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5 Best Time-Lapse Cameras in 2021 [Expert Recommendations]

Camera enthusiasts have for long restricted themselves to the twin domains of still photography and videography. However, advances in technology have helped us bridge this gap with the evolution of time-lapse photography. If you’re planning to get your hands on the best time-lapse camera, this article is going to be your helping hand.

Time-lapse is simply a large bunch of photographs, clicked at regular intervals, stitched together to create a video. The final result is a quick video, seemingly played back at higher than usual speeds, capturing the entire sequence of events.

Whether it is a cloudy day outside your window or a trip to one of the most popular tourist destinations, a time-lapse camera can create some extraordinary memories.

The current camera market is flooded with products that claim to enhance your photography experience while providing the best quality of time-lapse video there is. This guide will help you select the best camera for time-lapse photography.

Best Time-Lapse Cameras in 2021

To come up with the models for this article, I personally looked into the variants that are currently available in the market. I also took the help of 17 experts who use the time-lapse feature for their projects to make sure the list I prepare is relevant in the current scenario and future proof. I rented all the cameras discussed here to test them and see how they perform. Hence, you can pick any of them that fit your requirements and budget:

  • Type: DSLR Camera
  • Sensor Resolution: 20.9MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K UHD
  • Battery Life: Up to 950 shots
  • Weight: 1.14 lbs

The Nikon D7500 is built to survive. It has a small footprint but is very sturdy thanks to its magnesium alloy body that Nikon claims is shockproof. The camera has a water-sealed body thus further prolonging its life.

The D7500 has an extended buffer size that allows you to shoot time-lapse videos for longer. Long exposure time-lapses capturing a light trail or the overnight movement of stars can be captured comfortably through this continuous shooting mode.

The in-built NFC and Wi-Fi make sharing footage easy and enjoyable. The wide-angle 3.2 inch LCD is of very good quality and makes it easier to compose shots before capturing them.

Pros
  • Very well built
  • Light and portable
  • Great under low light
Cons
  • Very expensive
  • Stabilization isn’t the best
  • Type: DSLR Camera
  • Sensor Resolution: 47MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K UHD
  • Battery Life: Up to 1840 shots
  • Weight: 2.20 lbs

The Nikon D850 is a unique product. Well designed and good to look at, it is a niche product strictly for professionals who know their way around a camera. This high-end camera from Nikon checks almost all boxes.

The level of image controls provided by Nikon in this model is unparalleled. The richness of the data collected by the sensor allows you a lot of legroom while editing and removes any chances of extra saturation or poor dynamic range. Everything can be tweaked to perfection.

The 51 point autofocus makes this the best in class focusing system. The camera maintains focus throughout your time-lapse video even when there is a lot of movement and subject – background separation. 

It can shoot jaw-dropping timelapse footage in 4K resolution and a silent mode option helps improve battery performance by bypassing mechanical shutter movements thus allowing you to capture longer and better time-lapse footage.

Pros
  • Very good sensor
  • Well built
  • Great stabilization
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Type: Mirrorless Camera
  • Sensor Resolution: 16MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K UHD
  • Battery Life: Up to 360 shots
  • Weight: 0.90 lbs

The Lumix G7 is well built and feels very good in the hand. It is a premium product and the performance shows you why. The 16-megapixel sensor is very good at capturing raw data which you can then edit to your preferred quality. It allows for great details in the captured images and works very well under low light.

A special low light autofocus mode helps focus clearly even in the lack of any artificial lighting. This helps with night videography and is a useful addition to the great daytime time-lapse experience this camera offers.

Time-lapse videos are crisp and detailed thanks to Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology which continuously tracks subjects in the frame and adjusts the focus accordingly providing clean and detailed images.

Pros
  • Great low light performance
  • Can record at 4K
  • Good design and build quality
Cons
  • No in-camera stabilization
  • Type: Action Camera
  • Sensor Resolution: 12MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K UHD
  • Weight: 0.26 lbs

The Hero 7 is the latest offering from GoPro, and it promises to be the best at everything but in a pocket-sized body. Action cameras are usually tiny, and the Hero 7 is no different, weighing just about 0.26 pounds.

GoPro prides itself on its stabilization technology and claims that the Hero 7 can emulate the performance of stabilizing gimbals independently. In my testings, I found this claim to be rather true. The Hypersmooth feature does, in fact, make the footage extremely stable and removes any evidence of jerky and shaky camera handling.

The capacity to record footage at 4K resolutions at high framerates meant that I was thoroughly impressed by the Time-lapse video I shot with the Hero 7. It was detailed and looked gorgeous.

GoPro’s time tested user interface makes it a joy to use and navigating the menus is simple. The touchscreen provided, while not the best in terms of visual quality, has great touch response and suffices in its task.

Pros
  • Well built and durable
  • Great software and UI
  • Very good stabilization
Cons
  • Not the best sensor
  • Type: Action Camera
  • Sensor Resolution: 12MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K UHD
  • Battery Life: Up to 2 hours
  • Weight: 0.26 lbs

GoPro is the market leader in action cameras, and it shows. The Hero 5 is a polished product. It is small, comfortable to hold, and is quite durable. The extra case is waterproof, and with that attached, this is a very portable device.

The advanced sensor allows you to capture great footage with little to no shaking due to GoPro’s special stabilization features. Time-lapse is a prominent feature of GoPro’s action cameras, and this device is no different. The quality of the footage I recorded during my testing was great, and I was delighted with what this tiny product could do.

The Hero 5 shines, particularly in lower light scenarios. Special software tweaks allow the camera to automatically sense ambient lighting conditions and adjust ISO and EV accordingly to help you get the best possible shot.

Pros
  • Great stabilization
  • Very portable
  • Good build quality
Cons
  • Picture quality could have been better

Frquently Asked Questions

Should I look for a special time-lapse camera?

Not unless you only wish to capture time-lapse footage and nothing else at all. Most cameras have a special time-lapse mode. The sensor quality, the lens used and the user experience should be the priority.

Is a tripod necessary for time-lapse photography?

A tripod will help stabilize your footage and prevent any camera shake. This makes the end product better to look at and gives it a professional vibe. Most cameras with the time-lapse feature already come with a lens or in-camera stabilization so tripods aren’t necessary but still help create some very pleasing smooth time-lapse videos.

Are wide-angle lenses better?

Wide-angle lenses have a greater curvature and increase your field of view to around 120-degrees. They help you capture more in a frame and make for good quality and scenic landscape footage. If framed correctly, they can also capture some great-looking Point of View footage.

What is barrel lens distortion?

Wide-angle lenses have a far higher curvature than regular lenses. This increased curvature leads to a distortion effect at the corners of the frame. The image reflects the greater curvature of the lens and becomes curved, appearing wrapped around the lens and losing all straight lines. This distortion is called barrel lens distortion.

How to fix or avoid barrel lens distortion?

The most obvious barrel lens distortion comes from images that contain straight lines – such as buildings. Keep such lines in the middle of your image to avoid the distortion that happens at the edges of the frame. Most barrel lens distortions can be fixed in editing programs that usually have a filter to correct lens distortion.

What is ISO sensitivity?

The ISO sensitivity of a camera is simply a figure or a setting that determines the amount of light a camera sensor can capture at a particular point of time. The ISO setting brightens or darkens your image to help capture greater detail or to prevent noise or grain in the image. Higher ISO will lead to brighter images but they may contain more noise while a lower ISO setting will have the sharper image, albeit darker. ISO settings should be kept to a minimum when shooting in bright daylight while in low light scenarios it can be adjusted upwards to capture more details.

What is the difference between shooting RAW and in JPEG?

Raw footage utilizes the full capacity of the sensor to capture all the data it can, while JPEG is limited to the software processing abilities of the camera. Raw footage captures greater details and allows a lot of flexibility to make adjustments and edits afterward.

Is inbuilt camera stabilization better than lens stabilization?

In-camera stabilization tries to reduce motion blur by stabilizing the movement of the entire camera. In contrast, lens stabilization places the lens on a small gimbal to compensate for the movements of the camera body. Very useful for any moving photography, lens stabilization is far superior to the in-camera variant. It is superior in low light and wide-angle shots and can stabilize motions as violent as a rocking boat.

Verdict

Since you’re looking for cameras suited for time-lapse photography, I assume you have a proper use case where you really need them. Whether it is for professional assignments or personal endeavors, the following models are going to be your best bet.

  • If you are a traveler who makes time-lapse videos, I wouldn’t suggest the bulkier DSLRs. It’s because an action camera like GoPro Hero 7 would do just fine. But if you seek the absolute best in terms of picture quality, the action cameras just won’t quite cut.
  • If you are a professional, a high-end DSLR like Nikon D850 will suit you best. It provides the greatest amount of control and captures the best footage.
  • For beginners who want DSLR-like quality but aren’t willing to pay the premium price that demands a mirrorless camera like Panasonic Lumix G7 is the best bet. It’s almost noise-free and more compact than DSLRs while not compromising the image quality.