April 22, 2012

Nikon D4 / Nikon D800 time-lapse photography – review

The highly anticipated Nikon D4 (B&H) and Nikon D800 (B&H) are loaded with features, and both cameras offer exceptional image quality. Hidden in the list of camera specs, is an item which is of specialized interest – Time-Lapse Photography. So if a photographer doesn’t have a specific interest in this, they are most likely just going to gloss over this – but this is quite a powerful feature.

With Time-Lapse photography, as with video, it just looks much more interesting if the camera moves as well. With movies too, the cinematography and how the camera moves, make all the difference. Last year some time, I stumbled on the Time-Lapse photography by MindRelic. The movement of the camera as the city scenes unfolded, blew my mind. This was done via a motorized dolly – specifically, the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly. So of course, with no prior interest in Time-Lapse photography, I immediately bought a Stage Zero dolly. It all just looked that cool.

But then the winter approached and it was just too cold to venture outside at night to try out Time-Lapse photography. So the dolly lay dormant, still boxed, in my office. Until my Nikon D4 cameras arrived a few days ago!

time-lapse photography with the Nikon D4 / D800

If there is any motion with time-lapse photography, the photographer previously had to figure out the number of frames, and exposure intervals, to calculate the duration of the final clip. The Nikon D4 and D800 does this for you.

Even better – previously, with time-lapse photography, the photographer had to try and visualize how the movement of the camera, from the starting point to end point, would finally appear when the images are compiled as a movie clip. I can just imagine how frustrating it must have been to spend time setting something up, only to realize later on when compiling the clip, that the duration is too fast or too slow, or there was some kind of hiccup.

This is where the Nikon D4 and Nikon D800 shine – they compile the time-lapse sequences into a .mov file for you, in camera!

You shoot the sequence of images from start to end, and then hit playback on the camera, and the movie plays back for you. Right there!  So if there are any changes you’d like to make in the sequence, and how the camera moves during the time-lapse sequence, you can adjust it right there and then. Beautifully elegant. This has to be very attractive to any photographer interested in time-lapse photography.

Setting it up is very easy. So easy that I was able to shoot the time-lapse sequences without referring to the manual.

The time-lapse movie file is generated at the settings that you have for the camera’s video settings. In retrospect, I should’ve shot this at 24fps. Perhaps a minor difference.

For quick access, I have this enabled in My Menu of the camera:

And in turn, to quickly access My Menu, I have the DoF preview button set to be the quick access to My Menu instead.

about the New York time-lapse sequence

Erik Colonese and I went in to New York late last night to shoot time-lapse sequences to compile into a longer movie clip. A first attempt at this! In fact, a first attempt at time-lapse photography, aside from a test sequence in my garden to see how the Dynamic Perception dolly works.

We rained out at some point, and the traffic in Manhattan on a Saturday night is dreadfully slow. So between the rain and traffic hold-ups, we managed to shoot 7 sequences which looked good. The opening sequence there was our 2nd try on that 1st set-up. And then the rain came down and we scrambled for cover. When we played it back … wow! High-fives! I was stunned at how cinematic it looked.

I can see a few things I’d do differently now – two of the sequences need to be slower, for example. But as it is, I am very proud of this first attempt.

Here is Erik setting up the MX2 Motion Controller on the dolly. This sets the duration and speed with which the dolly would travel. We usually had the dolly up on two tripods. A few times we had the dolly at an angle with one tripod, and the one end of the dolly resting on the ground.  For two of the sequences, we wanted the camera at this low an angle, and took the dolly off the tripods.
The mysterious girl in the 2nd sequence, is Elmira, who I have used as a model a few times recently.  She was lit by an iPhone, which I purposely moved around a bit during the time the time-lapse intervals. This helped to give it that shimmering look.

Since the Nikon D4 (and Nikon D800) produce the .mov files in-camera already, compiling the video clip is a very simple matter, using iMovie.

 

related article on time-lapse photography

- time-lapse photography tips on shooting sequences

 

equipment used to shoot the timelapse clip shown above:

Nikon D4  (B&H);  Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S  (B&H)
Manfrotto tripods & quick releases  (B&H)
Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly

Soundtrack courtesy of TripleScoopMusic

You can order the Nikon D4 and Nikon D800 and other goodies from B&H
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Nikon D600

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everything you want to know about time-lapse photography:

 

photography books written by Neil vN

 

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jim April 22, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Wow, love your work. Thanks for the info I plan on getting a Nikon D800 and I will put time-lapse photography on my list of wanta do…

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2 MIchael April 22, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Neil
it’s definitely early yet, but are you very pleased with the D800?
thanks
Michael

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3 Neil vN April 22, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I have the D4 and this is the camera I used.
I included the D800 in the title because the two cameras offer exactly the same feature.

Neil vN

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4 Ray April 23, 2012 at 1:51 am

WOW! Neil,
I was very happy with my D3s till now. Thanks
Ray

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5 edy April 23, 2012 at 3:43 am

Hello Neil,
I’m very happy.
The scors week I bought Nikon D4 0.24 to 70 2.8, 70-200 2.8 VRII, 85 1.4 fixed, and SB 910 are just crazy.
I can not wait to follow your advice on using this new camera.
A good job soon

Edy Trigona
Genoa, Italy

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6 Chuck Eggen April 23, 2012 at 11:35 am

I have both the D4 and D800. I love the Time Lapse feature and did a quick setup (with D4) at a local motorcycle show recently. The D800 is a monster and renders incredible detail. It however dose need more light but will make a fantastic portrait/studio camera. Love your moving Time Lapse video Neil. I want a dolly but can’t justify the cost just for fun.

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7 Ed Verosky April 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm

This is exciting. I’m loving these first sequences. I think the weather added to the mystique of some of the shots. Now I very much want to shoot a short film.

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8 Adam April 23, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Hi Neil,

I read your blog very often mainly about flash photography, but this is my first post.
My question is about D800. In photo rental shop in Tokyo, a guy told me
that D800 is difficult. I asked him what does it mean.
He answered that don’t rent or buy unless you shoot ONLY on tripod otherwise
your pictures, at least most of them will be blurred.
I was surprised. He continued and said they all have a problem
with something inside. I couldn’t understand tech word in Japanese, but
he referred to kind of stabilizer ( in camera?) .
Pictures have nice colors, but only with tripod will be sharp.
We were talking about D800 without specific model, so I’m not sure wether
version with “E” have that issue too. Some of my friends postponed their shopping.
Another way to find out is to rent first and play with it.
Can anyone here who use D800/D800E confirm it?
Thanks

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9 Neil vN April 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Adam … this is the first I’ve heard of anything like this. I can’t imagine there is any validity to this.

There are enough D800 cameras on the street already, for this to have become a widely reported problem if this had been true.

Neil vN

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10 MvH April 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Re: D800 has problem with camera-shake, 5d3 does not. Why?
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1032&message=41082121&changemode=1

Nikon D800 Review
http://mansurovs.com/nikon-d800-review

” 9) Camera Shake and Hand-holding Technique

If you want to have sharp images at 100% view, then you need to be more careful with camera shake and you need to learn proper hand-holding techniques. Similar to the Nikon D7000, the D800 is more prone to any sort of movement that causes blur than the D700. While down-sampling will yield very similar results as the D700, even with a little blur in your images, if your intent is to print large, then you should take this account. If you shoot with longer portrait/telephoto lenses and want to have tack sharp images, you should consider increasing your shutter speed even more. I quickly learned that shooting at the shutter speed that is equal to the focal length often produced slightly blurry images at 100% view, so I had to use faster shutter speeds to get the maximum resolution out of my lenses and the D800. “

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11 MvH April 23, 2012 at 10:41 pm

WOW! This time lapse video looks great! It gives an interesting view of New York city at night. It’s pleasing to look at. You’ve done a great job with this video – Nikon should get you to create promotional material for the “time lapse video feature” of their cameras. Hope they phone you soon!

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12 Mary-Claire April 24, 2012 at 8:10 am

My boys, ages 6 and 2, wanted to watch the video over and over again. Stunning video, even more so for your first attempt. The music is perfect, too! I love the use of the light on the model. Outstanding job! I think I want a dolly and a D4 now. :)

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13 Matt April 24, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Hello Neil. I’m thoroughly impressed with your time-lapse video, but most particularly the sequence from 0:26 through 0:30. The appearance of the reflections remaining stationary while the rest of the scene moves is an exceptional capture. Well done!

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14 Ryan April 26, 2012 at 7:57 am

Neil, excellent job on the video. I thought you might enjoy Vicente Sahuc’s video, New York 2008. This video was made with a Casio EX-F1 camera that captures video at 1200 frames per second. Keep up the great work on the blog, I follow it daily.

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15 Robert Gordon May 4, 2012 at 10:40 pm

A truly awe inspiring movie, inspired me enough to consider buying one of these rigs. Regarding Adam’s comment, although its a little late, I’m sure that most have already heard of the diopter and focusing issues on the d800, mostly however isolated to the first batch apparently, perhaps this is what the rental shop in Tokyo was suggesting. Personally I’d prefer a lag in shipping if they are actually fixing these units discretely versus cough Canon cough who will just send out defective items and play dumb.

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16 Paul Tortora May 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Hi Neil, what a great TL movie… job well done!

- Can you tell me what mode, f-stop, ISO and shutter speed you used (I’m assuming you were in manual mode)?
- I believe you said you set the camera time-lapse settings to fire every 1 second. Did you set that controller for the Dynamic Perception slider to shoot move shoot or just let it automate a movement – would be concerned about shooting while it is moving all the time.
- How long was the duration (total number of clicks before you traveled the length of the slider?
- Saw very little flickering… did you use a deflicker plugin in post?

Any help would be most appreciated. Just got a D4 and can’t wait to try out the TL features.

Thanks,

Paul

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17 Neil vN June 1, 2012 at 4:10 am

Paul .. everything was shot in Manual exposure mode on the camera.
Since the light levels didn’t change during any of the sequences, there was no need to change exposure settings.

The exposures were in the order of 0.5 to 1.5 seconds.

The Nikon D4 makes the calculations easy, since it will tell you how long the camera needs to be taking photos for .. which in this case means, how long the camera should be moving for.

It depends on whether you’re shooting 24 fps or 30 fps or 60 fps. But as I said, the camera does that calculation for you.

The camera will also tell you how long the final .mov file will be.

So now we just need to figure out how fast the dolly needs to move, to cover 5 feet during the duration the camera tells you.

The speed the dolly moves with, also depends on how steeply it is angled. The weight of the camera and lens will affect the speed that the dolly travels with, if you set the dolly up at an angle. So there is a bit of hit-and-miss involved there, and a dry run or two to get it all together.

So the number of photos is something the camera calculates for you. It really makes that side of Time-Lapse Photography a lot easier.

I didn’t use any deflickering software.

Re the fact that the dolly will be slightly moving during exposure … this doesn’t matter at all, since we will be watching a video clip at the end. And with video, there is movement within each frame. If you think about it, when you watch a movie or video, it doesn’t consist of 24 or 30 super-sharp crisp frames per second. It consists of 24 or 30 frames depicting the scene. And if there is movement within the scene, this is what we want in the end … that the Time-Lapse clip (or video for that matter), shows movement.

Neil vN

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18 Serge July 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm

This a great feature in D4. Its easy to do and the results are predictable. I have shot a test time-lapse sequence from a moving car:

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19 daniel loera July 16, 2012 at 12:07 am

Hi Neil, I really enjoyed your timelapes of NY City, i Also love your photos and follow you frequently.

I would like to do a time-lapse of our office Monuments office sign/logo , at dusk as the sign lights up at 8pm and would like to capture some nignt as well, how would i handle the exposure as it is semi day turning into night. Greatly appreciated.

Thanks
Daniel

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20 Neil vN July 16, 2012 at 12:20 am

Daniel … follow the links to the TimeLapse forums and Q&A that I mention in the article.

Neil vN

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21 Peter Ribton September 10, 2012 at 6:28 am

Hi Neil, lovely stuff, I would love to chat further on this.

Cheers
Pete

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22 Peter Ribton September 11, 2012 at 10:41 am

Hi Neil,

I am using the D4

Time lapse: Static camera test

My question is: When setting the Shooting time say for example to 1hr, I take it this is the duration of the time lapse shoot? Ok so I set my Interval to 4 minutes does this mean every 4 minutes it will record for 4 minutes and lapse for 4 minutes

What if I want to record every 4 minutes for say 30 seconds?

Cheers
Peter

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23 Neil vN September 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Peter … it doesn’t work like that. Fortunately.

The timelapse feature of the D4 / D800 calculates the length of the final timelapse clip, depending on:
– the interval that you set, and
– the total duration that the camera will shoot for, and
– your video settings’ frame rate (ie, 24 fps or 30 fps)

Any of those settings will change the length of the final timelapse clip.

Super easy.

Neil vN

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24 David Pearce December 8, 2013 at 4:35 am

Hi Neil.

Hope you are well. I just stumbled across this on Google as I was researching how to pull a still images from a D4 movie. Very cool indeed! I am going to try and get one of those Dollys!

Reply

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