Please help me set up a time-lapse rig. From scratch.
November 14, 2010 1:46 AM   Subscribe

Please help me set up a time-lapse.... photo.... computer.... thingy.

As evidenced above, you will have to speak to me as if I have no idea what I am doing.

I need to monitor my dogs (well, just one of them, really) while I am at work. A live streaming web-cam situation won't work, because I'm supposed to work when I'm at work. I realize I will have to purchase some equipment, but I'd like to keep it fairly cheap.

Possibly pertinent info:
-I do not have a digital camera or a web-cam, and I know I will have to buy one of those- I need recommendations.

-I do not have a laptop and will not be purchasing one for this project. Whatever camera I buy will have to be compatible with my desktop PC running Windows XP. Difficulty: The computer to which this camera will be attached is in another room. Can I get some sort of extension cable to hook the camera directly to my computer? Will I be hooking the camera directly to my computer? Or will this be more of an external hard drive affair?

-I will need some sort of software to make the pictures into a movie. I will need recommendations for this as well.

- A picture every 30-60 seconds should be sufficient for my needs.

Probably not pertinent info:
I'm doing this because one of my dogs has had three seizures (that I know of) in the last 18 months. 2 of them occurred in the last 4 months, which suggests they are becoming more frequent. The vet asked me to keep a log of how often she has seizures, hence the need to monitor her when I'm not home. The dogs are confined to a single room when we're not home, and I've dragged a stepladder around to find the best spot for a camera. I think I can get most of the room in the picture using one camera.

Recap: Please recommend an appropriate camera and software so that I may set up a time-lapse rig to monitor my dog. Please point me toward resources for installation/set up that will speak to me as if I am a moron. Please keep your recommendations to under $200 (total) unless I am being totally unrealistic about how much this will cost.

Not even remotely relevant: The dog in question.
posted by dogmom to Technology (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You should probably just use a normal, cheap, webcam. These usually have packaged software which should allow you to save the webcam stream to a video. Often this is a mjpeg file -- a "motion" jpeg, which just means it's a series of still images in a video container. As for hooking it up to a computer in another room, this could be more of a problem; most webcams run on USB. USB cables can be about 5m in length, after that you need a powered USB hub. So you *might* be able to chain these together to get to the computer. (no, you can't hook up the webcam to an external hard drive only)
posted by beerbajay at 3:33 AM on November 14, 2010

Here's a USB "repeater" which supposedly works around the cable-length issue. I've never tried one of these, however.
posted by beerbajay at 3:36 AM on November 14, 2010

You could just go for a security camera system, but I'm not sure you'll find one for less than $200 unless you go the used/refurbished route. It would take care of all your storage/software/installation issues right out of the box.
posted by crunchland at 3:48 AM on November 14, 2010

One option is to get an inexpensive used Canon point-and-shoot camera, and hack it to do time-lapse or motion detection, but that may be too fiddly for you.
posted by Red Loop at 5:42 AM on November 14, 2010

Best answer: Do you have wireless internet at home?

If so, what you need is called an "IP cam" meaning an "internet protocol camera". It is a little webcam with a built-in wireless card. This webcam also has a little computer inside it, so you won't need a laptop to power it. You can control it remotely and look at its output remotely. It will show you (bad quality) video and (decent quality) stills.

The cost of the camera (and I recommend this specific camera) is about $150. I strongly recommend you find a capable college student or smart kid and give him the remaining $50 of your budget to handle the technical side and make it work with your network, and with, which is a free service for these Panasonic cams that allows them to be very easily viewed online.

You will also be able to set it up yourself, but given your question, I think you should budget for someone to set it up and forget the hassle.

I would set it up two ways:

1: uploading images every 30-60 seconds to an FTP server somewhere. This server can be your desktop computer on your home network, or it can be an external host. Hosting is very cheap.

2. accessible video via the web, that's the viewnetcam servce.

Final point: as far as making the stills into a video, I assume this is so you can watch for seizures. I strongly recommend you just download a program called "irfanview" which is a free image viewer. If you open a picture from a folder full of images like this will create, just hold down the spacebar or right arrow key. It loads the images so fast that it looks like a movie, but you can stop at any moment, no fiddling with making a movie file or using a media player.
posted by fake at 6:07 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can also get ethernet-wired ip cams, if you don't have wireless.
posted by fake at 6:08 AM on November 14, 2010

Best answer: I have XP. I bought a web cam from Amazon recently for $7. That camera did not need anything. I just plugged it in and TinCam had no trouble using it. I use TinCam to upload the images via FTP. It has a timed setting, every so many seconds or minutes. It also has motion detecting. I've been using a web cam for years for hummingbirds, hamsters, my dogs, etc. When we go out to dinner & a movie, I use a USB extension cord (actually 3 of them) to extend the camera so that my dogs in their crates can be on the internet so my parents can keep an eye on them for us. :) Amazon sells USB extension cords, I think. I also found some at my local hardware store. They'll sell them anywhere they sell USB devices, I imagine.

Here's the link for the camera -- it is $6.37 now. :)

And here is the link for the software:
It's $19 after the trial. I have used just about every free and cheap web cam software out there and this is the one I like the best. It can support multiple cameras, too (you just keep opening the program and selecting a different profile -- I have two open right now, one for each hamster cage). It uploads with FTP, like I said before, so you'd need somewhere to send the photos and then you can set up a little HTML page. I set up an FTP folder specifically for the web cam with my hosting place. TinCam will keep a history of the photos on your computer or in the FTP folder or both. I set up my page to show the latest 10 photos but I don't keep any on my computer unless it is watching the dogs. A word about the motion detection -- if it is taking pictures every time a shadow moves, you can reduce the sensitivity so that only substantial movement will trigger a picture. It will also email the photos to you in addition to or instead of FTP'ing them somewhere. Which might be useful if you do not have a way to set up an FTP folder.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 8:34 AM on November 14, 2010

When I needed to do this (argh, which cat is peeing in the corner?) I got a webcam and a USB repeater/extension cable and attached it to the desktop computer in the next room. It worked well.

USB webcams sometimes have stupid compatibility issues. It looks like Windows XP will work with UVC webcams (UVC = "USB Video Class", a standard for USB webcams), so that's a good way to go: buy a webcam that says it's UVC-compliant, it's the more-standard-ish standard. Otherwise, be sure that the webcam you buy lists Windows XP compatibility. A UVC camera might cost you an extra $7, though, since it might be a newer product than a non-UVC equivalent.
posted by hattifattener at 2:01 PM on November 14, 2010

$100 Wifi Webcam with pan 'n tilt
possibly required: wifi access point ($50)
Free motion-detection and recording software

Bonus Lifehacker reference
posted by rhizome at 3:08 PM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all- I think I am going to go with Fake's wireless IP cam with AllieTessKipp's as a back up. I think (hope) I can figure it out when I get it, but it was just getting to this point that I needed help with (probably famous last words). I had no idea there were such a thing as wireless web cams! I feel like my Grandma must feel when she accidentally hides her start bar and has no idea how to get it back. But all of your explanations have given me enough confidence to try the set up myself before calling in the experts. It definitely sounds easier than I had envisioned!
posted by dogmom at 6:19 PM on November 14, 2010

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