Timelapse photography looks REALLY cool, and thanks to modern technology, its now affordable to most people.
I’ve done a LOT of timelapse photography over the years. A couple of examples:
The most expensive, and versatile way is to just use a DSLR and an intervalometer. However if you are going to just turn the images into a HD movie, to be honest a DSLR is overkill!
One option I’ve been using for years is a webcam and a netbook. It actually works quite well, in that there is never a a serious limit on diskspace and it can run for about 8 hrs on batteries. I have done a timelapse of a transatlantic flight like this.
Then came some dedicated ‘off the shelf’ timelapse cameras.
The first one I got was the Brinno TLC200. It worked well enough for me to get two of them, however there is simply no contest when it’s compared to the Brinno TLC 200 pro. The TLC200 has a relatively narrow angle lens less suited for timelapse (which typically requires wide angle lenses), it is poor at low light levels and cannot be focused.
This review is also available in video form:
The Brinno TLC200 Pro works acceptably well. The lens is quite wide angle, and can be focused manually. It will run on batteries (4xAA) for days to weeks (depending on how often you take pictures). My principal problem is if you are running it off batteries, it’s almost impossible to tell if the batteries are flat, or even if the timelapse is still running. This point can be disturbing if you are running a timelapse for months, and do not want to move the camera to check it’s still working. It can be powered off USB, but this obviously requires a USB power cable (micro). They do sell outdoor enclosures, but generally I wouldn’t recommend them. They are only compatible with the standard Brinno lens, and when in the enclosure, you lose the ability to power the camera by USB.
The camera records the movies directly to SD card. It comes with a 4Gb card, but if you are doing anything sensible, I would recommend at least 16Gb. The Brinno will also automatically stitch the images together into an *.avi file. With the netbook, the most reliable method is just to record a series of images, which you can then stitch together yourself using video editing software. I use Sony Vegas Pro (not recommended if you are starting with video editing, it’s very versatile, but that also means it’s very complicated!), but most video editing software will allow you to stitch together a sequence of images into a video file.
This is an affiliates link to the Brinno TLC200 Pro.
When you compare the video of the TLC 200 Pro side by side with a netbook with a wide angle webcam, the webcam is the clear winner. The downside is of course you need the netbook to continuously run the timelapse. For me, I just ran a timelapse like this for over a year, so it basically ‘cost me’ a netbook. This makes things like the brinno seem cheap. Having said that, it’s very nice to be able to see, day to day, that the timelapse is still running away happily. This is an option you just don’t get with the TLC 200 Pro. However if you want an entirely self contained unit to run outside (with cover from the elements) for a day or two, the Brinno TLC 200 is superb!
If you are going to use a netbook/ notebook, the choice of webcam is critical. You NEED wide angle. Personally I would recommend the Genius wideangle webcam. It gives you EVERYTHING. Most importantly a very wide field of view, it records in 1280×720 and it has a small compact form factor with good exposure.
Most definitely recommended on every level!
Prior to this I had used the microsoft HD camera. This in its native form is relatively narrow angle and less suited for timelapse. The solution that I eventually came up with was to take the front off the web cam, and add a cheap wide angle lens.
This actually worked okay, but for me these microsoft webcams would crash intermittently (randomly from hours to days), which was infuriating if you were taking a long timelapse only to find it ruined by the camera crashing. This is simply not an issue with the Genius webcam. The Genius wideangle webcam I have found to be the clear winner everywhere!