Looking to delve into the world of time-lapse and motion-control videos and panoramic photos? Read on for our hands-on review of the Syrp Genie Mini II and more. Designed to take advantage of new features introduced with the Genie II app, the Genie Mini II is a motion-control device compact enough to take along even on solo adventure treks.
This update on the original Genie Mini features Bluetooth 4.2 for quicker, more robust connections between the motion controller(s) and the app, built-in Wi-Fi, a USB Type-C port for faster charging and upcoming camera control, and both multi-row and 360° panoramic options. App functions available at the time of writing include the ability to set up to 10 motion keyframes, pan and tilt coordination, customized time-lapse settings, stop-motion, and ease-in/out movement ramping. Teased future functions via the Genie II app promise camera control, auto-exposure ramping and a time-lapse compiler to save time in post.
We used the Genie Mini II Pan & Tilt Kit, which consists of two Genie Mini II units and the Pan Tilt Bracket, should you want to start off with a pan unit and build up the kit later. The multi-row panoramic shots were taken using a Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera with the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm zoom lens; the time-lapse shots used the same camera and the Tokina Cinema ATX 11-20mm zoom lens. Dedicated shutter-trigger cables are available for popular cameras, here I used the 1P Link Cable for Select Panasonic and Leica Cameras.
I love the Genie Mini II’s silky smooth, hamburger-shaped form. Even when mounted on the Pan Tilt bracket unit, the entire two-unit assembly fit in my standard messenger bag when used with the compact, mirrorless GH5 and the Lumix 14-42mm zoom. When working with two GM IIs, each unit works as either a pan or tilt unit, and I was able to change the assigned function easily using the little pencil icon found next to the unit name in the app interface. You can also rename the units in the app to help keep track of multiple devices. It was tricky getting a label to stick on the GM II’s rubber surface itself, but you could use a dab of White-Out or a grease pencil instead to differentiate your own units. The ID numbers are under the rubber skin so they’re not readily visible.
The Genie Mini II’s (herein known as the GM II) rubbery skin peels off fairly easily to reveal the inner workings, including battery access for rebooting the unit. The build quality is solid overall; the rubbery skin takes a little stretching to get back on but you can get the hang of it pretty quickly, and the shape is retained. I’m not a fan of the battery-release tab—it seems like it should have definite positions; instead, it’s quite difficult to pry up and there isn’t a palpable feel that the battery is seated solidly when reinserted.
Like its predecessor, the GM II supports rigs weighing up to 8.8 lb; the newer version’s battery performance is a mixed bag with an increase from five to six hours in video mode but with a decrease from 24 to 15 hours in time-lapse mode. You can use a USB source or power bank for extended time-lapse shots so I don’t see that as a huge issue.
Pan/Tilt Bracket: Assembling the pan/tilt bracket was easy, thanks to marks on the platforms that line up with the corresponding on/off, USB/charging, and camera link ports on the GM II. The nifty, mint-green thumbscrews are the captive type, so you don’t have to worry about misplacing them. It’s not necessary to connect your camera to the GM II if you’re using it simply to capture smooth, controlled video movements. You do need to use a dedicated camera cable like the 1P Link we had to do time-lapse and panoramic shots.
Genie II App: Once you’ve updated each unit’s firmware, if necessary (more on that below), the Genie II App was straightforward and simple to use. There’s an initial setup section for choosing base settings like feet or meters, your video frame rate and, if necessary, the shutter rate. The Create Content tab then offers templates like Clouds, People, and Night Traffic time-lapse sequences, Long and Short video tracking, etc. You can adjust these guidelines or create a New Setup from scratch as you prefer. As you adjust each parameter, its icon flashes, then turns to a solid circle once you select the start/end point. The touchscreen interface was easy on the eyes and worked fluidly with my iPhone 8.
Motion: The GM II’s movements were impressively smooth and having the ability to set keyframes helped when capturing varied landscapes like in this pan from eye level to skyscraper rooftop. If, like me, you don’t often use keyframing, practice manipulating the keyframe position icons to get exactly the framing you want before you head out into the field. The ease-in/out keyframe feature is very handy and, no pun intended, easy to use. I especially liked the Preview function and in Time-lapse mode—your recording interval will automatically adjust based on the playback time you choose and vice versa. For our time-lapses, we used the move-shoot-move option; continuous movement is another choice if you’re using a fast shutter speed and want to save time. Continuous motion is also an option if you’re worried about camera shake with each move; it wasn’t an issue with our small camera/larger cine-style lens setup.
Audio Level: The panning/tilting noise is at a level that prompted my coworker to think someone was using an electric shaver in the office—not loud but, depending on your pan/tilt speed, it might noticeable if you’re recording sound from the camera mic. If you’re using a lavalier, directional, or shotgun mic, the sound shouldn’t be an issue.
Some nitty-gritty details: I strongly recommend reading the Syrp product support notes, Q&A, FAQs, etc. well before you head out to shoot your once-in-a-lifetime event or location. Do not skim, glance at, or peruse this material because you may miss some important details as I did the first time I tried updating the firmware. Like the recommendation to, “Make sure the Wi-Fi assist on your iPhone or iPad is turned off, as this feature could interfere a firmware update. By default, the Wi-Fi assist is always on.” With the first GM II unit, it took a couple of attempts, but it did update on the third try even though I had left my iPhone’s Wi-Fi Assist on. The second unit proved trickier, so I delved deeper into the “Firmware update troubleshooting” page on the Syrp site.
I sensed that Syrp’s recommendation to “Turn off nearby Bluetooth or Wi-Fi devices” would not go over well with my earbud/smart watch-wearing coworkers so off to a wee meeting room I went to limit the surrounding traffic. If your unit is interrupted while upgrading, beware that doing a hard reset will not return it to a normal display mode where just the connection light flashes. You'll need to try to reconnect while all the lights are still flashing, so it's hard to tell if the reset happened until you go to the connect screen on the app.
There’s also camera-specific advice on the website; for my Panasonic GH5 Syrp has a page on how to prevent this camera from switching to video mode after the initial shutter release when capturing a time-lapse sequence. Syrp does provide step-by-step screenshots of the camera menus, which is helpful, so check for pages referring to your camera of choice.
I did come across some quirks while using the GM II, so definitely do some dry runs before you go out to capture your footage. For example, when I went to switch from shooting multi-row panoramas to grab a time-lapse of some quickly passing clouds, only the Panorama mode was selectable; the others were grayed-out on the app interface (Time-lapse, Video, Turntable). I ended up having to disconnect both the pan and tilt units to get back to having all the options available on the Create Content, Keyframe screen.
All in all, the Genie Mini II packs a lot of impressive features into a truly portable form and I’m definitely looking forward to exploring the additional functions coming with future updates. Other GM II configurations include the Genie Mini II Starter Kit with one unit plus a ball head with an Arca-Swiss style quick release plate, and the Genie Mini II Turntable Kit. Check out the full range of Syrp motion-control products on the B&H Photo website or in the B&H SuperStore in New York City.