A Beginners Guide to Time Lapses - GEAR for under $500

Hello and welcome everyone!

This is part 1 of a series of blog posts and YouTube videos I’ll be creating for the beginner time-lapser. I’ve been doing time lapse photography for over 5 years now in a semi-professional manner and want to consolidate and share all that I have learned over the years in one place.

We are going to start off with the assumption you are new to time lapses, think they are awesome (they are) and don’t know where to start. Well you’ve come to the right spot!

An unavoidable aspect of time lapsing is gear. Now there are nearly endless options in this domain and there is no perfect setup that will work for everyone. The first thing you’re going to want to ask yourself is “What types of time lapses do I want to take?”. The gear needed for astrophotography will vary drastically from shooting daytime time lapses of clouds. Lets keep it simple and assume you want to shoot daytime time lapses of landscapes, city scenes, etc.


The easiest option will likely be using your phone. Most people have one and the cameras continue to improve every year. However, phones are limited by their Jack of all trades nature and while you can probably get some high quality time lapses with your phone, you’ll find yourself limited in many situations by the sensor quality and restrictions of the lens.


QUICK LESSON ON RESOLUTION

Resolution is the number of pixels of data that a camera sensor can collect and is usually measured as either the number of width pixels times the number of height pixels eg 1080p HD is 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels or as the result of that multiplication which is 2.07 megapixels. 4K UHD resolution is 3840x2160 and true 4K is 4096x2304 pixels or 9.4 megapixels. In order to create a time lapse of your desired quality, your camera sensor needs to capture images of at least the desired number of pixels. With current cameras, this is rarely an issue and you’ll usually have way more pixels than you need.

 Comparison of different resolutions.

Comparison of different resolutions.


ENTRY LEVEL DSLRs


Where does that leave us? In my opinion, entry-level DSLR cameras are the way to go. The high resolution sensor and ability to change lenses will open the doors to almost all types of time lapsing! The best part? They are half the price of a modern smartphone and can allow you to put out fully edited, 4K time lapses (more on what 4K means later). “But Tyler”, you say, “there’s so many cameras on the market, how am I supposed to know what to get?”. Well, my friend, I’ve done the digging for you. Knowing what I know now and putting myself in the shoes of a beginner I took to the vast interwebs and created a list of entry-level DSLRs at the $500 CAD price point. All these cameras will allow you to create high-quality 4K time lapses without breaking the bank.


Please note, this list is not exhaustive. It is merely what I found from several hours of Googling. If you have better options please comment below! The four cameras included are similar but not equal and I will give my camera of choice and why.

entrylevelcameratable.jpg
 
 

By far the best bang for you buck will be the Canon EOS Rebel T6 with kit lens. All the kit lenses are basically the same. The Rebel T6 has a slightly lower resolution sensor (5184x3456 vs 6000x4000 in other cameras) but it still provides adequate size to create 4K time lapses! The best part is the price. At just under $400, this is a bargain price to get into serious time lapsing. You will need to purchase an external intervalometer for about $20. This is a device that triggers the camera to take photos at a set interval.

 
 

What about the competition? While I’ve used Nikon exclusively for 5 years, at the entry level, the Nikon D3400 doesn’t stack up. It is priced $200 higher and lacks an easy intervalometer system. For these reasons I would not recommend it.

 
 

The Sony a5100 is a bit pricier and their intervalometer is smartphone based app and costs $10 which I have a big beef with. There are wired intervalometer options as well for about $25.

 
 

Finally, the Fujifilm X-A3 was a surprise for me. It has a built in intervalometer and larger sensor. The only reason I’m picking the T6 over the X-A3 is the price difference.


OTHER STUFF

Next, throw an SD card into that bad boy. I recommend at least 64Gb (you’re going to be taking a lot of photos). Luckily SD cards have come down in price and you can get 64Gb for around $25.


This next item is optional but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A tripod of some sort will save you so many headaches in the future. My recommendations for a cheap tripod are this budget tripod from Neewer or if you’re not worried about the height, a Gorillapod will get the job done.

Great! Pat yourself on the back because you’ve got everything you need to start creating your first time lapse! The next step is to wait patiently by the door for your packages to arrive. This is great practice for all the waiting you will be doing once you begin time lapsing :)

TOTAL COST

Camera $392

Intervalometer $20

SD Card $25

Tripod $50

Total $487 CAD = $366 USD



FINAL THOUGHTS

You will need some sort of computer to edit your photos and compile them into a final time lapse. This topic will likely need it's own post. I’m going to assume since you’re reading (watching) this that you have a computer. Whatever you’ve got will likely be able to get the job done so don’t worry about the computer. You will need an editing program to compile your time lapses. There are free options available but I haven’t look too much into them. My current workflow which I will recommend to you requires Adobe Lightroom ($10/month) and LRTimelapse (Free).

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Please comment any thoughts or questions you have about this post and I’ll do my best to respond!


NEXT TIME

In the next post, I’ll be going over planning out your first time lapse shoot and creating a checklist of what you’ll need to do.


*Disclaimer - This post has affiliate links which provide a small kickback to me if anyone purchases through the link. The price to you will be the same but the support will help me create more free content for you*