How to Choose the Best Long-Term Time-lapse Camera System

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Once you've found a great construction time-lapse camera, are you good to go? Or is there more?

In this article we'll walk you through the best long-term time-lapse camera systems available on the market. Before you dive into that information you need to think about how you'll use the camera.

Getting the best video of your construction project isn't just about setting up a camera and hitting the record button - you have to think about things like:

  • how to protect your camera from the elements
  • how to provide continuous power to the camera
  • how to ensure the captured footage is saved safely

You don't just need to buy a great camera, you need a system that will take care of the issues described above automatically - and that's what you will learn about here.

How to Choose the Right Long-Term Time-lapse Camera System

 

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

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 Time-lapse 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.

Before you go too far down that rabbit hole, be sure to look into the construction time-lapse equipment we offer.

Professional Systems

Professional systems, like the photoSentinel Tempo, 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.

photoSentinel systems have 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.

To learn more, check out our articles:

What's the BEST Construction Time-lapse Camera?

The Best Long Term Time-lapse Camera and Lens for Construction

The Best Cameras We Recommend for Long-Term Time-Lapse

Experience the art of capturing time with precision using our recommended cameras for long-term time-lapse photography. Each camera is chosen for its exceptional features, reliability, performance, and suitability with our time-lapse equipment.

1. Sony ZV-e10

The Sony ZV-e10 is a good choice for long-term time-lapse photography, particularly for those seeking a compact and portable setup. Its easy compatibility with tripods and gimbals makes it ideal for extended, multi-day shoots. Although its battery life of approximately 440 shots per charge is not exceptional, it suffices for long projects. For longer shoots, users can easily prolong battery life by connecting an external power source.

Sony ZV-e10 Camera
Sony A7R IV

2. Sony A7R IV

The SONY A7R IV is a versatile powerhouse known for excelling in various photography scenarios, including long-term time-lapse projects. With interval shooting and movie time-lapse modes, it provides flexibility and control over your captures. Its tethered shooting capability is particularly impressive for extended projects. By connecting the camera to your computer via USB, you can benefit from continuous power, extended recording times, and direct file transfer, streamlining your workflow.

Sony A7R IV

3. Canon R10

The Canon R10 is a good option for long-term time-lapse projects, particularly for beginners or those looking for a mix of affordability and features. Its interval shooting and movie creation features streamline the process, and the vari-angle touchscreen makes monitoring convenient. However, the battery life and video recording limit might require extra gear or solutions for longer projects. Consider getting an external battery pack or an AC power adapter for extended use.

Canon r10
Canon RP

4. Canon RP

The Canon RP stands out as a strong choice for long-term time-lapse photography. Its full-frame CMOS sensor delivers impressive detail, rich colours, and excellent low-light performance, essential for extended time-lapses. With a battery life of approximately 500 shots per charge, the RP outperforms many competitors, allowing for longer uninterrupted captures. You can conveniently monitor and control your time-lapse setup remotely using a smartphone or tablet, which is especially useful for extended projects when you're not always on-site.

Canon RP

5. Canon M50 Mk II

The Canon M50 Mk II is a solid option for long-term time-lapse photography, particularly for beginners or those with budget constraints. Its fully articulating touchscreen LCD is especially useful for framing and monitoring shots, particularly when the camera is set up at challenging angles for extended captures. However, with approximately 380 shots per charge, the M50 Mark II's battery life might not be sufficient for prolonged time-lapse projects. Still, you can invest in an external power source to keep the camera running for extended periods.

Sony ZV-e10 Camera
Nikon Z30

6. Nikon Z30

The Nikon Z30 is a capable camera suitable for long-term time-lapse, although it excels more in shorter to medium-length projects, particularly for daytime sequences. Its ability to frame shots and monitor progress from various angles, including low or high positions, is one of its standout features, essential for extended shoots. However, for very long sequences, you'll need an external power source, as the Z30's battery only lasts for approximately 330 shots per charge.

Nikon Z30

7. Nikon Z

The Nikon Z5 is a fantastic option for long-term time-lapse photography thanks to its impressive features. Its interval timer is particularly noteworthy, offering precise control over capture intervals (in seconds, minutes, or hours) and total shooting duration (up to 99 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds), essential for planning extended time-lapses. Additionally, the Z5 supports external power sources like an AC adapter, allows for uninterrupted capturing for extended periods without solely relying on its battery life (which is approximately 470 shots per charge).

Nikon Z5

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.

An old General Electric voltage reader gauge

The  photoSentinel Tempo, 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.

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 Tempo 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 customised 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.

Our R&D team are always hard at work developing new features and upgrades so that you have more things to monetise 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.

Two members of the photoSentinel team

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 decide photoSentinel is right for you, or you want to ask further questions, don't hesitate to contact us to chat.

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

Chat to one of our team for expert advice or to receive a free, no-obligation quote for your timelapse project.