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3 smartphone apps for capturing time lapse video

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The new lighting system brightening San Francisco's Bay Bridge offered an interesting subject for our time lapse app experiments using an iPhone 5. The bridge is lit by 25,000 LEDs to create eye-catching displays controlled by several Mac Minis mounted inside the structure.

Often cast off as gimmicky, time lapse photography can actually be mesmerizing with the right subject. And as mobile phone cameras grow in quality and the storage capacity of devices increases, it's possible to make a decent sequence with just what's in your pocket, plus a small tripod. 

I went out on a recent evening and gaffer-taped my iPhone 5 to the top of my Canon 5D to double shoot some video of the recently launched Bay Bridge lights in San Francisco so I could test out a few apps. One hour and a few easy settings later, I walked away from the pier pleasantly surprised with what the phone's camera could do. 

Here are a few apps that can help you get a cool little keepsake that you can also quickly share:

TimeLapse

Available for iOS; $2.99 in the App Store

TimeLapse is a solid app, but bare bones for post-shooting editing features. Like other time lapse apps, it offers great options like locking the exposure and white balance to avoid lighting and color jumps over the course of the chosen time lapse period (especially important at dusk, for example).

This app's interface focuses more heavily on selection of the total shooting time, the shutter's shooting interval and a stopping point, which is defined by either a specific number of shots up to 9,999 or an amount of time up to 24 hours. If you're unsure of how long you want the the time lapse to go, you can always select a high number and then stop it when satisfied.

The advantage with this app is that it constructs the time lapse as it goes rather than storing hundreds of images to be processed later. It therefore doesn't require as much of the phone's storage capacity as some others. So this is a good option for photographers with less than 32 GB of storage, depending on what else is on your device. If you're planning on shooting over the course of 30 minutes, it should be fine to set the camera to shoot every half-second or full second. At half-second intervals, you'll end up with a 25-second video at 72 times the normal speed of your subject.

The TimeLapse app allows the user to set limits on number of exposures or total time of the photo session to define the parameters of the final sequence.
You may also set exposure and white balance locks for sequences with changing light and color.

Lessons learned: This app requires you to really envision what you want in your final product, so try to think about how your subject will move and change over time.

Lapse It

Available for iOS and Android: $1.99 in the App Store or $1.99 from Google Play

Lapse It is probably the best one apps there for its intuitively designed pre-settings and its plethora of options for editing. It will allow as much shooting as the device can hold, and if you experience some shake or unexpected interruptions like people waking in front of the shot, you can simply keep going and trim out the time leading up to the problem.

You can shoot as fast as 10 frames per second, although that's not recommended for longer periods, as the sheer amount of data creates a longer rendering process with little advantage, and has a tendency to create confusion on playback for the device. Along with trimming, Lapse It allows a few nice light filters to enhance the image and allows multiple exports of your original image batch so you can fine tune and get the desired result. It even can add music from your collection.

Note that a free version is available for trying out the app, but it shoots lower-resolution images. 

The Lapse It app allows a batch of images to be trimmed to the desired size before the final rendering process.
Lapse It features intuitive render settings allowing the user to choose a final video length/frames-per-second rate.

Lessons learned: Don't shoot more than five minutes at a time with the super-fast 100-millisecond interval.

Timelapse Pro 

Available for iOS; $1.99 in the App Store

Although its editing features leave something to be desired, Timelapse Pro has a simple interface that acts as sort of a hybrid between the simplicity of the aforementioned TimeLapse app and the flashiness of Lapse It. But with a little extra effort, Timelapse Pro can get some great results.

It offers the same type of pre-settings and exposure lock function, and a fast render process. The advantage with this app is that you can choose multiple sections of images to delete within the same project and then re-render for better results. Timelapse Pro allows only one export at a time, but you can save previous exports to the camera roll and start over from the same batch of images.

The Timelapse Pro app features simple editing tools that allow easy rendering on a batch of images.
The user interface is simple and easy to understand.

Lessons learned: The app tends to create a vertical image even when the shot is framed horizontally, but there are plenty of free video rotation apps to fix that.

Let's hear from you: What other apps work well for capturing time lapse video with a smartphone? 


Dan Schreiber is a journeyman newspaper journalist currently based in California's Bay Area. Perhaps a little light-headed from too many hours in his high school dark room, he decided at a young age to make photography and writing his profession. Twitter: @danschreib

Comments

Total comments: 20
Layerlapse
By Layerlapse (11 months ago)

If you want to make time lapses with a greater difference of time and am unable to leave your your camera in place then checkout the iPhone iPad app - layer lapse. You overlay the previous photo while taking the next photo, align the photos even more by zooming and then create new same sized images for your time lapse videos. You are able to have an unlimited number of projects at the same time, create notes for each photo and even measure pixel differences of time, distance and colors of the layered photos at www.layerlapse.com .

0 upvotes
xysternet
By xysternet (Apr 17, 2013)

I'm the author of TimeLapse. Great write up!

As an example of what can be done with TimeLapse, I recommend watching this video created by a TimeLapse user:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XUpt6SlISQ

As a side note, TimeLapse's next 'big' release (date TBD) will feature an editing capability that will be leaps and bounds beyond what is currently available in smartphone time lapse apps.

Happy time lapsing!

1 upvote
martindesu
By martindesu (Apr 16, 2013)

Android also has it built into the native jellybean (4.1) camera app.

1 upvote
24hrexposure
By 24hrexposure (Apr 16, 2013)

I'd be pretty unhappy with timelapse videos that looked that choppy. Some of the apps offer manual exposure control, but the killer features would be smart bulb ramping and shutter angle control. Even better would be a mode that uses autoexposure and shoots as fast as possible, rendering multiple shots into one frame to get the right frame rate. This would support phones that have neither physical aperture control nor good enough dynamic range to fiddle with the ISO (i.e. almost all current phones).

0 upvotes
FoolyCooly
By FoolyCooly (Apr 15, 2013)

There is not enough available memory on my iPhone for a project like this. 75% of 16 GB is occupied by games for my kids. :-( Neat apps but I'd have to clean off my phone to use one.

I do however have an old pocket camera that is running CHDK. My Canon SD780IS plus a 32GB card should be enough for few projects like this. I'll have to give it a try some day.

1 upvote
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (Apr 16, 2013)

Just put a microSD card into your iPhone... oh... sorry! ;-)

5 upvotes
CosmoZooo
By CosmoZooo (Apr 17, 2013)

I like iPhone and iOS more so then Android devices I've tried (I am not an Apple fanboy and do not own a Mac).

But I've got to say Apple needs to get a freakin clue and put a MicroSD card slot into the freakin iPhone.

That's all I have to say...

4 upvotes
mrdancer
By mrdancer (Apr 17, 2013)

Check out the Seagate GoFlex wifi - not sure about iPhone, but it will connect to the iPad (as well as Android and Kindle tablets) and provides up to a terabyte or so of storage on the go. Newegg had a 500gb version on their shell shocker the other day for $99.

0 upvotes
urbanplanner
By urbanplanner (Apr 23, 2013)

I second Fooly's comment. I've had some stunning results with CHDK on an old Canon point and shoot. Took a lot of fiddling, but wow. What an amazing hack. Phones are a pain in the butt to do timelapse with.

0 upvotes
luisflorit
By luisflorit (Apr 15, 2013)

It is actually a shame that not every single DSLR offers this as a default feature, not even modern flagships with video, and you have to shoot with a phone! For example, the Oly E5 doesn't have timelapse. Still, it is not very hard to make timelapses with it: http://luis.impa.br/photo/1204_varios/nuvens-cristo_timelapse_EV-2.0_JN-120407-E_21672-22915a.avi
But shooting several of these movies will ruin your shutter.

2 upvotes
Duncan Dimanche
By Duncan Dimanche (Apr 15, 2013)

my D800 does it and so does the D700... so i'm pretty sure that the whole Nikon lineup does this... but I prefer to use the 16$ remote that I bought from amazon cause doing it without drains the battery big time... I shot for 4-5h with a photo every minute without the remote and I shot 5h with a shot every 10sec and had more than 60% of my battery left

ps The nikon V1 does the whole process and creates the video internally

Cheers

0 upvotes
JadedGamer
By JadedGamer (Apr 16, 2013)

Get a NEX-6, Sony will probably have a $5 app for it in their store :P

On my Canon DSLR it is a feature... of their expensive electronic cable trigger...

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Biowizard
By Biowizard (Apr 16, 2013)

I would never use my DSLR for time lapse - the mechanical shutter and mirror combo would wear out far too quickly. One single movie of 9,999 frames would use about 5% of the entire rated life of the shutter on most modern DSLRs.

1 upvote
aaanouel
By aaanouel (Apr 17, 2013)

At Tmart, they sell a programable wireless (or direct connected if desired) remote shutter specially designed for time elapse photography for about $35.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Miznick
By Miznick (Apr 19, 2013)

Digital SLR's are a great platform for timelapse. The final product should be short, let's use 30 seconds for rough numbers. Thats 900 exposures. Most cameras will get about a million actuations (some more, some less). Thats about 1,000 time lapse videos! Also, check out http://www.shutterbugremote.com if you want to do time lapse with older camera bodies. I'm making videos with a 5D classic and it works great!

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
SRT201
By SRT201 (Apr 15, 2013)

The apps are cool and the bridge lighting is amazing.

It is amusing that this bridge display is in the state most active in it's quest to save it's citizens from themselves. CA police practically have carte-blanche ticketing "distracted" drivers. They clearly hadn't considered the "public good" when designing such a distracting bridge lighting system. :-)

PS - The Pentax K-01 has these time-lapse features built right in if you want some high quality time lapse videos.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Apr 15, 2013)

The lights are mounted on the outside of the cables pointing towards San Francisco. They aren't visible to drivers on the bridge.

Comment edited 41 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
JavaJones
By JavaJones (Apr 16, 2013)

That's what I thought too, but in fact they are a little visible when you drive over, as I did recently for the first time since the installation went live. It looks pretty cool from the bridge, too, and yes I was a little distracted. Surprised they weren't more careful about it, to be honest. But no complaints, it's a great installation, and so far no word of increased accident frequency...

1 upvote
SRT201
By SRT201 (Apr 16, 2013)

What about drivers on other nearby roads? :-)

1 upvote
LensBeginner
By LensBeginner (Apr 20, 2013)

So Its not the bridge youre intererested in, but it's impact on driving safely across it's length...s?
It not's so difficult (facepalm)

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Total comments: 20
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