Time Lapse With a Canon SX500-IS Camera

Introduction: Time Lapse With a Canon SX500-IS Camera

For a couple years now, I have grown fond of my Canon SX500-IS camera. It is small, lightweight and fairly simple to use. I have lately though, been wanting to do more with it. One of my favorite video fascinations is time lapse photography. Some things that are moving so amazingly slow in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Unfortunately to get some of the features I have been wanting required the purchase of a newer, much more expensive camera, or did it? Enter CHDK, Canon Hackers Development Kit. It is a modified firmware that is available for many Canon Digital Cameras produced after 2003. It provides a framework for people to develop additional, powerful scripts that can greatly expand the functionality of your camera. When installed as instructed here, it is also easily disabled. Simply turn your camera off and back on, and it is returned to its original factory firmware. Best of all it is free.

For my purposes though, I was interested in using CHDK's included intervalometer script. An intervalometer is an automated device or system to accurately time each successive photo so they occur at regular intervals. Once started it will automatically take a photo every predefined period of time until stopped, the effects of which allow the visual acceleration of time. For example, if you take a photo of the rising and falling tide over a period of twelve hours taking only one picture every four seconds, when played backed at twenty four frames per second you could watch the full twelve hour tidal cycle in seven and a half seconds. Being pleased with the results of using CHDK on my Canon camera it only seemed prudent to share the instructions to install CHDK on your Canon SX500-IS and begin experimenting with time lapse photography yourself.

These instructions I provide are specific to Canon SX500-IS owners, but the steps for other Canon cameras are similar if not the same. Check out CHDK's website for additional directions specific to your Canon model.

Hardware requirements

  • Canon SX500-IS Digital Camera
  • Windows PC with XP or later installed.
  • SD Card Reader for your computer.

Software requirements

  • Xvid codec software
  • MakeAVI movie creator
  • CHDK firmware for the Canon Camera

These instructions are written with the presumption that the person following them is knowledgeable on installing and using Windows Software, operating their camera, and managing files. You also must accept that applying a non-factory firmware can very likely void the warranty on your camera. If you are uncomfortable with any of this, do not proceed further. Any changes you make to your computer and/or camera are of your own volition, any damages incurred are your own responsibility.

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Step 1: Collect and Install the Computer Software

  1. Download Xvid from https://www.xvid.com/download/.
  2. Download MakeAVI from http://sourceforge.net/projects/makeavi/.
  3. When downloaded run the Xvid installed. Follow the default settings throughout the installer unless you have a specific need to change the default settings.
  4. MakeAVI does not have an installer, extract the zip file to a location you prefer. (My Documents, Downloads, Desktop, etc). Inside the extracted MakeAVI folder you will see the MakeAVI.exe executable. You will run that after you have collected all your time-lapse photos.

Xvid is a Video Coder and Decoder software (CoDec) that allows your computer to create highly compressed video files with excellent quality. There is no charge for Xvid and is freely available under the GNU General Public License.

MakeAVI is a small application the takes all the photos and one by one stitched them together into a movie. It creates the movie by taking the stitched together photos and passing them on to one of the codecs installed on your computer. The Codec then writes all that to a video file.

CHDK is an insertable firmware to add additional functionality to your Canon Digital Camera. We are utilizing just the software intervalometer that comes with CHDK. There are MANY more functions available. Check out http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK for more information.

Step 2: Determine the Correct Software Version You Canon SX500-IS Has

  1. Format an SD Memory card in your camera. Be sure that you have saved any photos you wish to keep on this card elsewhere as formatting will erase the entire contents of the memory card.
  2. Turn off the Camera and transfer the memory card from your camera to your computer.
  3. Create a file on the root of your memory card named ver.req. The contents of your memory card should appear similar to (Image 1) shown above.
  4. Safely remove the memory card from your computer and reinsert it into your camera.
  5. Turn you camera on using the "Playback" button. Using the On/Off button will not work.
  6. When your camera turns on it should say No Image, Similar to (Image 2) above.
  7. Now press and hold the "Func./Set" button and then the "Disp." button immediately after.
  8. You should get a screen similar to (Image 3) above. The number circled is your firmware version. In my case it says 1.00D so I would want CHDK for a Canon SX500-SI firmware version 100D
  9. Turn you camera off again and return the memory card to your computer.

FYI: The camera will only provide the Firmware version information if the ver.req file is in the root folder of your memory card and you power on the camera using only the "Playback" button. The file acts as a key to enable that function.

Step 3: Download the Firmware for the Canon Camera.

  1. Open the website http://mighty-hoernsche.de/.
  2. Download the appropriate zip file for you cameras firmware version. (Image 1)

FYI: My camera has version the firmware version 1.00D the firmware I needed then was the one identified by the arrow in the image above. If you have firmware version 1.00C or 1.00E be sure to select the correct version for your camera.

Step 4: Extract the Firmware Zip File to Your Memory Card.

Extract the firmware zip file you just downloaded for your camera into the root of the memory card. The contents of the zip file must go into the root of the memory card. If extracted correctly your memory card folder should look like the image above.

Step 5: Start CHDK on Your Camera.

  1. In order to start CHDK on your camera you must power it on using the "Playback" button. (CHDK refers to the "Playback" button as the "Alt" button)
  2. Press the "Menu" button to access the camera options.
  3. Press "Down" until you have highlighted Firm Update... (Image 1)
  4. Press the "Func./Set" button
  5. On the Firmware Update Page Press "Right" to select OK (Image 2)
  6. Press the "Func./Set" button
  7. Configure the photo settings on your camera as needed for the lighting conditions. Note, it is recommended to set the white balance to a preset instead of automatic as it can cause color fluctuations from photo to photo. Also Manual focus is recommended as auto focus may not focus correctly or fast enough between frames.
  8. Press the "Alt" ("Playback") button to open CHDK
  9. You should receive a screen similar to the once in Image 3.

FYI: CHDK and the core camera software attempt to share the screen as best as possible but there is over lapping. This is most evident and distracting in "auto" mode. It is highly recommended to use Manual mode while running CHDK. Also the "Alt" button will switch you from CHDK settings and operation to standard settings and operation.

Step 6: Load the Intervalometer and Configure It.

  1. Press "Func./Set" to open the CHDK Script Menu.
  2. Highlight the option "Load script from file..." and press "Func./Set" (Image 1)
  3. Press "Down" until "INTERVAL.LUA" is Highlighted (Image 2)
  4. Press "Func./Set" to select the script.
  5. When you return to the previous screen, press "Down" to highlight "Interval (Sec)"
  6. Now press "Left" or "Right" to adjust the length of time between frames. (Image 3)
  7. Press "Down" again to highlight "Back" and press "Func./Set" to exit the CHDK menu. (Image 4)

FYI: The fastest time between frames is just under 4 seconds per frame using a software intervalometer. There are other scripts for faster frame rates but the frame rate jumps from 15 frames per minute to 43 frames per minute and it not adjustable because it uses the continuous shoot mode of the camera. This is the equivalent of jumping 96x speed down to 34x speed. CHDK is very configurable and programmable. More custom scripts can be found at CHDK's home page.

Step 7: Start Taking Photos

Now is the time to get artistic. Put the technology aside, mount the camera in a firm tripod and any other stable mount, and press the "Shutter" button. If the camera does not start taking photos ensure that the camera is in CHDK mode, it will indicate this by displaying in white letters over a red background on the bottom center of the screen. If not press the "Alt" button to enable CHDK mode. Also make sure the script is loaded. If the intervalometer script is loaded it will indicate this by displaying "Intervalometer" on the bottom left of the screen. If it is not displayed, return to the previous step and load intervalometer script again.

Once depressed the intervalometer script will continuously take photos until one of four things occurs:

  • The battery goes dead (with a good, fully charged battery expect at most 2 - 2.5 hours)
  • The memory is full (Consider that at 1920x1080 and 15 frames per minute you can use up to 500MB per hour)
  • The "Shutter" button is depressed again (Depressing the "Shutter" button starts and stops the script)
  • The "Alt" button is pressed taking the camera out of CHDK mode.

The best way to avoid the first problem is to use an AC power adapter. For the PowerShot SX500-IS you will want the ack-dc40 power adapter. Aftermarket adapters can be found for as little as $19.00 on-line.

As for running out of storage space on the memory card, consider that every gigabyte of storage will get you 2 hours of images with HD quality images. In order to capture an entire day on time-lapse at 15 frames per minute, you will need to have at least a 16GB memory card installed. This will be three time higher if you use a script that runs the continuous shoot mode and takes 43 Frames per minute. Get as large of a card as you can, if you need more room then you will need to reduce the image size or the image quality.

Look for things that move so slowly that people rarely notice the changes. Ideas such as tidal changes, stars crossing the sky, flowers blooming, or the building construction next door I hope will spark your creativity. Now sit back and let the camera capture what we don't normally see.

Step 8: Assemble Your Movie.

  1. With all the images captured, shut the camera down and transfer the memory card back to your computer.
  2. Copy all the image files to a set folder on your computer (Not necessary, but I find it faster to use a hard drive when working with large numbers of files).
  3. Open the location that you extracted MakeAVI to in file explorer.
  4. Launch MakeAVI.exe.
  5. Click the "Add Files" button.
  6. If the file browser window Browse to the directory containing all your time-lapse photographs
  7. Select all the files and then click the "Open" button. (I find it easier to click on the first file then press CTRL-A on the keyboard) (Image 1)
  8. Your camera should already number each frame sequentially and thus MakeAVI will sort them, but it is recommended to double check the order that MakeAVI has your image files in.
  9. Set the playback frame rate to 24 fps (Not required, but makes for smoother paying video at the cost of a slightly large final file size.
  10. Press "Begin" to start assembling the Movie. (Image 2)

Step 9: Compress and Save the Movie to AVI.

  1. Browse to the location and enter the name you would like to save your movie as, and press "Save".
  2. MakeAVI will now ask which codec you wish to use. Select "Xvid MPEG-4 Codec" and then press "Configure" (Image 1)
  3. Make sure that the Xvid Encoding type is set to "Single Pass" and the Target Quantizer is set to "2.18". (Image 2)
  4. Press "OK" to close this window, and press "OK" to close the video compression window.
  5. MakeAVI and Xvid are now processing all the photos and compressing them into an AVI file. Depending on the number of photos and the speed on your machine this can take some time. On my system 933 images will take almost 10 minutes to process.

FYI: People experienced with Xvid and other "FourCC" codecs can make adjustments to the codec to get best quality for the video file size. If you do not know what you are adjusting it is best to use the default or recommended settings. If you want to get a little better quality final video you can use two pass compression. This is done by selecting the Encoding type "Twopass - 1st pass" instead of "Single Pass". Once complete press "Begin" again in the MakeAVI window, and following this step exactly again except the Encoding method will be "Twopass - 2nd pass"

These last two steps also work well for people doing simple stop motion animation. Either way, using MakeAVI this way is a quick and fairly simple method to create a movie file from any large number of sequential photographs.

Step 10: Enjoy Your Movie!

Now that you have created your movie open it up in Window Media Player, or VLC and Check it out. From here you can import the movie into video editing software such as Adobe Premier, or Microsoft Movie Maker. (Two opposite ends of the quality spectrum) I have include my first couple of attempts. Although not spectacular, it shows the promise of possibilities. What I did find worked well though, was the first eight seconds of the video shot from my front yard. I attempted to swap a clocks hour hand with a small plastic platter and placed the camera on top of that. It worked well for the first 192 frames, but the weight of the camera caused the platter to bind.

Step 11: For More Information Check These Sites Out.

All of the information and software I used came from the following sites.

CHDK Wikia site. http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK
MakeAVI: http://makeavi.sourceforge.net/
Xvid https://www.xvid.com/
Canon U.S.A. http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/home
Microsoft Movie Maker http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-live/movie-maker#t1=overview

Be sure to check out CHDK website for addition scripts and tools to get the most out of your Canon Digital Camera. The Software used is freely available and can be used in accordance with the GNU GPL.

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