Sep 102012
 

The Brinno TLC100 time-lapse camera is a very simple device that aims to simplify time-lapse photography as much as possible. There are many ways to take time-lapse videos. You can use any digital camera or any video camera. The difference with a dedicated time-lapse camera like the TLC100 is it takes out a lot of the work that needs to be done such as stitching still images together and creating the video file.

With the TLC100 (currently $135 at Amazon) you simply point the camera where you want, choose your time interval (anywhere from 5 seconds to 24 hours) then press a button and walk away. When you stop it, you will be left with an .AVI file of your time-lapse.

Software

The software that comes with the product is currently Windows only and the files it outputs are AVI which may or may not work by default on a Mac. There are two applications, one to adjust the settings of the camera and one to view the AVI files at different playback speeds. They are very simple, compact programs and there is no malware or adware attached to them.

With the setup program you set the time and date plus the custom time interval. There are 7 time settings on the camera – 6 of them are preset and 1 of them is a custom setting that you set here. The minimum for the custom setting is 5 seconds and the maximum is 12 hours. You also choose here if you want the camera to take pictures at night-time or not with the low light option. The USB drive option is your USB stick that you will be using in the TLC100. This program will write these settings to that drive so make sure you choose the correct drive letter. Once you have done that you put the USB drive back into the camera and press the button to sync the new settings.

The playback software shown above lets you playback the files at different speeds. It is only for viewing, no editing is possible. It also shows you what settings you used to record it.

Taking Videos

The first thing you need to do is use the settings software shown above and save those settings to the USB stick you will be using. The TLC100 comes with a 2GB USB but you can use any USB drive (that fits inside) up to 8GB in size.

You can see above where the USB drive and batteries fit. This battery lid is sealed with rubber so that it can be used in all-weather including rain which allows you to keep the camera outside for weeks or months at a time if you want and not worry about the elements ruining it. Underneath the USB stick is the time interval setting. This setting determines how often the camera will take a frame of video. The minimum setting is 5 seconds and the max setting is 24 hours.

Brinno says that it can capture up to 28,000 frames on a single set of alkaline AA batteries if you were using the 5 second interval. When you are using longer intervals the camera enters a low power sleep mode so that it can last longer without having to switch the batteries. If you were using the maximum 24 hour interval they estimate a battery life of 200 days. Here is the battery life for various settings:

Time Interval Frames Captured Est. Battery Life
5 seconds 28000 38 hours
1 minute 15000 10.4 days
5 minutes 4000 13.8 days
30 minutes 2500 52 days
1 hour 2000 83 days
4 hours 800 133 days
24 hours 200 200 days

 

You also have to keep in mind the playback rate. If you want things to move by fast, you will be playing it back at 30 frames per second. So taking 1 frame every day for 200 days would only give you 6.6 seconds of video! The default playback rate is 10 frames per second which isn’t as smooth but lets you see the time pass in more detail. Using a setting like 1 hour you could literally watch the seasons change. Leaves changing color in the fall, or snow falling in the winter would make some nice time-lapse videos. The fact that the TLC100 is fully weather proof makes this possible. Just make sure you place it somewhere secure where it won’t be stolen!

When taking extremely long videos you may want to disable the Low Light setting so that it only takes frames during the day. Unless there is bright outdoor lighting like in a big city, the quality of the night-time frames will not be very good.

The biggest downside to taking videos with the TLC100 is the fact that it doesn’t have a viewfinder of any kind. You just have to give it your best guess. If you are doing a very long video I would suggest taking some test frames and viewing them on a computer and adjust your placement from there. The last thing you’d want is to take a 100-day time-lapse and for it to come out crooked.

The lens on the TLC100 has two settings – macro and infinity. Macro is used for stuff that is approximately 1-2 feet away from the camera and infinity is used for everything else. As to be expected for such an inexpensive all-in-one product, the lens quality isn’t the greatest. The center of the lens is very sharp but once you get out to about halfway to the edge of the frame it starts to soften up quite a bit.

Editing

The video resolution is a very strange 1280×1024 so if you want to convert it for proper viewing on your TV or YouTube you will need to crop it vertically to 1280×720 in your video editing program. This is not exactly user-friendly considering the rest of the camera is so easy to use.

Also the raw AVI files it produces would not open up in Sony Vegas for me, but they would open up in Adobe Premiere for editing. To use them in Vegas I had to convert them to another format first which was annoying. They are simple motion JPEGs but they lack tons of meta data (including resolution and frame rate!) which is probably why Vegas rejected them. The files to play back fine in every media player I tried and they can be uploaded to YouTube raw without doing any editing.

It would be nice if the included video viewer had an option to output files at different frame rates (and cropped to 720p if you wanted).

Sample Videos

Here are a few sample videos taken with the TLC100.

Final Words

Pro’s:

  • Easy to use
  • Weather proof
  • Can use any USB stick for storage

Con’s:

  • Video quality is not the best, but acceptable for price
  • Included software is lacking, could use some basic editing functions
  • No viewfinder

If you want something to have fun with the TLC100 is a very neat little gadget. The coolest thing for me is the prospect of leaving it outside for months at a time to get very long time lapses. With its weatherproofing and dead simple operation you will be able to take a lot of interesting videos with it, perhaps in environments where it wouldn’t be possible with other more expensive devices like a DSLR.

The Brinno TLC100 is available at Amazon.

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