I have a passion for the interface between technology and photography, with that in mind I am often having a look at some of the new technologies that can be used to make taking photographs easier or to automate some of the process especially when there is some repetition (i.e. timelapses, 360 images or gigapixels). Years ago, I purchased the first generation of the Black Forest Motion's Pine Controller which is a motion controller that connects to compatible stepper motors and allows you to create elaborate timelapses, or automate the process of shooting 360 images or gigapixel images (stitches of lots of individual images to make a larger one) with control through your phone or compatible mobile device.
Whilst I had this, I must admit I did not use it very often as I had my own motor drive system that did not work very well, I have since upgraded to the Nic-Head platform though which allows me to use the Pine Controller much more successfully. Whilst I had version one (1) of the Pine Controller, when the Pine II was released, it caught my attention as it allowed control of motors, but most importantly, you could also power the unit through USB-C, in addition you can also connect a (genuine) powershock controller to the device to control the motors and program timelapse movements.
Whilst the PlayStation controller was enticing, the ability to power the unit through USB-C was more important to me, as I could use the SuperTank Pro (a high capacity portable battery bank) to power the Pine II, as well as my camera and associated accessories giving me a much more convenient package especially when it comes to travel, I also have a number of USB-C devices so I am never short of a USB-C adapter (including high current 90 – 100W ones).
In this post I wanted to talk about the Pine II device, and give my experiences on this device. This is not a sponsored post, and my thoughts have been developed throughout my use of the device, I also purchased the device at full cost.
What is Pine II?
Pine II is commonly referred to as a motion controller. A motion controller is a device that connects between a set of motors and a controller device (i.e. a phone) and based on the design of the motion controller it lets you control and automate a number of different tasks.
Motion controllers (generally) can be used for things like programming complex timelapse where a camera travels across a slider and pans and tilts, or it can be used for something like panning and tilting a camera through predefined motions, motion controllers can also be used to adjust the focus or zoom of a lens by attaching a motor to that, this is really the benefit of motion controllers that they can often allow a huge amount of flexibility, with the Pine II if you only want to pan the camera you can just use the Pine II with a Single Axis motor, of if you want to slide the motor along a slider and also pan then you can add a motor to the slider and attach that to the Pine II as well.
Pine II can automate and control many devices to help you with motion control, it can be used for:
- Video recordings
- Giga-pixel images
- 360-degree images
- Macro photography
- Live shooting
- Turntable shooting
- 3D scan shots
In my case, the reason that Pine II is so useful is that it allows me to automate some of the tedious tasks, say I want to take a 360 degree photosphere, depending on the lens I may need to take 6 photos in a row, then tilt the lens up 30 degrees and take another 6 images. Pine II allows me to automate that process, and very repeatedly and reliably move the right amount between photos. It can also help to automate panorama capture; I may want to capture a panorama which consists of 50 photos, 10 across and 5 down. Using Pine II I can quickly program the movement and have it move, trigger the camera, move, trigger the camera whilst I don't have to worry about being exact since it handles it for me.
What are its Specifications?
The Pine II device measures 99 mm x 77 mm / 3.9″ x 3.0″ and weighs approximately 150g (without cables).
Control of the device is via Bluetooth through the Pine Controller mobile application,
It consists of four (4) Hirose HR10A-7R-6S(73) connectors that can be connected to bipolar stepper motors (up to 2.5A per channel), it has a USB-C connector (for power) in addition to a DC Jack (2.1×5.5mm centre positive) which can support a maximum of 72W (at 24V and maximum motor current).
The device has two (2) x 2.5mm TRS Jacks (3 pin) that can be used to control cameras with a suitable trigger cable, and it also has two (2) x 2.5mm TRS Jack (3 pin) for AUX connections.
The above means that it can control up to four motors simultaneously, and trigger up to two cameras.
Is it Worth it?
Whilst someone who was savvy could likely create their own motion controller, in reality the amount of effort that this would require, in addition to the potential reliability mean that for most (at least for myself) it is better to go with a product that already exists over trying to re-invent the wheel (assuming there are not cost constraints).
The cost of the motion controller in my mind is fairly reasonable (it was about $350 euros when I purchased the device), whilst this is not cheap, for a motion controller it is also not expensive. The motion controller has a number of fantastic features which in my mind make it worth it. Do note though that the price mentioned is just the motion controller, so if you want a full kit you would also need to get cables, motors (i.e. the NT-Head) and other things to get you going.
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