|A Creative COW Product Review
New York, USA
©Copyright 2007 Jim Harvey and Creativecow.net. All Rights Reserved
In this article, CreativeCOW.net contributing editor Jim Harvey takes a look at the The Harbortronics DigiSnap 2000 Series Intervalometer to create some time lapse photography, and concludes that adding a DigiSnap 2000 series intervalometer to his equipment kit is just good business sense.
Time lapse photography has always fascinated me. From the first time I saw images that compressed time I was hooked. The movie Koyaanisqatsi has stuck in my head since I first saw it back in '82. There is just something about being able to manipulate a scene over time that I find extremely interesting. Back in the day, doing it with film was really the only reliable method, although there were a lot of little details that took some time to sort out. And then there was the wait time while your time lapse footage went off to the lab to be developed. If you didn't have a savvy teacher, you got to try again when the footage came back over/under exposed or with the interval all screwy.
The advent of interval recording with video cameras opened up an entire generation of shooters to the possibility of experimenting with time lapse. Manufacturers included interval recording into some of their basic camcorders right on up to their more expensive lines. The Sony VX2000 and PD170 had a fairly nice interval feature, but all suffered from some problems or technical peculiarities that prevented you from really exploring the technique. Shutter speed and Iris settings were limited to what the camera had available (which wasn't nearly enough to get into the more exciting areas of Time Lapse.)
Somewhere along the line some clever folks realized the even the cheapest digital camera had more resolution than their expensive video camera. If they could rig their digital camera to take exposures at a pre-determined interval and adjust the iris and shutter speed as well, they could really expand on the whole Time Lapse experience. By taking their digital stills and importing them as an image sequence into their NLE program, extremely high resolution time lapse footage was instantly at hand. Most folks that were dabbling into this field were electronics "Geeks" who understood how to wire up a 555 timer onto a piece of perfboard and get it to control their cameras (which they cut open to solder the proper connections to control the shutter and other camera functions.). Most regular people aren't that in tune with soldering irons and resist pens, so some other smart folks figured that there might be a market for such a contraption.
The big companies have intervalometers that can cost thousands of dollars, way out of our league unless we get that big job detailing Trump's newest hotel construction. But we're not left out in the cold here because a clever fellow named Mark started a company called Harbortronics out in the Pacific Northwest and put all the little circuits, resistors, switches and power supply into a box about the size of a matchbox and figured out how to get it to work with YOUR digital camera. Thank you Mark!
The Digisnap 2000 series (http://www.harbortronics.com) is one slick little box, (Figure 1) but don't let its small size fool you. This is one powerful piece of gear. With it attached to your camera (and there are a fair number to choose from), you can program it to perform complex time lapse functions right from your laptop, desktop or even out in the field with no computer at all. Designed to work with the Nikon CoolPix cameras, the DigiSnap 2000 series controller can also be used with more sophisticated DSLR Cameras like Nikon, Pentax and even Olympus models.
Figure 1. The Digisnap 2000 intervalometer, the best magazine on earth, and the mandatory U.S. Coin for size comparison. Think Small, get BIG results.
My test unit came in configured to work with my Olympus E-1. It connects to the camera through he remote connector on the camera (Figure 2). The other end has a 9 pin connector that is also used when you connect to a computer to access the more advanced processes available to you. Hooking the unit up to the computer is straightforward and gives you access to the user menu that allows tailoring the DigiSnap to your exact needs.
Figure 2. The DigiSnap 2000 was configured for my Olympus E-1 via the 3 pin remote plug.
On the other hand, if you want to quickly program the unit in the field, you can do so simply by pressing the timer button and holding it while you count the flashes of the LED (each flash representing 1 second of delay) So if you want to take an exposure every 15 seconds, count 15 flashes and release the button. When you press the timer button again, the unit will begin to take the sequence and continue until you either run out of room on the card, run out of battery power to the camera or run out of battery power to the DigiSnap itself (which is highly unlikely unless you're doing a months long project) I found that it was easy enough to program it in the field for up to a minute, but for anything longer than that, it would be far simpler to use the onboard program and your laptop or desktop computer. You can also have the Digisnap configured to use a Palm device so you can be extremely mobile without the need for lugging a laptop out in the field with you.
So how is the quality of the final output?
The sequences that are generated by this unit are dependant on the camera that you use to complete the interface. Naturally, the higher the quality of the camera, the higher the quality of your capture. But remember this, even a 1Mp still camera will have more resolution than almost any video camera that you are going to use. You can't even find 1Mp cameras anyway so it's not something that I'd spend any time thinking about. The bottom line is that your standard 5 - 8 Mp cameras are going to deliver extraordinary images that will integrate into your video project with no drama at all.
I set to work on some sequences that interested me and was more than happy with the results. I'm NOT a seasoned time lapse photographer, but with the aid of the DigiSnap, I was able to create very capable clips that gave me the look I was vying for. As with any new tool, experimentation is the name of the game. Varying shutter speeds, picking subjects, camera positioning etc, all play into getting that sequence just right. It's enjoyable work, however, as you can see the results of new timings very quickly.
Here is just a very short clip of night time traffic. I really needed to find a busier street, but you'll get the idea from this short snippet.
Click here to view the clip.
I found with some experimentation that as I imported the still images into my NLE (Vegas 7.0) that if I brought them in with a duration of 1 or 2 frames and no overlap, that I would get a very smooth timelapse effect. Shooting very slow moving objects like flowers or buds opening or following the sun, I found an interval of 1 minute would give me 2 seconds per hour and a very nice effect. Naturally, once you get your own DigiSnap, you'll be doing your own experiments and finding your particular "look". This will prove to be a very enjoyable "experiment".
The DVD that accompanies the unit also has some very interesting clips that really get the mind working. Check them out at the website.
Unintended consequences department
Just as an aside, the DigiSnap can be used as a no-brainer security system. With the resolution of a digital camera, you could hook one up in the corner of the room and monitor everything that goes on through the course of the day. Nice thing to find out just who is stealing your peanut chews!
The bottom line
Take a look at some of the stock houses. What is the new offering? Why Time Lapse footage of course. Go check out the prices on some HD Time Lapse and then get back to me as to which is the smart way to go? Sure, if you need Time Lapse of Sunrise over Fiji, you'll probably opt for the stock house to get your clips. But for pretty much anything else, you can, for a fraction of the cost of your single HD clip, produce your own Time Lapse footage with GREATER than HD resolution to boot. I don't know about you, but I personally like to OWN my equipment. Adding a DigiSnap 2000 series intervalometer to my equipment kit is just good business sense, especially as it is so affordable.
Take a quick visit to their website (again http://www.harbortronics.com) and check out their other offerings as well. They really have a handle on all things timelapse. Some of their higher end units are perfectly suited to more complex situations (situations, I might add that I'm frantically trying to get myself into so that I can acquire the "next level" of DigiSnap gear), so it's really a one stop time lapse shopping event. I can't stress enough the quality of the Harbortronics unit.
I've hammered this unit for the last 3 months and I can unequivocally state that it is rugged, worry free and functions flawlessly. I have no qualms about giving this a solid 5 cows!.