Many people assume that time-lapse video is made using a video camera. While this is sometimes the case, most time-lapse videos are simply a series of timed photographs played at a high frame rate. Creating time-lapse videos requires very little equipment to start. Here is my “brass tacks” setup:
For the last two years, I’ve used a Canon PowerShot S3 IS for all of my photography. This was a higher end point-and-shoot camera when I bought it for $315. Nowadays, it can be picked up on Amazon or eBay for around $150. This camera has a few nice features that were lacking on some of the other point-and-shoots. It has a 12x optical zoom and allows for full manual operation. It only takes 6.0 megapixel photos, but that doesn’t matter when making time-lapse video because even this lower resolution contains more pixels than high-end HDTVs can display.
If you’re interested in trying time-lapse, the popular Canon PowerShot line of cameras is a good way to go. They seem to take good quality pictures and have the distinct advantage of integration with the CHDK hacked software, which I’ll explain in detail in an upcoming post. (Update: the CHDK tutorial is now up!)
If you already own a DSLR, you’re already ahead of me in terms of potential quality. While many DSLRs won’t contain a decent intervalometer (again, I’ll explain that soon in another post), there are mechanical solutions to taking a series of pictures.
I bought my tripod for $9 at a thrift store. It’s a video tripod, but a camera tripod will work equally well. The only difference between video and camera tripods is that video cameras rarely need to tilt vertically and so the head only moves in two directions. The most important feature when considering a tripod for time-lapse is that it comes with a level. Camera suppliers also sell levels that can be attached to a camera’s hot shoe. An uneven video can be corrected, but it’s much easier to prevent this mistake.
I use a Toshiba laptop with an AMD Turion 64 X2 (1.60 GHz) processor and one gig of RAM. I’m running Windows Vista SP1. While I don’t recommend this weak of a configuration, it’s good to know that the videos on this site were all made without powerful equipment. Be prepared to wait if your computer has a similar set-up.