Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Continuous" timelapse shooting

For some time now, I've been into making timelapse movies using several different digital cameras.

Here's a quick rundown of my timelaspse history:

My first digital camera was a Nikon CoolPix 5000. Nikon made an accessory for it called the MC-EU1, a "remote cord". It functions as a cable release, but also has a nifty little intervalometer built-in. Only downside to it is that the shortest interval available is 2 minutes. Good for long-term stuff (like, a full day), but not so much for the short stuff that I've been into lately.

Next, I got a CoolPix 5400, which, for all intents and purposes, was the same camera as the 5000. It used the same remote cord, and the same power adapter (another necessity for the long-term shot.

Then I got my D70. Being one of the earlier Nikon DSLRs, it didn't have the handy-dandy "accessory" port that its successors did, so there was no way to trip the shutter remotely, save for the dinky little infrared remote, which is very finicky about line-of-sight. And easy to lose (I lost my first one).

This is when I started thinking about using Lego to me out. I went through various phases of experimentation, using motors, variable speed controllers from the European train sets, and elaborate gear ratios, in order to both physically trip the shutter (with a little mechanical "finger"), and even animate the camera - having it roll across my windowsill, for example.

Finally, I wound up getting a Canon SD630. The thing that really makes this a great camera for timelapse work is something called the CHDK - the Canon Hacker's Development Kit. Using this alternative firmware, I can utilize a really nice and simple intervalometer program (a script, technically), and set intervals as low as 3 or 4 seconds (basically as long as it takes for
the camera to focus, expose, and record the image).

The bulk of my recent timelapse work has been done with this camera/software combo.

Which brings us to the topic of this post.

Recently, I came across a video on Vimeo that was shot with - get this - the very same camera I've got (the 630), but using a totally different technique than anything I'd tried in the past. (I can't seem to find it right now, otherwise I'd link to it)

Anyway, in the comments of the video's post, the creator mentions that he used the camera's "Continuous" mode to shoot rapid-fire frames, by _manually_ holding down the shutter button for minutes at a time.

As soon as I'd read this, I busted out my camera and experimented a bit, and found that at the resolution I tend to shoot at (about 1600x1200 or so), the camera grabs about 1-2 frames per second. I filed this info away, and sort of forgot about it.

A few weeks later, I came across a good deal on a pair of small ratcheting bar clamps, and figured that they might be the perfect way to hold down the shutter button on my camera for longer periods of time. It turns out that I was right.

The other day, I ventured up to my roof, and set my camera up like this:

Empire timelapse setup

I figured I'd let it go for as long as it could take it - either the battery would die, the card would fill up, or the camera would just freak out and crash. Guess what happened.

Nope, the card filled up.

I was kinda sad, because I really loved the way the clouds were moving, and wanted to get a few more minutes of motion in, but I was really psyched that it actually worked. Now, the only problem I have is that the camera doesn't seem to like SD cards larger than 2GB, and the only 2GB card I have is my Eye-Fi card. The problem with the Eye-Fi card is that it consumes more battery power than a regular SD card, and - assuming this is because it's trying to broadcast the images it's capturing as it's capturing them - it seems to inhibit the write speed of the images to the card, which yields a lower (slower) frame rate.

Oh, here's the result of the test:


I think this combination of frame rate and cloud motion worked especially well.

So. Stay tuned for more "Continuous" mode timelapse stuff in the future.

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