Review: ASTRO Time-lapse and Motion Controller

image

Originally started project as a Kickstarter project, the project raised 412,998 which far surpassed the goal of $50,000. This isn’t entirely surprising given we’ve had an explosion of interest in consumer photography, combined with the fact there was a gap in the market for a product like this.

The project was successfully funded on August 26th, 2012, however the process of turning an idea into mass production proved difficult.  Months turned into years of delays, but thankfully the products are now reaching backers some 24 months after payment.

This was the first Kickstarter project I backed and the last of 3 to arrive. The good news is, the results achievable with the Astro are stunning.

Hardware

From the outside the device is small cylinder with 3 adjustable rings for simple setup. A camera-specific cable connects and transfers the instructions to the camera which fires the shutter on the required schedule.

With duration, rotation angle and frequency of photos configures, the program is initiated using one of two buttons. The right will result in a clockwise rotation, while the left button turns the Astro in a counter-clockwise direction.

  • Measurements:  3.5 x 1.5” / 9 x 4 cm
  • Weight: 0.68 lb / 312 g
  • Load: The motor can hold up to 6.6 lb / 3 Kg of equipment
  • Maximum Speed: 6° per second
  • Power source: 2 AA batteries

Software

While the Astro is designed for easy controls, the triple-dials are no match for a software package delivered from a mobile app. The simplicity in which you can flick to adjust each of the settings is fantastic, the only problem is the mobile app is currently restricted to iPhone only.

You’re probably wondering at this point if a phone-delivered instruction set means you’ll need your phone connected for the entire duration, the good news is it doesn’t. After an LED indicator light let’s you know the program has successfully been transferred, you can disconnect the phone and return to taking selfies with your Astro.

With a small team, it’s understandable that there’s only a single mobile OS supported at this stage, but given the number of people carrying Android these days, there needs to be an Android app soon.

Results

One of the best inclusions with the Astro is a booklet that provides guidance around the best configuration to achieve the best results across a range of scenarios. From shooting in the street, getting those car lights streaking through a scene or a starry night sky, this book is a great place to start.

I don’t always remember to throw it in my camera bag, so would love to see a mobile site or integration into the smart phone app these same suggested settings.  Over the coming weeks and months, I plans on making a number of timelapses with Astro, but for now, check out a couple of samples I created.

Issues

This is the brutal truth, the delays of Astro were terrible. Many backers were outraged, particularly at the lack of updates, at times months rolling by with no news. When the updates did arrive they did explain the issues well and lots of photos demonstrated to backers the trips to China were paying off.

I’ve never made a hardware product and after following this project closely, I never want to. After getting on top of the hardware components, the production process demanded mass production to create thousands of these. While moving from hand crafted individual units, to a production run, the project stumbled as it faced distorting plastic of the battery cover. This was never seen during small scale testing and was eventually traced to the production changing the construction without notification.

The delays were annoying, but I always felt the project creator Oscar Ramirez was persistent in his endeavor to make this product a reality. Maybe the most disappointing moment was when my first Astro arrived and it didn’t work. We’re still working on understanding what’s wrong, but after notifying Oscar, he immediately sent me another, no questions asked. About 2 weeks later the next arrived and works fine. Not only was a new device sent, but also included was an angle bracket for creating vertical panoramas, an apology for the delay and broken unit.

There’s no word on how many units are DOA, but I’ve seen at least a couple of others reporting the same.

Price and availability

The Astro is now available to those supporters of the Kickstarter project. The early bird special was for $160-200 depending on the color (silver or black) and how early you got in. Having been through the hard development process, Astro are now turning to the public and the device is available for pre-order for US249 or a full retail price of $280.

It is strange the company that was formed around Astro is called Mindarin, not naming themselves after a single device leads the way for them to deliver a range of photography-focus products.

Final thoughts

Creating panoramas used to rely on manually aligning the camera rotation to segments marked on the tripod, and crossing the fingers when it comes to photo-stitching in Photoshop. Creating time-lapses used to require a manual press of the shutter (or controller) with a stopwatch in the other hand. Thankfully Astro ends this madness and delivers a simple, precise way of achieving these photography techniques.

In any market the true sign of a successful disruption is the emergence of copy-cat products and Astro now has some competition in the space. Nothing else I’ve seen offers the simplicity and industrial design of Astro.

With the technical problems associated with creating amazing panoramas or time-lapse videos solved, the only question is how you’ll entertain yourself for the duration of the shoot. Maybe we need another Kickstarter that weatherproofs and secures your camera equipment so you can leave it for hours unattended.

image

  • Robert Moore

    Currently waiting on a Mindarin Astro…I can use it with Canon bodies but hope to use it with the much smaller/lighter Sony bodies—so I’m hoping someday they offer an I.R. integration like the Syrp Genie has done.