Broadcast quality HD time-lapse with the Canon EOS 5D Mk11

Broadcast quality HD time-lapse with the Canon EOS 5D Mk11

By Robert Waldron

You can do this two ways. One, with the software supplied with the camera, and a compatible laptop. Or two, with an add on intervalometer like the TR-A Timer Remote Control Shutter for Canon or Pclix XT. They’re about $20 – $50 up. The intervalometers can usually be set at one second intervals, or fraction of a second intervals, for up to 3 or four days, and are the simpler solution.

But if you have the camera, and the software, you can do it with your laptop, and set up the software to fire the camera remotely at the increments you want . This blog about the free option, that you got with the camera– the downside is you need to have your laptop within wireless or USB cable range of the camera – not so cool in a blizzard or at night.

You’re shooting in still picture mode,  at 21 megapixels per frame, which is around 20 times better resolution than HD TV, so this means you can zoom in to the image, and crop, safely up to 60% of the image and still get crispy clean broadcast quality. You should shoot in jpeg setting, rather than RAW, so there is no file conversion problem later.

Even so,your files sizes are going to be big, and very big, depending on the duration of your shoot. You can export your Quicktime files for web,which will be a whole lot smaller and more manage-able depending on the end purpose( the full res files you’ll probably work on in Adobe After Effects or Avid or FCP if you’re incorporating them into a movie.)

Have enough battery or mains power for the cam, and once you’re rolling, you can’t sop and check, so make sure the cam(and you and laptop) is in a safe housing against the elements, wild animals, passing pilferers, etc.  If you have the time, run a test for the kind of effect you’re looking for – skimming clouds, sunrise to sunset, city lighting up going to sleep, etc. By adjusting the frame rates, you’ll get an idea what to expect.

1. If you don’t have the time, for skimming clouds and sunrise to sunset, between once very 5 to 15 seconds and your ISO or exposure should be pre set.

2.The lower your ISO the crisper your image, but youy may need to be at ISO 800 if you have a lot of low light in your timelapse. Lock this setting off, so it won’t adjust automatically.

3. Your shutter should be slowish, below 1/100th of a second, especially to ‘smooth’ some of the timelapse images. Try around 1/60th.

4. Focus should definitely be manual, and choose your focal point beforehand (eg infinity).

5. White balance needs to be set for the overall tone you’re looking ofr for this scene – want it warm, cold, you decide and set to to dominant lighting key eg(sunlight, moonlight, starlight, city light.)

6. Set the camera for aperture priority (Av setting) so the camera can adjust exposure per frame taken (eg from early morning low light to bright midday) without over or under-exposure.

7. Select an aperture of about f5.6 as the wider settings usually give you more latitude, especially if you’re going to be in partial low light.

8.You’ll need to work out in advance, and in detail, how many shots you’ll be taking over the duration – eg 500 shots over 12 hours, and if your Compact Flash Card is big enough to handle this.

The EOS utility software is great – it lets you set the number of shots for the amount of time, and set a bunch of parameters.To make your movie from the hundreds of still images, load them into Quicktime Pro folder, and set the length of the timelapse sequence and it’s there to view.

If you don’t have Quicktime Pro, there are other software add-ons available, but QT is ideal especially if you’re linking to editing software. Adobe After Effects is also great, and let’s you craft the image directly after loading it.

With After Effects, you can grain it up and let it look like a film shoot, or to match a bleak/happy/sunny mood that you have in your storyline.

Have fun.

This excerpt from my movie Double Pack: Wild Dogs and Wolves, includes a little timelapse over the titles and lead in, and shows you can use timelapse for storytelling and not just scenics.

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