Timelapse Photography

Technical Details

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Timelapse Technical Stuff

I have used a bunch of timelapse controllers, with a bunch of different cameras. Collected here are various unorganized things that I've found.

It doesn't take anything fancy to to make a timelapse sequence: pressing the shutter every few seconds is fundamentally about as complex as it gets. The setup I have is a bit more involved, although fundamentally just the same. I use various digital cameras for these sequences. You could use an analog camera -- in fact, one analog camera I had (Samsung ECX-1) even had a timelapse mode built in. I used it only occasionally, although of course historically most timelapse was done this way. I've used a variety of digital cameras, in combination with a few `timelapse controllers,' which are external boxes which tell the camera to fire the shutter at regular intervals.

I assume you could do some good stuff with a webcam and a laptop, but I've never played with them. Most of them are auto-exposure and fixed focus, but they could still be plenty entertaining.

Digital video cams (`DV') often have timelapse-type capabilities built in; I've never played with them either.

Camera Basics

There are a few features that are nice to have in a camera for timelapse work: Things you don't need:

Timelapse Controllers

Specific Cameras


Recently I've started using Quicktime (the $40 `Pro' version) to make the movies. It'll take a series of JPEG's, and create an MPEG at a specified frame rate. It's fast and easy.

Compressing movies under Linux is a bit more awkward than it feels it should be. I use the standard Berkeley MPEG mpeg_encode program. I use a few short scripts to set the frame rate, resize & rotate the images, change the brightness when necessary, etc. In general, I've reduced the size of most of the images; using full-size images reduces the playback speed (and also makes monstrous files). Unfortunately the frame-rates of MPEG's cannot be arbitrarily set to much below 24 (?) frames/second, which is too fast for me. So, some of these files are slowed down by inserting duplicate frames. I imagine that other formats allow more flexibility.

Playing back MPEGs under Linux is also occasionally difficult, although it's gotten easier recently. Both xine and mplayer work quite well and are reasonably easy to install. They both work in full-screen mode and can play Quicktime movies using the appropriate codec's. Xine lets you change the playback speed on-the-fly; Mplayer handles plug-ins easily in Mozilla using mplayerplug-in and Plugger.

Henry Throop, Southwest Research Institute

Last modified 29-Nov-2005