Wind Up Camera Pan

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Introduction: Wind Up Camera Pan

About: I'm Mike and I make crazy things at Instructables HQ in San Francisco. Follow me and try a few of my projects for yourself!
Camera panning is a technique where the camera rotates on an axis, usually horizontal or vertical (sometimes diagonal). Camera panning can be combined with lapse to produce some interesting cinematic results. This technique can be used to capture changes over time that are difficult to notice in real time, like subtle changes in weather or how crowds of people move over time.

Using a regular point-and-shoot digital camera I set the camera to video and wound up my timer. Here's some footage I compiled with my camera pan, these videos were taken over about 10 minutes and sped up to show the slow pan effect:

Making your own is incredibly simple, all you need is a wind-up kitchen timer and a few bits from the hardware store; mine cost me about $4. 
materials:
  • wind-up timer
  • 1/4" - 20 bushing
  • 1/4" - 20 threaded insert
  • 1/4" drill bit
  • 3/8" drill bit
method:
  • Drill 1/4" opening in top of timer
  • Friction fit (or glue) 1/4" bushing into top of timer
  • Drill 3/8" opening in bottom of timer for threaded insert
    • Avoid drilling into winding mechanism
  • Friction fit threaded insert into bottom of timer base

Almost all cameras with a tripod mount are 1/4" with 20 count threading (coarse threading). If you are unsure you can just take along your camera to the store and try out different bolts until you find one that fits your camera.

Once assembled the entire thing was mounted on my tripod and I set looking for areas that I could use my wind-up camera pan on. I found that areas that have slow change like boats and clouds work well, as do areas with lots of people like train stations and busy intersections. There's plenty of subjects to capture with this rig, so get out there and capture!

This is not an intervelometer (camera taking pictures at regular intervals), this is sped up footage of video taken with a standard digital camera. Footage can be uploaded and sped up using almost any video editing software.

Making a camera pan from a kitchen timer isn't new and people have exploited these wind-up timers for a while, some other examples of this technique can be found here, here, here, for the iPhone here , a no-drill option here, and this one where they actually used the same timer and method I used (though I came up with my design independently and only finding their design  after I had taken my video). 
Looks like good ideas are hard to keep down!


Have you made your own wind-up camera pan? I want to see your results! Share a picture or video with your wind-up camera pan in the comments below and you'll get a digital patch and a 3-month Pro Membership to Instructables!

Have fun!

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    47 Discussions

    I would also like to know if it could support a DSLR.

    Those instructions are amazing. I made this with my science class, but never that much. Wowzer.

    Love this! Will try it out myself! Very smart and practical!

    Very smart idea! :) Love it. It would work on my small camera but my bigger one is quite heavy.

    This is so simple and effective! Brilliant work Mike! Great vid! Can't wait to see more!

    Great!
    thanks for sharing!

    btw, how did you make the stop on 0:53 to 0:57?
    at first i thought the winder was finished at that spot, but then it started moving again at 0:57 ?

    cheers..

    2 replies

    For some reason the timer got stuck during that shot. The panning happens so slowly that I didn't notice it had stopped rotating for about 2 minutes, then I managed to manually engage the timer again with a little push. Though accidental, I like the way that shot turned out.

    yes, i like it too.. it's a great one.. it seems like the panning was deliberately stopped to take the "dad-n-kid playing" scene..

    Awesome! I've just made this camera pan and here is my result:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzHzhVbjnr4

    Its only a test but works perfectly!
    Thank You!!!! :D

    2 replies

    That's great!
    For sharing your results you've been awarded a digital patch and a 3-month Pro Membership to the site! Check your inbox!

    What are you going to take panning video of next?


    Thanks for the Pro membership! :D
    I'm thinking in going outside and make some good HD panning videos! I'll keep you posted when they're finished!

    This is BRILLIANT Mike, fantastic results on the time lapse videos! I will be keeping my eyes peeled for a wind up timer on my next visit to the Goodwill.

    1 reply

    Thanks Ian!

    Thrift stores are always a good place to find stuff like this, however I bought mine here for $2. I hope to try this again with a better video camera and shoot clips of over an hour in length to capture even more change like tides and sunsets

    maybe you could even glue multiple timers together to create movement in multiple directions or speeds by setting them to different times?

    1 reply

    Hahaha!
    Very cool man!
    Thats one of those uber-simple things the world waited for! In fact it is this simple i ask myself why I didnt found that before :)
    Will definitely make one of those. IKEA sells some dirt-cheap ones which should work for this.

    Thanks a lot for this bright idea! :)