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I occasionally like to make timelapse videos, and until recently I was able to use my previous phone (a Samsung Galaxy S2), which produced quite satisfying results (such as this youtube video).

But eventually the phone broke down. I am not sure if it was because of old age or because it wasn't made to take pictures of a plant for a whole week. Anyway, I am now left without any options for timelapse photography, so I am considering buying another device for this purpose.

My first idea was to simply buy a used Android phone and install the same app (Camera FV-5) on it. I can get another Galaxy S2 for 60€ and I was reasonably satisfied with the picture quality.

But using an Android phone for this has some drawbacks:

  • It wasn't made to run an app, use the camera, and keep the screen turned on for a whole week; the phone got really hot (even in the shade) and might have broken down due to improper use.
  • Phones automatically run some pretty terrible image compression and "sharpening" algorithms on photos and I'd like to have more control over how the images are processed.
  • The phone needs to be plugged into the charger the whole time and uses a lot of battery. If it's not plugged in, the most I can do is a 30 minute movie of clouds or something similar. It would be better to use a dedicated device that doesn't do anything other than take photos, so maybe it would last longer in places where I can't charge it.

So considering this, which options would you suggest? Are there any dedicated cameras for making timelapse videos? Can I get a cheap digital camera that is better at it than a phone?

As this is a very occasional hobby for me, I'm not looking to spend a lot of money. My preferred price range is up to 100€, but i could go a bit higher for a device that is exactly what I need.

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  • Are you shooting a week long Video? Maybe you can still use that phone with an app that takes a still photo every few seconds... For the quality aspect: dont know wether there are android apps available for that phone that allow for RAW storage. If not, maybe concider a used camera with RAW support for around 120€?
    – smow
    Mar 4, 2017 at 9:37
  • No, it's not a week long video. I'm using an app called Camera FV-5 which allows me to take pictures at specified intervals. For clouds i set it for 1 picture every 5 seconds, and for fast-growing plants to 1 picture every 5 or 10 minutes. Then i use a program on my computer (VirtualDubMod) to turn it into a video.
    – jgosar
    Mar 4, 2017 at 9:38

6 Answers 6

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You can buy a time-lapse remote for just about any camera on the market, so you don't need the feature to be already in the camera you choose.

That should broaden your scope considerably.

Most modern cameras can be left switched on all the time without flattening the battery; they 'wake' when you press any button & nod off again if you don't. The Li-ion batteries could remain reasonably charged for a year if unused [if my Li-ion hedge-trimmers can be used as a guide to similar battery life; my camera rarely gets more than a couple of day's rest so I have no absolute comparison] & could be good for 6-800 shots or so without a recharge or external power-supply.

You could spend a lot of money on a time-lapse remote - several hundred dollars for a wireless package, but there are a myriad cheap [10 - 15 bucks] ones that do the job just as well. They come with a short adaptor cable for your specific camera model. The user interface on the expensive ones is probably better, but the cheap ones are reasonably simple to figure out, & internally it's just a 'digital watch'.

This one is just the first hit I got from Google, searching 'timelapse remote' - https://www.amazon.co.uk/QUMOX-intervalometer-remote-shutter-Camera/dp/B00C1C0WQC
which looks very similar to the one I use.

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I'm sure there are timelapse apps that don't keep the screen on. This will make a big difference to battery life and temperature (even turning down the backlight to minimum will help. There are also apps that give a less processed image. You may even be able to find one that combines the two. Turning off features like Bluetooth, WiFi and mobile data will make a big difference too

I recommend using mains power if possible for any timelapse over about an hour whatever hardware you use,to prevent unwanted standby. An external battery pack is sometimes a viable alternative.

Or you can use any camera that can be controlled from a computer. If you have a laptop you can tether to that opens up a world of possibilities. for example I've had success with an old EOS 350D (actually controlled by a raspberry pi).

One rather different approach that also worked for me was a raspberry pi with its dedicated PiCam.

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  • I am actually a programmer and i already made my own timelapse app for Symbian back around 2006. So playing around with a Raspberry Pi would be an option for me. What is the price of a Pi with a camera? How good is the picture quality?
    – jgosar
    Mar 4, 2017 at 18:10
  • @jgosar, I've only used the original picam and that was pretty decent, but the new one is much better. It should be within your budget, including a case, power supply, etc.
    – Chris H
    Mar 4, 2017 at 18:31
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Many Canon Powershot models can use a free firmware extension (normally safe) called CHDK which can be used to do timelapse sequences (although you may need a computer to sequence all the images into a video).

Used Canon Powershots are pretty common and if the final product is a video, even a HD video doesn't need a high resolution still camera.

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  • That looks promising, however i find it a bit unusual that dedicated cameras don't support this function by default. How would i go about finding the cheapest camera that either supports sequence shooting natively, or can support CHDK?
    – jgosar
    Mar 5, 2017 at 7:04
  • You can check the list of supported cameras (for CHDK) and then check used prices in your area. To be doubly safe you might google for timelapse movies made with these cameras and CHDK. That's how I'd go about it. Mar 5, 2017 at 11:33
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Thanks everybody for your detailed answers, but after doing some more research on what is available on the market, i decided to buy this thing: https://www.cnet.com/products/htc-re-camera/review/

Although it probably doesn't offer the same image quality as a proper camera, it has a few advantages:

  • Timelapse shooting is a built-in feature
  • Really cheap, i'm getting it from Amazon for 69€, including postage
  • It seems to be quite light and compact, which should make it easier to mount in tricky places
  • Image quality is certainly better than it was on my old phone

And as an extra bonus it claims to be waterproof up to 1 meter, although about half of the Amazon reviews are from angry customers whose cameras died after being submerged.

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  • Looks interesting. How long does the battery last for timelapse?
    – vclaw
    Mar 7, 2017 at 12:49
  • Some sources say that the battery life is enough for 1200 photos, which i assume also applies to timelapse. So for a video of clouds with 1 shot per 5 seconds, that would mean almost 2 hours. For slower stuff it would be even more, which is pretty good. Because using a smartphone with a timelapse app that keeps the screen on, this time is 1 hour or less, regardless of the photo interval.
    – jgosar
    Mar 7, 2017 at 13:33
  • After using this device for 2 weeks, i must say i'm quite happy with it, it's really handy and i use it for more than just timelapse. The timelapse itself works quite well and the battery use seems very modest, although i haven't actually tried how long it can last. A small annoyance is that the automatically created timelapse movie is just 720p. But the camera also stores individual frames at 1920x1088(sic) pixels, so they can be assembled into a Full HD video on a computer.
    – jgosar
    Mar 27, 2017 at 11:41
  • If anybody is reading this in 2019, beware that the HTC RE camera app is not compatible with the latest versions of Android, and it's not being updated anymore, so you can't use the timelapse feature anymore, unless you have an older Android phone.
    – jgosar
    Feb 4, 2019 at 5:54
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The Raspberry Pi is actually a really good option for low budget time-lapse. Especially now that the Raspberry Pi Zero 2W has been released which can be picked up for only around $17.

The small form factor makes it quite portable too.

There are also a wide range of camera modules that can connect to the Raspberry Pi which can give surprisingly good quality for their price. I tried the Innomaker module in my linked blog post below which costs around $24 and was able to film at 1080p.

Along with a power supply and SD card you can get the total build price to about $75.

Historically, the Raspberry Pi was difficult to use for non-programmers, because setting it up to record a time-lapse involved writing scripts and creating cron tasks and such, so this has presented a challenge for amateur photographers without a technical background. However, this is now getting easier with the release of specialised software such as SmoothLapse which I cover how to set up in my blog post.

I wrote a relevant blog post on the subject here: A Low Budget Time-Lapse Option

Disclaimer: I am the author of SmoothLapse.

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I would look at a RaspberryPi with a camera hat.

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