Long Time lapse controllers review: BixiCon VS DigiSnap Pro

After many years in the photography business, I came across an new possible open time lapse control system with Bixion.
The closest system being Digisnap Pro from Harbortronics. I removed all the offers forcing you to rent their servers and offering a complete and rigid offer. For example, systems as Photosentinel or TBox are clearly at a higher price range with plenty of limitations on the way to design your enclosure and camera to use. You need to buy all from them, from the solar panel to battery. If you are looking for a complete offer; they may fits you. But for something more flexible; designing your own enclosure is more suitable. Here is my time lapse controller review : BixiCon vs Digisnap Pro.

Time lapse controller BixiCon Vs DigiSnap Pro

I also have remove CamDo working with GoPro as this can’t be a reliable solution for long time lapse movie. A Go-pro barely work more than 2 hours without crashing, so I can’t imagine after a month under the sun. Other ways to do long construction time lapse are possible with IP camera as well. The resolution and overlook are different and not as the standard I would like to offer. I need for my clients a cinematic look with high dynamic range and only DSRL and RAW format can achieve such for now. These also required different power and may not be suitable for remote location with no connectivity.

I focus on system which offers you complete control on your enclosure design as well as your server batteries and solar panels. As being based in China, Internet restriction is something you can’t ignore. Choosing your own hosting solution is a very important point to consider. We also have our in-house computer system designed with Arduino computer to run on extremely low power mode when you have no possible connectivity or power.

 

Contacting Harbortronics vs Bixion:

At Harbortronics, things are simple, you only have email or phone to get in touch. No social media to reach or check last production, no online chat. The website is a clear nightmare to get what you are looking for as there are too many empty pages, but their content is quite rich if you spend some time browsing. Their PDF is extremely detailed. They introduce a new website and name with Cyclapse and their blog is hosted there. It’s quite empty and look like nothing new is happening. At each request from their customers, the answer is that they are too busy to implement new functionalities. Not sure what does that means. They also created a partnership with one full compact time lapse offer which scares me a bit about their future plans.

At the opposite; the new kids in the game have Facebook and simple template website where all is easy to navigate. Unfortunately, a bit too easy and clearly the PDF is quite confusing about what you can actually do with their product. There are plenty of soon, next year,…
Email are way more responsive and you can easily chat online via Facebook to get things sorted out, still, week end is off!

Bixion team offers me to connect to their server to see the way I could remote my module. Later they offered a 2 weeks trial test which means that I’m paying for the full kit and will be refunded (except shipping cost) if I’m not happy with it. That what decided me to order it. It’s a very nice attitude for sure.
It’s hard to compare apples to oranges as I have much longer experience with Harbortronics and only one time with Bixion. But it happens on one order with Harbortronics that they sent me a defective unit. It was not powering the camera due to a voltage output error; right out of the box. I can’t says why neither them, but the unit displayed the warning message as soon as powered up. After contacting them, they shipped another one for free, but I still had to return the original one on my own money. That’s clearly a different way of doing business. The support is by mail only and it took few days each time. So better be ready to find out all by yourself. I have a friend saying that not answering email make the problem go away and it ‘s actually true. Relying too much on others may not be the way to go.

 

Ordering the BixiCon vs Digisnap pro time-lapse controller.

Both websites offers PayPal as option to order and pay.
For Harbortronics, you may discover that 2 or 3 weeks are necessary to get it ready for you. One piece of advice is to get in touch and check first. But their website is straight forward to direct you to the payment page.
With Bixion, you need them to send you a Paypal request. This is only after they send you a clear quote which was done in a day.
On the price side, they are quite similar for a system using batteries or solar panel. The Bixion look cheaper at first, but you need an extra controller just for the charging part. This is mandatory as getting unlimited power on a work area is quite impossible to guarantee. You WILL need a battery as backup, so a charger is also requested. The Harbortronics have extra Bluetooth connectivity with a separate module. Same thing with the Data modem that need to be ordered separately when BixiCon have it integrated. There is no Bluetooth module available from Bixion.
You are ready to spend about 1,200 USD for a working unit, without any battery, hosting plan, enclosure, camera or lens.
As the remote control on BixiCon is done by extra service, be ready to spend extra monthly fees.

 

Shipping the long duration time lapse controller:

Both website ship using UPS and 3 days are necessary to get it at your front door.
Time lapse controller BixiCon Bixion DigiSnap Pro
As Digisnap pro from Harbortronics have a Bluetooth module, be prepare for some extra paperwork and delay from customs. On my following orders, I have asked not to mention the Bluetooth module and save few hassles.
I have order about 10 time to the Cyclapse website and only once with Bixion.

 

Packing:

The Harbortronics Pro is quite small and come in a small box with some bubble wrap. They have their branded scotch tape: nice.
But the small time lapse controller is still moving quite a lot and with the constant shipping condition, the box is way too small to be protective enough. On one of my shipping; the little battery was actually no soldered anymore as it have been shaken on the way. Please Cyclapse team; put more protective bubble wrap in your box when shipping to the other side of the world.
Time lapse controller box Harbortronics DigiSnap Pro
A clear winner here with Bixion and the BixiCon time lapse controller. The box contain plenty bubble wrap as it should and each piece is well packed and labeled.

 

Unpacking:

At Harbortronics, it’s quite simple; you ordered a controller, you have one. Nothing else is included and no connector to get started is included. Not even a 5 USD power supply.  You can order some battery or shutter release cable, each plug is almost from a specific kind to avoid confusion. It’s well described on their PDF, but a fitting male connector for each can’t be ordered online. The In/Out port plug are quite hard to find, honestly.
Time lapse controller Hong Kong Harbortronics DigiSnap Pro

With Bixicon, you only have one kind of connector, so it’s easier. But be careful when you connect them. The marking is quite confusing, between “power”, “power input”, “power output”… Some connector don’t even have a name (I2C bus). Also the “SET” button is nowhere to be explained. Reset button on the Bixion works only after disconnecting the power which is not a great solution either. I’m expecting to get answer from them about these functionalities. There is also an unmarked button on the charger module.
Time lapse controller BixiCon Bixion Hong Kong

The great advantage for BixiCon is that it comes with all accessories as antennas and extra plugs to start doing your own cables right away. Even a power supply to start testing if you have no battery or solar available. You also have a small booklet to get started.

On the Harbortronics side, you have to order WiFi antenna or Data modem to get these capabilities. Either on their website or use third part one’s. Plugin a external WiFi antenna require to open the Digisnap Pro; you have to know what you are doing. This is a geeky system for sure.

I have found the Digisnap pro WiFi without external antenna to be much stronger than the BixiCon with external antennas. Even 2 meter away from a router, only 3 bars on four are displayed.
Time lapse controller review wifi DigiSnap Pro

External form factor:

Obviously Harbortronics is a clear winner with a tinny well designed Digisnap Pro box. There are plenty of plugs on four sides, so it may be hard to put it in a small enclosure and get clear access. I would love a box design with only one large connector and a break out cable…
The charger and electronic are on the same board with Cyclapse controller. I burn one when charging under a sunny day. You can see the hole in the IC in charge of battery charging control. It says that the charging stop if the temperature is reaching a certain amount, but they may want to change this value. I guess there is also some heating problem coming with trying to put all in one small enclosure.
Time lapse controller battery long time DigiSnap Pro

I have added external radiator elements to keep a better cooling as well as internal heat pad to diffuse in a better way.
Outside temperature reached 45 degrees Celsius this summer during few days without any issue. I also have active cooling with a fan when internal temperature in reaching 35 degrees Celsius. The idea of temporary cooling is to avoid constant air coming inside with the unfortunate dust. As this video time lapse project is supposed to last about a year in Hong Kong, you can only see the result after a long period of time. What is working today may not be working the day after. But with 9 month already passed, I’m happy to see nothing happened on site. Not a single picture have been lost out of 3 Gb daily created.
Time lapse controller construction heat DigiSnap Pro

With BixiCon, there are 2 modules, one for the charging part, one for the control and data. It will be harder to implement in your enclosure as it’s way bigger. I still did have tried ans test under charging condition, but in normal mode the control module is getting hot quickly. I should receive some battery and solar panels to do so by the coming week. Again, they are limiting the battery to a not so commune kind, so it have to be build on request.

 

Wi-Fi vs Ethernet vs Data to send time lapse pictures online.

Both systems offer 3 ways to connect to the Internet.
Data is fine, but it will limit to JPG upload only even with unlimited data plan. Check on your service provider, but some even exclude FTP as data. Also, when a certain amount is reached; usually around 25Gb monthly, the throttle is so strong that even the status email struggle to be sent. So data connectivity should be consider as back up and monitoring only. That means you need an external storage for your pictures as the camera card can’t be use to store too many pictures.

Time lapse controller modem DigiSnap Pro

Ethernet cable is a maybe offering great connectivity but not available everywhere. On one of my setup, I actually have plugged a external modem to this input in order to bypass the local Wi-Fi login page which is not supported internally by the controller. My external modem connect to the Wi-fi and send data over the Ethernet. It’s powered with one extra USB output that I can configure to turn on few seconds before transmitting to let the modem boot. With the system from Cyclapse, one output line can be set to 5V in order to power accessories. It seems not possible to do so with the BixiCon time lapse controller as there is no option to power USB prior to take a picture and no extra input or output port. Also, the amount of USB ports is limited.

WiFi is the best option to get all picture out of the camera enclosure and do not have to wait too long to see the result. In my case, my client is not even based in Hong Kong, so getting remote upload is necessary. Both system accept hidden SSID. Unfortunately, hot-spot can’t be used to connect or specific login page.

Under the hood:

Digisnap Pro run a slow and old microprocessor based on Unix. It will takes about 4 mn to get all data correctly displayed on the Bluetooth remote device for the first wake up. I did knew that and was struggling at first to make changes. You have to be patient.
On the BixiCon, it’s way faster (about 30 seconds) but you need to switch WiFi signal and on-site testing may be quite complicated because of such. Also, the only way to get WiFi on is to physically access to the box reset button if you need to immediately change the camera sequences.  It can be done remotely online, but only when the camera will be connecting to upload the picture. So any changes can’t be immediately seen. On my past example, this is fine and 24h notice is manageable.
The only issue is if the BixiCon can’t connect to the Wifi at the planned hours; you lose all way to modify the sequences.
If Bixicon remote is working well in Power Save mode, you don’t need to worry on updating on site by switching WiFi.

Another difference and weird problem is the way it’s use the power.
On the Digisnap Pro, the system sleep and wakes up the camera power and modem all the time it needs to be done. So your system do not use so much power between picture. That’s the only option available.

On the Bixion, you have a “Power save mode” and “Normal mode”. I’m not sure when you should be using the “normal” mode as it uses a lot of power and produce heat. I guess it’s more to test or for time lapse with short duration where you are sure about getting constant power. The box become hot at one point and I will not recommend such if you are outdoor under our nice Hong Kong weather. The second mode is there to save power, but the camera still received electricity between shot and never been turned off. You have to put the camera settings in sleep in the menu. That’s a bit weird and the opposite as the way it should be. I have contacted Bixion team about that and they confirm it’s the way it works. The camera power will never be off in a Power saving mode. They are working on a way to offer this.

One main difference between system is the way to access the connection and shooting parameters.
With Digisnap Pro, you need an App and an android phone with Bluetooth to connect to the box so you need to be withing 10 meter of the camera housing.
With Bixicon, you can connect by WiFi only but need to reset the controller if running in Power Save mode (which is quite likely to happen) or you can connect to their website and put the new parameters, they will be applied when the next connection is planned.

On-board storage vs FTP:

Keeping pictures inside the camera with a super large SD card is not recommended as it will take a lot of time when the camera will wakes up to send the actual last picture to be transmitted. It’s by design in Canon camera; nothing we can do about it.
So sending over the air the pictures and remove it from the body is the way to go. Both system offer such option. I have a slight preference for the Digisnap Pro as it send the picture with a nice name easy to read. On the BixiCon, it use the exact time with precise second so it’s a bit a lot of numbers to find out when it was taken. They offer other options but nothing so useful.
On both system, if you press the shutter manually, one picture is taken and will be sent to your FTP. This is great for testing purpose.

Bixicon also allows Google Drive and dropBox options which is perfect for people not confident using their own FTP. But within China, this is again a no go for me. I also do not want to rely on free hosting that may be not offering privacy.
You can also connect a external USB drive or a small microSD card. I hate these micro SD cards case the connection are very weak and you can lost the complete footage in no time. On my BixiCon, I was not able to get it working, it always display that there is no card. So I will says this is useless feature.
There is the option of another external USB drive as backup, but I did not used it yet. Sending to FTP if you have good connectivity is also a good way to save your precious time lapse footage if the box disappear at one point.
I’m focusing here on RAW pictures cause they offer much more details and dynamic rang than JPG. The main idea with such controller is to get the best possible quality under complicated lighting. If JPG quality is fine for you, maybe IP camera will be enough and easier to setup.

At each upload tentative, a log file is created and sent over as well as in each email. You have constant view on what is happening. When using the App, you can see the log of each command being executed, somehow a great help.
These are not for everyone to understand, but if you have been working with UNIX/JSON command, you can read it all!
PS: if you never heard of JSON, maybe this is not the system for you…

Powering it.

The Bixion only accept one kind of battery; the 3S 12V Li-Ion which is not a great choice. Solar panel usually deliver 20V so you are losing a lot of energy if you stepping down to 12V. I discovered this after ordering it in a email discussion, there were no details on the website. The charging module explanation is almost nonexistent which is weird as it’s a necessity to get one.
After talking to them, it seems it’s a limitation from their charger module and can’t be solved in the future without developing a new module.
You can still use any input power from any kind of battery as soon as voltage is 8 to 24V, but you cant charg it with their charger, so you can’t monitor the charge.
14.4 V 4S batteries are way more easy to buy and cheaper to get. Any 14.4V camera D-Tap battery is a 4S battery and you can easily get them anywhere to avoid shipping. They come in strong enclosure and with extra large capacity. With Digisnap Pro power menu, you can choose for different kind. That makes the system very flexible. If you plan to get a system without power at all in a construction site for example; you may want your client changing battery by itself. The DIY 3S power pack need to be very carefully taking care of where buying a D-tap connector and V lock system seems much more convenient.
There is also a automatic power saving option on the Digisnap Pro where the system do not use the network card anymore to keep the remaining battery for taking picture. As soon as power resume and battery charged again, the network card is working again.
The system is clearly designed to keep working and let you get longer time to solve the current issue. The monitoring tools and log are extremely useful.

Controlling it.

Even if I have already explained a bit the way it’s works during this time lapse controllers review, there are 2 different philosophies on these products.
With Digisnap Pro; you set it up one via Bluetooth being around the camera. I was able to get a 10m stable signal which is enough for most situation. Ss soon as the camera sens the Bluetooth around; it wakes up and you have full access to all parameters. It’s immediate, you an take a test picture and sees it getting uploaded b following the log. Great.

With the Bixicon, You need to do your setup being around the camera once as you need to press reset to get the second control WiFi to connect to. This second WiFi is actually very weak and drop after 3 meters, but it do not matters as it’s only use at the first setup. You have no way to check if connection have some trouble; only a fail/success status without even the picture name on it.
But you can later change camera parameters directly from home. The new parameters will be uploaded on the next upload sequence…
I’m not talking about the “Normal Power Mode” which let the camera connecting constantly as it’s not the way you should be running a long duration time lapse system.
So it’s more something to setup once and use remotely where Digisnap allow a bit more tweaking on site.

 

Conclusions on these time lapse controllers.

Don’t expect a clear winner between these two contestants review, they offer different long time lapse control in different ways. It’s still up to you to decide the right for you. I have chose to put only the one letting you design your own enclosure. Even if other claim their plastic box will be fine; I have to disagree with this based on my experience.
First a plastic box will be subject to slight heat modification and may end with a blurry footage. Worst will be the problem in case of typhoon or simple concrete rain. I can see system without sun-hood which makes no sense to my client needs. Our time lapse camera housing are locked down and ready for anything. They also look like regular surveillance camera so less subject to attention.

making-of-concept-store-video-time-lapse

 

Main advantages of the Digisnap Pro from Harbortronics

Many power possibilities, simultaneous 2 batteries with separate input measuring, Charger, Solar panel, …), it also offer super low power mode if battery reach a warning level.
It’s controlled by Bluetooth, so you can be on the floor level and remote your camera settings without opening the box and keeping the system uploading at the same time. WiFi and Bluetooth working at the same time.
The data modem is external and can include plenty of different model to keep up to date with technology.
The Bluetooth allows you to reset each board (camera/FTP/..) so you don’t need to touch anything.
The system can send many email based on errors it may encounters, you can limit these to 3 per day.
Also the status email time can be selected and contain graph on power and many more details than the BixiCon. The power graph is fantastic to detect low power solar panel or disconnection from main plug.
Time lapse controller battery level level DigiSnap Pro
I have choose to send a status email in the middle of the afternoon, so I can check also on box temperature at the same time. The email send the last picture taken as sample, so you know about dirt on the glass or any trouble right away. There is no need to connect to a ftp and download a picture. Any phone with email service is fine to keep tracking on issue. At the opposite Bixicon is way more complicated to get status and very limited information on what is happening.

This is a system for people with network setup experience, the logs are not easy to read. But in another hand, you have plenty of information to check what is happening and how to solve a problem.
These module have been working for months all over the world with very weak connectivity and still able to run.

 

Advantages for BixiCon from Bixion

Faster to boot and load, more camera model supported.
The time lapse controller setup is done by a second WiFi card, you can test a bit the same way using Bluetooth except if you need to check an uploaded picture as you will have to switch WiFi on your control device to connect to FTP.
The interface is done with nice and responsive graphic window. It’s very easy to process.
When you are in power saving mode (which is likely to be the case), only way to get in parameters is to press reset and wait about 30 seconds. It’s not a great solution if your enclosure is on top of a pole!
There is unlimited possible sequence for you time lapse. Just input as many starting/ending time and frequency, and you are good. They even implement very fast sequence per second increments. The Digisnap Pro allows you only 4 sequences.
There is a paid online check offer, so you can connect to a camera check when you need instead of waiting an email.
Huge advantage here is the possibility to change shooting sequence online. The camera will connect when you have programmed it and will adapt the sequence accordingly. For example, if you have a wake up/transfer time set at 5pm to upload your pictures, The new sequences will start at this time. This is perfect for remote shooting. Be aware that it is an extra cost.

Overall easier to parameter with Google Drive and drop box option. The Bixion may be preferred in a simple environment where all is working 100% of the time. Bixion is a new name and it will take time to get all possible scenario sorted out on their software.
Their team seems very responsive to new problem, unfortunately, I have very limited time to be beta tester myself (and I’m not working for free!)

 

My take on time lapse controller:

Well, testing 2 days the BixiCon compare to 2 years with Digisnap Pro is maybe note so fair. I will update this review very soon.
I can only try to imagine with past issues I met on previous projects to see if BixiCon will have survived and I have the feeling that the answer is maybe yes.
I’m still doing more testing and learn how to use it.
My main concern is the way to set it up (size, heat,.. ) plus the limitation on battery option.
I wanted to get a system where I can remotely change the sequence which can be done, but feel that I will loose ability to keep an eyes on the powering and status.
Having power graph + Status picture from the Digisnap Pro once a day by email really helps getting confident. It may not balance the remote control sequence offer. Here the email just tells how many fail upload you got, not so much why.
Digisnap Pro offers extra inputs and outputs plus timing on powering USB which is great.

Digisnap Pro is a very technical interface not ready for everybody compare to the BixiCon and you may want to double check before accepting an offer if all can be done as your client wants. I also would love them to get the necessary update with online parameters.
Time lapse controller review DigiSnap Pro
As the box connect to FTP to upload the picture, I’m wondering why a small setup file place on my FTP with all sequence details can’t be uploaded to the controller when possible. This file getting a unique ID number and we can see if update is done by the status/error email displaying the “sequence current ID”. This would be easy to implement and make this system a winner for many.
Another way would be to get a limited APP that can access to the sequence parameters only so anyone can come and change without any risk on crashing important parameters.

Our time lapse complete offer:

We have been providing successfully time lapse services for many years to many different locations and conditions. This post is only one part of the questions we are thinking when choosing and designing the right system for our client. It shows our commitment to get the job done the right way. Feel free to contact us if you have some need on your next construction project; at least, now, you know partially what may be inside the camera enclosure.

Side Note.
I did not received any discount or free product from any of the companies listed on this review. I also did not change or amend any content according to their remarks. This is my personal experience only, feel free to comment below for extra questions