Make your own simple camera slider

posted in: DIY, Photography | 0

Following the construction of my camera slider, I thought I would share a bit more information about the materials and how to use it.

First let’s talk about the purpose of such device. The goal here is to capture images of a scene at regular intervals (30 seconds for example) from a moving point of view and group these pictures in a timelapse movie. The effect created here is a bit like you’re moving slowly into a really fast paced world.

 

An excellent example of what you can create with it is the following video:

 

Building the slider

There are lots of camera slider models on the internet, some with detailed instructions, some with a lot of options. The one I built is far from matching the quality of professional sliders but it has the advantage of being cheap and going the job I need it for.

Here’s a list of the materials used:

  • 1 Rail from a straight-edge board clamp (similar to this) $30
  • 6 Ball bearings from a roller/skateboard store $15
  • 1 DC motor .5 rpm 6v from SDP/SI (ref A 3Z16-0005B) $22
  • 2 Gears 11 teeth from SDP/SI (ref A 6A16-011DF2504) $16
  • 10 feet timing belt from SDP/SI (ref A 6Z16-C025) $26
  • 1 timing belt connector from SDP/SI (ref A 6M16M060) $5
  • 2 tripods with detachable plates $60
  • 1 4 AA batteries case from the Source $5
  • 1 tripod head (can vary a lot depending on quality and weight of your camera)

This brings the overall bill of materials to about $170 (without the tripod head) which stays pretty low compared to commercial sliders.

 

Using the slider

Using the slider is really easy. Here are the main steps:

  1. Set the tripods to the desired height
  2. Attach the rail to the tripods
  3. Bring the carriage to the starting end of the rail
  4. Attach the camera
  5. Set the focus on manual, and set the various parameters of your camera
  6. Attach your timer to the camera
  7. Set the timer to the desired interval (ex: 30 seconds)
  8. Start the motor
  9. Start the timer

After a couple of hours, the camera should be near the other end of the rail. Stop the timer and the motor. You can now download the images sequence on your computer.

 

I use a linux operating system which has a few convenient tools to generate movies from still images. The tool I am using is avconv which is part of the libav software.

avconv is a command line tool. This is the command I use to generate a timelapse movie:

avconv -f image2 -r 20 -i /home/thomas/Timelapse/IMG_%04d.JPG -start_number 96 -vcodec libx264 -b:v 12000k timelapse.mp4

-f image2 means we are working from images
-r 20 means the rendered video will have 20 frames per second
IMG_%04d.JPG is the naming format of my image files
-start_number 96 means my image sequence starts at IMG_0096.JPG
-vcodec libx264 means the video will be encoded using the h264 codec
-b:v 12000k is the video bitrate. High bitrate = high quality = big file size
timelapse.mp4 is the name of the video that will be created

 

This is the result of this command:

 

The camera settings still need to be tweaked to accommodate the change of luminosity. I will also need to test it on the night sky during winter to know how long the batteries can last.

 

Update: October 19th 2014

Here is a first try on the night sky. There was a moderate aurora at the beginning of the night which subsided by the time I started to take pictures. The clouds also started to roll in at the same time. The video is not great but it teaches me that I need to run more than 45 minutes to get that “moving” effect and I also need to get the foreground closer.

 

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