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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.

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!