How to shoot an 18000 frame time lapse?
November 25, 2007 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I want to turn a 10 hour drive into a 10 minute time lapse video.

I have read through the question that was asked last year on this same subject, and I need some clarification on some points.

The video I want to shoot is a continuous shot of my trip, no cuts or breaks.

From the research I have done, it sounds like the best way to archive this is to hook up a still camera to a laptop and have it capture on a timer.
I have an old Canon G1, but it cant take and transfer the shots fast enough for what I need (1 frame every 2 seconds).
I also have a Nikon d80 DSLR, but I am wondering if taking 18,000 frames in a day (10 minutes at 30 frames a second) will adversely affect the lifespan of the camera?

Another option is to buy a webcam, I noticed that the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 ships with a 2mp sensor, would this give me enough quality for later projection of the movie?

To store the shots I am thinking of having the camera hooked up to my laptop because its going to make a lot of data. Will running my laptop off a DC inverter in a moving car harm either my alternator or the laptop?

Are there any other cheap ways to do this?
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
other web formus suggest that the shutter lifetime is in the range from 50,000 to 75,000 cycles for other nikon digital SLRs.
posted by jepler at 12:13 PM on November 25, 2007

What was the plan for powering the camera? I don't know of any point+shoots that can run off a power source other than a battery, and an A/C adapter for the SLR will be almost as much as a decent webcam. Webcam plugged in to laptop running off inverter seems like the only option that would actually work. I definitely wouldn't incur that kind of shutter wear on a dSLR I cared about.

I ran a laptop off an inverter during a 12 hour road trip without any problems. Make sure the rated wattage of the inverter is high enough to actually power the laptop; it would be easy to be silently draining the laptop battery if the inverter isn't keeping up.
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:26 PM on November 25, 2007

Maybe look at increasing the duration of the frames as well (so each image is 2-frames of finished video) - that halves the number of frames required and may improve the watchability as well.

Another option is to record a video of the whole journey. It would be fairly trivial to setup a hard-drive DVD recorder in the car with an inverter and plug a camcorder or CCD camera into it. The hard part there will be digitising 10 hours of footage into a computer to make the timelapse.
posted by sycophant at 12:32 PM on November 25, 2007

Why don't you use a video camera and boil it down when you edit it?
posted by rhizome at 12:50 PM on November 25, 2007

I guess it hasn't been said yet, but DEFINITELY mount a tripod or fixed monopod in the car for any sort of car-based time lapse.
posted by chips ahoy at 12:50 PM on November 25, 2007

No need for a tripod - gaffer tape will fix it all.
posted by sycophant at 1:08 PM on November 25, 2007

Thank you for the quick responses.

rhizome: the problem with using a video camera is that the camera I have is HDV, with 63 minute tapes, I would have to do 10 change overs, and then spend 10 hours capturing it back into the PC, then edit it in post to drop frames.

It sounds like web camera is the way to go, is there a cheap (ie free) software solution that will let me cap 1600x1200 frames from the webcam into a folder full of JPGs? I can dump the JPGs into an AVI later.

Also I think I would need ~75 watts for my laptop, is there an issue with getting a larger capacity (300w) inverter than I need? I ask because it seems like the larger capacity ones have better features like auto shut off and voltage monitoring.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 1:14 PM on November 25, 2007

I think odinsdream is on the right track: a webcam will be much, much simpler to set up and use, and a 2 megapixel image will be 1600 x 1200, plenty big enough to project in most situations.
posted by jjg at 1:19 PM on November 25, 2007

I should have also stated, I am on windows..
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 1:30 PM on November 25, 2007

No problem with a 300W inverter to power a 75W device; watts and amps are a case of "up to, as needed", not "this will always put out / draw".

One particular caveat, though: if the inverter has auto-start, it may not start reliably at low load. That is, if you fully charge your laptop battery before you start and plug it in to the inverter, the charger is likely to only want to draw a watt or two - which may not be enough to trigger the auto-start circuit. Depending on the laptop, charger, and inverter, it may not ever be enough load to trigger the auto-start circuit - and the laptop will never charge.

That, and the fact that inverters (generally speaking) work at peak efficiency near to their rated output, suggests that (unless you plan to power something larger with it later on) a 75~100W inverter would be the go.
posted by Pinback at 2:25 PM on November 25, 2007

See also: Taken on the Road: American Mile Markers. It's a Kodak-sponsored photo gallery representing one guy's drive across the U.S. There's a photo for every mile (3,000+ photos in total). Kinda-sorta what you're talking about.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:45 PM on November 25, 2007

The megapixel webcams are still-only at that resolution, so I don't get the motivation to double what you already have, but with 1/5 of the resolution. If you are going to project it, having more resolution is good, even if you average it down for a sharper image. The SLR images will probably afford more correction for exposure, etc.

If you will be shooting day and night like that you might want to test auto-exposure to make sure it doesn't add some unwanted effect when the content ahead of you varies independent of the light level.

The mirror of the SLR can probably be locked open to save wear and tear.

If you can control exposure and shutter from your laptop, you could try some interesting things. You could take two alternating shots, one at a longer shutter and less exposure to get a streaked motion effect, then add that into the sharp image for more fluid motion effect.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:31 PM on November 25, 2007

To answer your specific questions first;

Yes, shooting 18k shots on your d80 will adversely affect the lifespan of the camera.

Yes, you could use a webcam with decent optics. It will create very different images than a camera. With a webcam, you are plucking individual frames out of a video stream. With a regular camera, shutter speed can vary and you can get light streaks as the sun sets. I personally would suggest a webcam that requires no drivers.

Yes, you want to have the shots dumped to a laptop directly.

No, a DC to AC inverter will not harm your laptop or alternator. It is just a little extra load on the alternator. If the alternator is already on it's way out, this might cause you to notice more problems.

Cheap ways to do this? Yep. I would recommend an older low megapixel Canon Powershot (being careful to buy one that has remote control capabilities) which can be acquired off of ebay for about $50. You could than use Canon Remote Capture to snag the images. Followed by SSMM to construct the video.

And on to rambling commentary on the subject;

One option for mounting the camera is to use a suction cup mount with a standard tripod screw on it. I have been experimenting recently with a Panavise 809 ts with a couple different Canon PowerShot cameras (a60, a510, s3, s5). I found added stability by cutting the bolt down such that the camera could screw all the way down to the flat portion of ball the bolt is mounted in.

I have been using PSRemote to control the cameras recently. Canon also had Canon Remote Capture, but it's basically been discontinued. There is similar software for new high end Canons but it isn't as capable. It can found online or on non US versions of Canon's support site if you dig deep enough. Canon Remote Capture can only do a shot every 5 seconds. While PSRemote let's you pick more frequent, on my S3 I could only get a picture every 4 seconds consistently (because of image processing/transfer speed). Both of these packages assume a specific range of Canon cameras.

As for software to control the webcam, I did a video using a Logitech Fusion webcam and VisionGS to snap the images.

So far I have assembled all of my videos using Slide Show Movie Maker (totally not designed to cope with thousands of files). I have been experimenting recently (as in over the last few days) I have been using mencoder; Basic instructions are here and here.

As you might have guessed, I have actually done (and helped with) a bunch of these types of setups. The biggest one I have done is Madison to San Jose in 14 minutes. That link also contains links to my friends similar videos.
posted by fief at 3:45 PM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

I have little to lend, except that there are some good slow versions of the concept here.
posted by wzcx at 12:50 PM on November 26, 2007

On the off chance anyone ever reads follow ups....

I ended up picking up a Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000, and a 300w inverter (overkill but it was half price at Canadian Tire, and thus significantly cheaper than a lower rated inverter). This rig seems to power my laptop just fine.

For mounting, it turns out that the stand arrangement on a Quickcam Pro is almost exactly the right shape to tuck into my headliner, but I am probably going to rig something so it can sit a little lower in the windshield, and tilt a little more up so I get less dashboard.

For capture, the included Quickcam software lets you take stills, but has no time lapse or timed capture options. Rather than getting another piece of software that may or may not be able to take the 2 megapixel images this cam spits out. I found a previous askmefi thread talking about AutoHotkey, a program that can send key strokes to other programs.
I bodged together a cheap hack of a script that sent ALT-P then SPACE to the quickcam software every 2 seconds, activating its take picture function.
The script is as follows

WinWait, QuickCapture,
IfWinNotActive, QuickCapture, , WinActivate, QuickCapture,
WinWaitActive, QuickCapture,
Sleep, 100
Sleep 2000 ; Wait 2 seconds.
Sleep 2000 ; Wait 2 seconds.

It ain't elegant, but it seems to do the job. The capture duration is adjusted with the sleep command, 2 seconds seems to be as low as it goes before the program chokes.
Once I had my JPGS in a folder, I then dropped them into Premier Elements 3 and put them together as a movie. I am sure there is free software that can do this too.

Finally, the product of all this [Google Video, throughly butchered] The original is a 1280x960 movie of usable quality, the focus is a bit off but I am going to set it to manual and do some more testing.

Thanks everyone for your help with this.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 3:46 PM on November 26, 2007

And follow up to a follow up, heres what it looks like at night played back and captured at a higher frame rate. Link
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 12:41 PM on November 27, 2007

One last note, I have finally found software that will take full res (1600x1200) stills at 1 fps from the logitech webcam, and save them sequentially to a folder. Booru, its tiny, its free, it works (I have run up to 1 hr tests, made 3000 images, it ran flawlessly). It took me so long to find, turns out it was mentioned previously on askme.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 11:24 PM on December 3, 2007

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