Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

My Christmas Wish List

November 25, 2010 1 comment

Happy Thanksgiving!  Today is one of the best American holidays.  Why is it so great?  Unlike most holidays, Thanksgiving doesn’t involve gifts of any kind, so it doesn’t have songs on the radio, or TV ad blitzes, or massive displays in every storefront.  Thanksgiving is simply a day when most people stop working and get together with their extended family to have a home cooked meal.

Rest assured, however, that the next day starts the Christmas rush in a big way.  Black Friday, as it’s called, includes massive sales where the occasional person is trampled to death.  In this spirit, I present my time-lapse photography Christmas wish list.

Micro Four Thirds Camera

Micro Four Thirds is a new standard in cameras that is quickly gaining popularity.  In terms of price and image quality, micros are on par with entry level DSLRs such as the Canon Rebel.  They’re distinguished from DSLRs by three factors:  they’re closer in size to compact cameras, they take special lenses, and they don’t have moving mirrors.

So why buy a micro?  The reason I find these cameras so exciting for time-lapse is they offer interchangeable lenses without the worry of mirror fatigue.  Digital compacts offer great versatility in a small package but they either don’t offer interchangeable lenses or else require bulky adapters.  DSLRs accept different lenses but the internal mirror wears out eventually.  Time-lapse exacerbates this because a week of heavy shooting could mean 50K flips of the mirror.

I haven’t spent too much time looking into micros because I’m not in the market for a new camera just yet but they’ve already grabbed my attention.  Rumor has it that Canon may be entering this arena sometime soon.

Beam Splitter

I haven’t used one of these yet, but I’m intrigued by what they can do.  Some people have used them to capture 3-D images with a single camera or even live HDR video by using a similar device in reverse.

I’ll try to rent one before I buy because I’m still a bit skeptical.

Neutral Density Filters

These filters lower the amount of light entering the camera without changing the image color.  They’re especially useful for time-lapse photography because they allow for longer exposures.  This means water can go from choppy to looking like a fog or mist.

The grading of ND filters is a bit confusing, but they often come in 2x (lowers light by one stop), 4x (two stops), and 8x (three stops).  For a more complete list, check out the wikipedia article.

Used PowerShot

It’s no secret I like Canon PowerShot cameras for their quality, reliability, and hackability.  The reason I want a used one is so I don’t have to worry about destroying it if I attempt to remove the IR filter or decide to tie it to the front of my car.

Arduino Micro Processor

If you read any blogs featuring hardware hacks or robots, you undoubtedly know that using an Arduino (ar-dwee-no) boosts geek cred significantly.  The reason I want one is that, with some programming practice, I can use it for time-lapse pans, trolley shots, and as an intervalometer.  I plan to buy one of these in the next year and hopefully write some articles and post code from my projects.

Grow Lights

Used in conjunction with an Arduino, it’s possible to create time-lapse videos of plants by alternating a flash for the grow lights as done in this video from the BBC Life series.

Unfortunately for me, keeping house plants alive will take more work than learning the programming.


That’s it for my wish list for this year.  For more reading, check out my article from last Christmas about how to pick a camera for time-lapse.

Categories: Hardware, Other, Software

How to Pick the Best Camera for Time Lapse

December 10, 2009 2 comments

With Christmas only a couple of weeks away, I thought I’d break into my series on HDR and write a quick post for those of you asking for a new camera.  Here are some suggestions of what to look for if you’re interested in making time lapse videos.

Picture Quality – this is, of course, the most important feature.

Manual Mode – an automatic point-and-shoot might work for snap shots, but time lapse requires some subtle adjustments.

Built-in Intervalometer – Can the camera create its own time lapse photo series, or will it require external input or a software hack?

Is it Hackable? – I’ve mentioned before that the Canon PowerShot series can be hacked with the CHDK software.  Click here for a list of supported camera models.

Will it Accept External Input? – most cameras will support either an external intervalometer, a remote trigger, or control from a laptop.  If you already know which method you want to use, make sure it’s supported by the camera.

Range of Exposure – The ISO level and F-stop will determine the brightness of your pictures.  Because time lapse videos are often made outdoors, it’s helpful to find a camera with a wide range.  Low F-stops and high ISO are especially important for low light or night photography.

Focal Length – Landscapes often make good time lapse videos, so check how wide your lens can go by checking the mm size.  My videos have all been made with a 6-72mm zoom lens.  Many DSLRs come with a 50mm lens, so you might want to buy a wider lens.

Battery Life – This is hard to determine from looking at the specs, but a quick search online might yield the answer.  Alternatively, you might look for a camera with an AC adapter or one that accepts an external battery.

Speed – It seems a bit silly that speed could be an issue in time lapse, but if you’re interested in making a 30fps video of clouds on a windy day or a drive across town, you might want to take more than one photo per second.

Size – I love my old PowerShot, but I can’t take it to parties without carrying a camera bag.  If you’re looking for a snap shot camera that doubles as a time lapse camera, I’d suggest starting by looking at mid to higher range models with full manual mode.

RAW – While a RAW supported camera is nice for things such as white balance, jpegs seem to be the prefered format for time lapse videos because they’re much smaller and won’t fill up your memory card as fast.  That said, RAW does allow more post production editing choices.

There are many more factors such as whether to buy a point-and-shoot or a DSLR, but that would take a much longer post and would go off the topic of time lapse.  I hope that helps.  If you have a favorite time lapse camera, let me know in the comments.  Merry Christmas!


Categories: Hardware

Make Your Own Intervalometer

In order to create time lapse videos, you’ll need to take a series of photos at regular intervals.  The simplest way to do this is to manually press the shutter button every few seconds.  This method, of course, is tiring and monotonous and will cause the camera to move unless you use a remote trigger.

So, we’re left with software and hardware options.  Of these, I prefer software because it’s often free and doesn’t require additional gear and batteries.  However, there seem to be some decent hardware solutions for those willing to spend a little money or with some electronics know-how.  The following intervalometers were created by amateur time lapse videographers and were featured on

  • eagleapex shows you a way to make a cheap intervalometer if you know something about electronics.
  • yonderknight does a good job using a TI-83 calculator if your camera has a 2.5mm audio jack.
  • rondofo offers a third solution if you don’t mind taking apart your camera.

There are other ways to create an intervalometer (even using K’nex), but most reliable instructions involve one of these three methods. My camera doesn’t have an audio jack, I don’t own a TI-83, and I’d rather not take apart my camera, so I haven’t personally tested any of these instructions. If anyone has luck with these or other methods, please leave a comment. Good luck!


My Equipment

June 10, 2009 2 comments

Camera and Tripod

Many people assume that time-lapse video is made using a video camera.  While this is sometimes the case, most time-lapse videos are simply a series of timed photographs played at a high frame rate. Creating time-lapse videos requires very little equipment to start.  Here is my “brass tacks” setup:


For the last two years, I’ve used a Canon PowerShot S3 IS for all of my photography.  This was a higher end point-and-shoot camera when I bought it for $315.  Nowadays, it can be picked up on Amazon or eBay for around $150.  This camera has a few nice features that were lacking on some of the other point-and-shoots.  It has a 12x optical zoom and allows for full manual operation.  It only takes 6.0 megapixel photos, but that doesn’t matter when making time-lapse video because even this lower resolution contains more pixels than high-end HDTVs can display.

If you’re interested in trying time-lapse, the popular Canon PowerShot line of cameras is a good way to go.  They seem to take good quality pictures and have the distinct advantage of integration with the CHDK hacked software, which I’ll explain in detail in an upcoming post.  (Update: the CHDK tutorial is now up!)

If you already own a DSLR, you’re already ahead of me in terms of potential quality.  While many DSLRs won’t contain a decent intervalometer (again, I’ll explain that soon in another post), there are mechanical solutions to taking a series of pictures.


I bought my tripod for $9 at a thrift store.  It’s a video tripod, but a camera tripod will work equally well.  The only difference between video and camera tripods is that video cameras rarely need to tilt vertically and so the head only moves in two directions.  The most important feature when considering a tripod for time-lapse is that it comes with a level.  Camera suppliers also sell levels that can be attached to a camera’s hot shoe.  An uneven video can be corrected, but it’s much easier to prevent this mistake.


I use a Toshiba laptop with an AMD Turion 64 X2 (1.60 GHz) processor and one gig of RAM.  I’m running Windows Vista SP1.  While I don’t recommend this weak of a configuration, it’s good to know that the videos on this site were all made without powerful equipment.  Be prepared to wait if your computer has a similar set-up.


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