One of my more recent camera purchases was a Sony NEX-5R. I like the combination of small camera with large sensor. One of the features of this camera is built in wifi and the ability to download/buy apps via the Sony PlayMemories system. Some of these apps are amazing and some still need a bit of work. One app which I was happy to see added was a timelapse app. I've used the timelapse app quite a lot as it's far more convenient than connecting my other cameras to an intervalometer type device. I've even had the opportunity to shoot for Sony Canada using the camera when I helped them document a release event for the RX1 last year. Several Sony NEX and Alpha cameras now feature app support including the latest greatest A7 and A7R models.
I'm a huge fan of timelapse video and it's a mainstay for much of my video production projects so this was an exciting addition for me. Version 1.0 of the app featured some presets for popular scenes and the ability to customize all of the settings manually. The camera can either bake the final video in camera at 24p or 30p...or shoot a series of stills for external processing...including RAW files with full manual settings! The app even tells you how long your video will be as you set the number of photos and the interval. Unfortunately the number of shots is capped to 990 but this is still plenty for many lapses.
Having the camera create the video in camera sounds great and it can be handy for quick turn around time or fun little videos. In practice it leaves zero room for error compared to shooting individual images...especially RAW images. For example the sunrise preset allows you to change many settings but locks white balance at 5500k. On a cloudy day, especially in the winter, the final video looks pretty blue. Exposure can be off as well. Shooting RAW images can help correct both of these issues. You can't stop and restart the camera when it makes the video in camera and if the battery dies prematurely, you lose the final video.
Version 2.0 just came out and Sony added what they call exposure tracking in the sunrise and sunset preset modes plus the custom mode to smoothly adjust the exposure through the timelapse recording. Getting this exposure correct is the holy grail of a good sunrise or sunset timelapse so I was very curious to know if it would work. Normally you have to babysit the camera and make exposure adjustments as the day gets brighter or darker and then blend everything together in post. Software like LRTimelapse can handle this quite easily but having it taken care of in the camera could save a significant amount of time by allowing me to let the camera run without me AND by requiring less work afterwards to process the images. This is especially the case if you can't babysit the camera to check and adjust the exposure manually.
Here's a quick video showing the interface and menu options. As you can see there is a surprising number of settings you can adjust from the menu.
I wanted to test this out to see if it actually works as advertised. I know from playing with hacked cameras in the past that it's entirely possible to have a camera average out it's exposure to eliminate the variation of exposure from frame to frame which results in a flickering effect in the final video. Normally I shoot RAW and then use software to adjust the brightness of each frame up or down accordingly to create a flicker free smooth transition through the video.
With Aperture priority mode, the meter in the camera adjusts the shutter speed as light increases or decreases. The tracking program in the timelapse app prevents the shutter speed from changing wildly from shot to shot. Most of my tests showed the shutter speed change in a very regular and even way. None of the test videos I shot required deflickering as part of the editing process. The only issue is that the exposure is based on meter readings so it's not perfect. Strong backlight (like from a setting sun) can under expose the foreground significantly. Shooting RAW stills instead of the video mode allows this to be corrected during the edit.
As always, I used the view of the front street from my living room as a test. 990 frames and 1 minute intervals (the max), the camera will run for 16.5 hours. This requires the AC power adapter. And with temperatures running around 20 below, I didn't want to do it outside either. The two videos below show just how effective the exposure tracking is. Shot with the NEX-5R and the Sony 16mm pancake lens at f/9 and a daylight white balance. The first is the straight out of camera images converted to video. The exposure is pretty good but the white balance doesn't leave for a flattering video. The second was processed with Lightroom 5 and LRTimelapse allowing for a slightly different crop, full retouching of the images, and a smooth transition in white balance between night and day scenes. The result is significantly different. Both videos have been sped up 2x so that the 16.5 hours runs in 16.5 seconds.
Playmemories Timelapse App 2.0 Test Edited These videos also demonstrate some of the finer details of shooting a timelapse. It's very important you know everything about the scene you're shooting. When I set up the camera at 4am I carefully cleaned the glass and shielded it from glare with a lens hood. What I didn't realize and what I didn't notice until I saw the final images is that the outside of the window was also dirty. This is obvious when the direct sunlight is coming in later in the video. There are also reflections from some light in my living room later in the video that I didn't anticipate. If this were a video of a one off event, I would have seriouly compromised the quality of the final product by not considering these things before hand.
On another note, one of the common criticisms I hear of the Sony cameras is battery life. With an EVF, constant liveview, and a smaller than average battery, it's assumed battery life is poor. In the majority of my tests, getting 720 or more shots and over 2 hours of continuous shooting was no problem. Even in cold temperatures, getting over 400 shots was no problem. For lapses with very long intervals and a high shutter count upwards of the 990 limit, I use the AC adapter.
This is a great addition to an app that I already welcomed with open arms. The 5R is very small and easy to mount in strange places making it a perfect camera for shooting timelapse video with the camera placed remotely or where it's inaccessible. I'll certainly be putting this to good use in the future.