The availability of digital cameras has made time-lapse movies relatively easy to make. For example, it is now possible to make decent time-lapse movies using the cameras that are part of ones computer, smartphone, or other device. Also, there are many digital still cameras available that work well for making time-lapse movies. However, because digital cameras are continuously being updated and replaced by new models, it is not possible to recommend specific makes and models. Rather than trying to recommend a particular camera, the information provided here may provide some of the basic features that make a camera suitable for making time-lapse movies.
Being a plant biologist, we use plants as our subject of choice but time-lapse imaging is also great for making movies of many other things, like the flow of people in public places or clouds drifting across the sky. In addition, many of the same techniques can be used to make stop-action movies.
Selecting a Camera – A critical step to time-lapse imaging is, of course, finding a camera with time-lapse capability. There are several things to consider before deciding on a particular camera. In general, it is good to look for the highest resolution camera and best lens system you are willing to pay for. Even if your immediate needs do not require high resolution images, once you get started you may find that you want better resolution images after a while. You can always downsize a high resolution movie but increasing the size of low resolution movie does not usually work well. Some of the original movies on this site were old and shot with some very low resolution cameras. Some of those original movies have been reshot while others have been replaced by different movies or removed from the site.
Free-standing cameras provide the best flexibility in terms of where you can set up to make a movie. Many of the Nikon cameras have time-lapse capabilities built in and work well for capturing time-lapse sequences. The newer Sony cameras also have time-lapse options Other cameras can be attached to a simple intervalometer that will control the image capturing process for you.Given the rate at which new cameras appear, selecting a camera that will work for your situation will require some research. To learn about the capabilities of many of the currently available digital-still cameras, you can try the following digital camera web sites:
Making a movie – Before setting out to make a time-lapse movie, you should become familiar with your subject. For example, to make a movie of a particular plant, it is important to know how to grow the plant, how fast it grows, what stage of growth or response you want to capture. Your chances of success will greatly improve the more you know about the subject. For example, an understanding for the time required for the process of interest is important when deciding what time interval to use between images.
For example, if you want to film the opening of a particular flower, you need to determine when and how quickly flowers of that species open. In the case of morning glories, the flowers may open between 5:00 and 6:00 am and may be fully open by 8 am. To capture a movie of the opening process, intervals of 1 to 5 min should work. If you don’t want to get up at 5 am, you would need to set up your camera the night before.
Using artificial lights may affect the way a plant or flower grows so some experimenting may be required to achieve the results you are after. Most of the movies on the Plants-In-Motion site required several attempts before obtaining a decent sequence. Shorter intervals will usually make for smoother playing movies but will also result in larger files.
Always try to use manual settings for focus, exposure, white balance, etc. Autofocus can get confused as the subject grows and changes. Some lights will flicker at 60 hertz when run on AC current. A shutter speed of 1/15 s or longer should eliminate flicker from the lights. In any case, be prepared to experiment with your camera, your subjects and conditions until you get results you like.
Some cameras can automatically make movies as the images are captured. However, if you save the individual images in a sequence, you will have many more options for using them. Photoshop and other programs let you import a sequence of images as long as the images are named in sequential numerical order. Most time-lapse capable cameras use the time and date to name the images so they are automatically sequentially numbered.
As with just about everything, you can find many web sites dedicated to time-lapse imaging of various subjects.