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Buying Guide: Time-Lapse Video Gear
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Jay Burlage (aka MiLapse) is an Architect and self proclaimed time-lapse nut.

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Buying Guide: Time-Lapse Video Gear

HD Video has made it easy to make time-lapse videos. Here's the gear you need to make them spectacular.

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Time-lapse  photography is great bridge between still photography and videography.  Both disciplines co-mingle in this easy-to-learn, yet endlessly challenging, creative technique. 


Today, because the software for creating Time-lapse  videos has become so much more user-friendly, taking a series of stills and converting them to video is easier than ever.  It’s true that you can get your feet wet with a cheap tripod and a coffee-powered intervalometer (in other words you, your finger, and a stopwatch,) but the right gear makes the capture process a whole lot smoother and the results a lot more spectacular!   


Also read: How to create a time-lapse video by Diane Miller


Here’s a look at key items that will help you get started.

Nikon MC-36 or Canon TC-80N3

This is essential time-lapse  equipment for the Nikon or Canon DSLR shooter! Although a couple of Nikon bodies (D3s, D700 &D300s) do have an intervalometer on the body firmware, it is limited to 999 shots. By using this external timer, you can shoot indefinitely. Don’t see that setting? Don’t worry–on these timers. Simply set it for “00” or “- -” shots and it will keep going until you interrupt it. On the Canon side, there are no firmware interval timers whatsoever, so you must use an external timer to do any time-lapse  with Canon DSLR bodies. Another handy feature these external triggers offer is the ability to lock the shutter button in continuous drive mode so you can shoot intervals as fast as your body/card combo can dish out (in most cases at or better than 3fps in JPG mode).

Flashpoint F-1128 Carbon Fiber Tripod, 4 Section Leg Set

Time-lapse  and tripods is a symbiotic relationship! A tripod is piece of gear that varies wildly depending on your needs. For me, the bigger, stronger and heavier the better, but if you’re hiking into the urban jungle or tranquil landscape, that doesn’t always jive. Assuming you’re new to time-lapse  photography, these incredibly reasonably-priced carbon fiber legs are a great starting point and can satisfy most location demands.  It includes an integrated bubble level, which is extremely handy for uneven ground and creative positions.



Joby Professional Gorillapod Focus, Flexible Aluminum SLR Tripod

Creative camera positioning can be your biggest asset for engaging time-lapse  sequences.  High in trees or on urban objects for bird’s eye views, as close to the ground as possible for worm’s eye views, the possibilities are endless with a Gorillapod tucked in your bag.  I suggest you go for the top of the line here, because you want the best grip possible to keep your videos stable throughout. The Gorillapod works absolutely stellar with the Ricoh GR.

 

 

Ricoh GR Digital III

This high quality compact remains one of my favorite time-lapse  cameras of all time. Kudos to Ricoh as the GR and GX line has always had built-in interval timers that will shoot to a minimum of 5 seconds per frame and go continuous until you stop them.  These compacts also allow full manual shooting, which is essential to avoid frame to frame exposure variations (aka flicker) The GR uber-compact lens system is nothing short of amazing, with tack sharp results in a wide format f/1.9! What more could you ask for?? If you’re new to time-lapse ,  this is your high quality starter or hide in the corner event ‘time-lapse  b cam’ (bonus: it’s a wonderful compact street shooter to boot!). 

Hoya 77mm Neutral Density ND-400 X, 9 Stop Multi-Coated Glass Filter

A strong neutral density filter is an essential part of the time-lapse  kit. These filters allow you to ‘drag’ the shutter getting fluid frame-to-frame results in bright conditions.  The result can be stunning with fast moving action like crowds of people enhancing the apparent pace of life.  The Hoya 9 stop ND is one of the best on the market, as it has little to no color cast. The 77mm thread size is perfect for a bevy of wonderful lenses like the Nikon ED 17-35mm F2.8 or Canon L 16-35mm F2.8.

Genus Mattebox Kit for DSLR's, with 77mm Step-Down Ring

Shooting outdoors with wonderful sun casting shifting shadow shapes or urban nights with the occasional blinding bright lights, even the best lenses are subject to flare which can be distracting in the final video and result in decreased detail and contrast.  If you’re a hybrid photo/video shooter, a good matte box is a no-brainer. The Genus product is a great balance of cost to performance and this kit comes with everything you need to get started shooting time-lapse as well as cinematic DSLR video. Standard 4”x4” ND and ND grad filters can be dropped in to this kit and accommodate a wide array of lenses as well.



Canon EOS-5D Mark II Digital SLR


It’s no secret that this body is a favorite amongst top time-lapse shooters.  Tom Lowe’s short ‘Mountain Light’ (http://vimeo.com/6686768) was shot almost completely with this body and the extraordinary star sequences speak for themselves!  This robust pro level body is ready to take on the most demanding time-lapse shooting sessions and the 21.1 MP delivers tons of resolution flexibility for pan and scan (aka ‘the ken burns effect’) in post production. The full frame sensor makes the most out of wide fast glass like the Canon L 24mm F1.4. Add imagination and an eye for your changing environment and you’ve got a powerful time-lapse combination.

Canon DR-E6 DC Coupler for the EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

Reliably powering your 5d Mark II full frame sensor deep into the night to capture amazing star landscapes or continuing over a period of days is impossible without the dummy battery. Plug this adapter into AC power or an alternator connected to a large battery and you’re set to push the time envelope much further than the stock battery would ever allow.  Reap the benefit of using live-view to keep progress reports without worrying about loosing those precious frames. 

ExpoImaging ExpoDisc 77mm Digital White Balance Filter

I never hit the field without the ExpoDisc! When you are shooting JPG to clear that buffer at top speed, it’s essential to get the white balance nailed and locked for the entire duration of your time-lapse sequence.  By using an exposure-based custom white balance setting with the ExpoDisc in front of the lens you can make ensure the camera’s setting is accurate even in difficult and mixed lighting conditions.  This tool can make the difference between a tough-to-color-correct sequence and a perfect one. It’s essential for video, too!

Adorama Nikon Lens to Canon EOS Body Adapter

After the shutter is triggered on DSLRs it works like this: The mirror goes up, aperture blades dial down, curtain opens and exposes the sensor, aperture blades dial up and mirror drops back down. Now, those aperture blades are pretty darn accurate, but can fall in slightly different positions from exposure to exposure.  This may not be a big deal for photographic purposes because say a 1/16-1/8 EV difference between shots is not going to throw a wrench in the works. However with time-lapse, especially when your stopping down to say f/11-f/22 this slight variation can manifest from frame to frame (aka, flicker). The ultimate solution is to use an adapter that divorces the aperture dial from the body so you dial it into place before shooting without worrying about these exposure variations.

Meade DSM Head with L-Bracket and 497 Handbox

Once you dive into the art of time-lapse, the natural progression is to start thinking about introducing camera motion into your sequences.  The key to success here is very slow and accurate movement over long periods of time. In 2006 I started experimenting with using telescope mounts to meet this need. Telescope mounts are built to track celestial objects moving as the earth rotates (about 360 degrees per 24 hours). I found this product to be particularly useful because the tracking speed is infinitely adjustable, allowing me to dial in just the right speed to match important factors: scene, focal length and interval. It also comes with a bracket to mount small telescopes which works well for most DSLRs. Here’s the meat of using this mount for time-lapse; navigate the menu system to AZ ratio (horizontal)  and ALT  ratio (vertical), use the following as a baseline to calculate the rotational travel in degrees: at 8X with AZ ratio set to 1.0 expect about 150 degrees travel in an hour, also at 8X with the ALT ratio set to 1.0 expect about 100 degrees of travel in an hour.  You’ll also have to keep the direction button(s) pressed to keep the head ‘slewing’ so find a light duty clamp to hold them down.

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