Secrets of Digital Photography
Cool Accessory: DigiSnap



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Like Time-Lapse?
This is for you, Bud.

I like time-lapse scenes. The development of natural processes can often be revealed by speeding them up. Sort of the opposite of high speed flash, in which nature is frozen in a mid-gesture moment, but I digress.

I've been making time-lapse shots since I was a teen playing with an 8mm movie camera that had a single frame release. The films are long gone, but the memory of standing with that camera pointed into the boiling thunder heads looming up over my Florida home will never leave.

So it's not for nothing that I wrote "Movies 101: Still Animation" for DPReview. The images from your Nikon 950 or 990 set to VGA resolution are about twice as sharp and clear as the best NTSC video camera, per frame. (Images here are squished for the Internet, the originals sing!)

I've done a lot of video work in Metavision's on-line bay and even won awards for productions that I designed and directed in HDTV, but no video camera has ever produced images as high in quality as these VGA stills. HD? That's another matter.

So why not move them? If you convert them to DV video in your computer, you will end up with the best looking DV video shots you could ever have.

And that DV video image was designed to be very high quality--the same amount of luminance detail found in the King of broadcast recorders, D-1, D-2 and Digital Beta.

In VGA shot in continuous mode, you get a fresh frame every 1/2 sec and that makes traffic rush along at 600 miles per hour (7.5x)*. Easy to shoot; just hold down the button in continuous mode.

I shot a scene of Mt. Fuji across the lake at its base using Nikon's own MC-EU1 remote control in a variation of my teen time-lapse experience.

Count: 1 2 3 4 5 Press, 1 2 3 4 5 Press, 1 2 3 4 5 Press...

It works, but what a pain! And the EU1 was no help because its quickest response between shots is 120 seconds--two full minutes--which is way too long to capture a cloud dance or traffic rush. Too much changes in two minutes...

This morning the DigiSnap 2000** arrived on my desk and it answers nearly every prayer a veteran Time-Lapser could wish for. It works as a remote control, a remote zoom control and a time-lapse control, all in a tight 1.5 x .75 x 2.25-inch box with four momentary switches and a three-color LED. It can be set for any interval from 0 sec to 10 days between exposures and runs on its own internal battery.

Two buttons move the zoom remotely, but the other two are the business end. One is a clever implementation of the half-press, full-press button on the camera. When you push it in, the camera focuses and prepares the exposure. When you release it, the camera takes the shot. Hold it down constantly and it will cause the 990 to shoot as fast as it can in a continuous stream of shots.

The other button serves several purposes. If you push it for a fraction of a second, it turns on the time-lapse mode. Hold it for two seconds and it starts flashing the LED at once per second.

Count the flashes until your desired interval has been reached, then let go. You have just programmed the interval in the field.

Sounds complex? Yeah, it will take you about three minutes to get the hang of it, and 2.5 of those minutes will be reading the manual and slapping your head while saying, "It can't be THIS easy, can it?"

The interval for this clock shot was one of my first short-duration, fingers-only programming efforts.

You can hook the DigiSnap 2000 up to your computer or palm-top and by using any "Dumb Terminal" emulation program, you can program its more esoteric functions. Such as starting a time-lapse run at a specific time of day (your camera's clock is the referee) or setting up a number of different time-lapse sequences. Get a Dumb Terminal program free from their web site and enter the realm of professional intervalometry.

For long sequences--things like a flower blooming--the camera sleeps between shots and since the DigiSnap has its own battery, your camera power is preserved.

Especially with the monitor switched off...

Was that an InfoBite? Here are some more:

When shooting time-lapse, lock the exposure. You don't want frame to frame flickering. Manual works, so does AE Lock. The exception to this rule is the CP5400's internal auto exposure which pegs each frame at a non-flickering exact exposure that works well for clear skies sunrise effects. Of course, you will need to ramp exposure in the animation process for a realistic effect, later.

My fingers could only get a minimum interval of 3 sec between shots programming it in the field, but things like clouds need 5 to 10 seconds between shots for basic boiling effects so no worries there.

Locking off the camera's focus speeds things up. There is no hunting for focus from shot to shot and the camera responds better. No whoops frames show up.

For long intervals, make sure the camera is set to 30 sec sleep. For short intervals under about 35 sec, the camera won't have time to appreciate the benefits of sleep.

VGA images at "Normal" compression yield over 1400 frames in a 128 Meg CF card. At 30 frames per second, that's over 46 seconds of super-high-quality video. At 15 frames per second, it's over a minute and a half.

Quite the gadget, or should I say, instrument. The Harbortronics DigiSnap 2000 is available immediately for $120.00 plus P&H. It comes with the appropriate cord for your camera and has earned the iNova Seal of Approval.

* Freeway traffic at two shots per second, played back at 15 fps increases apparent speed by 7.5 times. That means these babies are dashing by at from 400 to 600 mph. Let's hope a garbage truck doesn't exceed the sound barrier. That could be messy.

** Don't confuse this with the older DigiSnap 1000. This one's far cooler. And newer ones exist.

MORE NEWS! DigiSnap 2100, 2200 and 2500 have been created. Check their web site for details! These variations add abilities like working with Pocket Wizard and IR.

Movies Not Behaving? Get the latest free QuickTime from Apple for your Windows or Mac computer: Click Me!

More DigiSnap 2000 Reviews

Steve's Digicams






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