Long-Term Time Lapse Advice

Discussion in 'Digital Discussion & Q&A' started by dfbills, Aug 17, 2010.

  1. dfbills

    dfbills TPF Noob!

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    I'm trying to find a solution to take a series of long-term time lapse photos. I plan to take a photo an hour for about one year. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble getting the proper gear together.

    Ideally, I'd have a self-contained unit that would take the photos from an undisturbed, fixed, indoor position 24x7x265. I'd like the unit to run mostly unattended or at least with minimal maintenance or operator interaction (maybe weekly). My budget is $500-700.

    Any suggestions?
     
  2. JG_Coleman

    JG_Coleman No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    This is actually a pretty tall order. My brother and I spent a good deal of time earlier this year attempting to create just such a rig. In fact, we were trying to create a self-contained unit that could run outside... even more challenging.

    The easiest way to approach this is to first examine all the possible hurdles that need to be cleared.

    First off, how do you plan to power the camera? Battery power is a bad choice, because it will inevitably require routine intervention, and replacing the battery could reset the camera's interval timer. Alternatively, you could use a camera that has an A/C power input... that way, you wouldn't have to replace batteries. Even still, there's the possibility that the power could go out at some point over the course of a whole year... causing the same problem as a dead battery (resetting the interval timer). So, perhaps the most reliable method would be to run the camera off of A/C power through a Battery Back-Up power supply which will continue to provide continuous power even if the electricity does go out for short periods of time.

    Second, there's the issue of storage space. Given your goal of one photograph every hour for 365 days, you'll have a final image count of 8760 photographs. A 12-megapixel JPEG file will probably occupy about 5 or 6 megabytes, give or take. So, at 12 megapixels, you'd need 48GB of storage space available. Unless you invest in a device that is new enough to support SDXC memory, you're looking a maximum storage space (at least on an SD card) of 32GB. So you'd need to keep the size of the images low-enough to avoid having to change out the memory card over the course of a year. If you bumped image size down to a smaller resolution, you could probably fit a years worth of shots on a 32GB SD Card... each individual image would have to average about 3.25 megabytes (it could be a bit higher on average, but you want a little bit of wiggle room just in case).

    The most important issue is that of the interval timer. Many, many cameras offer interval timer modes that will take a photograph at a pre-determined interval over course of a potentially long period of time. The problem is that most camera manufacturers place an arbitrary limit on the number of photographs that the camera will take before it turns off its interval timer. For example, my Nikon D5000 will only take 999 photographs on interval-timer mode before it shuts off... you'll find that pretty much all cameras suffer from this limitation. And, in addition, most cameras that don't mention a maximum number of continuous interval timer shots nonetheless do have some kind of ceiling at which they will automatically stop taking pictures... it just isn't written into the public specs, since most people aren't interested. Why do manufacturers do this? I really don't know... but it makes things hard for individuals that want to do really extensive, long-term interval timer work.

    The interval timer is probably your biggest problem. The other hurdles could be overcome, but finding a camera that will snap almost 9000 photographs continuously is going to be next to impossible. Optionally, you could get a camera that will remain in stand-by mode and somehow create a device that will actually click the shutter button every hour... but that's going to be preeeeeettty involved.

    Try looking at something like the PlantCam by Wingscapes (Timelapse PlantCam). It is a unit that is specifically designed for long-term interval shooting. The downside is that the photograph quality is nothing to write home about, and in certain situations it can be downright dreadful. In one test, we attempted a timelapse of the sunrise only to find that the Sun overdrove the image sensor creating an "eclipse"-like effect where the Sun turned black.
     
  3. JG_Coleman

    JG_Coleman No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    On a side note, I have read interesting accounts of individuals basically "hacking" cameras for the express purpose of long-term interval timer shots. But this requires very in-depth knowledge of electronics... to the point that you could literally read the camera's schematics (dunno where you would get those) and solder and run wires around on circuit boards to manipulate its behavior. That's way beyond what I'm capable of, so I didn't bother even trying. Perhaps you know a bit more about electronics?
     
  4. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Actually intervalometers are available aftermarket for most cameras, and if you have something like a Nikon body that 10pin connector provides direct access to the shutter, af, and even gives you a power source to make your own intervalometer. No camera hacking required, just need to lookup the pinout of the front connector. Your hack is then as simple as connecting the shutter release cable to ground. You could even have something crazy like a clock where the minute hand every hour shorts the two cables together. :)

    But really the $30 remote / intervalometer I picked up on ebay as a clone of the $150 remote Nikon makes gives you 1-399 exposures or a run continuous mode. Options include delay from starting, duration for shutter actuation, and delay between shutter activations. Downside is only 3-6 months battery life in the run continuous mode so you'd to magic up a little 3V powersupply to run the thing, or get some 3V lead acid batteries that do more than your basic 1500mAh AAs do.

    Also storage space isn't an issue either if you're in an indoor position. Once a month get a laptop and download the data from the card. Not too hard given weekly interaction is possible. The only thing you need to be mindful of is having a very steady rig so the camera doesn't move.

    I get the feeling you're trying to harden this rig to requirements that are beyond the scope of dfbill's project. I agree outdoor you'll have a heck of a time. Indoors you just need a bit of planning. Power and intermittent user interaction will eliminate most of the problems.
     
  5. JG_Coleman

    JG_Coleman No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Yeah, I was thinking along the lines of a unit that would ideally require no intervention, at all, if possible. The intervalometer you mention is probably a great idea, and come to think of it, there was a reason I probably would'nt have looked such things up: for the outdoor rig I had been working on, I certainly wasn't going to leave my D-SLR in a box on a mountain :lol:. Our goal had been to get it to work with a point-and-shoot of some kind.

    So, yeah then... definitely go for it dfbills!
     
  6. dfbills

    dfbills TPF Noob!

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    Here are my thoughts on the obstacles:

    Power:

    I was planning on using an A/C adapter, but adding a UPS seems like a great idea. Plus, I just happen to have an extra one in my office.

    Storage:

    I'd like to use an Eye-Fi card and the bottomless storage option. This will automatically transfer all the photos up to my workstation and keep space available on the SD card.

    Timer:

    I'm considering using a Canon point and shoot camera and the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK). This will allow for any interval I choose and greater control over the exposure.

    Other considerations:

    I've got a great deal of window glare to deal with and I'd really like a wide-angle lens. These two options are difficult to accommodate in a point and shoot.

    So far, I've looked at SLRs, point and shoots, physical circuit board hacks, PlantCams, security camera devices, and video cameras as options, but still haven't found the right solution.
     
  7. jacoblied

    jacoblied TPF Noob!

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  8. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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  9. jacoblied

    jacoblied TPF Noob!

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    come on mate, it's an example of long term timelapse be it only 6 months and 6 seconds, it's something, be it jittery and from a slightly different angle.. I thought it was fascinating.. and I think it's silly and pathetic when someone bashes another work..when that someone has nothing to show for it.. like the saying "Don't talk the talk if you can't walk the walk" :greenpbl:
     
  10. jacoblied

    jacoblied TPF Noob!

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    ohh! and love the bridge Garbz! Auer & Garbz Photography

    very nice.. almost walking the walk there.. :thumbup: you should do a 6 month timelapse of it! That would be very impressive!
     
  11. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    :lol: While it's creative I'm just surprised that you picked that video as an example. Like I said it's a mishmash of psycho colours and inconsistency, some frames in the video are even HDR and for the most part it looks like the only planning that went into this shoot was that he took a photo every so often from roughly the same place.

    This on the other hand looks like more of an example:

    Also that bridge is boring. It won't move in 6 months ;). I am kicking myself though that I didn't setup something from the office which looks out over the story bridge which they have been building for the past 2 years :(
     
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  12. jacoblied

    jacoblied TPF Noob!

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    I posted it because I haven't seen anything like it before.
    I thought the bridge was interesting. A timelapse would look pretty cool I think. Can someone please make a time-lapse of a growing tree.
     

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