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Old September 18th, 2015, 04:48 AM   #1
Inner Circle
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Lowestoft - UK
Posts: 3,127
Time lapse - potential issues and solutions?

One of my regular clients is having a new factory built and has 'come up with' the idea of a time-lapse. I've done these things before, but spread over just a few days - this is a two month time lapse!

In the past, I've had all sorts of problems outside of my control, and tried various solutions, but this extended time scale means I'm not too keen.

I've had issues with power supplies - batteries fine for short projects, but external power seems essential. I've had unattended shoots wrecked when somebody installs a work light, right in front of the camera, and hour after I left. Bird poo on the lens, frequent knocks of the camera. I've tried video cameras, recording to a distant laptop, go pro type small cameras, even an ancient tape base hi-8 that powered up, took a frame and powered down - which had a head clog in the damp weather!

So my question is, what would you choose to do a very long scale time-lapse. I will probably factor in equipment cost into the quote, so budget not set, but what I want is a system. Obviously a great equipment choice but requiring a site visit to change cards, battery packs etc is just no good. The winter is coming so it needs to be weather proof, and trouble free.

Has anyone any recommendations for something decent, reliable and easy to manage. I'm not worried about quality more than say, 720, because the end delivery medium is for portable devices. 1080 is fine, but will be down converted anyway.

I'm hoping somebody will say - YES, use one of these..............
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Old September 18th, 2015, 12:02 PM   #2
Inner Circle
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Camas, WA, USA
Posts: 5,513
Re: Time lapse - potential issues and solutions?

This sounds like the challenges people have with timelapses of receding glaciers. You might identify and reach out to them. The difference is that they don't have to deal with the people element. I'd recommend a locked metal box with a glass front. Put a bright label on the front saying "DO NOT BLOCK".

Clearly, the glacier guys are using batteries. If you can rig something up with a car battery, you would avoid the problem of somebody tripping over the power cord and stopping the process. If you use AC Power, add an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). If somebody trips over the cord and plugs it back in, you're golden.

I've never done such a long timelapse myself. But I've done enough short ones to know that this is a big challenge!
Jon Fairhurst
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Old September 18th, 2015, 12:40 PM   #3
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 1,082
Re: Time lapse - potential issues and solutions?

I used a Canon Rebel shooting through a mailbox that had the rear cut off. (I used the "front", i.e. where you open and close to check the mail, to be able to open and access the camera controls.) I used some gaff tape and heavy-duty plastic bags (6mil?) to further weatherproof it. I had the camera sitting far enough in the mailbox that even the heaviest driving rain would not get the lens wet. In fact, I'd cut the bottom of the mailbox further in than the top of the mailbox, such that the top was acting as a lens shade.

I was taking (if I recall) one photo every 30 minutes. At this rate, the camera battery would last 6 days. Luckily enough the guys were working Mon-Sat, so it'd die Saturday afternoon and I'd go swap batteries on Monday morning.

I sold the project sup on the idea (he was not the client, just the construction sup) and befriended him. It is my experience that those guys react real well to you falling to your knees to worship their vast wisdom, and this guy was no exception. Once he is onboard with your project idea, nobody will mess with the camera.

This was about 5 years ago and before the advent of solar powered AA battery chargers. If I was to do it again, I'd probably rig something up so that it would continuously charge.

My experience is that the weekly visits really helped (a) troubleshoot anybody messing with it, (b) swap out cards to make sure you were getting what you wanted out of the timelapse, (c) befriend the project sup. While technologically you could get by today with no site visits, I think they really helped.

If it sounds like this project cost an arm and a leg for what we got, it did. I billed two Rebels and all the grip gear (mailbox, tilt head, scaffold, etc) to the client plus one site visit a week for 26 weeks 90 miles from my location. But the finished product looked good!
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Old September 19th, 2015, 12:40 AM   #4
Inner Circle
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Belfast, UK
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Re: Time lapse - potential issues and solutions?

Given the UK weather, it would be best not to face your US style mail box into the prevailing wind. We get horizontal rain at times.
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Old September 19th, 2015, 11:17 AM   #5
Regular Crew
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Posts: 34
Re: Time lapse - potential issues and solutions?

I've recently used one of these:


The resolution is only 720p but the thing runs forever with only a couple AA batteries. It's not great in low light, but if its outdoor construction you're dealing with, there isn't a more simple solution.
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Old September 19th, 2015, 05:25 PM   #6
Inner Circle
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Lowestoft - UK
Posts: 3,127
Re: Time lapse - potential issues and solutions?

Andy - thanks for that link. Maybe as a backup that gives me some confidence. I'm glad my experience so far seems to match. If somebody had popped up and said I was worrying too much, I'd have been depressed. I like the idea of this sealed box and UPS style power - that might be a good move.

Brian. I know Belfast pretty well - I'm back there again from November 14th through to mid January at the Opera House - Belfast has a rather special kind of rain I have discovered.

Hopefully I'm seeing the client next week, Whatever I do needs to be simple enough to be managed by my small team who are remaining in England while I'm missing.
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