A Year Long Time Lapse Camera

All [val3tra] wanted was an RF-accessible camera. A camera that would take pictures, save them to an SD card, and occasionally send them over an RF link to a computer. This project has grown out of control, and now it has become an open-source camera that’s able to take year-long time-lapse movies.

The build started as a low power camera using an eBay JPEG camera modified for 3.3V. That’s only 640×480, but each frame averages only 48kb – small enough to store a few thousand pictures on a FAT16 formatted SD card. A $4 RF module, an ATMega, and an RTC make up the rest of the build that has a power draw of about 100 Joules per hour. A D-cell has about 60,000 Joules, and a pessimistic estimate of a battery of four in series, two in parallel gives a run time of 200 days.

This build was then improved, bringing the total battery consumption down to about 3.5-4 Joules per frame, or at one frame every 10 minutes, about 24 Joules an hour. That’s impressive, and getting this camera to run longer than a dozen or so months raises some interesting challenges. The self-discharge of the battery must be taken into account, and environmental concerns – especially when leaving this camera to run in a Moscow winter, seen in the video below – are significant.

If you don’t want to go equipment-lite you could seal your DSLR, Pi, and some serious batteries in a weatherproof enclosure.

18 thoughts on “A Year Long Time Lapse Camera

          1. “The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic.”
            ― Stephen Fry

            Although many don’t agree on his technical know how, I wouldn’t say his vocabulary is “limited”. If you think some words are naughty and you’re past the age of 5 I think you should really have a good think about your thought processes. If you think some words are bad because a magical sky daddy says they are bad you should have a good long think.

    1. Strictly speaking A-Hr is not a unit of *power usage* measurement. It is more a battery capacity in the sense that it is the sum of amount of current delivered multiplied by the time where energy has the extra battery voltage term in it.

  1. It would be interesting to see a project like this done with a film camera, maybe super8 or something similarly cheap, according to my calculations at 1 frame every 10 minutes like this project a year could be captured in less than 40 minutes (24 frames per second) of film, that would be interesting. Oh yes, before I forget f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ckadee f*ck, f*ck,.

  2. Reading about a year-long time lapse camera reminds me of the “longnow” clock, which is supposed to run for 10,000 years (http://longnow.org/clock/). You have to start thinking LONG-term. Which means of course you can’t be storing pictures on anything as ephemeral as flash memory. Maybe the pictures can be engraved in gold leaf on a quartz substrate, or something. Or since we’re going for the appearance of fast motion, they could be engraved on the inner surface of a huge quartz cylinder with slots cut in it to make a zoetrope (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoetrope). A 10,000-year camera making a time-lapse of one picture per day would need 3,652,500 frames. Power can be from various sources, such as a barometric clockwork or something similar wound up by the daily thermal cycle. Now you have to be thinking in joules per century.

    That, or I’m just a feature creep.

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