One nice fallout from the smartphone revolution is that cheap embedded controllers, camera sensors, and flash memory has dropped in price while the capabilities have jumped by leaps and bounds.
Unfortunately, the quality of the user experience has not seen the same revolution.
After having played with time-lapse photography on my iPhone, I concluded that there was much more to explore, but I would ideally want a dedicated camera that I could set, forget, and still be able to use my iPhone or iPad for something else.
Searching around revealed that the Brinno TLC 200 Pro is the best timelapse camera currently available.
The Brinno is a small, dedicated, timelapse (or still frame animation with external trigger) 720p camera that supports interchangeable lenses (and there is a microscope attachment. Brinno also makes a waterproof case that both fits perfectly and can be mounted to a tripod.
The camera has a slew of your typical manual controls; white balance, shutter speed, HDR levels, etc… but the adjustments are hidden in a maze of menus and the three buttons used to navigate make for a shoddy user experience. Livable, but shoddy.
Fortunately, once the camera is configured, you can basically bang on the big OK button to start recording. The built in LCD allows you to align the camera, but does not support playing back captured content.
The Brinno writes videos in the AVI format. Makes sense; AVI can be as simple as a file with a sequence of JPG stills. Unfortunately, neither iOS nor OS X will decode AVI directly. I use Smart Converter Pro 2 to convert the videos. The free version works, but doesn’t give you quite as much control over the process and is strictly one video at a time (the Brinno splits movies at 4GB, so there is often multiple movies to convert).
You can control the frame rate of playback. This, combined with the ability to set the duration to wait between shots taken means that, with Brine’s handy calculator, you can easily create a time-lapse for any length of time (and the Brinno has a “timer” feature that will cause the camera to turn on only during preset blocks of time.)
Ultimately, I find it is preferable to leave the Brinno in ASAP mode; it takes a new shot as soon as the current shot is done (i.e. if the shutter speed is 8 seconds, then you get one shot every 8 seconds). I then compress time however much I desire using Final Cut Pro.
Fun device. Beyond clouds and sunrise/sunsets, I will be capturing all kinds of chemical and physical processes that are then brought from a glacial pace to human speed.
At left is the Brinno in its waterproof case sitting on a Gorilla Pod to record a timelapse of the reflections on the pond. You can see the all too small display and the rather poor two 3 button UI.
While the UI is bad, the camera’s battery life is good to excellent (it can last many months when shooting a frame every hour or more). The video quality is mostly quite good, but suffers from low light noise and the exposure tends to bump down in lock step as the amount of light increases, leading to sudden changes in light level in videos of sunrises and sunsets.
Even with the criticism, I can still recommend the device if you either need to compress time when recording video or simply want to play with different time scales. It is really a lot of fun to set it up and then see what 5 hours (or days? months? The Brinno can do it) of the world looks like compressed into a couple of minutes!