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A photoSentinel Mach II at night time

How to Choose the Right Long-Term Construction Timelapse System

In this article, we’ll explain what you need to consider to choose the right construction long-term timelapse system.

We’re not just going to push the photoSentinel Mach II on you (though we do think that’s an excellent option!).

Instead, we’ll give you guiding principles and features to look out for, no matter what brand you end up with for your project.

There are six factors to consider when choosing your construction timelapse camera.

  1. Type of timelapse system
  2. Choice of camera and lens
  3. Power requirements
  4. Local storage capacity
  5. Connectivity and cloud services
  6. Choice of partner company

Keep reading… 

1. Type of Timelapse System

There are three types of construction timelapse systems that you can choose from:

  1. A smaller, all-in-one system.
  2. A DIY system.
  3. A professional system.

Let’s look at each one and its benefits and drawbacks.

Smaller, All-In-One System

Smaller, all-in-one long-term timelapse systems are usually the cheapest option.

Although, this comes with several compromises.

First, image quality is 720p in most cases, or 1080p at best.

Second, these systems are often powered by AA batteries, which means you’ll need to travel and replace the batteries on a regular basis or jerry-rig another solution.

AA batteries scattered on a table

Third, they don’t usually have web connectivity, which means no status reporting or photo uploading.

There’s no way for you to know that your system is functioning correctly unless you’re standing right next to it.

So, if anything goes wrong, you won’t know until days or weeks later when you inspect the system.

To see your photos, you’ll need to make regular trips to collect them.

Between that and replacing the batteries, you may find you need to make frequent trips to the system.

For these reasons, we recommend against these cheap, small systems.

DIY System

If you have the know-how, it is possible to build your own long-term timelapse system.

The benefit of this (aside from the personal satisfaction of making your own system) is that it can help you cut costs.

However, while the idea of saving money through the DIY-route may be tempting, we advise against that unless you really know what you’re doing.

Because construction timelapse projects can run for one, two, three, four years…

there’s no way for you to be certain your self-made equipment will be reliable and durable unless you’ve tested it that long.

DIY systems tend also to be power-hungry.

That means solar power usually won’t be enough. You’ll need to secure AC for your unit, restricting the locations you can install it.

Professional Systems

Professional systems, like the photoSentinel Mach II, are built from the ground up for long-term construction timelapse.

As they’re designed to integrate with professional cameras, you have control over the image quality.

The system controller looks after everything; powering the camera, recharging the internal battery from a solar panel, triggering the camera at intervals, uploading photos, and uploading statuses.

Because the system has been specifically designed for long-term timelapse, you can have great confidence in it.

The Mach II has been used for many years across thousands of projects; and you can be confident it will keep going for the duration of your project.

An old General Electric voltage reader gauge

2. Choice of Camera and Lens

Many photographers feel a temptation to splash cash on the camera and lens for their construction timelapse.

The thought process makes sense; better camera and lens means better quality timelapse content.

So they opt for the impressive, $4,000 full-frame camera with a Sigma Art Series lens.

But, when it comes to long-term timelapse, it’s far more about the editing studio than camera choice, that makes for a good final timelapse video.

And do you really want to trap a piece of equipment like that up a pole for 3+ years when you could be using it on other projects?

Therefore, we recommend an entry-level DSLR, combined with a Canon Sigma wide-angle 10-20mm, Tokina 12-28mm or 11-16mm.

These set-ups are a fraction of the cost and will still let you work with high-quality photos.

For camera brand, Canon or Nikon are both reliable, time-tested options.

We recommend against Sony, as they haven’t been around long enough to be certain of their reliability in long-term timelapse

To learn more, check out our article on choosing the best camera and lens for your project.

3. Power Requirements

Your long-term timelapse unit will need steady power during the whole lifespan of a project, whether that’s AC or solar power.

When running on solar, or a local external battery, a specialised system that’s been optimised for low power will enable you to shoot more for longer.

There are many systems on the market which are built on a power-hungry PC.

These systems demand high power – either large expensive solar and better rigs (sometimes a full trailer full!) or AC – which makes them unsuitable for a lot of construction timelapse.

The photoSentinel Mach II, by contrast, has been precision engineered for power efficiency, and can run indefinitely on a single 20W solar panel.

For situations where there is no AC and solar is insufficient for the shooting regime, we have an external battery box, which can be used with a 12V sealed lead acid battery or gel battery.

An old General Electric voltage reader gauge

4. Local Storage Capacity

If you want to upload JPEGs and save RAW locally, then large on-board storage is critical.

You’ll also need large local storage if you plan on shooting fast and don’t want to upload every photo.

Many systems on the market don’t have large local storage, meaning that you’ll need to make frequent trips to the system to collect your RAW files or the JPEGs you chose not to upload.

The photoSentinel Mach II has up to 500GB of on-board storage, so that you can store those files instead and save yourself some unnecessary trips.

5. Connectivity and Cloud Services

It’s very important to investigate what “connectivity” means for each system you’re considering, as the features can vary significantly.

For photoSentinel, connectivity allows for a whole range of cloud features, including:

  • Status reporting, so you can relax and always know if your system is working properly.
  • Remote configuration of over 20 settings, which can save you trips to the system.
  • A web gallery of all uploaded photos, easily accessible and shareable. The gallery can be customized with a client’s branding and hosted at their URL.
  • A searchable database of all photos, very useful as a reference tool.
  • A compare-and-contrast tool for checking different stages of progress in the project side-by-side.
  • Ability to embed a latest photo link on a website, which always refreshes with the latest photo.

These services can provide great value for both you and client, and not all systems have all the features.

We recommend avoiding offline systems where possible.

Without a connected system, you won’t know if your system is experiencing issues or properly taking photos until your next visit, weeks or months later.

So carefully check that your system of choice has the connectivity and cloud features that you need.

Cellular Data Costs

There is a small downside to connectivity: cellular data costs.

They’re unavoidable if you want to offer cloud services to your client.

However, it’s better to think of cellular data costs as an investment, rather than an expense.

By paying a little more for cloud services, you can charge clients significantly more.

And, make sure you check out our article on calculating and managing data costs, to avoid getting hit with bill shock. 

6. Choice of partner company

Last of all is deciding which long-term timelapse company you’d like to partner with.

This is not just an excuse to push photoSentinel, but also a reminder that you’re not just buying equipment; you’re also forming an ongoing business partnership.

The photoSentinel team has 25 years of industry experience covering thousands of projects globe.

We have offices all over the world, so technical support and sales staff are available in all time zones.

Two members of the photoSentinel team

Our R&D team are always hard at work developing new features and upgrades so that you have more things to monetize with your own clients.

And, from day one, photoSentinel has always been about providing photographers and independent production companies with the equipment you need to grow a long-term timelapse business.

The long-term timelapse system that’s right for you

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to choose the long-term timelapse system that you think is best for your project.

Just keep in mind that it needs to have proven reliability, and the specific features you need to succeed.

And, if you do decided photoSentinel is right for you, or you want to ask further questions, don’t hesistate to contact us to chat.

Call one of our friendly sales staff today and get your hands on your very own system!

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