A Low Budget Time-Lapse Option

With professional photography equipment such as the Brinno, GoPro and Canon EOS all coming in at several hundred dollars, the Raspberry Pi can be a very affordable alternative for long term time-lapse whilst still providing exceptional quality.

Due to the Linux operating system and necessity of writing scripts to set up time-lapses, the Raspberry Pi has quite understandably been a difficult piece of equipment to utilise for the non-programmer and hobbyist photographer.

Now, by installing SmoothLapse, the Raspberry Pi becomes a point-and-shoot solution for time-lapses that can easily be used by non-technical photographers through the simple web interface.

In this article we’ll be covering a low budget time-lapse setup from scratch and giving tips on how to achieve stunning results for around £75 ($100). With the recent release of the Raspberry Pi Zero 2W you could even get the total build price down to about £55 ($75).

Hardware

Raspberry Pi.

The model 2, 3, 4 and Zero 2W will all work fine for this project and can be bought easily online.

We used a Raspberry Pi 3 which can be picked up at the time of writing for £33.90 (about $46).

By using the Pi Zero 2W you can save yourself about £20 on the build price. The SmoothLapse web interface may run a little more slowly, but it will be fully capable of taking a good quality time lapse.

Raspberry Pi Camera Module.

We chose the InnoMaker 5MP 1080p camera module which has a manual focus. This costs about £18 ($24).

There are a wide selection of camera modules available for the Raspberry Pi, ranging from about £7 ($9.50) for the most basic option to £75 ($100) for the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera and lens.

Any choice will work, but we felt that the InnoMaker module would offer a good balance between quality and price for this low budget project.

Official Raspberry Pi Power Supply.

To ensure reliability we chose the official Raspberry Pi power supply. We’ll be taking photos 24/7 so stability is quite important here. This costs about £8 ($11).

Micro SD Card.

As we’ll only be capturing 1080p photos we chose a 32GB card for this project which costs about £9 ($12).

If you’ll be using the HQ camera and capturing at 4K resolution then we’d recommend a 64 or even 128GB SD card, which can cost up to £20 ($27).

It’s important to choose an SD card from a reputable supplier since lower quality models are known to encounter data corruption issues.

Camera holder or tripod.

The camera holder doesn’t have to be anything special. Even a very basic model makes it much easier than trying to balance the camera in the right position on its own.

We went for a simple clip on adjustable arm that cost about £5 ($7).

Raspberry Pi Case.

Since we’re going to be growing plants near the Pi, to offer a little protection from any stray water or dirt we went for a very simple case that only cost £3 ($4)

SD Card Reader

This will be used to format the SD card with the Raspberry Pi operating system. You may already have a reader built in to your laptop or computer. If not, a USB card reader should only cost a few dollars.

Installation

Head to the Raspberry Pi Software page and download Raspberry Pi Imager.

Put your SD card into the reader and plug it in to your computer.

After installing, open Raspberry Pi Imager and click “Choose OS”.

Click “Raspberry Pi OS (Other)” and then choose “Raspberry Pi OS Lite (32 bit)”

Open the storage option and pick your SD card. Your screen should look like the image on the left. , now click “Write”. This will take around 10 minutes.

The full Raspberry Pi OS with desktop environment will also work fine, but in order to make the time-lapse as smooth as possible, it’s best to dedicate as much CPU and memory as possible to taking the time-lapse.

Once Raspberry Pi Imager has finished, go to the drive named “Boot” in my computer and make a new empty file called “ssh”.

Now create another file called “wpa_supplicant.conf” and copy in the following text:

country=US # Your 2-digit country code
ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
network={
ssid="Your-wifi-name"
psk="Your-password"
key_mgmt=WPA-PSK
}

Edit the sections in quotes to enter your wi-fi network name and password. You should end up with something that looks like the image shown.

You can now remove the SD card from your computer and insert it into the Raspberry Pi.

Make sure the camera module is also plugged in to the Pi and then plug in your power supply and turn on the Pi.

After 2 to 3 minutes the Pi should be fully booted. We are going to open a terminal window to remotely run some commands. You can do this from any computer on your wi-fi network.

In Windows, you can open PowerShell by opening the start menu and searching for PowerShell, in Mac and Linux you can open the regular terminal.

Once you have a terminal window open type in “ssh pi@raspberrypi” to start the log in process. You will be asked for a password, the default password is “raspberry“.

If you get errors similar to “no such host is known” then this means that either your Raspberry Pi has not yet fully booted, you got the wi-fi details wrong in the previous step, or you typed the ssh command wrong.

If you get a message asking “Are you sure you want to continue connecting?” Then type “yes”.

You should get a prompt saying pi@raspberrypi:

Once logged in , type “sudo raspi-config” and press enter.

Select “Interface Options” and make sure you turn on the Camera Module.

If you are using the Raspberry Pi high quality camera then go to “Performance Options” and set the GPU memory to 256MB, otherwise this setting can be left at 128MB.

Go to Finish and save and reboot your Raspberry Pi.

Wait 2 to 3 minutes for your Raspberry Pi to reboot and then type in “ssh pi@raspberrypi” to log back in again.

After logging in, copy in the following command and press enter:

wget https://smoothlapse.blob.core.windows.net/installer/setup.sh

sudo bash ./setup.sh

You Raspberry Pi will download the setup script for SmoothLapse. Once it has downloaded type in “sudo bash ./setup.sh” and press enter. This will run the setup script. This part can take 15-20 minutes.

Starting a Time-lapse

Once SmoothLapse has finished installing, you can go to the web interface using any device on your wi-fi by visiting http://raspberrypi:5000

The default login is admin / admin.

After logging in, we’ll first go to the Live Stream page.

The Live Stream page is very useful for positioning and focusing the camera.

We put our Raspberry Pi in a warm well lit place with some water spinach seedlings.

Next we’ll go to the camera setup page. Here we can choose from a range of resolutions to see what works best with our camera.

After setting up the camera we can go to the Time-lapses page and start a new time-lapse.

For a close-up video of seedlings germinating, one photo every 15 minutes is a good setting.

After starting the time-lapse, we can leave the Raspberry Pi running for several days.

We can come back and visit the web interface regularly to check how the plants are growing.

We can also generate a video from the images that have been taken, and then download it directly from the web interface.

Final Results

The plants have been growing for 6 days now. Take a look at our results in this video!

At the time of writing, the plants are still growing. We’ll update this page in a few days with further progress.

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