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Fri, 19 Aug 2011

Timelapse Photography and the Evolution of Hardware

— SjG @ 10:29 pm

We’ve had some new hatches in the Butterfly Fort, and there are at least six chrysalids which will be eclosing in the next couple of days1. This reawakens my interest in time-lapse photography.

I used to have a setup with a Harbortronics D2000 which I hooked up to my Nikon Coolpix 950 (and, later, Coolpix 995). It was good for a lot of things, but I succeeded in burning a nice streak across the sensor of the camera when the sun passed directly through the scene — the Coolpix line didn’t have a physical shutter, so the lens focused the sun onto the delicate sensor for the full time it was in view.

I’ve been using the Brinno Gardenwatch Cam that I received as a gift
a few years ago. It’s a dedicated, all-in-one time-lapse device. Once I learned a few things, I was able to use it successfully. First off, it really needs to be run on Nickel-metal hydride batteries. Next, you have to listen carefully when turning it on, because it’s not always obvious when you’ve powered it on and then off again by holding down the button a bit too long.

The Gardenwatch Cam does a decent job. It creates AVI format movies. It has 7 interval settings ranging from 1 minute to 24 hours. It has two focus settings, one for close up, and one for landscape.

With the monarchs, though, I want to be able to get in closer, and have sharper images than the Gardenwatch cam will give me. I still have a Nikon D70 which served me well for many years, but has been supplanted by the D90 in recent years. I also have a small assortment of lenses that I’ve accumulated over the past fifteen years. I’m thinking that the six megapixels of the D70 should be far more than adequate for doing some nice macro time-lapse work.

So the only problem is intervalometry — how do I trigger the camera to take pictures? Nikon sells intervalometers for most cameras, but the D70 is notably excluded from that list. There are a number of people making kits (or generously giving away their designs). I thought I might be able to rig something together.

I was successful. Taking an ancient Gateway Solo 9300 notebook that I’d bought for a king’s ransom back in 1998 or 1999, I installed Ubuntu 11.4 desktop on it. This was a mistake. The machine has a 366MHz Pentium II processor, and 128 MB of memory — lesser specs than your iPhone2. It got part way through the boot sequence, and locked up (terminal swapping? driver issues? I don’t know). I then installed a version of Ubuntu 8 Server for which I happened to have a CD. After installation, I booted into Matrix-esque screen garbage, but after some fighting with boot parameters was able to get running cleanly. Next, I installed gPhoto2. Putting the D70 into PPT mode, I hooked it up to the notebook with a USB cable.

Voilà! Now, all it took was a few commands:

Find the camera:

gphoto2 --auto-detect

Store pictures on the camera’s compact flash card:

gphoto2 --set-config capturetarget=1

And take pictures at a 30-second interval:

gphoto2 --capture-image --interval 30

If I get any worthy results, I’ll post ’em on Archie’s Garden.

1 There sure are a lot of great insect words. “Eclose” and “chrysalid” are just two among many.
2 The two generations of iPhone had 128 MB of memory, and a 412 MHz ARM processor.


One response to “Timelapse Photography and the Evolution of Hardware”

  1. smfr says:

    Neat! I have a Pclix http://www.pclix.com/ lying around here somewhere for the same purpose.

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