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What Is An Intervalometer And Do I Need One?

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Odds are you have seen some of the more recent grand offerings from masters of time lapse photography, such as Randy Halverson and Terje Sorgjerd. DPS also has a post on how to shoot these types of videos using a camera and something known as an intervalometer. But what is this device and what does it do for other photography techniques.

An intervalometer is a device that plugs into a camera and controls how often, how long and how many shots are taken. Models vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but they all serve the same purpose. Think of it as the old remote blub plunger on steroids.

The Canon model TC-80N3 pictured at right is indicative of many models available today. Some of its key features include:

  • Locking shutter release for ultra long exposures shot manually (while reducing camera shake from holding the shutter release on the camera).
  • Initial self timer for first shot, selectable up to a 100 hours in advance.
  • Interval between shots, selectable to a max of 100 hours between shots.
  • Exposure length. Each shot can be controlled by the camera shutter speed setting, or set to bulb (if one second or more) and controlled by the intervalometer with times up to 100 hours available.
  • Number of shots to be taken, selectable up to 99 frames.

The intervalometer can be used for more than just shooting time lapse films. Other uses include:

  • Shooting images for a stacked composition, such as star trails photos.
  • Hands free long shutter speeds for blurred action.
  • Delayed shots for setting up a remote camera timed to fire at a given moment.
  • Creative self portraits, functioning much like the iPhone Photobooth app, but with the ability to keep shooting one image every second for 1.5 minutes.

For the creative types, you can even build your own intervalometer from a scientific calculator and a bit of ingenuity. Instructions can be found on Instructables.com.

What creative uses have you found for using an intervalometer Share your ideas in the comments section below.

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Peter West Carey loves panorama images and has been shooting them in both film and digital for 25+ years. His latest wide (and tall!) work includes images from Nepal, Bhutan, Italy, France and Peru. His eBook A World of Panoramas is also available in a beautiful 3'/1m wide photobook. You can find his daily work on Instagram.

  • Bran’n Greenlaser

    Actually, the limit of 99 on Canon’s intervalometer is a false limit. When set to 0, it repeats forever. So the quote above about taking 1 picture per second for up to 1.5 minutes is not actually true. To be clear, I’ve tested this first-hand, as I own the Canon TC-80N3

  • Wow – sounds like a fun toy to play with – I bet i could make one using a 555 Timer chip and a few parts.

    I can imagine that this would be great for timelapse. Was thinking it would have been cool to have this when shooting a dynamic image such as these geothermal mudpools to catch how they live and breathe!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/mud-flowers/

  • Louis

    My Nikon D7000, D700, and D3s all have this built-in. No need for a separate intervalometer.

  • Brooke

    Thank you do much for this post! Have been admiring/obsessed with time-lapse lately. 🙂

  • Spencer

    I bought this one a few months ago, works great and is a fraction of what canon wants for the same thing.

    http://www.amazon.com/Timer-Remote-Control-RS-60E3-Canon/dp/B003Q9RERY/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2QMYTL1983TLA&colid=1VC5Q4P6QFG85

    Now all I need is a vertical shutter grip so I can use the extra battery for extended sessions!

  • If you have a Mac and a Nikon camera, the free application SOFORTBILD gives you intervalometer functionality in addition to tethered shooting.

    http://www.sofortbildapp.com/

    It has a very simple, easy-to-use interface.

  • Of course, before buying new hardware, you should check your camera first–many cameras have this feature built-in. And if it doesn’t have the feature built-in, it might not have the necessary port to accept an intervalometer. DP Review lists 52 current camera models that do time-lapse.

  • Jordan

    Canon point and shoots can be updated to have an intervalometer built in. Some people use these for aerial photography.
    http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK

  • Scottc

    I don’t think I need one of these, but a great article on the device and the responses provide a bit more insight, TFS!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Sugo

    I don’t think that my Sony Alpha 500 has this built in, how would I found out where to find an external remote like this for my camera. I love night time photography so this would be a blast to try. Thanks for sharing, love the examples.

    Sugo

  • My recently purchased Nikon D5000 has all of these features built in. Nikon calls it “interval Timer Shooting”. it works great!

  • I bought an intervalometer earlier in the year to try my hand at time lapse photography. I went with an off brand to make it a little more affordable. I was not only able to make some nice time lapse videos, but I really enjoy being able to set the timer for longer exposures.

  • Mike

    The Canon timer is really over priced for what it is, as Erik says a simple 555 timer and a few other parts and you have exactly the same thing. The TC-80N3 is going for $140 on amazon, while other cheaper knockoffs sell for $19. I have used this particular model for quite a while and have been very happy with it, same features as the TC-80N3 but much lower price. The only complaint I have heard about it is that there is no ON/OFF switch but the batteries last a month or so and if you really want it shut off when not in use just pull the batteries.

  • Tom

    Doesn’t the Magic Lantern OS do this for some Canon cameras?

  • I have to say I tried my intervalometer the other day for the first time and loved it! Took me two nights to get the shot (dew set in), but I managed to get a good first attempt at a startrail shot. I love trying new things and new techniques because it makes me learn all kinds of things. Like don’t “light paint’ your foreground and then let the intervalometer continue to shoot two more frames. if you do, don’t include them in your startrails shot or they show up as dots at the end of the trails :} Who knew how far stars travel in just a few minutes.

    If you want to see my first star trails shot, with lessons learned and a few lucky shooting stars its here… http://www.flickr.com/photos/billboydphotography/6062273602/

    Great Article Peter – thanks for covering the topic!
    Bill

  • I have to say I tried my intervalometer the other day for the first time and loved it! Took me two nights to get the shot (dew set in), but I managed to get a good first attempt at a startrail shot. I love trying new things and new techniques because it makes me learn all kinds of things. Like don’t “light paint’ your foreground and then let the intervalometer continue to shoot two more frames. if you do, don’t include them in your startrails shot or they show up as dots at the end of the trails :} Who knew how far stars travel in just a few minutes. Oh and I should include, I didn’t know if I’d use this or not and didn’t want a large investment. Literally bought a $20 one off of Amazon and put it to use. Took me a few minutes to figure it out, but really easy once you do.

    If you want to see my first star trails shot, with lessons learned and a few lucky shooting stars its here… http://www.flickr.com/photos/billboydphotography/6062273602/

    Great Article Peter – thanks for covering the topic!
    Bill

  • I needed a cable release for my 5D after upgrading, the old one wasn’t compatible, so I went on Amazon and got one like the one you’ve shown for about £25 GBP. It’s a cheapo one but allows intervals, counts and delays. Even has a inbuilt back-light, LOL! I was only after a simple cable release but for a few quid I got a whole lot more.

    Before I had to time the bulb shots with the camera display or my watch, but with one of these I simply set and interval and click the start button it beeps ( which can be silenced ) as it counts down. No need to lock bulb mode and keep and eye on it. I can set a 2 minute exposure and then sit and watch the scene while I wait!

  • Doug Ward

    My Pentax K-7 has one built in……….Quick and easy.

Some Older Comments

  • Doug Ward September 9, 2011 01:19 am

    My Pentax K-7 has one built in..........Quick and easy.

  • Fuzzypiggy September 6, 2011 10:05 pm

    I needed a cable release for my 5D after upgrading, the old one wasn't compatible, so I went on Amazon and got one like the one you've shown for about £25 GBP. It's a cheapo one but allows intervals, counts and delays. Even has a inbuilt back-light, LOL! I was only after a simple cable release but for a few quid I got a whole lot more.

    Before I had to time the bulb shots with the camera display or my watch, but with one of these I simply set and interval and click the start button it beeps ( which can be silenced ) as it counts down. No need to lock bulb mode and keep and eye on it. I can set a 2 minute exposure and then sit and watch the scene while I wait!

  • Bill (wsbII) September 5, 2011 11:01 am

    I have to say I tried my intervalometer the other day for the first time and loved it! Took me two nights to get the shot (dew set in), but I managed to get a good first attempt at a startrail shot. I love trying new things and new techniques because it makes me learn all kinds of things. Like don't "light paint' your foreground and then let the intervalometer continue to shoot two more frames. if you do, don't include them in your startrails shot or they show up as dots at the end of the trails :} Who knew how far stars travel in just a few minutes. Oh and I should include, I didn't know if I'd use this or not and didn't want a large investment. Literally bought a $20 one off of Amazon and put it to use. Took me a few minutes to figure it out, but really easy once you do.

    If you want to see my first star trails shot, with lessons learned and a few lucky shooting stars its here... http://www.flickr.com/photos/billboydphotography/6062273602/

    Great Article Peter - thanks for covering the topic!
    Bill

  • Bill (wsbII) September 5, 2011 11:00 am

    I have to say I tried my intervalometer the other day for the first time and loved it! Took me two nights to get the shot (dew set in), but I managed to get a good first attempt at a startrail shot. I love trying new things and new techniques because it makes me learn all kinds of things. Like don't "light paint' your foreground and then let the intervalometer continue to shoot two more frames. if you do, don't include them in your startrails shot or they show up as dots at the end of the trails :} Who knew how far stars travel in just a few minutes.

    If you want to see my first star trails shot, with lessons learned and a few lucky shooting stars its here... http://www.flickr.com/photos/billboydphotography/6062273602/

    Great Article Peter - thanks for covering the topic!
    Bill

  • Tom September 3, 2011 09:56 pm

    Doesn't the Magic Lantern OS do this for some Canon cameras?

  • Mike September 3, 2011 08:14 pm

    The Canon timer is really over priced for what it is, as Erik says a simple 555 timer and a few other parts and you have exactly the same thing. The TC-80N3 is going for $140 on amazon, while other cheaper knockoffs sell for $19. I have used this particular model for quite a while and have been very happy with it, same features as the TC-80N3 but much lower price. The only complaint I have heard about it is that there is no ON/OFF switch but the batteries last a month or so and if you really want it shut off when not in use just pull the batteries.

  • Luke September 3, 2011 05:14 pm

    I bought an intervalometer earlier in the year to try my hand at time lapse photography. I went with an off brand to make it a little more affordable. I was not only able to make some nice time lapse videos, but I really enjoy being able to set the timer for longer exposures.

  • Guitar Builder September 3, 2011 12:05 pm

    My recently purchased Nikon D5000 has all of these features built in. Nikon calls it "interval Timer Shooting". it works great!

  • Sugo September 3, 2011 11:39 am

    I don't think that my Sony Alpha 500 has this built in, how would I found out where to find an external remote like this for my camera. I love night time photography so this would be a blast to try. Thanks for sharing, love the examples.

    Sugo

  • Scottc September 3, 2011 08:16 am

    I don't think I need one of these, but a great article on the device and the responses provide a bit more insight, TFS!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Jordan September 3, 2011 04:16 am

    Canon point and shoots can be updated to have an intervalometer built in. Some people use these for aerial photography.
    http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK

  • Rick September 3, 2011 02:53 am

    Of course, before buying new hardware, you should check your camera first--many cameras have this feature built-in. And if it doesn't have the feature built-in, it might not have the necessary port to accept an intervalometer. DP Review lists 52 current camera models that do time-lapse.

  • Lindsay Berger September 3, 2011 02:41 am

    If you have a Mac and a Nikon camera, the free application SOFORTBILD gives you intervalometer functionality in addition to tethered shooting.

    http://www.sofortbildapp.com/

    It has a very simple, easy-to-use interface.

  • Spencer September 3, 2011 02:13 am

    I bought this one a few months ago, works great and is a fraction of what canon wants for the same thing.

    http://www.amazon.com/Timer-Remote-Control-RS-60E3-Canon/dp/B003Q9RERY/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2QMYTL1983TLA&colid=1VC5Q4P6QFG85

    Now all I need is a vertical shutter grip so I can use the extra battery for extended sessions!

  • Brooke September 3, 2011 01:36 am

    Thank you do much for this post! Have been admiring/obsessed with time-lapse lately. :)

  • Louis September 3, 2011 01:31 am

    My Nikon D7000, D700, and D3s all have this built-in. No need for a separate intervalometer.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck September 3, 2011 01:12 am

    Wow - sounds like a fun toy to play with - I bet i could make one using a 555 Timer chip and a few parts.

    I can imagine that this would be great for timelapse. Was thinking it would have been cool to have this when shooting a dynamic image such as these geothermal mudpools to catch how they live and breathe!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/mud-flowers/

  • Bran'n Greenlaser September 3, 2011 01:08 am

    Actually, the limit of 99 on Canon's intervalometer is a false limit. When set to 0, it repeats forever. So the quote above about taking 1 picture per second for up to 1.5 minutes is not actually true. To be clear, I've tested this first-hand, as I own the Canon TC-80N3

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