Introduction: Time Lapse Intervalometer for SLRs With 555 Timer IC

Picture of Time Lapse Intervalometer for SLRs With 555 Timer IC

This instructable started with my previous camera hack making a remote shutter release. I found a 555 timer tutorial and realized how great it would be to automate my pictures and do some time lapse photography. I'm not too great with making electronics from scratch, so my friend Michelle helped out a lot with the planning of the schematic.

I found a great guide to time lapse photography that covers all the details before and after this Instructable. They mention the use of an "intervalometer" (a new word to me) which can cost $60 to $150 dollars. That's way too expensive for the casual photographer I think. So I made my own!

Step 1: Planning, Schematic, Materials

Picture of Planning, Schematic, Materials

Below is a schematic that I made with free schematic software from ExpressPCB. You can also download the .sch file if you want to edit it. Remember, that won't get you a PCB to burn, only a schematic to mess around with.
Here's what this circuit will do. When you turn it on, the camera will get a false signal and take a picture. Then the big capacitor will slowly fill with charge while the green LED is on. How slowly is chosen by the variable resistor. When the cap discharges, the 555 outputs a signal to the transistor which connects the shutter control to ground. The red LED lights up and the camera takes a picture

There are also buttons to use the box as a remote shutter release when the circuit is off.

As you can see you need some stuff. Here's a list:

Resistors: 100k, 470k, 33k, and one 1M variable
Capacitors: 220µF, 0.1µF
LED's: Green, Red
Transistors: NPN-type switching
555 IC timer chip
IC holder socket (to switch out a bad chip)
Protoboard and then later a Radioshack IC PC Board
9V battery
On/Off switch
Momentary buttons,
Battery clip
For Pentax DSLRs, Canon Rebel's, and maybe some others:
Cell phone headset with 3/32" 3 conductor plug (make sure it works, but go cheap)
Extra wires
Project box
Soldering and wire stripping tools and such

555IC: $1.69
IC PC Board: $2.49
Handsfree headset kit: ~$5
Other bits and bobs: ~$10
So it all can be had for under $20 and some effort.

Step 2: Prototyping

Picture of Prototyping

This is where you need a protoboard (breadoard.) Michelle hooked me up with one and I'm thankful for it. The plugging in of things shouldn't be hard if you know how a protoboard works. If not go here.

The tricky part here is attaching the plug for the camera. When you crack open the microphone on your headset, you should see a tiny board like the one below. Your model may vary, but they usually have 3 wires. Those wires control the shutter and focus on your camera. Plug it in to your camera to find out which one is ground, which is focus, and which is shutter. This will be important later, so mark then, or write down which color is which.

When it's time to attach the headset wires to the board, you're going to need to attach them to some stronger wire. If they came coated with blue or red, they will be hard to solder, but persevere with lots of heat, abrasion, and patience and they will connect. Double check the wires work as expected with your camera.

Step 3: Testing

Before you go a ruin a perfectly good board (like I did) test it out.
The set of resistors and capacitors in this set up can provide an interval of 30s to almost 2m depending on where the variable resistor is turned to. Set up your camera and prototype and shoot some time lapse.
Keep in mind that a power adapter for your camera will be a big help in the future when you want to capture a whole day in time lapse, but batteries will work for now.
Below is my first attempt with the prototype.

Step 4: Final Build

Picture of Final Build

Here you will make your awesome portable intervalometer. The radioshack IC board is perfect because it's already spaced out for an IC and has lots of copper solder points. I included a plan to fit the schematic onto this particular board. Connect the 9V an Ground anywhere they are marked.
The buttons are attached to the shutter and focus for some added functionality.
Then you need to drill some holes, solder some wires, and close it up tight.

Easier said then done I know, so here are some tips:
Draw lines on the non-copper side of the board so you can easily connect things correctly
Place your components on the non-copper side so your leads will be easy to solder.
Make sure everything fits before you drill and wire it up.
Tie a knot in the headset cord so you can keep it anchored inside your box.
Use shrink tube and/or tape to over exposed wires
Use as little wire inside as you can stand. It gets real crowded in there.

Step 5: Final Test and Limitations

Picture of Final Test and Limitations
Look it works!

Ice melting is boring, so I made sure it was a quick frame rate.
What can you use this for?

Ok, so you get what you pay for sometimes. If you went with a manufactured intervalometer, you would get a accurate interval setting. This isn't quite so accurate unless you put a knob on it or something. There is also another slight problem. The camera counts away or a desired length, the "off" time, and then fires off the shutter, the "on" time. It seems that this "on" time can sometimes be too short for the camera to register. Because of this, it sometimes misses pictures. As long as this happens not too often, no big deal I guess. There has to be a solution to this in the circuit that can extend the output pulse, but it's way over my head. I welcome your help on this problem.
Also the buttons don't work while the circuit is on. It would be nice to focus or take extra pictures while the timer is running. Any ideas on that are welcome too.


ivmilicevic (author)2014-11-05

I've made this intervalometer, but problem is that my camera has to focus first, then fire the shutter. Therefore, I need two outputs; one for focus and second for shutter. Does anyone know how to make this with 555 timer(s)?

frapedia (author)2013-10-20

very nice circuit.
For those who would like to play with LM555 IC as a timer take a look at

pcooper2 (author)2011-09-13

Corrected circuit diagram. Note polarity of 220µF capacitor. Current limiting resistors for each LED changed from 470K to 470Ω, 1/4W. Wiper of potentiometer connected to end terminal so that it works as a variable resistor.

jsc (author)2008-09-27

I've been looking at your circuit diagram, trying to use it as a starting point to understand the operation of the 555. I've also looked at the "standard" 555 astable circuit, and I have a few questions.

I noticed you didn't follow the "standard" astable 555 timer circuit ( Is this because of the allowable values for R1, R2, and C? If not, wouldn't it be simpler to go with the standard circuit with a very large capacitor value and a properly selected R2?

By the way, wouldn't it also be easier to guarantee an activation pulse of >20ms as suggested by tyler below simply by changing the values of the second (reset) pair of RC?

I'm still reading up on this stuff, so please let me know if I'm wrong.

jsc (author)jsc2008-09-29

Two more questions: isn't 470k a rather extreme value for the LED current limiting resistors? 470 Ohms would seem a more appropriate value.

pcooper2 (author)jsc2011-09-13

Assuming 20 mA current through the LED with a 9V supply and 1V drop across the diode, the current limiting resistor should be 400Ω. Either 430Ω or 470Ω, ±5%, 1/4W would be good choices.

Swishercutter (author)jsc2010-07-13

Agreed on the 470 ohm.

eagleapex (author)Swishercutter2010-12-16

Yeah, I don't know too much about this. Do you have a better layout to share?

jsc (author)eagleapex2010-12-16

Yes, in fact, I do. Thanks for your Instructable, by the way; seeing it in Make Magazine way back when got me interested in electronics.

Here is my take on your circuit. It uses the 555 the way God intended, in the standard astable configuration. The "on" time is determined strictly by the values of C2 and R1, using the formulas given in the link in my first comment (in this case 0.15s) so there is little chance of missed shots. The wait time is determined by the values of R1, R2, C2, and the variable resistor R3, so the max value can be modified by using different resistor values.

The entire lower half can be ignored, it is a driver for the red/green bicolor LED from Radio Shack to indicate power on (red) and timer pulse (green). Other arrangements would have to be made if using a different LED, or a pair of LEDs. (Note that the diodes in the LED driver are zener diodes, intended to be used "backwards".) I used a standard audio mini jack so you can just use an mini audio cable instead of having to hack up a cell phone head set.

I eventually got so far as to design and etch a small single sided board to implement this circuit using SMD parts. It all works great. I have the board available in Eagle format if anyone wants it.

eagleapex (author)jsc2010-12-17

That's awesome. Personally I would insist on the head set 3/32 jack because that plug fits in Pentax and Canon DSLRs. Maybe leave space for a standard jack to be soldered on or wires. Could we add momentary buttons that allow the focus and shutter functions to be triggered with out the 555? I find that helpful when setting up a time lapse.
SMD is cool too. I'd prefer simple separate LEds for on/off too.
What do you think?

jsc (author)eagleapex2010-12-17

I think I used a 1/8" audio jack with a cable and a 1/8" to 3/32" plug adapter on one end, because that is what I had on hand at the time. It would be a simple part switch to substitute a 3/32 board mount jack for use with the proper cable. One could also just solder wires right onto the pads.

Individual red/green LEDs could be used, just drive one with a PNP transistor and the other with an NPN, with current limiting resistors. Or more easily, you could just replace LED1 with a pair of LEDs back to back (that is all the red/green Radio Shack bicolor LED is, in one package).

Probably the simplest way to add in manual focus and trigger buttons would be to place them across the connections on the audio jack itself. Then you would use the main power switch to shut off the circuit and use the buttons as a manual trigger.

I never addressed the hardest part of any project like this, which is the casing. Having all the elements be board mounted makes for easy assembly, but makes finding or assembling a suitable case much harder. If I were going to case it, I would probably use panel mount switches, LEDs, and jack.

This makes a great "first project" for anyone getting into electronics. I learned how to read circuit diagrams, read data sheets, schematic capture, board layout, home etching, how to order parts online, and through hole and SMD soldering. If I were to do it today, I would do something with a microcontroller.

jsc (author)2010-12-30

Hi, hexinverter. I'm not sure I understand your objection. The pulse width is always the same and determined by one of the resistors, and the interval between pulses is variable using the potentiometer. That is, the pot determines the space timing, while the mark timing (the pulse) is always the same at ~.15s. The trigger pulse timing can be changed by changing a single resistor. The interval can be set to any reasonable range by selecting an appropriate value for the pot, although I've read that 555s don't like to run super slowly.

I agree a relay would be preferable, but transistors are cheap and low power.

hexinverter (author)jsc2010-12-30

Lol, just realized someone else has made a better 'ible already, so I probably won't be doing it after all :)

The issue isn't needing to buy a new costly transistor (hehe...) , it's more like - who wants to rip it apart and replace one when it does get pooched?

Relays can be found everywhere to salvage. Particularly old computer modem cards - they each have 2 on them, from what I've seen.

Hmm, well if the schematic works for you I guess, carry on!

hexinverter (author)2010-09-24

Hey guys. I was wondering if there would be any interest in buying PCBs for this?

This makes a good first project for electronic diy'ers and also teaches you about 555 timers and saves money for a photographer.

I built one of these myself with a similar design (not the same though) that is MUCH improved over this one and without errors in it. I could start an instructable with the instructions/parts list, schematic and a link to buy the board from me.

I ask because I designed a board for my intervalometer, and figured people new to electronics might prefer that over perf board.

I'd make the PCBs myself and would sell them for $5 or so each (depending on how long it takes me to drill them)

If there's enough interest I can whip up a batch of 6 or 7 of them and get working on an instructable :)


81377 (author)hexinverter2010-11-26

I'm interested in the PCB for an intervalometer and an Ible or instructions. Have you started doing this yet? Let me know. LL

hexinverter (author)813772010-11-26

Well sir, you are the first one to show any interest in this unfortunately. Perhaps if more people respond I will make some!

As it stands, I don't have the time right now unless there's some profit in it for me unfortunately. I am struggling enough to do some part time work while I'm in school! :(

Thanks for the response though. Maybe more will tune in!

eagleapex (author)hexinverter2010-12-16

That sounds pretty sweet. Once we get a good design, we could sell them through sparkfun maybe.

crosendahl (author)2009-02-01

I just built one based on this design. A few changes though:
- The schematic shows the potentiometer wired at the two ends of the resistor. One of the leads needs to go to the center tap instead (otherwise it's just a 1M resistor).
- I took swishercutter's advice about increasing the value of the 33k resistor to make the pulse longer. Thank you, this solved my non-trigger problem.
- I added a 22uf capacitor in parallel with the 220uf cap and a switch to choose between them. This gives me a selectable range of about 3 to 30 seconds with the 22uf and 30 seconds to 4:30 minutes with the 220uf cap.
- The LEDs I used have resistors built in, so I didn't use the 470k resistors.
- I mounted it in a Altoids tin, it looks cool that way.

Picture on flickr: intervalometer

Swishercutter (author)crosendahl2010-07-13

Glad to see I could be of help. I like that mod with the caps, you could also change out the 100k resistor for a 10k resistor giving you a range of 2.2 s up to 222 s. Although, your way gives you the ability to fine tune. I think the 470k resistors should be 470 ohm even though you didn't use them.

eagleapex (author)crosendahl2009-02-20

Nice, I'll work this in to Ver. 2

jesusali (author)2007-12-31

Good work and good documentation. Just to be "that guy" I'll point out that the software that comes with a Canon DSLR has an interval function built in. You have to be tethered to a PC to use it, but you can get precise intervals. That said, it is obviously useful to be more mobile and to not have to tie up a computer for as long as it takes to shoot your project. Great work!

toekneebullard (author)jesusali2008-01-08

If I remember correctly though, there was some limit in the software. I want to say it would only let you take 30 pictures. And as you said, being tether to a PC really limits its use.

No limit on my t1i canon utility. I took over 2500 in a row, stored directly to my laptop.

eagleapex (author)jesusali2007-12-31

I've always wondered why they don't include these goodies in the camera's firmware. I'm sure it would take some programmer like 5 seconds to add this feature natively. Oh well. More work for the tinkerers!

Eromanga (author)eagleapex2008-01-03

The Ricoh R4, R5 and R6 have an interval shooting function down to a 5 second interval and saves as a series of jpegs up to the camera's highest resolution. The only trouble with Ricohs are that they are not robust cameras at all - be careful taking them outside they literally suck in dust and moisture. I vaguely recall the Nikon 5400 having a time lapse function but annoyingly it by processing it and saved it as a quicktime movie (yuck). But, that does still leave the question why isn't the feature more common on digital cameras.

Delaypat (author)Eromanga2008-01-03

Yes Ricoh isnt a very good company, I use to work for them...

technodude92 (author)Delaypat2008-01-03

Disgruntled employee?

Delaypat (author)technodude922008-01-04

no no no, I worked in parts, but I do know Rocoh parts are cheep..Copys though...They rule

Delaypat (author)Delaypat2008-01-04


sahmeepee (author)eagleapex2008-01-03

My canon digital ixus (digital ixus 950 IS, a.k.a. the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS) has that feature and saves the output as a video file rather than a wodge of stills, which has pros and cons I guess. It's not an SLR camera of course, but will do 1 or 2 second intervals at 640x480 res which is fine by me.

Uru Wolf (author)eagleapex2007-12-31

lol, they don't add it dilibratly. Think about it, by not inclusing it they have created a mini market. Soon to come crashing down due to this -_

KipperFillets (author)2009-08-27

I've got a Nikon D70, which doesn't have a connector for triggering the shutter, and I certainly don't want to cut it open. Therefore I built a circuit to trigger a Nikon remote control (or actually a £1.50 ebay look-alike). I don't even have to have a lead connected to the camera.

sgt_rock (author)KipperFillets2010-06-11

I would love to see the D70 circuit. I'm trying to automate a D70S,a D40X and a D50, but the seem to react intermittenlty.

ropie (author)2009-10-27

Awesome project.. in the process of building one now for my sony...  Any update as to when version 2 will be published?

douglas braid (author)2009-07-26

this looks good for my project ,I will try to twaek a shorter time than 30 seconds thanks

victoras_h (author)2009-05-05

Awesome build, I already started gathering the required parts, but I have one question: what exactly do the little black and red push-buttons do?

stuuf (author)victoras_h2009-07-13

They look like switches to fire the focus/shutter signals manually, so you can also use it as a standard remote control.

build a BOOM (author)2009-05-20

Does anyone know of a free software for combining the images into a movie format or a GIF image file?

Wait, I found the animated GIF creator in GIMP.

stuuf (author)build a BOOM2009-07-13

ffmpeg can do simple video -> images or images -> video encoding: $ ffmpeg -r 30 -i img_%04d.jpg -s 640x480 -b 1500k movie.mp4 of course you might need to preprocess/rename the images with something else unless they're already less than 2048 pixels wide and the numbers start at 0001 so my answer is pretty useless by itself :P

Jayefuu (author)2009-05-21

To solve your problem of the 'on' time being too short, you could use two 555 timers and have one with the astable you're currently using, to trigger a monostable. The monostable would give a positive pulse triggered by the rising edge (or falling edge, depending on what you wanted) of the astable. You could set the monostable to have a positive pulse of a desired length.


wooac (author)2008-02-16

Nice project.

Why not use the MK111 adjustable timer instead of a bare 555?

TheInstitute (author)wooac2008-02-27 this one is similar but much more accurate. It uses dip switches but it's not too difficult once you get the hang of it

neuromonkey (author)TheInstitute2009-03-27

Awesome! That's a great timer board, thanks!

eagleapex (author)wooac2008-02-17

What a great kit. I didn't know it existed! Thanks

Mother Natures Son (author)2009-02-24

What do you use to put the images together into video?

inst_keith_short (author)2009-02-01

I have marked up a schematic with a version I built yesterday that drives my Pentax istD very nicely. I deleted the output transistor and connected to the "output" pin on the 555 chip via 10k resistors to the "focus" and "shutter" pins on the plug. Also included the R values that worked well for me. As I write this, I here my camera snapping away at the shadows working their way across the snow in my yard. Can't say it will work for Cannon or Nikon but should be compatible with Pentax DSLRs. They all use the same shutter release cable...

That's awesome. I need to work on ver.2

Mark Rehorst (author)2008-01-03

Great project! The camera "debounces" the shutter button closure by requiring that the switch remain closed for some minimum amount of time, typically >20ms. It will vary from camera to camera, so using the longer time will be more reliable. You can improve your circuit by using a 556 which is two 555s in one package. Set one up as an monostable that produces 20 or 30 ms pulses (or even longer- 100 ms won't hurt), and run the other as an astable that triggers the monostable. This whole thing could be implemented with better reliability, more functionality, and fewer parts using a 6 or 8 pin PIC uC. I would also recommend using a relay at the output instead of a transistor. A relay will provide universal compatibility and will not be subject to destruction by static discharge. Something like a PRMA1A05 has a 500 Ohms coil and works at 5V. For a minimal investment of about $20 you can get a PicKit2 programmer from Microchip that will program and even debug a lot of their chips. The software to go with it is a free download from their web site. Once you start programming for a project like this, you'll think of all sorts of features you can add simply by changing the program. TD

Relays add "bounce" to the output. If you use TTL logic type transistors (mainly just not FET's) you should have very little problem with static (same with the 555). It is mainly things with MOS at the end that are static sensitive, not all the time but for the most part. Not all solid state is static destructive, also it depends on what leads you touch on the static sensitive devices. It is always best to assume everything is static sensitive though since partial static destruction can lead to failure at a later date (sometimes it just weakens the junction). It is doubtful that you would ever encounter a current problem since the output transistor is just sinking the current to ground, plus for the pulse time most discrete form transistors can handle plenty more current than any camera would ever source. (it would be stupid for a camera company to use large currents for a shutter switch since it would severely limit battery life)

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a digital artist from South Philadelphia. I love to make things and share. I hope you dig my stuff!
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