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What’s the BEST Construction Time Lapse Camera in 2020?

(HINT: The best camera may not be the best time lapse camera.)

Almost daily, we have conversations with photographers about what’s the best construction time lapse camera.

Of course, every photographer wants high-quality photos.

So, does that mean you should use DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark IV with L-series glass, or a Nikon D850 with a Sigma Art Series lens?

No, for a number of reasons.

Watch the video below, then keep reading to make an informed decision about choosing the best construction time lapse camera for your project.

1. High-quality cameras come with high price tags

It’s an expensive business decision to lock up a high-end camera in a time lapse box for two or more years.

If you’re taking photos every 15 minutes, eight hours a day, five days a week over two years…

…you will have triggered the camera less than 17,000 times.

That’s hardly enough usage – or enough of a return on your investment – for a high quality camera that may be obsolete by the time you finish.

In other words, the best camera may not be the best time lapse camera.

A photographer prepares a Canon as a construction time lapse camera

Ultimately your choice of camera is guided by your budget, or what you’re able to charge your client.

If the client is happy to pay $4000 more for a better camera and lens, then great!

In our experience though, clients are more likely to want to keep costs down…

…and the choice of camera and lens is a good place to save some money.

2. As a construction time lapse camera, you’re not going to use 99% of its features

Every now and then, a camera comes along that changes the industry landscape.

If you’ve been a professional photographer for a while, you’ll remember the buzz around certain powerhouse cameras.

The Canon 5D Mark II, the Sony a7R and a7S, and, more recently, the Nikon D850 all stirred up a storm.

These are the sorts of cameras that see die-hard fanboys put their entire kit up for sale and jump ship for the better technology.

A photographer checks his camera's features, but finds most unnecessary for construction time lapse
But, for the most part, each new camera is better only by increments:

A few more auto-focus points, an extra frame per second continuous shooting, a little more weatherproofing…

And, for the most part, these features bring little to no benefit for long-term time lapse.

As far as shooting requirements go, long-term time lapse is pretty boring.

There are no requirements for fast auto-focus, an extra couple of frames per second of continuous shooting, nor slow motion video.

You don’t want to pay more money for features you won’t actually be using.

There are, of course, a number of exceptions to this principle.

Most notably, if your client wants an 8K video…

…then you’ll have to use a camera with a high enough resolution to capture it.

Importance of Dynamic Range for Construction Time Lapse

Some shooters insist on the usefulness of higher dynamic range to help decrease flicker in the final time lapse video.

But the jury is still out on how important this is.

The differences in lighting conditions across a long-term time lapse sequence are extreme.

Examples of varied weather and lighting conditions in long-term time lapse

So, a higher dynamic range will only help so much before you need to resort to other measures like frame-blending.

And, of course, a more expensive camera doesn’t guarantee greater dynamic range.

For example, the US$1200 Nikon D7200 has a full stop greater dynamic range than the US$3500 Canon 5D Mark IV.

 3. Entry-level DSLRs still produce high quality images for construction time lapse purposes

You don’t need the best quality camera to capture great photos.

As DigitalRev TV perfectly demonstrated in their “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera” Series…

…you don’t need a super-premium camera to get fantastic results.

It’s not an expensive camera that makes someone a great photographer.

We can get so used to shooting large raw photos with our expensive full frame and L-series setups…

…that we forget a standard JPEG shot on an entry-level DSLR can still be an amazing photo.

In terms of resolution, all the entry-level DSLRs are now at least 24MP.

This provides more than enough pixels to play with to generate 4K video.

Remember, what is standard now in entry-level cameras was ground-breaking in flagship cameras only a few years ago.

More often than not, advancements don’t take long to get passed down the chain to the cheaper cameras.

For example, much of what was revolutionary with the Sony a7R III and the Sony a9 was passed down to the much cheaper Sony a7 III less than 12 months later. 

Photographers edit a construction time lapse video in a post-production studio

4. Post-production is more important than the perfect construction time lapse camera

One of the best construction time lapses I’ve seen was compiled from footage from webcams that were originally set up without construction time lapse in mind.

The time lapse was engaging because the creative post-production made it dynamic and interesting.

Would it have looked even better if it had been shot at a higher resolution with a better sensor?

Of course.

But after watching countless construction time lapse videos, I can assure you a well-edited and engaging low-res time lapse beats the pants off badly edited, high-res time lapse every time.

Among photoSentinel users, some of the best videos have been shot on Canon Rebels and entry-level Nikons.

It’s all in the editing!

5. The client doesn’t have high expectations

It’s not what we want to hear, but let’s be honest.

95% of the time the client won’t notice the difference between a time lapse produced using photos from an entry-level camera versus a high-end camera.

As photographers, it’s good that we self-critique and work hard to present work of the highest standard.

But so often we’re fixated on differences in quality that non-photographers wouldn’t even notice.

Once, at a photography competition, I watched judges disagree over the quality of a photo because…

…part of the subject was the slightest bit out of focus.

And when I say ‘slightest’, I mean they almost had their noses pressed to the photo to analyse it.

So, a client will (hopefully!) notice the difference between a construction time lapse shot on a terrible webcam and one shot with a DSLR.

But they’re unlikely going to notice the difference between one shot on a crop-sensor and one shot on a full-frame.

So, what’s the best time lapse camera?

There are times – like when you need 8K content, or your client has money to burn – when it’s appropriate to use a more expensive set up.

But, when we’re asked what cameras someone should use for construction time lapse, we recommend the entry-level APS-C Canon and Nikon DSLRs.

With these cameras you get full DSLR functionality, lens flexibility and high quality photos…

…all at a reasonable price for equipment that will be locked-up in a time lapse box for years on end.

Also, these types of cameras have been used on thousands of long-term time lapse projects around the world, so we know they’re reliable workhorses.

So, don’t feel like you need reach for the top shelf; entry-level APS-C cameras are a great choice for a construction time lapse camera.

Good construction time lapse equipment, like our photoSentinel Mach II will be compatible with a range of cameras, so you can choose your own camera and lens.

Lastly, here’s some more concrete proof that you really can shoot great time lapse with entry-level DSLRs.

Check out this time lapse created by Finnish photographer Riku Karjalainen, using a Canon Rebel T3i (600D).

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