This post on what makes a good time-lapse camera is part of a larger table of contents style road-map outlining time-lapse photography. The guide attempts to weave together separately covered tutorials, tips, and resources into one location that can hopefully act as a launching pad for your own time-lapse experiments and productions. Time-lapse Photography How-to Guide
It’s the second article in the time-lapse photography how to guide and we have already run into a loaded question. What makes a good time-lapse camera? well…., maybe we should slowly let the hammer back by starting somewhere a little different. Now if you already have a camera, that’s great!, there is a very good chance you are closer than you think to beginning time-lapse photography. But for those of you who do not yet have one you may want to ask yourself the following questions before buying one:
What do you want to do with your camera?
It’s obvious that you are interested in time-lapse, but is that the only thing you want to photograph? Probably not. It’s really important to sit and think about your photographic interests, aspirations, and what you want to shoot, or film for that matter.
Where do you want to take yourself with photography?
Weekend warrior, full-time professional, enthusiast, hobbyist or fill_in_the_blank? One is not necessarily better or worse than the other, but having a clear idea of what you want to become is usually helpful in setting your camera and photography budget.
What is your budget?
Oh no… The dreaded “B” word. Few an enthusiasts is as gear lusty as the modern digital photographer, so do yourself a favor (and keep your spouse happy too!) by answering the above questions honestly and design a photography budget. It is really really hard, I know… I am learning time-lapse and working the Dave Ramsey plan (we are on Baby Step 2) at the same time so I know the importance of sticking to a plan. I’ll borrow a line from just about every camera training guide and video series out there: “It’s not the gear that makes a great photo, it’s the photographer.” Give Ansel Adams a coffee can, some electrical tape, a pin, and some film and he could make a great photo. But at the same time give him quality equipment and he could blow us out of the water. Quality gear matters but not as much as what you do with it.
Is a DSLR camera right for you?
While we will cover many ways to capture time-lapse images, this site is manly devoted to time-lapse photography using digital SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) cameras. Why? It’s what I am familiar with. Many professional time-lapse photographers (yes, I am pretty sure there is such a thing) have also chosen to use DSLR cameras. As you research the types of cameras available, digital SLR technology offers the speed, versatility, configurability, and image quality that makes for a great time-lapse camera. But DSLRs are not the only way to go and I will be sure to explore hacks and tricks for point & shoots etc.
I use a Canon 7d.
I use a Canon 7d for my photography, time-lapse, and HD video work. I guess i’m just a Canon guy. Now, I am by no means immune to the twinges of more advanced models when browsing B&HPhoto but I have found a great mix of build quality, features, customization and image quality at a mid-range price point that was right for me.
Here is my Canon 7D on the Dynamic Perception time-lapse dolly in Gettysburg Pennsylvania
Here are a few things to consider:
Quality comes in at number 1. Right now there is a wide range of DSLR cameras available by several high quality manufacturers. From my point of view, Nikon and Canon DSLRs are top notch and have received very high reviews from many friends and photographers all over the board. While there are others that make great cameras, you can’t go wrong with either of these manufacturers.
Here are a few things to consider as it relates to time-lapse capture (specifically for DSLR cameras):
Can I use an intervalometer?
Since we haven’t discussed this much yet, an intervalometer is software or an external device (also called a timer remote control) that allows the photographer to program multiple camera exposures according to a set time-frame. In other words its the heart of time-lapse photography. Imagine trying to press the shutter manually every 3 seconds for 20 minutes.
Your camera must either have a built-in intervalometer function or be able to accept a remote connection/remote control (most Cameras do not have a built in function, I use an Satechi TR-A Timer Remote Control for my 7d)
How do I know what’s available for my camera? It’s not elegant but the easiest way is to google: “[your camera make and model] intervalometer”. The results should lead to a place to purchase one or to info contained in the cameras manual.
Do you want to photograph star trails or star lapses?
If you really want to experiment with astrophotography you may want to consider a full frame DSLR camera. DSLRs labeled as a “full frame” (roughly 24mm x 36mm) generally provide better image quality and really tout their muscle when it comes to high ISO and night photography. In a nutshell they have larger image sensors which allow
Be prepared they are more expensive. My canon 7d is a crop senor (1.6x magnification) which helps for telephoto shooting but it lacks that extra bang for wide angle and astrophotography.
Before buying, do your research and really think about your needs. Try to anticipate how you would like to use the camera in the future. Possibly even rent one for a few days. (there are several places to do this. I have had great success with borrowlenses.com)
Canon EOS 7D
I can recommend the Canon 7d from experience.
It takes great pictures which make for great time-lapse compilations. It is also highly recommended for it’s HD video performance, which I am just now beginning to take full advantage of.
A great site to learn more about the 7D and to read reviews on other models is dpreview.com
Canon EOS Rebel T3
A few others to to consider might be the Canon EOS Rebel T3 as a great entry level DSLR. Explore Canon’s “Rebel” as they pack a big punch for a modest price.
Canon EOD 5d Mark II
The higher end full frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II (and the rumored soon to be released Mark III) is the dream of many time-lapse photographers. This is the camera I will be saving for after we clean up my student loans : )
While I will continue to test and review as many cameras and components as I possible for use specifically in time-lapse photography, others have done a much better job at distilling the many things to consider when purchasing a DSLR camera in general.
I encourage you to comment on your experiences below as well as take advantage of the following great resources:
I know I may have left with more questions than answers here, but I promise that’s ok. Read reviews, make a decision and relax. Start having fun shooting because you’ve made the right decision. There will always be something better, something newer…