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LRTimelapse Pro Timer 3 Review

Pro Timer 3

There are quite a few time-lapse controllers on the market. From the basic unbranded basic intervalometers you can pick up on eBay, through to the complicated, specialist high-tech units that link up to your favourite motion controller. 

Pro Timer 3 Box

The Pro Timer 3 from the maker of LRTimelapse, Gunther Wegner, sits somewhere in the middle. Packed into a small form factor that slides nicely into your camera’s flash mount, this nifty little unit packs plenty of features whilst maintaining an intuitive interface. We tested the product over a couple of weeks, here are the results.

Someone who is new to time-lapse (or photography in general) may see the PT3 as expensive, especially considering their entry-level timer may have cost a fraction of the price. To those people I would say that the PT3 is a specialist piece of technology aimed at professional time-lapse photographers and amateurs that are serious about their craft, and it is priced as such.

First Impressions

The first thing that struck me when I opened the box was just how small the timer was. At just over 3 inches (84mm) on its longest edge, this device really is quite compact. You’d be forgiven for thinking that its small size and weight means there is not much to it, but you would be wrong. Despite the product’s small size, it is packed full of features, as I went on to find out.

Pro Timer 3 Start Screen

The texture of the plastic that the case is made from seemed slightly unusual at first. It has a rough matt textured surface which gave it an almost prototype-like feel. I have seen similar results from high-end 3d printers before. This is not a criticism however, the case seems sturdy and fit for purpose.

After reading the online documentation, I turned the Pro Timer 3 on and started to play around with it. I was impressed with how intuitive the user interface was, despite only having a single clickable knob.

As well as having all of the features I want, the information shown on the display during a time-lapse shoot is exactly the information I need.

At this point, I really got a sense that this was a gadget I would find useful and would likely have a permanent place in my everyday time-lapse kit. 

One thing to be aware of when buying this timer is that you need to buy a separate shutter release cable. By default, the timer comes on its own in the box with no accessories of any kind. When buying this timer online, retailers may offer to upsell you a cable, however it’s up to you to make sure you get the right one for your camera.

I didn’t realise this at first and the cable I had in my kit bag was too short, so I had to order another and wait for it to arrive.

A paper manual would also be a welcome addition. Whilst a simple leaflet would add almost nothing to the overall cost of the product, it would allow you to quickly look up specific features and settings on the go, without needing a computer or phone with an internet connection. I know I could download and print the manual, but this really shouldn’t be necessary for a premium product at this price point.

According to the manufacturer, since the software on the timer is regularly updated, printed instructions would quickly become outdated. Downloadable digital instructions can regularly be updated, so they encourage you to download the latest manual from their website.

Features

The Pro-Timer 3 has more than enough features to meet the needs of most time-lapse amateurs and even professionals. Whilst 99% of my time-lapse shoots use the standard interval mode,  I could definitely see myself making use of the interval ramping feature and the scheduling feature at some point in the future. These features just open up new creative possibilities that would be difficult to achieve otherwise.

When navigating through the software features of the device, I had more than a few “oh, nice” moments when discovering things that it could do, or settings that could be configured.

Pretty much all of the features felt like they would be useful at some point, I didn’t get the feeling any had been added for the sake of it. You can tell this unit was designed by a true time-lapse photographer who understands what the end-user will need, as opposed to someone hired to design electronic devices.

Below are some of the more notable features, beyond what you may expect to find on a typical intervalometer.

Fast Shutter Release

One interesting difference between the Pro Timer and many other intervalometers is the way it handles (or rather, doesn’t handle) the autofocus signal. Unlike most other timers, this one doesn’t send an autofocus signal at all, freeing up valuable ‘dark’ time between shots.

Interval Ramping

Whilst this isn’t a feature I often use, the ability to ramp your interval over time opens up a world of creative possibilities.

The most obvious being the elusive holy grail time-lapse. For those new to the subject, the holy grail time-lapse technique is shooting day-to-night (or vice-versa) transitions. It’s called holy grail as historically keeping good exposures over such a dramatic change in scene brightness has been incredibly difficult (however modern technology has taken much of the difficulty out of getting this right).

Dual Trigger Output Ports

If you ever want to connect the timer to a second camera or send a signal to your motion controller, the Pro Timer 3 features a second output port. Whilst I haven’t yet needed to use this, it’s great to know that option is there when I decide to set up a motion controller at some point.

Dual output ports

The raised “I” and “II” around the ports help you to identify the ports by touch alone in complete darkness, which is a nice touch. 

OLED Display

The sharp, bright OLED display is a great feature as it allows a wider range of visual display elements to be displayed. Unlike LCD displays that have fixed characters or symbols, OLED screens have a large number of individual pixels. This means that the manufacturer can be more creative with their user interface and display almost anything on it including text, numbers, symbols, borders, shapes, you name it!

For nighttime shooting, this display is great. Unlike LCDs which generally have to use an LED to backlight them, the OLED is bright and clear in any ambient lighting condition.

Scene Flashlight

Screen Flashlight Tool

A simple, yet useful feature. You can illuminate the OLED screen in order to illuminate your scene. Whilst this would be nowhere near enough light to be useful in other circumstances, during long-exposure night sky shoots, this is apparently plenty enough light to illuminate the foreground.

Hot Shoe Mounts

The ability to set the timer on top of your DSLR camera’s hot shoe (flash) mount is simple, yet a great feature that means you don’t have to hang it down from a cable.

The Pro Timer has two hot-shoe mounts, so as well as the standard setup of the screen facing backwards, you can also attach it with the display facing upward, perfect for when your camera is set low on the ground.

Hot shoe mounts

You’ll also notice the clip on the back there for securing a lanyard. Another nice little attention to detail. 

Build Quality

Whilst I don’t feel like I have put this device through its paces physically, I can comment on the build quality for general use. I haven’t subjected it to extreme weather, moisture or any drops/crushes, which I would have to do to be able to comment on how it stands up to tough environments.

Having used the Pro-Timer 3 for a few weeks, shoving it into my camera bag and various pockets, leaving it out for a few hours at a time, I have experienced no problems with it at all.

The build quality on inspection looks more than adequate for standing up to average time-lapse photography usage. Like with any high-tech electronic equipment, look after it and it should serve you for years to come. 

User Interface

One thing that is guaranteed to annoy me with technology is poor user interface design. Quite often, product developers fail to put the necessary thought and planning into designing an intuitive, simple user interface. This is often the result of a lack of expertise in that area.

Whilst a product team may have all of the technical skills to develop working hardware to spec, user interface design is a totally different discipline. Making a powerful tool with a lot of features, whilst also maintaining a simple interface is no easy feat. This is as true for software as it is for hardware.

Fortunately, the product developer has managed to develop a really simple, intuitive user interface for the Pro Timer 3. He clearly has a lot of experience with interface design, having worked as a software engineer and having developed the LRTimelapse software over 10 years according to his fascinating documentary of the LRTimelapse story.

Hardware Interface

Aside from the on-off switch, the only control on the device is a rotary knob, which has a satisfying ‘notched’ feel as it turns, helping you to cleanly select items in the user interface. The knob also clicks in to select an item, or you can hold it down for a second or so to go back. Really intuitive.

The ability to use the product with just a single knob is no accident – it allows you to use the timer with gloves on, in almost any weather condition. Although I wouldn’t use this product in the rain as, to the best of my knowledge, it is not rainproof.

Knob adjustment

Initially, when using the knob, I was a little frustrated that the knob seemed to be reversed compared to my expectation. Turning clockwise scrolled up the menu and anti-clockwise scrolled down. Satisfyingly, it turns out that the rotation direction can be set in the settings, brilliant!

Software Interface

The menu structure follows a fairly standard hierarchical structure. First, you choose the mode by turning the knob, then you click into it and proceed to progress through each of the settings for that mode by turning and clicking.

This is about as simple and straightforward as it could be. You can go back a step by holding the knob, right back to the main menu. This simple mechanism of forward/backwards covers all of the main functionality of the Pro Timer 3, meaning as soon as you work this out, you can pretty much use every feature on the device.

Battery Life

I left the intervalometer running for 3-4 hours at a time each night and it didn’t need charging for a couple of days.

The battery definitely exceeded my expectations, each time I checked the battery indicator I half expected it to be empty but it just seemed to keep going.

For longer shoots, I use a USB power bank to power my camera, so I could have plugged the Pro-Timer into that however I didn’t need to as the timer’s battery lasted much longer than was needed for any photoshoot.

Documentation

As previously mentioned, there was no physical documentation included in the box, but documentation is available online.

The online documentation covers all of the features and settings of the device, which proved to be sufficient for me. The inclusion of a PDF diagram depicting the full navigation menu system was a great idea and worth printing out.

I did feel like something was lacking however, some secondary information would be useful such as information about the battery, options for connecting the device to your camera(s), tips on using the backlight, resolving common problems etc.

I had a problem where my camera hadn’t finished processing the photo when the next photo was triggered, causing every-other photo to get missed. Whilst this wasn’t a problem with the timer itself (and was an easy fix), being able to identify these potential issues prior to going out into the field could have saved my some frustrations!

In Summary

All things considered, I really like the Pro-Timer 3. It’s well designed, easy to use and has all of the features I want from an intervalometer.

Whilst the price is quite high compared to some other intervalometers, the simple software menu system and unique hardware interface puts the device on another level compared to the competition and justifies the extra cost.

If you are looking to buy a new intervalometer and the Pro-Timer 3 is within your budget range, then this device would be a great purchase.

Pros

  • Excellent user interface
  • Lots of features
  • Great battery life
  • Small and light

Cons

  • Quite expensive for a timer
  • Lack of bundled cable/physical manual

To find out more about the LRTimelapse Pro-Timer check out the official website here.

Powering a Time-Lapse – Keeping Your DSLR Powered During a Time-Lapse Shoot

Lithium-Ion DSLR Camera Battery

Without a doubt, one of the single most important factors in successfully recording a timelapse video is the power source. If you don’t have a good reliable source of power for the entirety of the photo shoot, your timelapse recording will fail.

If you are reasonably experienced using a DSLR camera, you will know that you can only expect to get a few hundred shots out of a fully charged, new battery before you run out of juice. If your battery has been through a few discharge/charge cycles, the number of photos you can expect out of a full charge will reduce significantly.

So what can be done? 

Can you swap out the battery when it gets low?
Don’t be silly. Removing your camera from the tripod or slider to change the battery would disturb it’s angle and/or position, causing a jump in the final video. When your camera is recording a timelapse, it’s not a good idea to disturb it for any reason.

Therefore we need a way to supply constant power to the camera for the full duration of the shoot.

Do DSLRs have an external power supply input?

Most DSLR cameras don’t have an external power input. This is quite frustrating for timelapse photographers as external power is necessary when filming for extended sessions.

The solution

The most commonly used solution is a dummy battery with a USB power bank. The dummy battery allows you to feed external power into your camera from an external power source (a  USB power bank in this case). This allows you to effectively increase the capacity of the batter as you are not restricted to what can fit into your camera.

Dummy DSLR Battery

Dummy batteries (Or DC Couplers as they are also known) are the same size and shape as your camera’s original battery, and they fit into your camera just like the original. The difference being that a dummy battery is not a battery at all, it is a connector with a cable to which an external power supply can be connected.

DSLR Dummy Battery

You can pick up a dummy battery from eBay for around $10. Just be sure to order the correct one – different cameras have different battery types.

Making your own dummy battery

If you’re determined to save some pennies, or maybe you just have an old dead camera battery going spare and you want a weekend project, then making your own dummy battery is pretty easy.

There are a couple of instructional guides online which explain the process. This video does a pretty good job of explaining:

The power source

So you have a way of getting power into your camera from an external source. Great, but what power source options are there?

Depending on your specific needs, there are a few options available to you.

Wall plug power supply (Wall-wart)

If your timelapse shoot is within a sensible distance from a main supply, or if you can realistically run an extension lead out to it, then a a wall plug power supply (PSU) might be your best option. Just make sure the voltage matches your camera’s

The most commonly used power source is a wall plug power supply. This is great for indoor time-lapse shoots, however for outdoor filming, a portable power supply is necessary.

USB power banks

If you’re shooting outdoors, then a mains powered solution probably isn’t for you. In this case, you’ll probably need a USB power bank.

Auto-off feature

Not just any USB power bank will do though – if you try to use the one you have sitting around the house, it may turn off after a couple of minutes as most USB power banks have a feature to turn themselves off if the device connected to them is not drawing sufficient current.

“Most USB power banks have a feature to turn themselves off if the device connected to them is not drawing sufficient current.”

When testing my power bank with a Canon DSLR however, I found that it seems to draw enough current to keep the power bank happy, so it didn’t power off at all. It might be a good idea to turn up your camera’s screen brightness and make sure it’s set to auto-preview when taking each picture. This should cause it to draw more current from the power bank, hopefully enough to keep it from switching off. 

If your power bank still turns itself off after a few minutes, fortunately there are options. Although they are quite hard to find, there are some USB power banks that have an always-on output especially for such purposes as timelapse photography.

Always-on USB power banks

V88 Battery BankIt is surprisingly hard to find a power bank that doesn’t have the auto-power-off feature. Some very cheap power banks don’t have the feature, but we wouldn’t recommend them as cheap power banks are notoriously unreliable.

One popular trusted brand that features an always-on power mode is the Voltaic V25 – V88 range.

The Voltaic V88 Powerbank, in particular, boasts a whopping 24,000 mAh capacity. It features both USB-A and USB-C output ports with USB-C input for charging the power bank itself.

When charging, the power bank continues to serve power to the camera which is a great feature.

Another great thing about this battery is the availability of a separate solar panel, which enables you to charge the power bank for long periods of time. This would be ideal for multi-day (construction etc) time-lapse shoots.

Disabling a USB power bank’s auto-power-off feature

If you already own a USB power bank, but it has an auto-power-off feature, then you can still use it. The trick is to draw enough current from the power bank so that it stays on, using a dummy load.

Using a dummy load

A dummy load is basically just a resistor connected across the power terminals of a USB plug, which draws sufficient power from the power bank to trick it into thinking something is connected and charging.

You can make a dummy load yourself using an old USB cable and a resistor. Just be careful to select the correct value resistor though, so that the dummy load doesn’t draw too much current. Most guides you will find online to making your own dummy load use resistor values that are too low, as they are intended to draw a lot of current for testing batteries.

You only want to draw say 100mA to keep the power bank happy, so let’s use Ohms law to work out the correct resistor.

The ohms law equation for calculating resistance is as follows:

Resistance = Voltage/Current

The voltage of a USB port is 5v and we want to draw around 100 milliamps (mA) which is the same as 0.1 Amps.

Therefore the equation becomes:

5 / 0.1 = 50 Ohms

So to draw 100mA from the power bank, we are looking for a 50 Ohm resistor. Resistors tend to come in standard values, so anything around the 50 – 80 Ohm range should be fine. Going slightly lower than 50 Ohms (say to 44 Ohms) should be fine, although don’t go too low as lower resistance means more current will be drawn which in turn will run your power bank’s battery down faster.

Modifying a power bank

If you are more electronically-minded, then you may be able to open up the power bank and disable the auto-off feature. Information is available online to help with this. I would not recommend this route for most people though – Luthium batteries are highly volatile and carry a high risk of fire or explosion if tampered with.

Making a custom battery pack

If your needs are beyond what a USB power bank can achieve, perhaps you need to record for months at a time, and you understand basic electronics, then a custom battery solution is probably right for you.

Top Tip

Choosing to make your own power supply will give you the freedom to choose from a range of battery technologies and capacities.

By choosing to make your own power supply, you have the freedom to choose from a range of battery technologies and capacities. We’ve covered a couple of available options here, but battery technologies are worth more research if you’re serious as there are lot of options out there and technology is always moving forwards.

Battery technologies

When building any battery solution, the choice of battery technology is important. Choose the wrong one and your battery might give up on you prematurely. You might also find that you spend double what you probably could have, because the battery technology you chose is over-engineered for your needs and you could have achieved your goal with a much cheaper battery. An example of this could be Sealed lead-acid vs Lithium-Ion.

Sealed lead-acid

Commonly found in alarm systems, UPS systems and motorised scooters/golf buggies. Sealed lead-acid batteries have been around for many years. They continue to remain popular as their benefits make them the preferred choice for their typical applications

Sealed Lead-Acid Battery
Sealed Lead-Acid Battery

Benefits

  • Rechargeable
  • Low cost
  • High reliability
  • Low self-discharge rate

Limitations

  • Bulky and heavy
  • Slow to charge

If you’re looking to shoot a long-term time-lapse, perhaps over a number of days, weeks or even months, then sealed lead-acid is likely a good choice.

Sealed lead-acid batteries are available with really high capacities at a reasonable price, so they are a popular choice for long term time-lapse recording projects.

Alkaline

One of the most popular battery technologies for general use due to it’s broad range of benefits, you will commonly find Alkaline batteries in supermarket aisles in standard sized (AA, AAA, C, D).

Alkaline Batteries
Group of batteries isolated on white background

Benefits

  • Long life
  • Low temperature operation
  • Standard sizing
  • Inexpensive
  • Convenient

Limitations

  • Can leak long term
  • Quite bulky

If you would prefer the convenience of being able to replace batteries rather than recharge them, then Alkaline batteries could be the solution for you.

Lithium-Ion

Whilst comparatively more expensive than the other options presented above, Lithium-Ion battery technology has a number of advantages over the other technologies.

Lithium-Ion Batteries
Lithium-Ion Batteries

Benefits

  • Fast charging
  • High energy density
  • Long life

Limitations

  • Expensive
  • Needs a protection circuit

In order to charge Li-Ion batteries, you will need a special charger or BMS (Battery Management System). These can be sourced from your favourite electronics supplier. 

Getting the voltage right

Now that we have an idea of what battery technology we’d like to use, we need to make sure that the voltage output from the battery matches what our camera needs.

Always take care to match the battery voltage to the camera. Connecting a 12v battery directly to a DSLR camera could permanently damage the camera and ruin your day.

“Connecting a 12v battery directly to a DSLR camera could permanently damage the camera”
Using a boost converter to increase voltage

Let’s say we decided to use a lithium battery pack to power our DSLR camera. Our camera requires 7.4v but the battery pack only supplies 3.7v. We need a way of ‘boosting up’ the voltage to meet our camera’s needs. A boost converter increases the voltage of a power supply (at the expense of a reduced current).

In the not-so-distant past, adding such luxuries as a step-up boost converter to your circuit meant spending upwards of $30 with an electronics supplier potentially even assembling a kit the size of a packet of cigarettes. These days, thanks to the ever-advancing electronics market, these circuits are available on eBay for just a few dollars. I’d recommend sourcing from a dedicated electronics supplier who should have the necessary expertise to recommend the right product for your needs.

Using a buck converter to reduce voltage

Just like you can use a boost converter to increase voltage, you can reduce a voltage by using a buck converter. You might want to use a buck converter if you’re using a 12V sealed lead-acid battery.

Again, these are available from any good battery supplier. Radio-Controlled electronics stores tend to have a good range of these products.

Putting it all together

Now that we have a battery and a means of converting the voltage to the required range, we need to connect everything together.

Make sure your battery is fully charges and connected up to your boost or buck converter. Test the output voltage that will be fed to the camera to make sure it is as expected (Canon cameras are around 7.4V).

Once you are happy that everything works, I would recommend investing in the following:

Soldering iron/Solder
Used to make all connections secure and permanent

Heat shrink tubing
Used to insulate any exposed solder joints and connections.

Insulation tape
Same as above

18 Gauge wire
Used to wire up boost/buck converter with battery

2.1mm x 5.5mm Barrel jack plug
If your dummy battery has a barrel socket, then adding a barrel plug allows quick connection/disconnection. Or you can just cut and join wires directly.

Waterproof enclosure
This is important if your setup is going to be left unattended. There are a variety of different shapes, sizes and materials available.

In Summary

Hopefully this article has given you some idea of what’s possible when powering your time-lapse setup. We’ve barely scratched the surface in each of the areas covered, but this should at least give you an idea of what you need so that you can research further.

If there’s anything I’ve missed, feel free to drop a comment and I will expand the article as necessary.

Best Compact Camera For Time-lapse

Compact Camera

You already know that you want a compact and not a full DSLR Camera to shoot time-lapse. But beyond that, you’re not sure which one is best. We’ve researched some options and present them below.

When considering a compact camera for time-lapse, there are several things the perfect camera would have. The ideal camera would be physically small when stored. Some cameras may be physically small, but if the lens is interchangeable, it likely does not retract, meaning that the camera size in storage will be larger as you will have to have a lens with it.

A key element would be the ability to manually focus – you don’t want the focus shifting in the middle of a time-lapse shoot, so manual focus is a must. You also want to be able to manipulate shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance manually to get the effect you are looking for in your time-lapse. The last thing you need is for the aperture or white balance to change in the middle of your shoot. Manual functions are a must.

Something that may not be as obvious and is quite rare among compact cameras, can be highly significant: weather sealing. Weather sealing will allow you to confidently take your camera into the elements and continue shooting or trekking to a shoot when other cameras might be in danger of water damage. You do not want water damage, you want weather sealing. (weather sealing doesn’t mean waterproof, more similar to “water-resistant”)

Another feature that can be highly useful for a time-lapse shooter is an articulating viewing screen. This is useful if you are shooting from a low or awkward perspective. Without an articulating screen, you may find yourself in a strange posture in order to get the framing and focus you want. With an articulating screen, however, you have the freedom to place the camera virtually anywhere and still get a good view of the viewfinder.

You also want connectivity. A shutter remote input and/or NFC, Bluetooth or WiFi are highly useful. Such connectivity will allow you to use remote applications for your smart device and/or computer to control your camera.

Neutral density filters, or ND filters, will reduce the amount of light coming through the lens without affecting the image in any other (significant) way. These are valuable for shots in a bright setting and will allow you to use longer shutter speeds to get the effect you want. The ability to use ND filters is highly valuable when shooting time-lapse, so a camera that can accommodate filters on the lens, or has ND filters built in will be highly desirable.

A long battery and/or extended battery options are also important to a good time-lapse camera. If you want to take a longer time-lapse, you don’t want your camera pooping out on you!

The final thing I am going to mention has to do with image quality. You want nice looking images, and you want to be able to control your time-lapse in post. You want to be shooting in RAW. You also want a relatively large sensor, especially for a night or “holy grail” time-lapse. You want a nice lens with good focal length options and apertures for your time-lapse. You also want a camera with ample dynamic range.

Keeping the above in mind, here is the compact camera I feel is most up to the task:

The Canon G1XIII has a lot of desirable features that are rare in cameras of this size. It is weather-sealed, and is quite compact, especially when turned off, thanks to the lens recessing into the camera body. It has an articulating rear display. It allows manual shutter, aperture, focus, ISO and white balance. The camera can shoot in the Canon RAW format or JPEG. It includes some built-in ND filters and the lens has a filter thread, so a polarizer, UV filter or different ND filters could be used. The lens is pretty versatile, being the 35mm equivalent of 24-70mm, and the maximum aperture is f2.8 – a wider aperture would be nice for low-light or shallow depth of field, but f2.8 is a pretty good maximum aperture for time-lapse. The zoom range is not excellent but covers the most integral focal lengths for general photography as well as time-lapse photography. It has a hot-shoe and a built-in flash. It has a 24.2MP APS-C sensor; quite remarkable for a compact camera. It has a remote shutter switch input. The ISO range of 100-25600 is pretty broad for a compact camera, although over 1600 noise starts to become an issue. There is a built-in time-lapse mode, which uses each capture as a frame in a time-lapse video – sadly, this only creates 1080p .mp4 at 29.97fps. So, the time-lapse movie mode is not the means I would suggest for shooting time-lapse.

Despite having loads of qualities uniquely valuable to a time-lapse photographer in such a small package, the Canon G1XIII has two critical defects. First, there is not an interval-timer or intervalometer built-in the firmware. The camera does have wireless connectivity, so you can get an app to control the shutter with your phone, a wireless remote, or a wireless intervalometer. Another option is the firmware augmentation software, CHDK. CHDK can be loaded onto an SD card, and run on your camera, giving it more functions. There is a version of CHDK for the G1X series and instructions on how to load the new features that come with it on the site. It is free, and with a little effort, you can have a camera with a built-in intervalometer, weather sealing, RAW capture, built-in ND filters and an APS-C sensor that literally fits in your pocket.

One other thing about the G1XIII: battery life. It is rated at 200 shots, which rises to 250 shots using “eco” mode. Although shooting a time-lapse will likely consume less battery in most situations, if we use 250 as a guide, it is clear to see that we have another obstacle for those that want somewhat longer time-lapses. There is a solution to this, and it comes in a compact and convenient form; use a portable power source (one like those used for smartphones) and connect using the USB. This will extend the battery life to the life of the external battery. So, all you need is a small tripod, a camera that comfortably fits into a pocket and possibly an external cellphone battery and you can be shooting professional time-lapse.

Should I Hire a Professional or Shoot Time-lapse Myself?

Photographer Walking

When you are looking to have a time-lapse video produced,  it is not necessarily important how or why the video was produced. All that matters ultimately is the end result. If the video portrays the message that you’re looking for, then it’s done it’s job.

It is for this reason that many media agencies and production companies are faced with a number of options when sourcing time-lapse footage. Should we set up a camera and capture and produce our own footage, or outsource to a professional time-lapse photographer?

The article attempts to explore and validate both options, and give you a better idea of the pro’s and con’s of each.

What is your intended purpose?

It goes without saying that if your purpose is to capture timelapse for the fun of it, perhaps you have a love of photography or cinematography and you like the experience of producing the video, then naturally you would be inclined to do all the work yourself rather than paying a professional. Unless of course, you are paying for someone to teach you.

Commercial time-lapse projects

For projects where you are focused on the final result, then the best means of achieving that result are often less obvious.

Generally for commercial projects, you probably need a high production quality. This means that you generally need high-end gear. if you intend on shooting the footage yourself. If you don’t already possess the necessary equipment, then significant costs may be involved if you intend to purchase equipment. Hiring is also an option here.

Even if production values aren’t paramount, you still may want to hire a professional for your time-lapse project, for example; If you need reliable results – if you are trying to capture a fleeting event or if you have a short window to capture and produce the final product – then you will likely want to hire this service out regardless of the final use.

If you are still unsure whether you should try your hand at your time-lapse project, continue reading for a clear appraisal of the likelihood of your success. If you have a time-lapse professional project to shoot and you haven’t shot time-lapse before and you aren’t already an enthusiast or professional photographer, definitely hire someone.

If you are a fully competent photographer, ask yourself the following…

“If you are planning to shoot a time-lapse, you will need decent equipment. You will need an “enthusiast” or “professional” camera, otherwise, you will LIKELY end up will a less-than-ideal result.”

Hobby and non-commercial time-lapse projects

As with commercial projects, it comes down to achieving the desired results, versus cost. One benefit you may have compared to commercial projects is that you are not answerable to a paying client. This doesn’t make it any easier to produce your video, sometimes quite the contrary, but it does give you flexibility and control. You may also be working to a self-imposed deadline, so you can keep costs down more effectively.

Do you have the equipment?

If you are planning to shoot a production-quality time-lapse, you will need professional equipment. This isn’t set in stone, but generally at the very least, you probably want a DSLR camera with a suitable lens.

Can’t I use a high-end smartphone?

For simple daylight time-lapse, a modern smartphone will capture great shots, but a DSLR camera will give you the ability to shoot in low light conditions due to the larger lens and higher ISO. DSLR cameras also have interchangeable lenses.

You will also want to be shooting in a RAW file format, and, in an ideal world, you would have a lens system that will accommodate static apertures to prevent flicker (an undesirable change in the perceived brightness of the successive images that produces a sort of ‘strobing’ effect when composed to video).

You will also need a fairly decent tripod. A low-end tripod would be suitable in ideal conditions, but something with a little more weight and rigidity is necessary in breezy conditions or when shooting with a long exposure (think astrophotography). Cheap tripods will often sag depending on the weight of your camera/lens and the tripod build. They will also feature clumsy controls that will move the tripod itself during adjustments, changing the camera perspective slightly, and make the framing you would like difficult. They are also substantially less stable, which can often result in some camera shake – which is almost always highly undesirable. This is especially problematic if your project will require you physically adjusting any settings on the camera during the course of the time-lapse.

You will also need an intervalometer (some cameras have this in their firmware) and/or a remote shutter. There are also other pieces of equipment you should have depending on the nature of the shoot – such as cards with the capacity and the speed to capture your time-lapse, weather protection for yourself and your camera, neutral density filters, and adequate power (which can mean a battery grip or even more extreme solutions).

Depending on what you are shooting, you may also need appropriate lighting, yet another equipment cost. You will also almost certainly want to consider all potential equipment requirements for your particular project and make sure you are adequately equipped. Our best cameras for time-lapse guide is a great place to look for more information on the subject.

Photography Equipment

You will also need the computing capacity to deal with a large number of RAW images in post-production, so this needs to be considered as an element of the equipment requirements. The software will be an element you will require as well.

So what should I do if I don’t have the equipment? Well, if you want to get into shooting time-lapse regularly, it might be advantageous to purchase the right equipment and start shooting yourself – especially if you are not on a tight timeline or need to shoot an event or phenomena which will only occur once or within a limited timeframe. That said, if you don’t have at least most of the gear and are willing to expand, hire someone. Also, even if you have the equipment, but you don’t seek to make time-lapse into a hobby or profession, hire it out.

Do you have the expertise?

Time-lapse can be pretty demanding on a photographers mastery of the art and science of creating images. You will need a good grasp of exposure, and how exposure is altered by each of the settings in your camera – shutter speed, aperture, ISO (or ASA/film speed), white balance, file format, even focus. If you aren’t VERY familiar with these terms, hire the time-lapse production out.

If you don’t have the expertise, but are looking to train ‘on the job’, bear in mind that you can often wait weeks for ideal weather conditions before you can even set up your equipment for a shoot. Then, it might be the following evening before you get to upload the images into your computer for post-processing. It might not be until this point that you realise your shutter interval was too slow or your video has flicker which could have been prevented. Then you have to repeat the whole process all over again.  It could take you all summer to get the perfect shot.

“If you are completely new to software post-production, hire the time-lapse out…Unless you are ready to do a lot of learning”

Do you have video editing skills and software?

When shooting time-lapse, there are a lot of things that can result in an undesirable final product. This may not happen, but you need to know how to fix it if it does.

Most commonly, flicker will be an issue. Some other things may occur as well – sometimes abrupt changes in color or lighting, which are parallel phenomena to flicker; some washed-out shadows or clipped highlights may appear, or some camera shake.

These issues can likely be remedied, especially if you are shooting RAW, but you will have to know or learn exactly how to do make appropriate adjustments. There is software available to download that will develop your RAW images – Adobe’s Lightroom is the industry standard and what I would highly suggest if you are considering shooting time-lapse.

“Adobe’s Lightroom is the industry standard and what I would highly suggest if you are considering shooting time-lapse”

When it comes to stitching the images together to form the final time-lapse video, again there is specialist software available, namely Adobe Premiere and the industry-specific LRTimelapse. There are Lightroom plug-ins available which you can use to achieve the same ret result, without leaving Lightroom, and these often the most seamless option, but generally it’s better to use the dedicated software named above.

You will need solid editing software to consider undertaking this task yourself. You will also need to familiarize yourself with the software. If you are already familiar with Lightroom or Photoshop, it shouldn’t be too hard – or if you have expertise in video editing programs like Premiere, Final Cut Pro, or AfterEffects.

Video Production

You may also need something to stabilize the outputted video from RAW. Just like flicker, this may not be an issue for you, but you need to be ready if it is. Most decent video editing programs have a stabilization plug-in of some kind that will satisfy this need.

It may be a good idea to shoot a somewhat wider focal distance than you want the final product to appear – for one, you will have ample resolution, and secondly, if you DO have camera shake, you will need some cropping ability to stabilize the image in post. I would suggest using Premiere or Final Cut Pro from the video output, although there are several options for this. If you are completely new to software post-production, hire the time-lapse ou – unless you are ready to do a lot of learning.

So, in conclusion, you most certainly can shoot time-lapse yourself, however if you want a professional, production-quality product, you need the equipment and expertise. There are not shortcuts or ‘cheats’.

Beyond that, each shoot can present unexpected issues that aren’t touched on in this article as each time will be different in some capacity. Wind can be an issue. Changing cloud cover can be an issue as well. A battery suddenly losing charge unexpectedly due to dropping temperature.

A lot of these issues will not be noticeable until you start working in post and will result in the issues described above. An experienced individual will be able to more effectively mitigate or prevent these potential problems – the experience you will not yet have. However, if you consider yourself a well-equipped, software savvy, enthusiast photographer, you can most likely do this yourself. I would leave myself ample time for hiccups and adjustments in post, but if you feel confident, give it a shot. If not, hire someone to shoot time-lapse for you.

Simple cost analysis

Ultimately, you have to put a value on your time and make a realistic assessment of how much each option will cost you overall. Sure, shooting your own video might save you $2000 on a professional’s fees, but if it takes you a month of work to get the result, plus you have to spend a couple of hundred on extra gear, then did you really save anything in the long run?

7 Essential Items For Time-Lapse Shooting

Photography Equipment

This guide covers a handful of essential items for time-lapse, if you’re just getting started, use this as a checklist of things you’ll need.

Read on to find out what gear you will need to add to your birthday wishlist this year!

What equipment do I need to film a time-lapse video?

Whilst the exact equipment you need will vary depending on the specific project you are working on, there are some general pieces of kit that are essential.

A DSLR Camera Body

The very first thing you will need to shoot a time-lapse is a camera body. Whilst these days you can achieve a surprisingly high quality using smartphones, if you are looking to shoot time-lapse at the top level, a smartphone just isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to want a DSLR, ideally with a full-frame.

For more information on choosing the right camera body, check our our dedicated guide.

If a DSLR camera is out of your budget range, there is nothing wrong with using your smartphone if it’s fairly modern. You can also download dedicated time-lapse camera apps that include an intervalometer. A really convenient way to get into time-lapse on a tight budget!

A Camera Lens

For more time-lapse shooting, the kit lens that came with your camera body is probably more than adequate for most projects.

When you yearn for something more, a wide-angle lens is usually a good purchase. Something with an aperture around 14 to 22mm. If you want to shoot in low light, particularly night-sky shooting, then something with a large aperture from f/1.2 to f/2.4 will really let in the light.

An Intervalometer

In order to trigger the camera shutter at a regular interval, you will need an intervalometer, also known as a controller.

This is another piece of kit that beginners often go cheap on. After all, it just triggers the shutter, right? WRONG!

Many photographers have made the mistake of thinking that since an intervalometer just triggers the camera to take pictures at specified intervals, then it’s not important and a cheap unit will suit the purpose. Well, I can speak from experience when I say that when you are up a mountain in the middle of nowhere at 2am setting up for a time-lapse of the night sky, after waiting two months for a new moon with a clear sky, then you want to make absolutely sure that your intervalometer does not let you down! Buy a trusted brand that is relied upon by professional photographers, not some cheap no-brand knock-off. It’s simply not worth the initial cost saving.

IntervalometerA Tripod

The next essential item you will need is a tripod or some other form of stable mounting equipment such as a hi-hat for lower angles, or a fixed enclosure for longer-term time-lapse.

It is important that you get a well-built, solid tripod (or other supporting device) with solid locking mechanisms as you don’t want the camera to sag during the shoot. Lighter, cheaper tripods also tend to shake in wind, even if apparently stable and on a solid, even surface. This is a particular problem for time lapse shoots as any movement over time will be exaggerated when the clips are sped up to final video speed in post-production.

To prevent tripod movement, in addition to a well constructed tripod, it may be wise to bring along something to weigh down the tripod itself, to prevent vibrations or movement caused by wind or other elements. Do not skimp on your tripod, you will regret it. Also, if you get a quality tripod it will serve you well after you replace your current camera body.

A Power Source

Next would be a sufficient source of power. If you are shooting for a longer period of time especially. The last thing you want is for the power to run out in the middle of your planned time-lapse shoot. Often for shorter (Up to 1hr) shoots, a battery grip will be sufficient, essentially doubling the power capacity of the camera body. Remember, use higher capacity batteries from trusted manufacturers. If you have longer periods for which you plan to shoot, or intend on taking a large number of exposures, plugging the camera into an external source may be a good idea. You can get DC power adapters and an external battery or even use a small generator – there are even solar options if you have longer shooting times which can be coordinated with a weather-sealed mount.

An SD Card

Since you will be taking lots of pictures, you will need somewhere for your camera to store them of course.

Most DSLR cameras take a standard SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) card. High-speed, high capacity cards are a necessity for anyone serious about time-lapse. Especially if you are capturing at a quicker rate, the speed of the media can be an issue.

SD Card

If you are taking more shots, capacity can be an issue. Cheaper cards typically only write at low speeds – around 30mbs. If you are shooting RAW (which you ought to be) at a quicker rate, this can exceed the write-speed of the media, meaning you will have issues. Tragic issues. Make sure your cards are fast enough. Also, RAW images can be quite large, but it is wise to shoot in the format. This will allow you to have a lot of control in post-production. For this reason, and the fact that time-lapse often requires a large number of captures, larger media capacities are highly suggested.

Due to the low prices of storage these days, it is worth taking at least 1 or 2 spare SD cards with you on your shoot. For the sake of a few tens of dollars, you don’t want to have to cut your trip short and ruin a time-lapse shooting session due to a failing SD card.

Neutral Density Filter

Neutral density filters. They will reduce the amount of light that will hit your sensor without altering color. This will allow you to use larger apertures and longer exposures and/or get good color in circumstances which otherwise might result in some highlight clipping. Variable neutral density filters are nice and versatile, however, beware – they can impose their own artefacts into your images. I would suggest owning a couple of solid neutral density filters of different strengths – a 3 & 6 would be a good place to start. They can be stacked atop one another, so you would have 3 possible ND strengths with these two filters. Alternatively, you could merely get a variable filter. Remember, you don’t want to cheap out, and make sure you take good care of them; any flaw in the filter will reveal itself in the image!

Weather Protection

Rain and weather protection is always a good idea to protect your camera from the elements. You never know when the weather could turn and a nice spring day can turn into a downpour.

Even in sunny weather, some sort of protective cover is often necessary as direct sun can damage your camera if the body gets too hot.

Moisture is also a serious issue. Even on weather-sealed camera bodies, rain and moisture can get on the lens, or even compromise the weather-sealing.

Weather Protection

Some people even have housings built for their camera during their time-lapse shoot. It is important that, regardless of the length of your shoot, that your camera is stable and protected from the elements – the last thing you want is to turn an expensive camera into a paperweight, and ruin the shoot in the process! You also want to protect yourself – if you are uncomfortable, you will not be performing your best and may cut corners. Make sure you are well dressed and prepared for whatever the elements may bring.

Optional Items

If your budget can spare it, it would be a good idea to have another wide-angle lens on a spare camera body. This is a luxury, but one that has sure advantages. For one, with the extra resolution, you will almost certainly have in your stills, if you shoot a wider angle, even if you need to crop you will have plenty of resolution to work with. Also, if you start having issues one camera body, you can quickly switch to the second camera and keep going. If both shoots go well, you can compare the two timelapses and go with whichever is more pleasing, or you could even use the second camera for a transition to a second angle if it suits your project!

Certainly, this is not a complete list, as each shoot will have it’s own challenges, but this is definitely a good place to start. Remember to consider the environment you are shooting, how long you are likely to be shooting for, and try to think of everything that might go wrong or any challenges that could crop up. When you are dealing with nature and the outdoors, things can change quickly and being prepared for the unexpected is a good way to go.

Time-Lapse Intervalometer Buying Guide

Stopwatch chronograph

What is a Time-Lapse Intervalometer?

On your journey to time-lapse video stardom, you will inevitably come across the need for a time-lapse intervalometer unit, otherwise known as a time-lapse controller. This small but essential piece of kit acts as the brain for your time-lapse platform as a whole, telling your camera how frequently it should fire the shutter, amongst a host of other functions. Some cameras even include this functionality in-body, but for the most part, dedicated Intervalometers are going to offer better flexibility and functionality overall.

In this shopping guide, we’ll break down what to look for in a quality intervalometer, as well as walk you through some of our favourite products for beginners and experts alike. By the end, you should have a firm grasp on which model will work best for you.

What To Look For In a Quality Time-Lapse Intervalometer

Let’s face it; time-lapse Intervalometers are not the sexiest products out there. Because of that, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to understand what to look for in a good one. They all sort of look the same, and product descriptions are often just a jumbled mess of stats, figures, and granular features. To help cut through the noise, we thought it’d be helpful to detail what to look for when searching for the perfect Intervalometer to match your needs. Here are a few things to consider when starting your research:

Compatibility

Not all intervalometers are compatible with all camera systems. You should be used to this by now, as just about everything in the photography world is locked to a certain manufacturer or another. You’ll want to be sure that any Intervalometer unit you are looking at will work with your specific brand of camera. The good news is, many modern Intervalometers work with all of the major brands, such as Sony, Canon, and Nikon.

Features

For the most part, every Intervalometer unit that you see is going to be able to, at a bare minimum, control the frequency of your camera’s shutter actualizations using a few different interval parameters. That said, more advanced units can include things like speed ramp-ups (and ramp-downs), HDR support, mirror-up delays, and more. If you’re just getting started, it can be easy to feel as though you need all of the features, but the truth is that you really don’t. Even the most basic intervalometers are capable of producing stunning videos in the end, so it’s just a matter of growing your flexibility over time.

Build Quality

The may not be as important as, say, the build quality of your camera or tripod, but you need to remember that you’ll be using your Intervalometer out in the field, often in situations where it could quite easily take a tumble. It’s important to consider what this may mean, and focus on Intervalometers that use high-quality materials in their construction. Unfortunately, like with most things, there’s a bit of “you get what you pay for” at play here, but there is still a lot of value to be had with some of the higher-quality entry-level Intervalometers out there. You just have to know where to find them (hint hint, keep reading below).

Types of Time-Lapse Intervalometers

There are several specific categories of intervalometers on the market today. Let’s take a look at each of them, breaking down their unique strengths, as well as any potential limitations.

Off-Brands

Off-brand Intervalometers have been around for years and years, like with just about any other industry. These Intervalometers are often made for specific manufacturers, but there are several that will work with most of the major brands. Best of all, these are usually quite a bit cheaper than the name brand variety, and many of them include much of the same functionality and quality to boot.

Our Off-Brand Suggestions:

[amazon text=For Nikon: Remote Wireless Intervalometer&asin=B07TLN64Q6]

Works with: D90 D600 D610 D3100 D3200 D3300 D5000 D5100 D5200 D5300 D7000 Digital SLR Cameras

[amazon text=For Canon: Neewer LCD Timer Shutter Release Remote Control&asin=B016W3KFA8]

Works with: EOS 30, 33, 50E, 300, 300V, 3000, 50, 300D (Digital Rebel), 350D (Digital Rebel XT), 400D (Digital Rebel XTi), 450D (Digital Rebel XSi), 500D, 1000D

[amazon text=For Sony: Pholsy N10 Wired/Wireless Intervalometer&asin=B01N133BI6]

Works with: a7RII/ILCE-7RM2 a7II/ILCE-7M2K a7SII/ILCE-7SM2 a7R/ILCE-7R a7/ILCE-7 a7s/ILCE-7S a6000/ILCE-6000L a3000/ILCE-3000 a58/SLT-A58 NEX-3NL DSC-RX100M3 DSC-RX100M4 DSC-RX10M3

Name Brands

Name brand intervalometers are going to cost you a bit more than the off-brand ones above, but if you’re willing to invest in something for the long haul, they can provide some amazing value overall. On the whole, these will be more compatible with one major camera manufacturer and will be fully tailored to that specific system. As such, you will often find that they simply work better than their off-branded brethren, but this isn’t a strict rule.

Our Name-Brand Suggestions:

[amazon text=For Nikon: 2.4GHz Wireless Shutter Release&asin=B076H46W5S]

Works with: Nikon D4, D800, D700, D300

[amazon text=For Canon: Pholsy Remote Intervalometer&asin=B01MTC2IAH]

Works with: EOS 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, 7D, 6D, 5D, 1D, 1Ds, D30, D60, 1V & 3 SLR Cameras

Advanced Units

For those who are looking to push the envelope, there are a number of more advanced, experimental intervalometers on the market today. These are going to cost you a pretty penny, but they are also going to include more functionality than just about any other class of Intervalometer. This commonly includes things like advanced timing settings, full HDR support for bracketing, mirror-up delay (which increases sharpness), and time-ramping functionality. That last one is key, as it’s all but a requirement to create what many believe to be one of the most challenging sequences in time-lapse photography; a day to night (or night to day) transition.

[amazon text=Our Advanced Pick: PHOLSY Wireless Timer Remote Control&asin=B01NAW947S]

Works with: Versions available for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus/Panasonic, and Fujifilm!

DIY

If there’s one corner of the internet that has consistently surprised and delighted us over the years, its the DIY community. This group of tinkerers, innovators, and people with lots of time on their hands have come up with a homebrew solution for just about everything under the sun, and as it turns out, time-lapse Intervalometer units are no exception. Here are a few of our favorite projects we’ve seen across the web:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Time-Lapse-Intervalometer-for-SLRs-with-555-timer-/
https://www.instructables.com/id/Turn-a-TI-Graphing-Calculator-into-an-Intervalomet/
http://www.hdrlabs.com/occ/index.html

2022 edit: This one recently became unavailable, will leave here in case it comes back online: http://cms.diodenring.de/en/electronic/mikroIntervalometer/82-intervalltimerv2

The bottom line:

As you can no doubt tell for yourself above, there is an abundance of options available when it comes to time-lapse Intervalometers today. Just about every camera manufacturer under the sun has multiple to choose from, and best of all, they are available at virtually every price point to boot. Put a budget together, make your choice, and get out there and get to shooting!

If you’re looking to invest is new gear, or if you’re just interested in learning more about the available hardware, check out tripod buyer’s guide. or our guide to selecting the best camera for time-lapse.

What’s The Best Tripod for Time-Lapse?

Photographer using camera tripod

What’s the best tripod for time-lapse? Looking for a tripod for shooting time-lapse with, but not sure which one’s right for you? let’s explore some of the features of a tripod to determine which is the best time-lapse tripod for you.

When it comes to crafting eye-popping, smooth time-lapse videos, you’d be surprised what you can do with the bare minimum equipment. With that said, if you’re really looking to get serious with the art form, there are a few essential pieces of kit that you will quickly learn to categorize as “essential”. Perhaps none of these is more practical or useful than the humble tripod. In today’s guide, we’ll break down what to look for if you’re ready to take the plunge. This guide mostly targets the best tripod for DSLR cameras, but the same tripods can be used for all kinds of cameras. Even smart phones!

Do I Even Need a Tripod?

We hear this question pretty often from beginners, and the truth is, a tripod isn’t a 100% necessity when you’re just getting started with time-lapse photography. What is necessary, however, is holding your camera (or phone) perfectly still during the capturing of your sequence of photos, so you can see how the device that literally holds your camera perfectly steady might be incredibly useful.

A tripod is a stabilization platform; it is designed to ensure that each of your photos are captured with minimal amounts of camera shake while the shutter is open. This eliminates blurriness in pictures, making them clearer and more professional looking. From a time-lapse maker’s perspective, it also ensures that every frame in your sequence is shot from the exact same vantage point. This is somewhat difficult to describe, but once you see the difference it makes in the finished product, you’ll know that there’s no going back.

Understanding What Makes a Quality Tripod

So, at this point, we’ve hopefully sold you on the merits of a tripod for your time-lapse work. Now, the question is simple: how can you decide which one is right for you? Let’s briefly take a look at a few key aspects to look for in your ideal tripod system before getting into our specific product recommendations.

Build Quality

Perhaps above all else, the build quality of a particular tripod will determine how effective you can expect it to be out in the field. Cheap out here, and you’ll find that your super entry-level tripod simply doesn’t do a good job of removing all traces of camera shake, or worse yet, collapses on you, potentially damaging your camera in the process.

Seeing as time-lapses are often captured in potentially hazardous areas, such as a busy city center or a rocky mountainside, having a quality, stable platform you can trust is essential. In general, we recommend carbon fiber tripods, especially for frequent travelers, as they are lightweight while still providing excellent stability. Aluminum is another, more classic choice, though it will be heavier, as well as more susceptible to hot and cold temperatures.

Head Style

Another critical component, the way your camera actually attaches to the tripod can vary from tripod to tripod. This affects more than the initial attachment, though; it’ll also affect how easily you can adjust things like the position, balance, and tilt of your camera itself. In general, there are four main types of head styles in use today; 3-way pan-tilt, ball, gimbal, and fluid head.

Each of these has their own unique strengths and weaknesses that we won’t be getting into here, but for time-lapse purposes, just know that any of them will work. That said, if you want to get into advanced motion shots down the road, a fluid head may be ideal, as it allows for the smoothest pans and tilts of all of the various styles.

Flexibility

For the most part, tripod legs are fixed, dedicated poles that are designed to work best on semi-flat, even terrain. That said, there are a number of specialty tripods like the popular Gorilla brand which use a more fluid design, allowing the legs to actually “grip” onto surfaces. These can be used to attach your camera to places you might not expect, such as a tree limb, traffic pole, or some other unique location. Obviously, these will give you the potential to get non-conventional shots which may add an air of intrigue to your work. You just need to know when it makes sense to use them, and when it makes more sense to go with something traditional.

Load Capacity

Every tripod has a specific max load capacity that it is capable of handling. Exceed this load, and you run the risk of the legs becoming unstable in the wind or on uneven, rocky terrain, which would obviously be bad news for the (likely highly expensive) imaging gear mounted to the top of your tripod. For this reason, it is crucial to match your camera and lens weight to a tripod that can support them, ideally with some room to grow on.

Size

Tripods come in virtually all sizes, from compact, flexible designs to towering, crane-like monstrosities. If you are someone who travels often, something small and light will probably be more useful for you, but if you are operating lots of heavy equipment in a fixed spot for an extended period of time, it may make sense to go with something a bit bulkier. Determining which is right for you will really boil down to asking yourself what you’re most interested in shooting for your time-lapse work, and matching the right gear to suit that style.

Our Top Tripods For Time-Lapse Photography

[amazon text=Entry level: Dolica GX600B200 Proline GX Series 60-Inch Aluminum Tripod&asin=B004XC3GWU]

This excellent starter platform features a ball head, a sturdy, all-aluminum design, flip-lock legs, and as a maximum weight of 15 pounds. Best of all, it is available online at an extremely beginner-friendly price. Thankfully, unlike other “entry-level” tripods on the market, Dolica doesn’t seem to be skimping out on the build quality here, with hundreds of reviewers noting that they felt they were getting more than their money’s worth with the GX Proline series.

[amazon text=Mid Range: Neewer Carbon Fiber 66 inches Camera Tripod&asin=B00NSEKEMO]

Neewer has long made high-quality, mid-range tripods, and their new carbon fiber lineup is no exception to this rule. Featuring a 360-degree ball head, a clever monopod mode, and an 8-layer carbon fiber tubing system for added stability, very few tripods at this price range can claim to offer the same level of value found here. Featuring a maximum weight of 26.5 pounds, this should be more than enough for just about any camera/lens combo with room to spare.

[amazon text=The professional choice: Manfrotto MKBFRC4-BH Befree Carbon Fiber&asin=B07M6HMZTB]

Manfrotto is one of the most popular manufacturer’s of high-end camera accessories on the market, and their carbon fibre line of tripods is a perfect example of their legendary build quality. The Manfrotto tripod uses ultra-high-quality carbon fibre supports that are extremely stable and yet incredibly light, making it an excellent choice for hikers and frequent travellers. While the maximum safe weight is listed at 8.6 pounds, most people in the reviews section on Amazon noted that it can easily handle far more than that. If you are looking to really invest in your time-lapse arsenal, you can’t go wrong with Manfrotto.

Choosing a Camera Lens For Time-Lapse

DSLR Camera Lens

Whether you’re just beginning to explore the art of time-lapse photography, or you’ve been doing it for years and are looking to take things to the next level, one of the most consistently-asked questions by our readers after they have chosen the best camera body, has to do with which camera lens for time-lapse they should use out on their shoots. In this guide, we’ll go over why your choice of lens matters, what to look for in a time-lapse lens, and ultimately, how to choose one. Let’s get straight to it, shall we?

A Note On Creative Freedom

When first approaching this guide, we wanted to make it clear right up front that for the most part, any lens will work when it comes to creating time-lapse videos. Sure, some may be better than others in specific instances (which we’ll cover below), but the classic saying “the best camera is the one you have with you” can be extended to lenses as well. If you only have a few lenses to choose from when starting out, just bring what you have and try them all. You never know which combination will end up being your favorite till you experiment!

Now, with that said, let’s take a look at some of the practical ways your choice of lens can influence your shots.

Why Lens Choice Matters

This may seem like a direct contradiction of what we just wrote above, but hear us out; though you can use any and every lens you’d like for your time-lapse work, there are situations where one lens may be better equipped to help you achieve a certain effect. For instance, if you are trying to capture an epic sunset sequence of Manhatten from the vantage point of the Brooklyn Promenade across the water, using a wide lens (something in the 12-28mm range) will help you get more of the skyline in-frame, leading to a more interesting final product.

Conversely, say you are wanting to get a tight shot of the Statue of Liberty and all of the boat traffic around it, shot from the very same spot? In this case, you’d want a big, stable telephoto lens, perhaps a 200mm, or maybe even a 300mm or 400mm if you’re feeling crazy. This will give you a far more interesting, isolated shot of Lady Liberty and her surroundings.

Hopefully, you can see where we’re going with this. In short, the lenses we choose help to inform the framing and style of the sequences we capture. Sometimes, this choice can only marginally affect a video, while other times it can completely change the “feel” of the final product itself.

Choosing Your Lens

So, now that we have a better high-level understanding of why our lens choices matter, let’s break down how to actually select the lenses you’d like to use. This process can be as simple or as in-depth as you’d like it to be, but for now, let’s briefly explore a few crucial elements that should factor into your decision.

Know Your Subject Matter

When planning out your time-lapse shoot, you should be thinking about the location that you’ll be shooting, as well as what you’d like to capture there As the saying goes, composition is everything.

In fact, many of us like to visit shoot locations in advance to scout out the situation, taking note of potential framing options ahead of time. By doing so, you can test out the lenses you own to see if they provide the type of shot you’re looking for.

Top Tip

Consider renting a lens for the day of your shoot. Obviously, this is more expensive than just using what you have, but it can be much more reasonable than going out and purchasing a new $1000+ lens every time you have a shoot idea. Just something to keep in mind!

The key takeaway here is to have a vision in place for your time-lapse video. The clearer the end result is in your mind’s eye, the better it’ll turn out in the end.

Understand What Makes a Good Time-Lapse Lens

Though any lens can work for time-lapse photography, certain ones are going to give you more freedom to tackle advanced shots and lighting situations. These lenses will be more flexible or powerful than others and can unlock new shooting opportunities that wouldn’t have been available to you otherwise.

For example, a shallow lens, say something with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 is going to allow you to capture stunning footage in very dark conditions. This would be crucial if, for instance, you were trying to capture a mountainside at night as the Milky Way rises above its peak. Try getting the same shots on a kit lens that only goes to f/3.5, and you aren’t likely to be as thrilled with the result.

To lean on an example we used earlier above, the focal length of the lens can also have a practical impact on determining which is right for your shoot. Ideally, you want the frame size to fully encompass your subject, and you want to present it from as unique an angle as possible.

All in all, it’s important to remember that while the camera you use is important, the glass you choose will actually have a more substantial impact on the final quality of your images than anything else. After all, there’s a reason you’ll see a basic kit lens listed for $150 while a dedicated Prime or high-quality zoom lens will commonly run $1500+. When it comes to lenses, you get what you pay for.

The bottom line:

Don’t overthink It, But don’t limit yourself either

When it comes to choosing a lens for time-lapse photography, it’s important to realize that in the end, even a smart phone can capture amazing images and videos. You can get as in-depth and invested in this type of art as you’d like to, and that’s one of our favorite things about photography as a whole. It’s accessible for anyone to enjoy, but deep enough to provide years and years of challenge and fun for those who want to go further.

So just jump in. Start experimenting with what you have, and if you run into any roadblocks, maybe look into renting a lens, or borrowing one from a friend. Chances, are, however, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish with what’s already sitting in your gear bag.

Best Cameras for Time-Lapse In 2021

What are the best cameras for time-lapse? Whether you’re just beginning to explore the art of time-lapse photography or you are a seasoned professional looking to make a commitment, you’re likely asking yourself the same question; what is the best time-lapse-friendly camera I can buy for the money?

First of all, if you’re already set on getting a compact camera, then we have a dedicated guide to compact cameras just for you. If you’re not at that stage yet, then read on.

We’ve got you covered. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the best beginner and advanced camera bodies you can buy for this style of photography, ranking each of them in terms of their features, quality, flexibility, and price. Before that, though, let’s briefly zero in on what to look for in a time-lapse-capable camera system.

What To Look For In a Time-Lapse Camera

In general, when searching for a time-lapse camera, the main features to focus on are the ability to capture high-resolution images in RAW format, low-light performance, and lens selection. Of course, there are various types of time-lapse photography out there, and what you need will depend on what you’re looking to accomplish. For instance, if you’re set on shooting astrophotography time-lapses of the night sky, you’ll need to really invest in a camera that produces incredible images in almost complete darkness.

That said, if you’re only interested in shooting traffic time-lapses on the streets of New York, this obviously isn’t as much of a concern. Regardless of what you’re looking to do, you’ll also need some basic gear, like a tripod, a high-capacity SD card or two, and an intervalometer. For a more detailed breakdown of the gear essentials, you’ll need, check out our beginner’s guide to time-lapse photography.

Best Beginner Time-Lapse Cameras

If you’re just starting out, the world of time-lapse photography can often feel a bit overwhelming. With so many different options out there to choose from, it can make your head spin, but don’t worry. The truth is, even your iPhone or Android can be a fantastic camera to start with, so don’t overthink this too much. That said, here are our picks for the best beginner time-lapse camera bodies in 2018:

[amazon text=Nikon D5300&asin=B01MQGO8V6]

The Nikon d5300 represents the upper end of the manufacturer’s entry-level DSLR systems, and they pack quite a large amount of features into a very affordable price tag. The 24.2 megapixel CMOS sensor is capable of capturing beautiful, high-resolution images, despite it not being a full-frame body (full-frame meaning roughly equivalent to a 35mm film camera). Features like built-in WIFI and an extra-large swivel LCD display make it an ideal platform to launch your time-lapse endeavors.

[amazon text=Canon EOS 80D&asin=B01BUYJXMA]

Like the Nikon D5300, the 80D not only features a 24.2 megapixel CMOS image sensor and image stabilization, but it also includes a native time-lapse mode, making it one of the easiest camera systems to get started with right out of the box. It doesn’t hurt that using the camera is an absolute joy, as Canon really knows how to cater to the beginner market at this point with intuitive control systems.

[amazon text=Sony 6000&asin=B00IE9XHE0]

Sony has long been an underdog when it comes to dedicated mirrorless and DSLR cameras, but all that has changed over the last few years. The company’s a-Series of mirrorless bodies has exploded in popularity, mainly due to their uncompromising performance stuffed into tiny, compact shells. At 24 megapixels, it holds its own against the two larger bodies above, and features built-in WIFI and Bluetooth as well. If you’re looking to get something small and light enough for frequent travel, Sony might be for you.

Best Advanced Time-Lapse Cameras

If you’re ready to step up to the big leagues, these camera’s will get you there. Featuring some of the absolute best image quality in the consumer industry, each of these DSLR and mirrorless systems has proven to be well worth the cost of entry.

[amazon text=Sony a7R III&asin=B076TGDHPT]

Featuring a massive 42.4-megapixel full-frame sensor and up to 10 frames per second shooting speeds, the Sony a7riii is an absolute powerhouse, regardless of what type of photography you are looking to do. With a massive lens selection to choose from (when using several first-party adaptors), this is truly a platform worth investing in if you’re looking for the best of the best in the palm of your hand.

[amazon text=Canon 5D Mk IV&asin=B01LVZBXRP]

Canon’s 5D series of full-frame camera bodies have long been considered to be the workhorses of the professional photography industry. With years of field-tested experience to draw on the new Mkiii version of this storied system is the most elegant and powerful solution yet, featuring a 30.4 megapixel sensor, 6 frames per second shooting, and an ISO range that expands up to 102,400.

[amazon text=Nikon D850&asin=B076BXDX5F]

The Nikon d850 is a feat of modern engineering. It includes 45.7 megapixels worth of stunning image-capturing potential, 9 FPS continuous shooting, and in an in-camera time-lapse system capable of shooting natively in 4K resolutions. Need we say more? This thing comes at a pretty penny, but if you’re looking to craft some of the sharpest, cleanest time-lapse videos out there, it may be worth the steep asking price.

Bonus: Best Night Sky Time-lapse Cameras

If you want to take things to the next level with your time-lapse photography, then night sky astrophotography is the big league. In order to get the sharpest, brightest, clearest shots of the dim night sky, you really have to invest in the right gear. To zero in on the best cameras for shooting in low-light, we’ve got you covered.

[amazon text=Sony a7SII&asin=B0158SRJVQ]

When it first debuted, the original Sony a7s wowed consumers and critics alike with its almost paranormal ability to see in the dark. Now, the a7sii is outdoing itself once again, providing a stunning ISO range of up to 4,096,004 (4 million!). The 12.2 megapixel sensor uses a smaller amount of larger-sized pixels to help reduce noise, and in our experience, very few cameras at its price range can match the a7sii’s capabilities when the light is low.

[amazon text=Nikon D500&asin=B01AUBSY38]

The Nikon D500 is a happy medium between affordable price and performance grade. It boast a great range of features along with a decent 20.2 megapixels. If you currently own a more entry level DSLR camera and you’re looking to take your time-lapse to the next level, then the D500 is a great candidate.

[amazon text=Nikon D7500&asin=B06ZYCS62R]

Lastly, we didn’t want to exclude budget shoppers looking for some serious low-light performance, and apparently, neither did Nikon. Despite its modest asking price, the D7500 was designed from the ground up with low-light performance in mind, featuring a maximum ISO of 102,400. That’s higher than any other crop sensor camera on the market, and though it won’t be able to compete with the gargantuan D5, it is also a fraction of the cost.

So there you have it. Any one of the cameras on this list should be capable of taking professional level HD time-lapse photos, regardless of the price. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for, so get the most powerful, capable camera body that your budget can afford. As long as you stick to the big trusted brands, you will probably get something that you will be happy with, and something that will allow you to produce great time-lapse videos for years to come. Or at least until you upgrade to the next model up!

A Beginner’s Guide to Time Lapse Photography, Part 1

Personified Cameras in a Classroom

This beginner’s guide to time-lapse photography is all you need to begin producing your very own time-lapse videos. In part one of our time-lapse guide, we’ll walk you through everything from what gear you need to have to how to frame, setup, and capture your shots.

No time-lapse photography guide would be complete with the basics, so let’s begin!

What Exactly Is Time-Lapse Photography?

Put incredibly simply, time-lapse photography is the subtle art of manipulating the progression of time. By taking hundreds, sometimes thousands of images and stitching them together, you’re able to trick the eye into seeing motion played back much faster than it happens in reality. This effect is exactly what we’re talking about today, but why talk about when you can see it in action?

The Motivation: This is what you’ll be able to create after learning the techniques described in this guide:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgMpKsp23yY&t=78s

Recommended Gear

While time-lapses can be taken on just about any camera nowadays (even your smartphone!), we recommend having a few essential pieces of time-lapse photography equipment if you’re looking to get even moderately serious about the craft.

Camera Body

Your camera body is one of the most vital components in your time-lapse gear bag. Not only is it going to affect what settings and features you have access to, it will also contribute to determining the final quality of the video as a whole. Obviously we’d recommend finding the best camera for time-lapse photography, however if you are working to a budget, then pretty much any camera can be used to shoot great time-lapse. A full-frame camera, for example, is going to give you much better low-light performance and detail, which is crucial for something like astrophotography and other low-light scenarios.

The bottom line:

The Bottom Line: Your camera body is the beating heart of your time-lapse system. Consider a full-frame sensor if possible, but almost anything will do to start with.

Lenses

Your choice of lenses will dramatically alter both the quality and composition of your shots. You have a few things to consider when selecting the right lens for the job; shot composition, lighting, distance from your subject(s), and more. All of this can quickly start to feel overwhelming, but remember to start slow. Any lens that you currently own is more than capable of taking time-lapse shots.

The bottom line:

Bring the lenses you have. Shallow depth-of-field glass is helpful for low-light situations, but not required.

Tripod

Your tripod will act as your support platform over the entire time you are capturing shots for your video. Its job is to keep the camera in the exact same spot from shutter to shutter, ensuring that there is no jarring, unnatural motion in the frame once you line everything up. A cheaper tripod can still work, but we’d recommend investing in something decent here to avoid frustrations, especially if you’d like to shoot in windy weather.

The bottom line:

Your tripod is essential to capturing stable time-lapse shots. Get the highest build quality you can afford.

Intervalometer

Also known as a “controller”, these devices act as a command center of sorts, communicating with your camera and telling it how frequently to take photos during the shoot. There are many different brands available online, though you have to be sure to choose one that is compatible with your specific camera body. There are tons of extra features found in the more expensive controllers that really aren’t necessary when getting started, so you don’t need to go all out at first.

The bottom line:

Intervalometers allow you to dictate how frequently your camera captures an exposure, and as such, they are essential to your time-lapse kit. That said, you don’t need anything too fancy to start.

Neutral Density Filter

A neutral density filter lowers the exposure of your camera by anywhere from 1-10+ stops, depending upon which model you choose. While these aren’t technically required, they will allow you to shoot in lower shutter speeds during the day than would otherwise be possible. This will help you achieve, the smooth, dreamy blur that so many time-lapses are known for.

The bottom line:

Neutral density filters aren’t 100% necessary, but they will give you much more flexibility when planning your shot, and they aren’t terribly expensive.

A Step-by-Step Time-Lapse Photography Field Guide

So, this is it. You’ve got your gear-bag packed, and you’re ready to head out into the wild to tackle your first time-lapse project. Using this step-by-step field guide, you should be armed with everything you’ll need to capture something extraordinary. Ready to dive in? Let’s do it.

1. Setting Up The Shot

This is a crucial, often-overlooked part of the process when capturing your time-lapse shots. Is the final product going to be captivating for those watching? Nowadays, there are literally thousands of different time-lapse videos available online, so how will yours be different? Most of this will hinge on a few creative considerations:

  • The framing and composition of your shots
  • The settings you use to take them
  • How you edit the video in post-production

Right now, we’re focused on that first point. When you’re afield, you should consider the framing of your shots in much the same way if you were taking a single photograph. This means taking into account basic compositional techniques such as the Rule of Thirds, while also taking into account how the scene may ebb and flow throughout the day.

As an example, one of the most striking elements in any time-lapse video is the motion of your subjects themselves–this could be clouds passing by over a gorgeous, mountain-laden scene, or perhaps the cars and pedestrians making their way through a busy city center. Playing these images back at roughly 25 frames per second produces the ethereal, detached, dream-like feeling that so many videos in this realm of photography are known for. It’s up to you to harness your inner creativity to innovate on this well-established convention.

Once you’ve found a shot that you’re inspired by, you’ll need to ensure that you’re good to setup there for the long haul. Making a time-lapse film often involves hours upon hours of, well, sitting still, listening to your camera snap shutter after shutter. An optimal spot to setup should be as comfortable and safe as possible. With all of this take into consideration, you’re ready to move onto the next step; establishing your exposure settings.

2. Dialing In Your Settings

The exposure settings you choose for your time-lapse photos will have a significant effect on the outcome of the finished product. For instance, many time-lapse photographers prefer using slower shutter speeds, due to the inherent “smoothness” they add to the video once all of the shots are lined up. In addition, you’ll also find dozens of different recommendations when it comes to how frequently you should take the photos themselves, otherwise known as shutter interval.

“Many time-lapse photographers prefer using slower shutter speeds, due to the inherent “smoothness” they add to the video”

It’s vitally important to keep in mind, however, that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this style of photography. As with any creative endeavor, the rules are put in place in order to act as guidelines, primarily for those just starting out. Just as a highly experienced composer does not always stick to the foundational principles of music theory, so too are you not bound by any “recommended” settings when capturing your shots. All the same, they play a valuable part in helping familiarize yourself with the common practices used to achieve the result you’re looking for.

So, back to your shot. You should aim to expose your photos like you normally would, balancing them so that the highlights are not blown out, while also ensuring that shadow details are preserved. When shooting in direct daylight, many photographers make use of neutral density filters, sometimes referred to simply as ND filters. These lower the exposure of the entire frame by anywhere from 1 to 10+ stops, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds without completely overexposing the scene.

Top Tip

Consider shooting your photos in RAW instead of JPG, if you have the storage capacity for it. You’ll need to ensure that you don’t run out of storage space halfway through, so a high-capacity card is a must, but the additional detail and flexibility you get with RAW is well-worth it, if you ask us.

Next up is your shutter interval. As mentioned above, there isn’t really a go-to number that will work for every video, but as a good rule of thumb, consider the fact that most content online plays back at about 25 frames per second, or FPS. Logically, this would mean that for every second of footage you hope to create, you’ll need 25 different images. Here’s a quick visual guide to reference for length:

  • 30 Seconds: 750 photos
  • 1 Minute: 1,500 photos
  • 3 Minutes: 4,500 photos

Once you’ve determined how many photos you’ll need in total, you can then decide how to set your intervalometer based on how long you’d like to capture the scene for. For instance, if you’re going to stay for 2 hours total, and you hope to make a 1-minute-long video, you’ll need 1440 photos, and your interval should be set to 5 seconds.

Now, if all this math seems unnecessary, that’s because it is. The easiest way to work out your shutter interval is to use our time lapse calculator.

Typical Settings At-A-Glance:

Shutter Speed: Slower, around 1” to 3” to produce a smooth, dream-like effect. Use ND filters.
Aputure: Whatever is needed to keep your subjects in focus. Usually f/7.1 or greater.
ISO: 100-500, or as low as possible. Keep in mind that higher ISO = more noise, and less sharpness. May need to be updated as conditions change.
Image Format: JPG = smaller file sizes but less detail. RAW = the best choice overall, but more crowded SD cards.
White Balance: Whatever is required to produce a natural-looking scene. May need to be updated as conditions change.
Shutter Interval: See the calculator above, or download the PhotoPills app.

3. Capturing The Scene

Your framing is impeccable. Your settings are rock-solid. It’s time to start the machine! This is the part where you get to relax, take a load off, and enjoy the scene laid out before you. Remember to glance at your exposure settings every now and then, especially if you’re shooting in changing lighting conditions (golden hour, for instance). You may even need to switch things up as you go, but don’t make significant changes to what you already have dialed in. This will produce unnatural, jarring results. Instead, simply lower your shutter speed or raise your ISO by just one stop every few minutes. This way, the effects will be much less noticeable once all is said and done.

Once you feel that you’ve captured the number of photos you need, you can go ahead and pack things up. Be sure to grab everything you brought with you, including any trash or other debris you happened to pack in.

What’s Next: Producing Your Time-Lapse Film

Next up, you’ll need to organize, edit, and sequence your photos down into their final form. You’ll then need to stitch time-lapse photos together to produce a video. This is a whole article in itself, which we will cover in a later guide. For now though, I would recommend looking into LRTimelapse and Adobe Aftereffects. There are some great tutorials online for producing time-lapse videos with these.

What should I shoot?

If you’re stuck for ideas of what to shoot in a time-lapse video, check out our article titles 7 Time-lapse ideas to inspire you.

Another popular and easy first project is a time-lapse of the construction of a LEGO set. The great thing is that you get to fill your time with the joys of building a LEGO set!