Best Time-Lapse Cameras

Updated December 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

24 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
369 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best time-lapse cameras

Last Updated December 2019

There are lots of different ways to take time-lapse photos and video. One of the cheapest is to get an app for your smartphone — some are free — though they have limited functionality, and it’s not particularly convenient if you want to make a call! Digital SLR and the latest mirrorless cameras can provide stunning image quality, either up close or at a distance, depending on the lens, but they are very expensive. Two much more affordable time-lapse devices are action cameras and trail cameras. There are also dedicated time-lapse security cameras, which are often used to monitor construction projects.

These are just your basic choices, without even starting on the variety of different models and wide-ranging features on offer. No wonder people get confused when trying to pick the one that will suit them best!

We’ve been investigating all the latest models to bring you the information you need to make the right choice. Our recommendations showcase some of the best alternatives, depending on your budget, and in the following comprehensive buying guide, we look at the key considerations in detail.

For clear images, you need some kind of stable platform. Trail cameras can be fitted to trees or posts. Security cameras usually come with mounting kits for walls, fences, or steelwork. With action cams, you need a monopod or tripod mount.

Key considerations

What do you want a time-lapse camera to do?

If you’re a professional filmmaker or videographer, you’ll have specialist equipment, plus software for post-production. We’ve all seen the results of clever time-lapse effects at the movies, but that gear costs thousands of dollars.

Most of us want time-lapse to capture plants, animals, or people over an extended period. That might be for personal entertainment, wildlife management and protection, hunting, or security, but because we’re just taking snapshots in time (videos or stills) the equipment doesn’t need to be anywhere near as expensive. Trail cameras, action cams, and security devices are easy to use and within most people’s price range, and they do a good job in a variety of locations.

We think the easiest way to identify the best time-lapse camera for your particular requirements is to answer the following questions:

What kind of image quality do you need?

Resolution capabilities run from 720p all the way up to 4K.

720p: This is often perfectly adequate for tasks like monitoring a job site or a deer trail. File sizes are small, so the number of images captured or length of video can be considerable.

4K: This can produce superb images, but it results in large files. You need more memory to store them, which either means fewer images, shorter videos, or more expensive equipment. When looking, check both the memory capacity, and whether the resolution is switchable, which gives you greater flexibility.

What is the depth and width of the area you need to cover?

It’s unlikely you’ll have the benefit of zoom. With a fixed lens, focal length and depth of field are important if you’re trying to capture video or stills either panoramically or at a distance. Most action cameras have wide-angle lenses and good all-round ability. Trail cameras have a limited angle but usually good range. However, you might be pushing the limits of what they’re capable of, so you need to check the capabilities of each device individually.

How often do you need the camera to shoot images?

If you’re working on a creative film or animation project, you might want shots or clips every few seconds. On the other hand, if you’re watching plants grow or recording the progress of a building, the activity may only need to be captured a few times per day.

Comprehensive capability

A combination of three different frame rates and intervals between 1 second and 1 minute gives you plenty of choice when recording time-lapse video or stills, and the APEMAN action camera offers excellent instructions on how to maximize the possibilities. It’s waterproof to 130 feet and has remote control to 30 feet, and, unusually in this price range, an external microphone. There’s also WiFi compatibility and HD out, so you can plug it directly into laptops or TVs. Superb quality and great value.

How much control do you need?

Some time-lapse cameras are “set it and forget it.” Action cams can usually be controlled via wrist units, though the range is limited. Some high-end trail cameras can be monitored by WiFi and linked to your smartphone or tablet.

What lighting conditions will the camera operate in?

If the subject is always well lit, you don’t have a problem, but if you’re taking time-lapse images over extended periods and it gets dark, you could end up with a black screen! Many trail cameras have infrared image capture but bear in mind that it will only be monochrome.

How will you view your images or videos?

All of these devices have their own screens, but the size of the unit restricts them to only an inch or two across. They can all download files to a tablet or laptop, either via WiFi or direct cable connection. However, compatibility is far from universal, so you need to check whether the time-lapse device you’re considering will work with your computer.

Is time-lapse the right solution?

If you’re watching a fixed situation — building, bird’s nest, or area where wildlife is known to be active on a regular basis, then a time-lapse camera is a good idea. If you want to monitor activity in a location you don’t know well, a camera that’s activated by a motion sensor (trail cameras do this) might be a more effective way to capture your target.

Accessories

Tripod: GorillaPod Action Video Tripod
Designed specifically for action cams, this is much more than just a stiff-legged tripod. The ball and socket construction gives tremendous flexibility. You can bend it into all kinds of different shapes, set it up on uneven surfaces, or wrap it around poles, branches, and other supports. The head allows you to position the camera at virtually any angle, and it accepts all standard action cam fittings.

Rotating mount: TurnsPro Camera Mount
Want to take pictures all around rather than just straight ahead? The battery-operated TurnsPro lets you attach your action cam, DSLR, or smartphone and take pictures in 15° increments, up to a full 360°, clockwise, counterclockwise, or back and forth. You specify the speed from 20 seconds to 10 hours, in intervals as precise as a second.

EXPERT TIP

If you want to view or edit your images on a larger screen, you need to check compatibility. Several models will not work with iOS tablets or Mac laptops.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

How much detail do you really need in your pictures? A resolution of 720p is adequate for many purposes, and the file sizes are much smaller than for 1080p or 4K.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

If you’re a wildlife lover, a trail camera might seem the obvious choice, but don’t overlook security cameras. They often offer greater versatility with time-lapse video.


Staff  | BestReviews

Time-lapse camera prices

Inexpensive: Trail cameras are among the cheapest ways to take time-lapse photography, starting at around $40. You can get some pretty good entry-level action cams for around the same price.

Mid-range: Better-quality action and trail cams run from $60 up to almost $200, depending on capabilities. High-end specialist security/construction-site cameras can add another hundred.

Expensive: DSLR and mirrorless cameras with good time-lapse abilities can top $1,000, and that’s before you buy lenses.

Feature-packed and affordable

While time-lapse functions are limited compared to some alternatives, intervals of 3, 10, 15, 20, and 30 seconds give decent flexibility from a low-cost package. The rest of the feature set is outstanding for the money. Different image resolutions and frame rates for video, 16 MP photos, waterproof to 100 feet, and a wireless wrist controller are just the highlights. Unfortunately for some, it’s not Mac compatible.

Other products we considered

If you don’t see what you need in our matrix, we have a few more options for you. The Victure HC200 Trail Camera is a low-cost option with interesting time-lapse capabilities. It can take three shots per trigger action, so you don’t miss fast-moving wildlife, or it can take stills or videos at up to 30-minute intervals over a 72-hour period. There are dozens of action cams to choose from for time-lapse photography, and the Crosstour Ultra 4K Action Camera is certainly worth a look. It has multiple resolution options, a half dozen timer options, wide-angle lens, and wrist remote, all in a tough, waterproof case. It’s also very affordable. If you’re talking action cams, it’s hard to ignore the GoPro HERO7, which not only boasts time-lapse video, but it can now capture night-sky images at 5-second intervals, too. It’s not cheap, but it’s incredibly versatile.

If you need to get your feet off the ground to fix a time-lapse camera in place, be sure to take sensible safety precautions. It can be tempting to overstretch, but a fall can cause serious injury.

FAQ

Q. Are time-lapse cameras weatherproof?
A.
Yes, but just how much varies from device to device. The best thing to look for is an IP or IPX rating (charts are available online). These are precise, internationally recognized, independent testing standards. Action cams are frequently not tested, but if it’s waterproof to 100 feet, as many are, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s OK in bad weather. DSLR cameras are not waterproof, though some models have a degree of moisture resistance. Care is needed when checking specifications. Just because it’s called “weatherproof” doesn’t make it so!

Q. How long can I leave a time-lapse camera to run unattended?
A.
It’s different for each model, and something you need to check carefully. The two factors that have the greatest impact are the time-lapse settings (and therefore the number of pictures or videos taken, which largely depends on the memory) and the battery life. It can be anything from a couple of days to several months.

Q. How do I protect my time-lapse camera from theft?
A.
Many trail cameras come with cases that can be fitted with a locking steel cable, which will deter the opportunistic thief. Time-lapse cameras used for security are usually fitted at heights that make access difficult. The portability of action cams, usually a bonus, does make them difficult to protect. Equally, expensive DSLR cameras are very tempting to thieves. We would be very cautious about leaving either of them unattended, though a secure hide might be an option.

The team that worked on this review
  • Arnold
    Arnold
    Writer
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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