Time-lapse videos are very popular these days. You can see them in movies, in commercials, in travel videos, in all kinds of internet posts, actually. You have most certainly seen amazing videos of cars flowing down the street, stunning sunrises or sunsets, or building construction. And everything happened in 10 to 20 seconds. These videos are eye-catching and attractive. But, are they difficult to make? Do you need very expensive and the best high-end time-lapse cameras to make these videos?
There are no simple answers to these questions. New technologies allow amateurs and enthusiasts to make videos and photos of decent quality. Budget and user-friendly cameras can do much more than they used to. So, you don’t need to have the most expensive and state-of-the-art equipment. However, professional gear improves quality as well as the number of possibilities. It comes down to your preferences and skill level.
“No story is the same to us after a lapse of time; or rather we who read it are no longer the same interpreters.” – George Eliot
What is a Time Lapse Video?
It looks like a fast-forwarded film or video. But, it isn’t. Every film is a sequence of still photos or frames. 24 frames per second is a standard film rate. A human eye can process up to 12 images per second in order to perceive them separately. Anything above 12 frames per second is perceived as a motion. In time-lapse video or time-lapse photography, to be more precise, a camera captures frames at intervals much longer than 1/24 sec, and then put them together. As a result, you get a video that plays faster than usual.
It is different from fast-forwarded film not only because of the different filming technique but for its quality. Fast forwarded video loses the quality rapidly as you speed it up. Time lapse video, on the other hand, can have excellent quality, allows longer exposures and a lot of possibilities in post-processing.
Best Settings For Time Lapse Photography
Both camera choice and set up are depending on your goals and desires. To get the result you have to follow certain rules. For time-lapse shooting manual mode is a must. First, you want to set up your focus, manually. If you leave the auto mode your camera will search for focus before each shot. You will run out of battery real soon, and your final video would look awful unless there are no changes whatsoever in the scene. But, then you don’t need, do you? So, find the accurate focus manually.
It goes the same for exposure settings. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO must be preset and constant throughout the shooting. However, changes from day to night require modifications in which case you can use aperture priority mode. This should do the trick unless there are quick changes of brightness and flashing lights. If so, you’ll have to adjust shutter speed and ISO manually, bit by bit.
RAW or JPEG
When it comes to using RAW or JPEG files, opinions differ. This one is up to you actually. JPEG files will save you space on your memory card, and the quality of your images will match most of the videos. However, your post production possibilities will be very limited. Shooting in RAW will provide better quality and a lot of control in the post-production process. So, shooting in RAW is better, but it requires more skill, more time, and more memory.
Choosing the right interval between the shots should not give you a headache. While the interval determines the speed of your final product, you don’t have to think how fast you want it. You just have to pay attention to the real-time movement of your object(s). The faster the movement of the object in the scene, the shorter the interval between the shots. For example, for people or cars moving in the street, the interval should be 1-2 seconds. But if you are capturing the movement of the sun or moon and stars, 30 seconds or more would suffice. If you shoot construction site or glacier melting, or growth of the grass, your interval can be a couple of hours.
Shutter speed allows you to achieve smooth, natural blur effect. Using short shutter speed will cause flicker and even maybe stutter in your video. So, you should use long shutter speeds, just make sure that it doesn’t exceed your interval length. Neutral density filter will allow you to use slower shutter speeds when there’s too much light.
How to Choose the Best Camera?
You can shoot time lapse with many different cameras. Most of the people would use DSLR, mirrorless or action cameras. Before even thinking of a camera, you should decide why do you want the time lapse camera. Do you want to document your construction process or moments from your vacation, as easy as possible? If so, an action camera is the best solution. You won’t win a photography contest with these, but they will do the job. Mirrorless cameras will provide better quality, while you can use them for all kinds of photo shootings. They are more expensive than action cameras but they are more versatile. DSLR is the most expensive and can be used for professional shootings. Apart from price, they can be bulky and require extra equipment for different projects.
“With high-speed cameras, we can do the opposite of time lapse. We can shoot images that are thousands of times faster than our vision. And we can see how nature’s ingenious devices work, and perhaps we can even imitate them.” – Louie Schwartzberg
When it comes to extra equipment, you should always bear in mind what kind of projects you will do the most. For long term time lapse projects, make sure you have covered all the bases. You might need extra memory cards, extra power, weather protection equipment and so on. Let us look into the list of some of the best time lapse camera choices.
Top Choice DSLR Cameras
This is one of the fastest and best crop sensor cameras. It is a versatile, robust and durable camera. However, sports, action, and wildlife are the areas where it excels the most. Even though it comes with a 180 pages basic, and 550 pages full instruction guide, this camera is actually easy to use. With 20 megapixels CMOS sensor improved AF performance and excellent speed, 7D Mark II can be all you want it to be. It is customizable, and you can find almost any setting in a viewfinder. Built-in interval timer will allow you to create some stunning time lapse photos.
This is another amazing have-it-all camera. The idea was to make a professional camera, easy to carry around, that the beginners will love, too. It has the high-quality features of some previous Nikon models, but in a smaller and lighter body which is rugged and weather-sealed. D750 is a full-frame DSLR camera, fast and practical. It stands out, particularly in low light conditions. Video features are improved, so this camera really doesn’t have a downside.
Best Mirrorless Cameras
Mirrorless cameras are gaining popularity more and more as they are lighter, more compact and usually better for videos when compared to DSLRs. Sony A7 is a full frame mirrorless camera. It offers great performances, an excellent resolution and it is considerably easy to use. WiFi connection enables you remote shooting via smartphone. It is very handy for time lapse shooting. 5-axis image stabilization system is great and helps a lot. While it matches DSLRs’ specs, it is more friendly for beginners and more affordable.
OM-D E-M1 is a compact and lightweight mirrorless camera. This camera has an excellent image quality, with great autofocus and 60 fps burst shooting at full resolution! It is also weatherproofed and sturdy enough. OM-D E-M1 is loaded with features, and it may take some time to figure them out. However, when you get used to it, it will be a pure joy to use it. While it delivers in all departments, shooting action, sports or wildlife brings the best out of it.
Top Action Cameras
This camera is a perfect choice for beginners. If you have a project that you want to film in a time-lapse mode, and you don’t have prior experience Brinno will come very handy. It is as easy to use as it gets. You will fall in love with this camera at first sight for its compact size and nice design. It has batteries that can last almost forever (more than 40 days if it takes a frame every 5 seconds!). Brinno TLC200 comes with a weather and dust resistant housing, aluminum clamp, 2 bungee cords, 8GB SD card, and AA batteries. It can shoot in all light conditions, and while you won’t get a professional quality it is good enough.
If you need a camera to shoot only videos and time lapse, this is a great choice. Hero 7 can make decent HDR edited photos as well, but if you’re really into photography you will look for something else. However, when it comes to action cameras Hero 7 is the king. Image quality, dynamic range, and hyper smooth stabilization system makes this camera the top of its class. It is waterproof up to 33ft to make some amazing underwater videos. Time Warp mode is an improvement for time-lapse videos when you’re on the move.
Time-lapse photography can be used for many purposes. From documenting to artistic expression, it is easier than ever for professionals as well as for absolute beginners. All these things change the criteria for the best choice. I tried to cover it all with different recommendations. Personally, I hope you’ll go for more versatile models, that will allow you to try different things and feel the captivating world of time-lapse photography.