Automated 360º Turntables

Automated 360 Turntable

Before I get down to the nitty-gritty details of 360º view machines, I’m going to share a story.

Around 2008 I made an important decision: I was going to save up some money and quit my job to start a photography studio!  At that time, I was an employee making 360º views of shoes for a large company that operated several online retail operations (Tennis WarehouseRunning Warehouse, and Skate Warehousewere the main ones).  Thus, I wanted to specialize in 360º product photography so I started shopping around for an automated 360º rotating turntable.

Eventually, I found the one I wanted.  It was a “centerless” turntable but it was about $7,000 after taxes and shipping.  That was out.  I knew I could figure out how to build something similar from scratch on a shoe-string budget.  A good friend of mine offered to help.  I was lucky though; my friend worked at a high-end machine shop which we were able to use after hours.  Awesome.  I gave him the design and specs, and he built a fully automated 360º rotating turntable.  It took a lot of time and hard work, but it definitely paid off.  I’ve had the pleasure of shooting a few thousand products with it thus far and it has yet to break down or give me any trouble.

So I made my own 360º turntable, and the process of designing it and building it was fun.  But, I have not tested any commercially available machine, so the best I can do for now is look at the pictures, specs, and design on their website and give you my two cents about it.  So with that little story out of the way, let’s dive into it!  I want to make sure I’m not leaving anyone behind though so I’ll answer the most basic question first: What is an automated 360º turntable?

Answer: It’s a rotating circular table.  It has a motor attached to it that spins the table.  It also has a sensor that fires your camera every couple of degrees.  Simply put, it’s a motorized lazy susan.

There are a few different types of turntables:

Manual 360º turntable – No motor, no sensor, no electronics.  Just a circular disc with a bearing on the bottom that lets you manually spin the table by hand.  By definition this is a lazy susan. 
Standard automated 360º turntable – Same as a manual 360º turntable, but with a motor and sensor attached.  Press a button, and the turntable will rotate as the sensor fires your camera every couple of degrees.  It’ll keep doing this until the table completes one full 360º revolution.
Centerless automated 360º turntable – same as a Standard automated 360º turntable but with a twist; the circular table is clear (usually glass) and it’s held up with 2 supports on opposite sites.  This lets you take photos of a product with a shadowless pure-white background, straight out of the camera.  It pretty much kicks-ass!
Automated 360º turntable with robotic arm – Alright, now this is getting fancy. The key thing here is just the robotic arm.  That’s it.  The robotic arm physically moves the camera up and down.  This lets you take a batch of 360º photos with the camera level with the subject, then the robotic arm moves the camera up a few degrees to do another round of 360º photos.  Then, it moves the camera up some more to do another round of photos.  The end product is a multi-axis 360º view.
Upside-down automated 360º turntable – This is a machine that’s basically mounted to the ceiling, and it has some arms on it that you can attach fishing string to.  It let’s you shoot products that need to be hung.

Here are a few companies that make motorized 360º photography turntables:

Pamco Imaging (www.pamco-imaging.com
Pamco Imaging was founded in 2010 and is located in New York and Ontario, Canada.  They make standard automated 360º turntables.  They offer 3 different sizes that differ in size and weight limit (10 pounds, 40 pounds, and 200 pounds).  On their website, they mention a few things that set them apart.  Two of the main ones that caught my eye were the relatively lower price, and the ability to shoot 360º images in HDR (High Dynamic Range).  Their base model which can hold up to 10 pounds (4.5kg) starts at $825 USD.

Ortery (www.ortery.com
Ortery was founded in 2003 and has locations in Taiwan and Irvine, California.  They make standard automated 360° turntables that seem to be designed for manufacturers and retailers that want to shoot 360º images in a small office space.  Although it seems that Ortery turntables are not specifically designed for professional photographers, I’ve heard from a rep at Ortery (Tim Mendez) that some photography studios do use Ortery 360º turntables on a regular basis.  Their base model which can hold up to 25 pounds (11.3kg) starts at $2,400 USD.

FotoRobot (www.fotorobot.cz
FotoRobot is a relatively new company based in the Czech Republic.  They manufacture hardware that seems to be marketed specifically for professional photographers.  They offer both standard and “centerless” automated 360º turntables.  By the way, I LOVE centerless turntables beause they produce images with a pure white background straight out of the camera with no editing!  Their base model (a standard turntable) can hold up to 80kg (176.3 pounds) and starts at €3,000 (click here to convert to $USD). 

If you'd like more advice on the best turntable for your personal needs, go ahead and leave a comment below and I'll give you my personal opinion for what would work best in your studio.