Experimenting with Gear & Style:

The best camera for time-lapse and slow motion:

The best cameras for time-lapse and slow motion video are probably not the same camera. The difference between the two techniques is simple enough: slow motion takes a real-time event and slows it down: time-lapse takes a real-time event that lasts a long time and compresses the time into something manageable.

Both of these come under the general heading of “time remapping.” The resulting visual effects are pretty common in advertising and music videos. So much so that you probably don’t even realizing how frequently it’s happening. There are some incredible samples all over the internet. But to move past the gimmick and use the technique as a way to tell a story can be a little tricky. You have to plan and do some experimenting to get it right.

As some of you may know, Dan has been working on a documentary project named “A Wolf Among the Weeds: How Yakima Valley hops changed craft beer forever” It’s about hops growers of  Yakima Valley and, yes, craft beer. We did some work a while back for Hopunion and that work sparked something of an obsession. For our Hops documentary, Dan is the client, the producer, and the director. In essence, Bakerbuilt Works is the client and Sierra Media is the production company…just like in real life. Anyway, the cool part about this project is that we get to experiment with gear and techniques in new ways because the only client we’re beholden to is…well, Dan. And, since the experiments are his idea, I think we’re good.

Experiment 1: Let’s Speed Things Up

Currently, in our conference room, you’ll find a bio-lapse studio of Dan’s own creation with hop vines spiraling up the twine. Also set up is one of the best cameras for time-lapse, a DSLR with an intervalometer. Travis, our IT guru, built a Raspberry Pi controller that controls the LED grow lights and the set lights. Since we’re using these high tech LED lights specifically for growing, they only use a certain spectrum of light that manifests as purplish/pink in color. That makes for some weird coloring on the green leaves, and an additional challenge. We need to turn the pink off and turn on white lights so that when the intervalometer triggers the camera to click off a picture, it’s close to the right color.

Studio time lapse Hops

The gear we’re using:

Canon 5D MK III shooting raw full resolution

Canon Intervalometer

2- 6″ LED panels

1- LED Growlight

18″ x 36″ printed backplate

Raspberry Pi Zero configured to control a light relay

4 Cascade Hops rhizomes from Yakima Valley Hops

Hops Growing

The fast-growing vines are our models for this bio-lapse video we planned to be making over a few months. We have the camera and lights set up on timers to record the vines as they creep up and sprout new leaves. The backdrop is a blow-up of an out-of-focus shot Dan took in a field of hops. The end result? Hopefully, it’ll look like these hop vines are growing as part of a larger crop, out in a field in Yakima where, strangely, the weather never changes.

Things started out pretty well. The rhizomes sprouted outside in a pot and then they were moved inside. Since the process kind of runs on its own, nobody was paying attention to the infestation that was occurring right under our lights. Currently, we’re dealing with a pest problem which promises to add a certain dramatic element…provided the hops survive. Unfortunately, it looks like they won’t. Don’t worry though, the experiment is still going, but at a much faster pace. We started at 1 frame an hour but we bumped it to 1 frame every 10 min. Hopefully, we’ll get a pretty cool shot of a hop bine being slowly murdered by mites (the best we can tell). So, lessons learned and we’ll have to wait until next year to try again.

Experiment 2: Let’s Slow Things Down

As a perfect counterpoint to high-speed hop growth, Dan wanted to add a little slow motion to the mix as well. There is something undeniably mesmerizing about slow motion, but doing it well requires planning and a camera that can handle at least 120 frames per minute. There are a few and they’re trickling down into the consumer market. Some cameras like the Phantom Flex can record incredibly high frame rates. They started out for scientific research but they, too, have trickled into the higher end pro market. Fortunately, we are professionals, so we have the good toys; our Sony F55 although a few years old can shoot 120 fps in full HD.

The gear we used:

Sony F55 with AXS-r5 raw recorder

Nikon 105 mm 2.8 Macro Lens

O’Connor tripod and 100 mm head

This is a shot we’ll actually use in the documentary but Dan thought it would be interesting to some of you to get a behind the scenes look at how we set up and execute some slow-motion beer pouring footage in the studio. So, we filmed Dan filming it. This video is one for the nerds – those among you who are interested in the mechanics behind a “simple product shot” you may need to be filmed. This is not a video to watch if you are at all dehydrated, as it’s almost guaranteed to cause a sudden onset of thirst…and possibly drool.

lighting diagram Bakerbuilt Works