How to Pick the Best Camera for Time Lapse

With Christmas only a couple of weeks away, I thought I’d break into my series on HDR and write a quick post for those of you asking for a new camera.  Here are some suggestions of what to look for if you’re interested in making time lapse videos.

Picture Quality – this is, of course, the most important feature.

Manual Mode – an automatic point-and-shoot might work for snap shots, but time lapse requires some subtle adjustments.

Built-in Intervalometer – Can the camera create its own time lapse photo series, or will it require external input or a software hack?

Is it Hackable? – I’ve mentioned before that the Canon PowerShot series can be hacked with the CHDK software.  Click here for a list of supported camera models.

Will it Accept External Input? – most cameras will support either an external intervalometer, a remote trigger, or control from a laptop.  If you already know which method you want to use, make sure it’s supported by the camera.

Range of Exposure – The ISO level and F-stop will determine the brightness of your pictures.  Because time lapse videos are often made outdoors, it’s helpful to find a camera with a wide range.  Low F-stops and high ISO are especially important for low light or night photography.

Focal Length – Landscapes often make good time lapse videos, so check how wide your lens can go by checking the mm size.  My videos have all been made with a 6-72mm zoom lens.  Many DSLRs come with a 50mm lens, so you might want to buy a wider lens.

Battery Life – This is hard to determine from looking at the specs, but a quick search online might yield the answer.  Alternatively, you might look for a camera with an AC adapter or one that accepts an external battery.

Speed – It seems a bit silly that speed could be an issue in time lapse, but if you’re interested in making a 30fps video of clouds on a windy day or a drive across town, you might want to take more than one photo per second.

Size – I love my old PowerShot, but I can’t take it to parties without carrying a camera bag.  If you’re looking for a snap shot camera that doubles as a time lapse camera, I’d suggest starting by looking at mid to higher range models with full manual mode.

RAW – While a RAW supported camera is nice for things such as white balance, jpegs seem to be the prefered format for time lapse videos because they’re much smaller and won’t fill up your memory card as fast.  That said, RAW does allow more post production editing choices.

There are many more factors such as whether to buy a point-and-shoot or a DSLR, but that would take a much longer post and would go off the topic of time lapse.  I hope that helps.  If you have a favorite time lapse camera, let me know in the comments.  Merry Christmas!

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2 thoughts on “How to Pick the Best Camera for Time Lapse

  1. Pingback: Use Flickr to Find the Right Camera « Time Lapse Blog

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