For anyone just starting time-lapse, I strongly suggest limiting your purchases until they’re needed. I started time-lapse in 2009 with a well-worn Powershot camera and whatever free software I could put together. Nowadays, I use better equipment out of necessity and because it makes sense to upgrade in order to increase my skill and earning potential.
The following is a list of the equipment I use because readers are always interested. I’ve linked each title to the Amazon page where appropriate because I bought most of these on Amazon and because anything you purchase after clicking a link helps support my efforts to create high quality tutorials.
I considered pointing out equipment I own that was a waste of money but decided the list of good equipment is long enough and more useful. My rule of thumb is low prices usually equal low quality in photography. Low quality means wasting time and money. If you have any questions, you can reach me through my contact form.
Canon 60D – As a still camera, the 60D is good for the serious hobbiest or entry-level professional. For time-lapse, however, I feel the 60D is easily within the professional level. Some of my favorite videos were made from 60D photos. If money isn’t a concern, you can get incrementally better results from the Canon 7D or 5D mk. III. Massive resolution might be important for large prints but your videos won’t exceed 1920 x 1080 pixels if you’re shooting for HD time-lapse. UPDATE: The newest in this camera line is the Canon EOS 70D, which is an upgrade to the 60D but keeps the articulating screen.
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS – The SX260 HS is my backup camera and what I use to make HD videos of my main camera. I picked it because it’s a Canon, because I can install CHDK on it, because it has full manual mode, and because it got good reviews. I plan to use it for longer time-lapses, such as plants blooming, that would monopolize my main camera for weeks.
Canon S3 IS – This camera is outdated and I rarely use it. When I do, it’s usually for the macro function. This camera’s close up mode is so good I’ve actually photographed pollen resting on the lens. For a serious point-and-shoot with 50x optical zoom and manual functions, consider the newest model in the S-series line, the SX50 HS.
Adobe CS6 Production Premium – This pack includes Photoshop Extended, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Illustrator, and a bunch of other software at a high price point. The student version is identical but about $1000 less. The only catch is you need to be a currently enrolled student or teacher. If you’re not a student, consider taking a photography class at your local community college in the evenings for a discounted price, which is what I did.
Lightroom – I can’t recommend this software highly enough. It makes file management and batch editing a breeze even with hundreds of photos. Lightroom doesn’t have the number of options available as Photoshop but it has all the basics you’ll need for RAW conversion such as temperature adjust, lens correction, spot removal, and contrast controls. As with CS6 Production Premium, the student and teacher version is cheaper than the regular version. A big bonus for time-lapse photographers is its integration with LRTimelapse. I use Lightroom in every post production workflow.
LRTimelapse – As the name suggests, LRTimelapse is software built for editing time-lapse sequences in Lightroom. Until someone makes a similar product, this software will be the best way to make day-to-night time-lapse videos. LRTimelapse works by gradually adjusting settings such as temperature and exposure. A sample workflow is to shoot in aperture priority mode, adjust five evenly spaced images in Lightroom, and then have LRTimelapse adjust all the photos in between. Without this software, good day-to-night shots with light temperature control are almost impossible. If you already have Lightroom, consider trying the trial version of LRTimelapse. Like all software made for a limited audience, this software isn’t as user friendly as the big names. You’ll almost definitely have to use a tutorial the first time. The price is also high for anyone who wants to use it for professional work. At the time of writing, the professional license costs around $338.
QuickTime Pro – I use this app despite my general disdain for it. It’s a fast, relatively cheap way to turn photos into a time-lapse video using industry standard settings and compression. It’s not at all intuitive and will hopefully be replaced soon. I have a QuickTime time-lapse tutorial that covers the basics and some pitfalls.
VirtualDub – This free software for PC’s is my go-to solution when I want to quickly see how photos from my most recent shoot look. It’s bare bones software but good enough for entry level work or to avoid using slower but more powerful software. If you’re interested, one of my most popular tutorials is how to use VirtualDub for time-lapse.
Rokinon FE14M-C 14mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Lens for Canon – This has quickly become my main lens. The Rokinon goes by Samyang and Bower name brands outside the U.S. I bought this lens because it works with my Canon 60D’s smaller sensor as well as full frame sensors. On the 60D, it’s the equivalent of a 22mm lens. By contrast, the Tokina 11-16mm only works with smaller sensors. The Tokina gives slightly better quality but costs about $220 more. The main downside of the price savings is that my camera can’t use its light sensor for accurate readings. This isn’t a big problem for me because I usually shoot in manual mode. As with most wide lenses, this one adds a bit of distortion and a tiny bit of vignetting. I downloaded a camera lens profiler for Lightroom that adjusts for these issues. At f/2.8, this is just as fast as the Tokina and would be good for night sky photography.
Canon EF-S 18-55mm – This is a good lens for any EF-S mount series camera (full list). The Canon 60D’s crop factor means I can use this lens for most landscapes. The minimum f/3.5 isn’t as fast as I’d like but it’s a good lens for the price.
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Digital Zoom Lens (for Canon EOS Cameras) – I want to mention this lens although I’ve only ever rented it. This is my absolute favorite lens for my Canon 60D but they also make a Nikon version. It retails for around $500, so I can’t justify buying it since my next camera will likely be full sensor. Instead, I rent it from BorrowLenses.com. I like this lens so much because it’s the widest angle I can get without going fisheye. I used this lens to capture all the Milky Way shots in my Yosemite video.
Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom Lens – I wish I could recommend this lens but it just doesn’t give me a good picture. It sells used for less than half it’s original price, which should be a warning. The Rokinon, by contrast, sells for $339 new and $312 used.
Odds and Ends
NEEWER Timer Remote Control RS-60E3 – This intervalometer works with my Canon 60D just as well as the $100 models made by Canon. For a breakdown of what an intervalometer is and what it does, check out my intervalometer post.
Grey Card Set – This cheap set of grey cards is essential for anyone shooting RAW. Take a photo of the cards at the beginning of your sequence to easily adjust white balance in post processing. The only reason I don’t use these cards more is because I like shooting at night when they’re less useful because of competing light sources.
SanDisk Extreme 32GB Memory Card – This isn’t my only memory card but it’s my favorite and the only type I’d buy in the future. High speed might seem odd for time-lapse but many of my shoots quickly overwhelm my camera’s buffer. Additionally, I’ve used slightly cheaper SDHC cards with decent results during photoshoots that froze when I shot in live HD video. I prefer 32GB because it gives me enough photos for three 10 second videos at 30fps with a little extra room. The 64GB version is fine but I don’t like trusting more than three shots to one card.
Battery Grip with Extra Batteries – This battery grip is made specifically for the Canon 60D. It might work on other cameras but I’m not sure. In contrast to my cheap=bad theory, this Canon knockoff worked well on a trip to Yosemite and has given me hours of shooting time in chilly temperatures. I also like that I can use AA batteries with the included adapter. A big box of AAs calms my fears of running out of power on backcountry trips.
Slik Sprint Pro II Tripod – This tripod’s best feature is how light it is. It has a quick release ball head for fast leveling and costs under $100. For time-lapse, I should probably have gone with a heavier, more stable unit. Unfortunately, increased stability in tripods usually go along with increased cost. A good video tripod might offer great stability but cost over $1000. Unlike other items on this page, I’d highly recommend buying a tripod at a local store so you can find one that feels good and has the right features.
Thermaltake BlacX eSATA USB Docking Station – What’s the downside to having 32 GB memory cards? Lots and lots of files taking up hard drive space. My solution is the BlacX hard drive dock, aka “the toaster.” This docking station lets me plug in and store to hard drive the way I used to save to floppy disks. The format might not be as safe as encased external storage but it lets me use any eSATA hard drive without effort.
WD Green 1.5 TB Hard Drive – One of these bad boys can hold 46 full uploads from a 32 GB memory card. I keep one in my computer and one in the toaster. The rest of my space is made up of older hard drives that I pull from computers or buy for cheap.
Intervalock – This is a sleeve I use for my intervalometer. Check out my video review for more details. Intervalock currently sells for $16.
Pro Photographer’s D-SLR Handbook – This is a great book that goes over everything you need to know about your D-SLR camera. It’s full of wonderful, full color images that explain the principals of digital photography and how to make the most of your camera. Unlike most items on this page, I didn’t buy this through Amazon. I used my local bookstore in San Francisco, Green Apple Books, to buy it. It’s the best used and new bookstore I’ve ever seen and worth checking out if you’re in the bay area.
Adobe Photoshop for Photographers – Remember how I said I took a photography class that let me buy discounted student software? Well, this is the textbook. And at $33, this might be the cheapest textbook I’ve ever bought. So far, the book is easy to follow and doesn’t assume any previous knowledge of photo editing.
Time-Lapse Photography – I bought and downloaded this book last year to see if it was worth recommending. I’m happy to say that it covers the basics of time-lapse more thoroughly than any other book I’ve seen. You can read my full write up if you’re interested.