I’ve been wanting to do timelapse photography with my Nikon D90 for a while, but this particular camera doesn’t lend itself to the task very easily. It has no built-in ability to take timed shots at programmed intervals (intervalometer). You can tether the camera to do the job, but that’s a cumbersome solution. I wanted something I could attach in the field and have greater battery life than a tethered laptop.
The turning point for me was an article by ‘Domjan’ in DIY Photography (one of my favourite blogs) on building a DIY automated macro rail. I built that rail as a personal introduction to electronics, and that has since got the brain ticking. With only a few small electrical mods and a new controlling program running behind the scenes I have morphed the macro rail design into a DIY intervalometer.
I didn’t have a remote that connects directly into my D90, but what I did have is a Solmeta N2 GPS that I had bought previously that happens to have a remote that connects through it. The connection via the optocoupler isn’t ideal. Originally I tried to use two, but the secondary connection actually gets a voltage back through preventing it from properly shorting the remote connection. This is where I reverted the design back to just one optocoupler and bridged it so that firing the camera happens in one move rather than two. This worked fine in my tests. Other remotes might lend themselves to the two-move shoot better.
There is not too much more to be explained about this design beyond what Domjan explained in his macro rail article. The circuit uses a really cheap picaxe 08M that really makes simple circuit design a breeze. The intervalometer functionality is programmable via a cheap universal remote – you enter a number from 1-999 for the delay in seconds, then press the power button to begin. Pretty easy, but you might need to keep a little cheat card with the circuit if you use it infrequently.
The shots don’t stop until you turn the intervalometer or the camera off. I don’t see this as a limitation, you can just set an alarm to remind yourself to switch the thing off if need be. One other thing to be aware of that is not really a limitation is that this uses picaxe pause functionality to count the time. While this is not accurate in a time-keeping sense, it is easily accurate enough for a timelapse. Having a shot that is a few milleseconds out is undetectable, and we don’t have any over-all time program, so it’s a non-issue.
Here’s the schematic for building the circuit on a strip board:
And here are reference photos of the completed circuit:
The remote’s wired up in such a way that it can still be used for its original purpose. With the plug, it can also be used for other control projects. Don’t forget to tie a knot inside before you solder so that the wires won’t pull off the solder.
The last thing you’ll need is the sourcecode for programming the picaxe 08M.
Now that you have an intervalometer, you’ll need some instructions on putting your timelapse together into a final production.
Future Improvements (a Wishlist)
While this design works perfectly, it’s not intuitive. I’d like to build in an LCD display that shows the set delay time. The next thing I’d like to do is to rectify the two-move shutter release issue. I’m not sure if this even needs to be done, but it’s flagged.
Another wish is to add in a stepper motor or two for smooth scene panning whilst taking the timelapse. This would be yet another mod of Domjan’s original automated macro rail design (in fact, it could probably be used in its exact form). Whilst the motor control is simply taken care of, the tough decision will be how to make the motor movement steps programmable. Perhaps this is where good feedback from the LCD might make this easier from a usability perspective. Having an LED flash at you to acknowledge multiple operations just doesn’t cut it.