Published : 15th April 2008
I'm researching a 3-month time lapse installation and looking for any information about cameras to do the job. My Sony V1U does do interval recording (in 1080i mode not 1080P) which is OK - but I can't afford to hang it on a wall for 3 months. I'm specifically looking for either a HDV palmcorder or an inexpensive DSLR with a built in intervalometer that can be A/C powered and accept a wide angle lens attachment. The footage must integrate into an HD program so SD solutions are not acceptable (otherwise I'd stick my old DVX100 up there) so 1080 is key, and in the case of DSLR larger frame size is OK too for cropping etc. 1080i is acceptable because we can make it 24P in Avid/FCP/AE easily enough. Budget is under $5K.
I'm sure some folks have been doing this and have some insights, I would be interested to hear of any solutions - specific model numbers would be very helpful also.
LA-based IATSE 600
I've done a multi-camera time lapse shoot of a log home construction site using 3 Olympus E-20N 5 megapixel DSLR cameras with built-in intervalometers. These were purchased used from B&H Photo specially for the time lapse shoot, along with simple but effective Tiltall tripods. I also rigged them with AC power supplies.
My son did the editing in After Effects. He got excited and posted a preliminary edit on YouTube. Two mistakes: unfinished work (1 camera only) and posted on his personal account, not the business account for the log home company. I chewed him out about it, but it is hard to force ourselves to take it off because it is the #1 hit on YouTube on the search term "log homes."
Time lapse is labor intensive. Daily chip changes, etc. Lots and lots of image files. Laborious edits.
Because of this, I worked at high resolution, and did the edit at HD also. Megapixel still cameras have resolution that will allow pan & scan work in post within the still frame images.
We supplemented with lock off shots of details using a Sony PD-150 DVCAM. This footage can be sped up to provide cutaways of things that happen too fast for time lapse cameras.
When I was prepping my shoot, someone warned me, "The problem with time lapse is you will always have either too many frames or too few frames."
Weather will be an issue.
For my cameras, I did a lot of research. Some factors I really like about the Olympus E-20N:
+ Manual focus, set to infinity. Had some problems due to electronic focus controls.
You must check this at beginning of every day, esp. on "focus by wire" lenses.
+ Aperture priority exposure automation, to stop depth of field changes.
+ Ability to fix white balance to daylight, not auto.
+ Available AC power supply
+ Built-in eyepiece shutter -- you don't want light to enter the camera except through the lens.
Minor issue, especially because I bought used cameras... the auto naming convention in one of the Olympus cameras rolled over and reset during the course of a nearly month long shoot. This kind of thing can cause confusion. Avoid getting into a situation where you have to rename thousands of images - think everything through the edit before you begin.
We were meticulous about daily transfers to computer and a rigid hierarchy of daily folders, including Camera A, Camera B, and Camera C subfolders.
We've finished the 3-camera edit now, and added a soundtrack. Anybody who is planning a serious time lapse shoot can order a copy of the standard def DVD on the Satterwhite Log Homes website.
Bruce Schultz wrote:
>>I'm sure some folks have been doing this and have some insights, I >>would be interested to hear of any solutions - specific model numbers >>would be very helpful also.
I offer the cheap way out: Nikon coolpix 5700, about $250 from adorama camera or find one on eBay,
Harbortronics digisnap controller and power supply for about 475.
Get the largest CF card you can buy. Mount and house to your taste, set up the camera and controller & press go.
I had this same rig running for 2 weeks straight on Nikumororu this past summer shooting 24/7 with breaks to swap cards. & batteries. It was really bullet proof going from extreme tropical sun to pitch dark night and back again.
I didn't plan on doing this but when the anthropologist's time lapse rig proved to be inadequate I rigged this set up and it worked really well considering it got a little rain every night.
I'm sure you can make 1080 out of a 2560 X 1600~ish type of image some how.
The Nikon is pretty small, has plenty of accessories available for it and when you combine it with the digisnap controller , you really get a lot of flexibility.
What a great solution Mark. Considering the wear and tear on a tape machine and the possibility for errors, this sounds bullet proof. I don't know about the guy who asked but I'll definitely keep this idea in mind if I need to do a long time-lapse. What an inexpensive way to make high quality.
BlueSky Media Production Group, Inc.
Market Hill Media, Inc.
Hellgate Pictures, Inc.
888.435.5428 ext 31
Offices in NYC and Amherst Mass.
>>I offer the cheap way out: Nikon coolpix 5700, about $250 from >>adorama camera or find one on eBay,
I think one's better off with a DSLR that can truly be run on manual, and I'd point out the discontinued Kodak ProSLR/n 14 Mpixel full frame was a very good camera with exceptional detail and highlight handling, plus a decent built-in intervalometer. They went for about $4500 new, but I'm sure can be found for much less. I have one that I rent out in LA. Full-frame is useful if you're looking to use real wide-angle lenses.
Current Nikon DSLR's for some unknowable reason do not have an intervalometer function.
On the cheap side, the Nikon P5100 is only a few hundred bucks, 12.1 Mpixels (4K x 3K), and has a very simple built-in intervalometer. The allowed intervals are 30s, 1m, 5m, 10m, 30m, and Nikon has a WA adaptor for it. It's a small point-and-shoot for people who also have a better camera, but don't want to lug it around :-) Main downside - no RAW.
But if you have a $5K budget, you should do better than this. None of the Canons have internal time-lapse AFAIK, though the 5D can be run from a laptop, etc., is full frame, and would be within your budget.
SFD vfx & creative post
Santa Monica, CA
Pretty good discussion about it here:
Stephen Van Vuuren
"A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later."
Tim Sassoon wrote:
>>I think one's better off with a DSLR that can truly be run on manual, >>and I'd point out the discontinued Kodak ProSLR/n 14 Mpixel full frame >>was a very good camera with exceptional detail and highlight handling, >>plus a decent built-in intervalometer.
Maybe -maybe not on the DSLR. I don't like them because they have the mirror cycling for every shot, and with the example you cited I think 14.5 MP is a tad overkill for 1080i HD.
I can run my Nikon in total manual mode, but the beauty of auto exposure for the situation I was in was fantastic . As night came, the flash would start firing and I could cover the event all night and the flash would turn itself off in the morning as the light came up.
The other aspect of the low bucks approach I outlined is that the camera is taking very solid images, but I regard the cameras as disposable. I'm actually more concerned with my Digisnap controller & power supply than the actual camera.
The digisnaps have a really nice amount of programmability built in and its possible to have the camera wake up at a programmed time, shoot x amount of frames and go back to sleep.
Programming is done with the controller connected to a Mac or PC with a serial cable and a terminal app like X term, and you get a lot more to play with than some basic intervals.
Tim Sassoon wrote:
>>Current Nikon DSLR's for some unknowable reason do not have an >>intervalometer function.
Has anyone tried software like iStopMotion, by Boinx?
I have it, but haven't had time to try it...
HD/SD Broadcast Engineer, DIT
Ted Conniff wrote:
> Has anyone tried software like iStopMotion, by Boinx?
It also works but it would not be what you would want for a 3 month time lapse because you would need to have a powered laptop connected to the camera.
KISS Camera + power + controller = success over the long term.
And you'd not have a video camera left after three months of head wear.
BlueSky Media Production Group, Inc.
Time lapse controllers for a variety of digital cameras. Including Nikons.
Dale Launer writes:
They have a very decent-looking long term time lapse package, camera, solar charger and housing included for $2300 that might be just what you're looking for.
SFD vfx & creative post
Santa Monica, CA
Uwe Yeo wrote:
>>Other than noise (which really is a big issue), the much better quality >>pixels of a DSLR will enable ken-burns effect to be achieved with ease.
I haven't found noise to be objectionable with images from my cool pix when the image sequence is set into FCP. It could be that the scaling of the image to 1080, which is less than the native image resolution knocks out some of the noise?
I think the best bang for buck is a Canon d-10 (6.2MP used) and the TC-03 timer. Canon has been selling refurbs at Adorama for $600, the intervalometer is around $100, a $700 package plus glass. There are various ways to power this rig, and weatherize or vandalproof it at WW. Grainger. Depending on your framerate (based on what you're trying to catch), we figured an 8 GB card was enough storage for a 6 mos run with an image caught every 30 minutes (JPEG Medium size, fine quality). This size is at least twice the size of a 1080 frame.
Downside, there is no way to auto meter externally (ie, remotely outside of the frame) with standard dSLR equipment. It is possible, with many SLR's, that there may be some intraframe exposure fluttering, that the processor steps through the AE program in 1/3 stop steps and possibly that there is some variability in f stops on the lens (each exposure resets the diaphragm). This can be solved with a pass in AE (also the perfect app to make your sequence, retouch and scale/crop).
DoP and editor, leader of the Moving Pictures Collective of NYC
VittiPhoto Productions, llc
New York City
mike 'at' vittiphoto 'dot' com
It looks like the DLSR solution with either Harbortronics or internal intervalometer will be the system to go with. Since it will be an indoor installation, the weather won't be a problem - but I really liked the Harbortronics solar-powered rig a lot.
Thanks to all for their input, and any other contributors with additional info also.
LA-based IATSE 600
Bruce Schultz wrote:
>>It looks like the DLSR solution with either Harbortronics or internal >>intervalometer will be the system to go with. Since it will be an indoor >>installation, the weather won't be a problem - but I really liked the >>Harbortronics solar-powered rig a lot.
DSLR is good for glass options and for one other thing : I have burned coolpix cameras while photographing scenes with intense sun in the frame. A DSLR would clearly avoid the burn issue.
I'm not familiar with the Canon 20D, but I've been using the more automatic Nikon Coolpix S10 with some very good results.
If you would like to see some of my results, I just put my latest demo reel up the other day, in which I added some time-lapse shots :
The first shot is a full day from Sunup to Sundown with 5 minutes between shots. The second is a few hours of clouds shot at 30 seconds intervals. The third is a lazy afternoon, also 30 seconds (notice how the earth is affected by the clouds as they block the Sun in both of them). The very last shot in the reel is a sunrise time-lapse (again 30 seconds), but I reversed it to look like a sunset, since I liked that shot. To make things flow for the reel, I did a fade to black, but it starts getting light out well ahead of the actual sunrise. I like the effect of the light slowly coming forth and creating day. It's especially nice if you don't have too much light pollution in your area and can actually see the stars.
Even though mine's an automatic camera, it does a good job once the ISO exposure is set to 200 or below, and make sure to take it off auto ISO if your camera has it (you'll definitely notice it if you don't).
Also, clouds can be cool, but they have a very weird effect, so be on the lookout. Best not to have clouds if you just want to show the effect of the light of sunrise, because they definitely throw things off...
Crimson Chain Productions
I have some experience with using DSLR’s for time-lapses. The greatest advantage of the DSLR’s (even the cheap Nikon D40) is the larger sensor over the compact cameras which equates to less noise. Many of the smaller compact cameras have noise at even an ISO of 100. newer DSLR’s such as the D40 can go up to 400 without noise being an issue.
I’m using a Canon and have the TC-80N3 which is basically used as an intervalometer and it works beautifully. I have shot a day to night scene with an interval of 10 sec's and it will just shoot till the card fills up and its just my job to make sure the battery stays ok and the cards are changed. Exposure is on auto as the light varies and if it was on manual, severe overexposure will occur when the sun comes into frame. There is a little flicker effect due to the changes in exposure but this can be solved with a software specially designed for this issue but I really cannot recall it. I’m desperate for it as well so anyone who know that, pls post it.
The newer DSLR’s are FAT32 which means cards larger than 2gb can be used. As for power sources, check out digitalcamerabattery.com....they have high capacity external batteries for cameras. Will be getting one once I get a new full frame camera.
Other than noise (which really is a big issue), the much better quality pixels of a DSLR will enable ken-burns effect to be achieved with ease.
I usually average about 2000-3000 images per time lapse and easily combined in FCP.
Yeo Wee Han
Camera Operator/FCP Editor