Time lapse photography is a pretty specialized niche, but surprisingly you don’s actually need a specialized camera to do it.
The best cameras for time lapse photography include sports cameras, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, as well as cameras specifically made for time lapse.
You can accomplish time lapse photography in a variety of ways. There are external controls known as intervalometers that allow you to accomplish it with virtually any camera, even film cameras. In fact, before digital cameras, that is exactly how time lapse photography used to be done.
Many of today’s digital cameras have this function, or a function that could be used for it, built in to them. The best cameras for time lapse photography make it easy to accomplish and will deliver superior results.
How to capture stunning time lapse videos & photography
- The simplest way to capture time lapse streams of images is to set up your camera, any camera, on a tripod and take pictures at set intervals. You could do this by using an egg timer to tell you when to manually trip the shutter.
- For some situations, taking a series of images at the set intervals is desirable. In other words, at whatever time interval you have selected, you take several images, a burst of images. Some subjects will look better in the end result with this method.
- Some movie cameras, video camcorders, and motorized still image cameras have the necessary controls built in to the camera or motor. You can set the number of exposures, the interval between exposures, and how many images to capture at each interval.
- There are also external controllers that can be integrated with some existing cameras. Your camera will have to have an access port for the particular accessory, or the connection can be accomplished wirelessly if your camera works that way.
- Exposure calculation will be important. You may want to leave your camera on automatic, due to changing light conditions. If you use manual settings, be sure to monitor the lighting conditions during the entire duration of the time lapse.
- You will also need a way to create a viewable video of the time lapse sequence you have captured. Some cameras and controllers will come with the proper software. Other image processing or video editing programs have this function as part of their features.
- Subject matter will make a difference as to how watchable the end result will be. Few people would be entertained by watching paint dry, for instance. But watching a dirty puddle turn from puddle to mud hole to cracked earth might interest some. Construction sites can be very interesting. Some classic subjects are plants growing, flowers opening, a sunrise or sunset, or a storm forming.
How I found the Best cameras for time lapse videos
- Image Quality. Generally speaking, this is a primary concern for just about any time of photographic endeavor. As discussed above, there is room for some compromise here.
- The larger the sensor, the higher the image quality and low light performance usually are. While smaller sensors are also workable, there is a limit to how small you may want to go. Pixel for pixel, the largest size sensor you can afford (in all aspects, see above) will give better results.
- Camera size. In some instances, a very low profile may be desired. Other times, it may not be that high up on your personal criteria check list.
- If your time lapse projects require leaving the camera rig unattended for extended periods of time, then you need for the camera and lens to be rugged enough to survive common mishaps.
- Battery life. If you are leaving the camera rig set up for a long time, then the battery charge needs to last for a long time, too.
- As discussed in previous articles, brand wars are silly and nonproductive. But, some brands have more capability to do the job we want because of system size, overall quality, and processing resources. So, for some users, brand can indeed be important after all. Still, let’s all lay off of disparaging the brand choices of other photographers.
Top 7 Best Cameras for Time Lapse Video & Photography
1. Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera 24.3MP Review
A top choice for any type of photography, the Sony a6000 mirrorless is a full featured and extremely high quality APS-C sensor digital camera.
It has a resolving power capable of delivering very high quality images with the 24.3MP sensor. Being a mirrorless camera, it doesn’t have a mirror box or pentaprism adding to its weight and bulk. This also means that it is capable of mounting hundreds of lenses by means of various adapters.
Another feature made possible by the mirrorless design is a very high rate of frame advance, up to 10 frames per second (fps). This makes it a great camera for action and wildlife photography. The eyelevel electronic view finder (EVF) is so good you won’t notice a difference between it and an optical finder. The EVF also allows holding the camera in the best position for sports and wildlife photography.
Auto focus system performance is fantastic, both in still imaging and video, employing 179 focus points. The ISO range is expandable up to 51200 for extended low light sensitivity. The rear view screen tilts for easy viewing and menu access in a variety of camera positions.
This kit comes with an excellent all purpose lens, the power zoom 16-50mm Sony E lens. Auto focus is extremely rapid and the lens has optical stabilization. The electronic AF and power zoom works well in various situations and there is no focal length of focus creep even with the lens pointed straight down or up.
Included in the deep menu functions is a full featured intervalometer for time lapse video and photography. Using the view screen menu, there is a wide range of options for setting up time lapse imaging. The function works very well and is easy to access, making the Sony a6000 one of the best cameras for time lapse photography.
A few of the other features that make this Sony a very desirable camera for serious photographers, professional or not, are its high quality video recording capabilities and the ability to capture image files in RAW.
For still imaging, RAW files have much more information that can be manipulated or enhanced by image post processing programs such as Photoshop Lightroom or ACDSee. Final images from skillful use of this camera’s capabilities can rival what is produced by much higher priced cameras.
Take that quality, add in the very small size and light weight of APS-C mirrorless technology, plus the attractive price, and you have a camera that many photographers at various levels of photographic skill could be happy using.
2. Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR Time Lapse Video Camera Review
Specifically made for dedicated time lapse video use, the Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR can be used for other applications, but time lapse is what it’s best at.
Able to run on AA batteries, the Brinno is a small camera packed with features optimized for time lapse video. It is relatively small, to facilitate placement either on a tripod or propped on top on a suitable flat surface.
The lens included is a fast wide angle lens and is changeable with optional lenses of other focal lengths. The standard lens is perfect for most time lapse video applications.
Setting the focus was a little difficult at first, but once you get used to how to focus the camera, it becomes second nature.
One of the best features of this camera is that the camera processes the image files itself into a usable AVI video file, saving computer time and memory. Another of its best features is the low price. It only costs about what you might expect to spend for an extra lens or accessory for a DSLR.
You may well wonder why you should purchase a separate camera to only use for time lapse video and photography. A couple of reasons come to mind.
Leaving a high end camera unattended for an extended period of time may be bothersome for some photographers. Losing a rig costing about half of what the lowest cost kit DSLR costs, or even less, wouldn’t hurt as much as ‘only’ losing this less expensive single purpose camera.
Another issue for some photographers could be shutter life for the DSLR. Making a time lapse video with single exposures can really load up the shutter count, leading to perhaps needing replacing it or other maintenance. So, a special purpose camera may end up being the best camera for time lapse video for your needs.
3. GoPro HERO7 Black -4K Waterproof Digital Action Camera Review
Sports cameras are an extremely capable and very fun newer genre of digital cameras. GoPro brand is one of the most capable and full featured of the action camera breed.
The GoPro Hero7 has an image stabilization function that optically and electronically provides video as smooth as if it was mounted on a gimbal. It’s waterproof to 30 feet and has protection against impacts too.
An array of special features included in the camera controls is what GoPro is labeling TimeWarp Video. This function lets you take stabilized single images at intervals that can be stitched together as slow motion video or time lapse.
A wi-fi feed lets GoPro users stream their action videos live on Facebook or other platforms compatible with GoPro app’s wi-fi feed.
Besides the video function, the GoPro Hero7 takes 12MP still images with HDR, tone matching, and noise reduction. The image quality of GoPro still images and videos are on par with entry level DSLRs from just the last generation of digital imaging.
Depending on what mode you use it in, battery life can range from superb to amazing. Seriously, batteries can last weeks in these action cameras.
Of course, heavy use and using extra features can drain batteries faster, but it is probably going to be very rare indeed to miss anything due to battery failure. Just make sure you check before starting something that’s not easily repeatable.
A large array of accessories allow mounting to a wide variety of objects such as bikes, airplanes, and helmets. It can even be mounted to people and animals for unique perspectives. The GoPro Hero7 is one of the best choices for action cameras and might be the best camera for time lapse video photography for action users.
4. Panasonic Lumix LX100 4K Point and Shoot Camera Review
The Panasonic Lumix LX100 point and shoot camera is very high quality and amazingly full featured. It fits in to what some are labeling as a bridge camera. That means it can bridge a user from basic point and shoot cameras to DSLRs and mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.
In reality, it is good enough to be a professional’s carry around camera, for when they don’t want to lug around their pro rig. It can be used as a special use camera for anyone due to the exceptional video recording capabilities built in to it.
A time lapse function is available in the video mode that works rather well for just about any project you could envision for it. It is simple to set for time lapse with the menu controls accessed via the rear viewscreen. There is quite a bit of variety in the options you can use for time lapse photography.
One of the more desirable features of the Lumix LX100 is its Leica Vario Summilux 3.1X power zoom lens. The lens has a very fast maximum aperture of f/1.7-2.8 which is much faster than most comparably sized point and shoot cameras. Leica lenses are well regarded in the photographic community as extremely well made lenses with superior image quality.
It has a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor, too, which is quite a bit larger than other point and shoot cameras, even bigger than some other bridge cameras from other manufacturers. The camera has a full set of manual controls complete the fantastic list of useable features.
5. Brinno TLC200 Time Lapse and Stop Motion HD Video Camera Review
You might think I listed one camera twice, but this is a separate model from the other Brinno time lapse camera listed above.
Pretty much all that was said about the TLC200 Pro HDR applies to this camera with a few major differences. The two biggest differences are that this one has an even lower price point, and slightly lower resolution for video and still image recording.
The lower price of this camera is perhaps the best thing about this camera. It is very attractively priced. You would have little problem with leaving this on a construction job site for an extended period of time. Power management is excellent as well, it can be set up and left for several months without running out of power.
The price and long battery life make this one of the best cameras for time lapse photography and video. It’s also a great choice for anyone wanting to dip their toes into the time lapse water without too much of an investment.
6. Canon PowerShot Digital Camera [G7 X Mark II] Review
This Canon has a large (for a point and shoot) sensor, the 1” Type sensor. That sensor type is smaller than APS-C and MFT, while being much larger than the standard sensor size of point and shoot cameras. That sensor size, plus some special features and functions, put this camera into the bridge camera line up, instead of a basic point and shoot.
A fast 4.2X zoom lens is permanently mounted to the G7. It is really fast for a camera with a point and shoot form factor. The maximum f-stop is f/1.8 at eh wide end of the zoom, 2.8 at the telephoto end. The equivalent full frame coverage of the lens is 24-100mm, a very usable ranges for most photography.
Image quality is fantastic. The 1” Type sensor is 20.1MP and the lens is made with typical Canon excellence. It can shoot in RAW format and the fastest shutter cycling is up to 8 fps.
Video quality is also very good. Canon has been a leader in video technology for many years. They manufacture some of the best cinemagraphic digital cameras on the market and many of Canon’s innovations and quality enhancements from those cameras trickle down to these consumer and prosumer oriented cameras.
A full range of manual settings is also available on the G7 cameras, allowing for complete artistic freedom with this very small camera.
In video mode, time lapse photography is set through the camera’s deep menu accessed on the tilt and swing rear view screen. Sitting down with the camera and the downloadable full instruction manual is recommended in order to get full benefit of these advanced features.
The camera is not cheap, especially if compared to other point and shoot cameras. It’s maybe even a little bit more than their entry level DSLRs. But you get so much usability and quality out of this camera. It’s a fine tool for any serious photographer.
7. Canon Digital SLR Camera Body [EOS 80D] and EF-S 18-135mm Review
Full featured and with a great lens, this APS-C format DLSR from Canon could be the one camera for most of your needs. It has a 24.2MP image sensor and a very wide range 18-135mm zoom lens. The lens is interchangeable and you can mount any Canon EF lens to the 80D, even lenses from their older EOS film cameras.
Canon video quality in DSLR cameras is nothing short of amazing. This camera has high quality video available that Canon is even marketing a special video kit centered on this camera and lens. It includes a microphone and a power zoom adapter for the lens. This extra accessory can also enhance your abilities for time lapse photography.
The camera has a full range of time lapse settings available through the deep menu built in to the camera. You can vary settings such as interval between shots, how many it will shoot in one burst, how many images you want it to capture based on the intended length of the finished video playback.
Wired or wireless remotes can be used on the 80D, as can various other aftermarket third party remote controller systems like the CamRanger and CamRanger II. These remotes have an extended array of beneficial and interesting features for video, still imaging, and time lapse photography.
Other impressive features of this camera are the 45 point auto focus system with predictive AF and full auto focus in video recording. A tilting and swinging viewscreen can be used for live view, video recording, deep menu control, and image playback and review.
The optical viewfinder is bright and clear and also shows basic camera operation such as mode, shutter speed and aperture, and focus points. For some great time lapse tripods, you can check out this guide here.
This camera is firmly in prosumer category, making it usable for anyone from an absolute beginner to a working professional or serious hobbyist. It’s not quite as robust or rugged as true pro models, but it’s a much tougher camera than entry level models.
The amazing array of functions and features also set it apart from entry level models. And yet it isn’t really that much bigger or heavier than Canon’s entry level DSLRs. It balances well with heavy lenses and kit lenses, having the EF mount means there are a whole lot of lenses, new and used, that be mated to this camera.
The crop factor for Canon APS-C cameras is 1.6X, so be sure to figure that in to your lens purchase decisions. Some of the best lenses for action photography come from Canon, see their line of very fast long telephotos and telephoto zooms. Canon L-Series lenses are some of the best performers in digital photography in their respective focal lengths. They can be expensive, though.
What it all boils down to is that this EOS 80D and 18-135mm lens kit is a great camera for general photography and one of the best cameras for time lapse photography and video.
What cameras and Lenses are best for time lapse?
The best cameras for time lapse photography will tend to have some things in common:
- Though any focal length could work, a wide angle to normal lens is often a good choice. This allows for some subject motion to happen while keeping the subject inside the frame. It also gives greater depth of focus, especially if using smaller apertures. Again, this allows for some subject movement within the frame.
- Image quality depends on the lens choice, the camera sensor, and the photographic skill of the user. The lens needs to be sharp, without being subject to a lot of distortion or flare. How you’re able to achieve and maintain focus will also have a major impact on image quality.
- The sensor of the camera has a lot to do with final image quality as well as the lenses and user techniques, but in this case, larger isn’t necessarily the best choice. That’s because the high number of individual images needing to be stitched can tax your computer’s processing speed. Larger is definitely better for image quality, but we’ll put the file size disclaimer to work with this decision.
- Low light performance of the sensor is another reason to want a larger sensor, but with the compromise of file size coming into play. Generally speaking, a larger sensor is better for many reasons, but you have to consider cost of the camera, the extra cost of lenses, and the computer processing speed. If these concerns are primary, choose a smaller sensor. If you have decided all those costs are absorbable, go with the largest you can afford.
- User interface should enable the end user to set up the features for time lapse with relative ease. The user should also be able to view, preview, and review the images. How the camera menus are accessed, the procedure for maintaining accurate focus and exposure, and how the files are accessed are some other vital considerations.
Some helpful resources: