Time Lapse Equipment Question

I’ve been asked to do a time-lapse video, and I have no experience with doing so. So, I’m asking for a little help from people that have done it.

I’m looking to record a process that takes place in an area that goes from the size of a semi trailer to about the size of an FRC field carpet, with a chance to go to 2 FRC field carpets side-by-side, in about 2 hours (if nothing goes wrong–if something does, who knows how long it’ll take…).

  1. What camera equipment have you used for time lapses?
    *]What software (if any) did you use to put the video together?
    I’m currently looking into the GoPro cameras, but have been stuck on getting comparisons with other camera equipment. It would be nice to keep the cost down if possible; short lead times are a good thing.

You can use most any camera for such a task as long as you can get timed photographs with it. I’d prefer a nice DSLR, and then lock the exposure and focus of the camera so that they do not change shot to shot.

If you have a Canon point-and-shoot, you can actually download a firmware upgrade called CHDK (just Google it). This firmware, which is put on the SD card and does not permanently affect the camera, allows you to install an intervalometer as a sort of ‘app’. It takes a bit of messing around to set up for the first time, but once you get it to work, it’s quite easy to use. I used CHDK for this video.

As for software, if the images are are numbered sequentially in the file name (img_0001, img_0002, img_0003, …), it is really easy to import them into video editing programs like Sony Vegas and Adobe Premiere. Personally, I use Vegas. If you don’t have either of these, I would suggest downloading the 30 day free trial for Vegas from Sony’s website. That will give you plenty of time to throw the video together.

Hope this helps!

Some webcam applications allow you to set capture times. If you think of normal video is 30 frames per second then shooting at one frame per second will allow you to capture people moving within the frame. An average walk speed is about 4 ft./sec. If you capture less often, say 1 frame every ten seconds, some things will show a jerky move and you may miss people altogether. Somewhere between 2 frames/sec and 0.5 frames/sec ought to be good for seeing progress. Over a two hour time frame, 1 frame/sec would yield about 4 minutes of video.

Thanks for the responses so far, guys. I’m going to add a little bit more information (remember, I have zero experience here).

-I currently have zero hardware; that is, I need to get a camera (or get access to one that may or may not have timed photography capabilities). This means that I need to compare them–and wading through the maze of specs on a company website may or may not give anything about timed photography capability. If there is a specific model that you know works, I’d appreciate it if you could put it up. (For example, a generic webcam might work–but there’s a decent chance that resolution isn’t exactly the greatest. OTOH, if I know that webcam XYZ has really good resolution, that’s something that I can plug into Google and get other needed specs on.)

-I currently have zero software, but I may be able to convince the marketing folks to help me out there. I’ll also look into the Vegas software; 30 days is pretty much running into my deadline, so that should be OK. I’ll look into the CDHK when I get to my personal camera tonight (it’s not where I am).

-The purpose of the time-lapse (eventually) is training/marketing applications. As such, it does need to be at least reasonable quality. I’m looking something like the one in http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=76298, only over a little less area. Maybe not professional quality, but good enough to be able to tell what people are doing. (Al, thanks for the framerate tip. I might not need exact motions… but I do need to be able to show what’s going on!)

If you have [access to] a Mac, try Gawker.

It’s free, and can use both the internal webcam and external cameras, particularly if they have a Firewire port.

I’ve only seen one Mac at the facility–and it belongs to one of the higher-ups, and is used extensively during the day. Not something I’d have much access to.

Now, if there was Mac-type software that worked with Windows (preferably Windows 7), that would probably work quite well.

A webcam and (free) software from Microsoft can do this.

PowerToys tab, “Webcam Timershot”

Webcams are available for very little $$

Probably should have posted this last night…

I put in an order for a camera yesterday afternoon, but am still taking ideas for software. (If you want to know what type of camera, PM me.)

CDHK: Biggest problem is that you have to have the right type of camera (as in, one that there is a CDHK for). I don’t have that type available. Second biggest problem is the card size–IIRC, it doesn’t work too well with cards over 4GB, which could leave me short timewise.

The other tricky part with webcams, which I didn’t realize before (hadn’t seen the location yet), was that mounting them would be a non-trivial exercise. In this case, that’s true for any camera–but when you need connection to a computer, and the best place for a computer is something like 25 feet away, that can really limit your options.

Post the model! :smiley: The software recommendation is highly dependent on the brand/model.

This is more on the high end consumer/pro side but Canon includes software for their DSLR line that allows interval shooting. I don’t know if it extends to the point and shoots. Nikon has something similar as well I believe. Lightroom 3 has support for both companies’ DSLRs with tethered shooting.

Unless you ordered a model with a specific time lapse mode, you will still need a USB connection. You can get a USB extension cable from Monoprice.com for < $10. I’ve shot tethered with my Canon Rebel T1i using 4 USB extension cables strung together with no problems. (Total length was 20ish ft maybe?)

Using a GoPro HD HERO. Yes, it has a time-lapse mode (though not quite as fast as I’d like–but my Canon Powershot has a 10-shot-max timed mode, which verified that the speed I’ll be getting should be fast enough when I checked a couple days ago).

The 25-foot distance, BTW, is not horizontal. It’s vertical. (No catwalks or anything like that–I might be able to use a lift, but that remains to be seen.) There’s maybe one place that I might be able to put a laptop at that level, but that would definitely require the cord. I can place/attach a camera up there, though. There’s ladders around.

Ahh okay. From their site:

The camera can also shoot automatic 5 megapixel photos at 2/5/10/30 and 60 second intervals during your activity, hands free. Press the shutter button once at the start of your activity and record up to 2.5 hours of poster-print quality photos of you and your friends, living it up.

So you won’t need a laptop there at all. Just get the camera into place, and start it up. :slight_smile: I’m assuming the output will be a sequence of images, in which case you’ll need a video editor to stitch them together. That 2.5 hour limit mentioned on the site seems rather arbitrary though. I’m not sure if that’s a space or battery limitation or software or what. :confused:

It’s battery. There’s a 9-hour limit for video storage (if you’re using the maximum size card). That battery time limit can also be worked around if need be (the batteries charge from a computer or a USB power adapter).

Whenever I do a timelapse, I usually just take a straight video at the lowest fps the camera is capable of, then drop frames from the video until it at my desired length. This means you don’t need to do any firmware fiddling, but it does mean you need a big memory card and a power source to keep the camera running.

-Rad Video Tools - Can convert pretty much anything into AVI files
-Virtual dub - Can very quickly drop frames from AVI files
-Xvid codec - A reasonable compression solution


  1. Take video
  2. Use Rad Video tools to convert it to AVI, if necessary
    2.1) Open tools, find video
    2.2) Click “convert a file”
    2.3) Choose “AVI” as output format
    2.4) When prompted, choose xvid as compression format, choose high quality level (you’re not keeping this file, so don’t worry about size)
    2.5) Save
  3. Open AVI in Vdub
    3.1) Video->full processing mode
    3.2) Video->Decimate By->enter the ratio you want your video to be faster by)
    3.3) Video->compression->xvid (choose a good quality)
    3.4) File->save as AVI
    3.5) Wait…
    3.6) File->open your AVI
    3.7) Video->direct stream copy (makes sure it doesn’t recompress when you change your frame rate)
    3.8) Video->Frame rate->30fps
    3.9) File->save as AVI (this will be your final file)


It seems that not many apps have the ability to directly modify frame rates, so Virtualdub is what I’ve always used.