Can I use my DSLR to shoot timelapse without an intervalometer?

Well, the simple answer is yes. However, I have a follow-up. Is it that you don’t want to use an intervalometer, or is it that you just don’t have one available? And, secondly, are you sure you don’t have an intervalometer?

You may have an intervalometer after all

You should check your camera’s menu and manual. For the version of canon firmware I am using, for example, the intervalometer is labeled as “interval timer” in the fourth table in the menu under the camera icon. If you enable the “interval timer”, you can set the time between each exposure. You can change camera settings while these exposures are being taken. I would make sure you don’t have some sort of built-in intervalometer before considering shooting time-lapse without one – unless there’s a specific aesthetic reason you don’t want to use a consistent interval. If you intend to shoot a timelapse without identical intervals, you are likely going to want to consider a remote shutter.

If your camera doesn’t have an “interval timer” or “intervalometer”, you should also see if it has an option to create a time-lapse video. If going directly to video suits you, many cameras also have this function. On the Canon firmware I use, if you select video mode, then go to the menu, “Time Lapse Movie” is an option that will create a video with the interval you want defining each frame.

Most time-lapse projects will use an intervalometer. An intervalometer is a device which will set the span of time between each exposure, creating equal duration between each capture and generally creating the most consistent pace to your time-lapse. Although intervalometers are common among time-lapse photographers, they are not essential. If you do not have access to an intervalometer and your camera doesn’t have one built-in, there are several other methods you may use to make your time-lapse.

Use your phone as an intervalometer

Many cameras have wifi, Bluetooth connectivity, or NFC. If this is the case with your camera, there is most likely an app that you can get for a computer, tablet, or smartphone which will allow you to use the phone or tablet as an intervalometer and define the time between each capture, or at least function as a remote shutter. There are also applications for your laptop that can control your camera.

Here are some examples:

qDslrDashboard is a timelapse-specific control app for Nikon and Canon and Sony cameras. It is available for iOS, Android, Mac, & PC

PlayMemories is the smartphone camera control app by Sony (available for iOS and Android)

Canon Connect is the smartphone camera control app by Canon (available for iOS and Android) *Does not have intervalometer, but can work as remote shutter.
EOS Utility Can be connected via USB and run time-lapses on Canon. Minimum interval is around 10 seconds. This application comes with most of the Canons, but here is a link.
Magic Lantern For canon users – an enhanced firmware for the DIGIC 5 and previous image processor canons.

Image Sync is the smartphone camera control app by Pentax (available for iOS and Android)

Wireless Mobile Utility is the smartphone camera control app by Nikon (available for iOS and Android)

Panasonic Image App is the smartphone camera control app by Panasonic (available for iOS and Android)

DigiCamControl is a third party software that allows you to control your camera from your computer. Works with many Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras)

There are more apps than the above available, and I would do your research to find the app that works for you.

For the more experienced and tech savvy, I would suggest qDslrDashboard with LRTimelapse if you are shooting time-lapse. It is relatively involved and may take some getting used to, but it will offer the best results. The app can be used in circumstances in which the lighting changes (including “holy grail” time-lapse – shooting a time-lapse spanning sunrise/sunset). You are going to want Lightroom if you want more than just the ability to render to video – LRTimelapse uses Lightroom to make adjustments across your time-lapse.

Another good piece of software for Canon is Magic Lantern. It updates the camera’s software to give more advanced features. This includes an intervalometer, so if your canon doesn’t have one built-in, it may be a good idea to consider Magic Lantern, however, there isn’t a version available for Canon DIGIC 6 & DIGIC 7 image processors as of this writing.

Remote Shutter

If you can’t sync wirelessly to smartphone or computer, or prefer not to, then you should consider getting a more conventional remote shutter. For modern DSLRs, a remote shutter is a device which allows you to release the shutter without physically touching the camera. Most DSLR cameras will have a remote shutter control input, so you could have a physically tethered remote shutter if wireless is not available or not your preference. There are also remote shutters that work through Wifi, Bluetooth or NFC, but, rather than being controlled by your phone or computer, they are controlled by a device much like a television remote. If you were to use a remote shutter, then you would simply have to press the shutter button each time you want to capture an image. I would suggest that you determine a duration between each photograph for your time-lapse, and either monitor your watch or some other timer and release the shutter at roughly the same interval between each capture.

Going Primitive

If a remote shutter isn’t something you can use or have available for your time-lapse, you may also release the shutter on the camera. Keep in mind that you almost certainly do not want the camera to move while you take your time-lapse shots. Ideally, you would have a solid tripod or mounting device whenever shooting time-lapse so that the camera won’t move – that said, having to touch the camera dozens of times at minimum is likely to slightly move the camera. If you must do this, consider live-view mode – especially if there is a touch-to-release shutter option in the menu. This will allow for a gentle touch to release the shutter. Try to press it gently, as even small changes in the position of the camera will likely be visible in the final time-lapse video. Monitor a watch or some other timing device to alert you to when it is time to take the next exposure. For time-lapse it is not typically essential for the duration between each exposure to be precisely the same, however, you want the exposures to be spaced by a somewhat similar amount of time or to contain a similar amount of action in order to get the presentation to appear like sped motion.

If you do not use a remote shutter or app, and you must physically touch the camera, you may find that your time-lapse requires some post-production. You may want to consider some of the video editing programs that include a camera stabilization plug-in or perhaps utilize some of the time-lapse software available to adjust the framing of the image if you have any camera movement. And if you plan to continue shooting time-lapse, certainly consider getting an intervalometer!

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