Time lapse, bulb mode, and long intervals on Nikon D40x

Discussion in 'Digital Discussion & Q&A' started by dcclark, Sep 30, 2009.

  1. dcclark

    dcclark TPF Noob!

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    Hello all -- here's my problem. It's related to taking time-lapse photos, but it's somewhat more involved than just "how do I do time-lapse?!"

    Short summary (if you don't like to read a lot): I want to take an automated series of 2-5 minute exposures on my Nikon D40x, without shelling out a huge amount of money. Using a computer to control would be great, but no software I've found will let me take long enough exposures.

    Background and details: I own a Nikon D40x. I am very interested in time-lapse photography, and I've done quite a bit of it in the past (for an example, see time lapse lift bridge. My setup is as follows:

    - Camera in manual mode
    - Laptop attached to the camera via USB
    - Laptop running gphoto2 to control the camera, taking photos at pre-defined intervals.

    This setup works very well -- gphoto2 can control the camera's settings, including aperture and shutter speed. For example, in the lift bridge time-lapse above, I was able to run a script which changed the shutter speed over time, to maintain a proper exposure as the sun set.

    Now here's the problem: I'm now working on star trails. The problem is that the exposures required are much longer than my D40x can handle under computer control. I am looking to take exposures of around 2-5 minutes, which allow me to stay in the f/8 range and still be able to see stars, with a new moon. (I've done this test using 30 second exposures, stacked, but the sharpness isn't really adequate and the noise is a bit too much.)

    The D40x shutter speeds max out at 30 seconds, and then goes to bulb mode. The problem is that gphoto2 can't control the camera in bulb mode, so I can't (for example) take a series of 5-minute long photos. The most I can do is stack a series of 30 second long exposures, at a very wide aperture, and high ISO (or else I can't get enough light in!).

    Solutions I've already tried or can't use: There are a number of solutions I've found which aren't quite good enough. For example, Nikon's infrared remote works fine and lets me take exposures for as long as I want in bulb mode -- but that requires me manually timing, starting, and stopping the exposures. I want automatic, since these shots will last for hours.

    Another option is to buy or make an intervalometer. Buying one (like PClix) is WAY more expensive than I am willing to pay, especially since it seems that a free solution is nearly available. I am not handy enough with electronics to build my own.

    All other software that I've tried (gphoto2, Nikon Capture, Sofortbild) won't control the camera at all in bulb mode. However, gphoto2's most recent version does control some Canon cameras in bulb mode, but apparently not Nikons.

    So, my questions are: Does anyone know of a software solution? Mac, Windows, or Linux will work. Alternately, does anyone know of any other kind of solution?

    Thanks in advance!
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2009
  2. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    You don't seem to understand stacking. The whole point of it is that it can reduce noise, as well as extract detail from the noise floor.

    In astrophotography the amateurs who are capable of taking pictures of supernovas and the like will setup their telescopes over a period of several days and take hundreds of photos. Due to the statistical nature of noise the photos themselves would look nearly black, but when stacked together they get a huge and bright image that is free from noise. A lack of sharpness would likely indicate other problems that may only be worse from a 5 minute exposure.

    For sharpness and low noise, stacking of short exposures is almost always preferable to long exposures. Also if you start taking longer exposures on your D40x you very quickly come face to face with pink colours bleeding in the edge of the frame from your sensor getting hot. Taking a series of short exposures with a break in between Like 30 seconds on 5 seconds off fixes that issue.


    As for your question. Ebay is a good source. I bought a cheap intervalometer for $45 for my D200. It works with the 10pin control port on Nikon cameras, and I don't think that includes a D40, but given the Chinese get rich scheme of duplicating products for a fraction of the cost and selling on ebay it would be a good start. My $45 ebay remote is identical to the $150 Nikon one. That's about all I can suggest.

    Try downloading the Camera Control Pro trial from the Nikon website. That may have the functionality you need too.
     
  3. dcclark

    dcclark TPF Noob!

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    I do understand this, however, shooting wide open at a high ISO is still not preferable -- I want to be able to stop down at least a little. With a reasonably wide lens, f/8 will allow me sharpness in both a foreground object, and keeping the stars from being too blurred.

    I'm well aware of this. 2 minutes are no problem, 5 minutes start a little bit of clouding.

    eBay is a good source (although I haven't seen such cheap prices yet -- I'll keep looking). As mentioned above, Camera Control Pro doesn't work, nor does any of the other software that I mentioned. The D40 has no remote trigger attachment, but something that works over IR (such as Nikon's wireless remote) would work great.
     
  4. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Wait I am missing something. Why would you need to shoot wide open and at high ISO when stacking if you can shoot at f/8 for 5 minutes otherwise.

    By all accounts the theory is that if you shoot 10 30second exposures at f/8 and stack them you have effectively close to a 5 minute equivalent shot brightness wise if stacked correctly...
     
  5. dcclark

    dcclark TPF Noob!

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    Garbz, please check out my explanation in my post: I can't automate the photo-taking process if I want to use 2-minute exposures, because that would require using bulb mode, and no software that I've found can control my camera in bulb mode. So I can't use a 5- (or 2-) minute exposure, if I want to take photos for an hour or two. I want to automate, and not have to manually open the shutter every couple of minutes.
     
  6. musicaleCA

    musicaleCA TPF Noob!

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    Pft. Just sit there and take the darn photos. I've done it. Bring some music to listen to and something to munch on. Or pay for one of those fancy remote releases that offer that kind of control (they easily run in the range of $400+ ).
     
  7. dcclark

    dcclark TPF Noob!

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    musicaleCA... thank you for rejecting the entire premise of my post. It was a most useful reply.

    Seriously, though -- I'm asking if anyone has found software that can achieve this. Automation is important for consistency and sanity (remember, nights are below freezing here).
     
  8. musicaleCA

    musicaleCA TPF Noob!

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    *sigh* If you were using a Canon I would say use the included EOS utility and a laptop. I don't know if Nikon provides such software. If you have an iPhone, there are apps that you can use to hook it up and shoot. Damned if I know if they work with Nikon cameras or not. Any other solutions are going to run into the realm of nasty expenses.
     
  9. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    You said you had tried Nikon Capture, but it's been several years since Nikon split camera control out from Capture,and put computer control into Nikon Camera Control Pro 2. I have not downloaded Camera Control Pro 2.0,and so am not sure if it can handle longer exposures like you need.

    One suggestion would be to move to a Nikon that offers a built-in intervalometer or acces to the full rane of 10-pin accessories; the D40x was always intended as a beginner's camera body,and Nikon left out features that would be considered esoteric or of limited use to most users.

    How about the simple ML-L3 infrared remote release? Does it have the capability you'd need?

    Seems to me like you'd be better off getting one of the following cameras: D3X, D3, D2X(s), D2H(s), D1X, D700, D300, D200, D90, D5000 or Fuji S5 Pro. Asking a $400 camera body to do what a $1699 to $4995 body can do might be just a little bit much,knowing how Nikon prices its cameras. The D40 and D40x being the lowest-cost ever Nikon d-slrs probably don't get the benefits of the 10-pin remote and entre to all the advanced remotes and cables that the intermediate and pro-level models have.
     
  10. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    And that's what I don't get. Why not just do 30 second photos then, if you're going to stack regardless? Each picture is darker but when you stack your 2 hour shots together it should come up the same regardless if you stack 240 30second photos or only 60 2 minute shots.

    I'm just pushing this point because of a lack of other cheap options I could find for the D40x.
     
  11. dcclark

    dcclark TPF Noob!

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    Good catch -- I mis-typed. I have tried the latest version of Camera Control Pro, which refused to do anything in bulb mode.

    It can trigger bulb mode, but sadly it is ONLY a button -- no timing features at all.

    The 30 second photos are the best option currently available. My main concern is that I want to have a decent foreground in my photos as well (check out the original example I cited, with the mine shaft in the foreground). To get enough depth of field that both the shaft AND the stars at "infinity" are reasonably clear, f/3.5 is a bit wide. I'd prefer to be in the f/8 to f/10 range, and not have to bump up my ISO (even though, as you point out, stacking does reduce the noise problem).

    But, since there don't seem to be any other options (at least until I can save some more cash!), I will take your advice and continue stacking 30-second exposures.

    Thanks all!
     
  12. newst

    newst TPF Noob!

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    i tried both ways w/ a D40x, here's what i learned:
    if u wanna do long exp on D40X, u definetly need a remote (i use nikon ML-L3), Nikon Camera Control pro and a tripod. u may want to set the exposure compensation on minus 2-5, depending on the light pollution. with iso 100, i managed to make 6-7 minutes exposures. now here's the trick: the longer the exposure, the more time the camera needs 2 download the image, meaning you cannot make star trails this way (by the time the camera makes the next exposure, the stairs will move away). so if u make a series of - say 5 minutes exp. - pictures (in time lapse mode), what u get will be a broken (interrupted) line instead of a nice long star trail.
    that is why u should reduce exposure time - thus the download time - and stack more pix together w/ Registax. so u shd push up ISO + exposure compensation to a higher value, reducing the exposure time.
    i hope this helps!
     

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