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Time Flies: The Art and Technology Behind Great Timelapse Videos

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As such, there are other products, such as one from iBolt, designed to handle larger mobile phone screen sizes, although the iBolt product doesn’t fold up and fit in your pocket.

Kessler Cine Drive

Kessler’s Cine Drive system tops the list, both in terms of cost and complexity, of all the hardware options we’ve considered. It’s ideal for motion-controlled timelapse, which require significant consistency and complexity, but it’s also the hardest of all the units to master.

Cine Drive is a modular system that can be minutely adjusted, with a multipoint nodal design that allows pre-programming of the drive system similar to creating keyframes and motion paths in After Effects. Cine Drive can be controlled and programmed either from a PC or from a mobile application.

With the base kit starting price of $6,000, this option won’t be for everyone. But, while the extensive controls will require a significant investment in time to learn, the Cine Drive yields consistently replicable results ideal for everything from motion capture to multiaxis hyperlapse.

The Kessler Cine Drive is ideal for motion-controlled timelapse, but it requires extensive practice to master.

iMotion

iMotion is a standout timelapse application for iOS devices that works on both the iPhone and the iPad. It comes in two versions, paid and free, and even the free version offers a number of setting options that work quite well. So well, in fact, that we once captured a timelapse of our iPad falling off the back of a bike in a Dutch village and crashing to the ground. That’s another story, but a good reminder to securely attach your motion capture device, be it a mobile phone, a tablet, or even a digital single-lens reflex (D-SLR) camera.

Intuitive choices in iMotion, including a slider for interval settings from 0.1 seconds to a whole day, make setup and capture very easy. In addition, a free companion application called iMotion Remote allows a second iOS device to remotely control iMotion on the main iOS device. The idea behind iMotion Remote is to allow capture to occur from a safe distance, or to avoid destabilizing the main iOS device once its position has been established (which would’ve helped immensely in our Dutch bike scenario).

The iMotion app also has an audio setting, which allows the user to set a threshold at which an image will be captured. We tested this using our best “clap on, clap off” handclap, which captured an image each time we clapped. Talk about the power of positive reinforcement.

LapseIt

It’s not just the iOS crowd that has all the app fun. LapseIt for Android devices allows you to do simple timelapse capturing right on your Android-powered tablet or phone using the built-in camera.

Detailed settings, such as white balance, ISO, flash, and focus can also be set on LapseIt. We like the fact that we can lock these settings in place and eliminate, for instance, automatic iris control—a critical key to getting good timelapse.

The free version has a few limitations: for instance, exporting only SD quality and a mandatory LapseIt logo at the end of each clip. But for the low cost of $1.99 for the pro version, it’s an app worth trying for convenient capture.

LapseIt is an app that does timelapse on Android devices, and allows you to control settings including white balance, ISO, flash, and focus. 

TriggerTrap

TriggerTrap occupies both the hardware and mobile app realms with its D-SLR dongle and iOS or Android app.

The dongle is available for most modern D-SLR cameras, but the app is what sets it apart.

Most old-school SLR camera releases were designed for Bulb (long-exposure images captured on a single image over periods of seconds or even minutes) but today’s D-SLR remotes, such as the TriggerTrap, offer much more than just basic remote shutter release

TriggerTrap offers several shooting modes, including Timelapse, DistanceLapse, and Star Trail. The latter is equivalent to the old-school SLR Bulb setting, and DistanceLapse uses the GPS to determine how far the camera has traveled. In other words, it specifies distance between shots. Sound trigger is also possible with this little $30 device just in case you want to do “clap on, clap off” with a bigger camera than just your iPhone.

TriggerTrap 

Conclusion

As we mentioned at the outset, time-bending video in slow motion or timelapse captures is a way to both add production value your video and to add detail that can’t be seen by the human eye.

Something else we said bears repeating: Don’t fall in love with a shot you’ve created just because it takes a long time to capture. Even when it’s done with some of these low-cost, easy-to-use apps and hardware supplements, the fact is that it’ll take time to shoot and reshoot these sequences.

While we covered several tools, including those that capture footage directly to a mobile phone or tablet, there are far more advanced solutions that can control D-SLR cameras.

After considering each of the apps and hardware listed, we’ve come away with a recommendation for the best buy. The TriggerTrap provides a dizzying variety of capabilities for a low price (about $30). While it doesn’t add any capabilities to your camera that don’t already exist, it allows your camera to do things that are otherwise difficult or impossible. Keep in mind that each manufacturer will vary in the shutter release port style, so you may need different cables for multiple cameras.

Standard postproduction applications will provide the necessary tools to complete the job with these ultra-high-resolution images, since D-SLRs capture at quality levels 3–4 times of a 4K capture.

Our recommended workflow is to utilize a photo management application such as Adobe Lightroom to ingest and process the photos. Here you can change resolution, effects, and cropping consistently and efficiently. After your photo management app, you can import an image sequence into most NLE software or effects applications such as Final Cut Pro or After Effects. There, the footage can be played back in real time and further edited for creative impact or length.

The near-ubiquity of D-SLRs and mirrorless cameras has melded camera and computer more than ever before. An individual or small crew can carry a bag and tripod to almost any location and return with stunning imagery using mostly entry-level equipment and software that costs next to, or in some cases, literally, nothing. In some cases, the biggest investment is time on location waiting on the timelapse recording itself.

While live streaming a timelapse sequence isn’t possible, using it in your streamed productions is. With these apps and tools, the mundane becomes compelling, and lengthy processes are compressed into viewable segments. If you’ve never timelapse in your productions, there’s never been a better time to start.

This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Streaming Media as "Time Flies: The Art and Technology Behind Great Timelapse Videos.”

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