-swiss plate).

The motors have a fair amount of torque for their size, because when you are taking panoramic images you often have a large focal length lens attached it is important for the motors to be fairly strong, in the case of these motors they have a precise internal wormgear which is geared to a ratio of 1:32, this means that when you use the stepping capability of the black forest motion controller (PINE) you can get a precision of 0.001758 degrees per step (reported). To be honest I wouldn't rely on it for that level of precision but it goes highlight the accuracy.

With respect to the motors themselves, based on the gear reduction they are able to handle around 10 kg on the pan axis (i.e. horozintally) and around 5 kg on the tilt exist (vertically) when the load is properly weight distributed. For most cases this should be more than enough, and chances are if you need a greater load capacity than that, then you will start to look at other more fixed permenant options (including potentially those you make yourself).

My Thoughts

The cost of this kit was fairly signifcaint when I first brought it (I paid for it myself, and was not provided with one). At the time I brought this kit it was around $950 euro's not including shipping so for someone who does not do this professionally it was a huge cost and one I struggled to justify. initially, I actually went back and forth a bit deciding if I should end up buying these motors or try and make a version myself.

Whilst I had worked on my own version for a while, given that my background is not in machining there was no way that anything I could make would have the reliability or professional finish that something which was properly made would have, which was confirmed the moment I recieved the motors. The motors were machined by a company called Nico Engel who did a fantastic job and the quality of their work shows.

I have used these a few times, and made up a backpack kit containing the motors, a Supertank Pro (battery), in addition to the Pine II controller and a playstation controller so I can get out and about and try and do up some more Panorama images.

I have been very impressed with the NT-Head Kit and think it was a good investment (at least in my case), whilst it was not cheap lets be honest photography is not a cheap hobby and I intend to use these motors for a significant amount of time. If you are looking for a set of motors to help with motorising your camera and have a compatable motion controller (i.e. the Pine, or Pine II) I would highly recommend these.

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