John Spencer's Timelapse Movies

Here are some of the animations I've created using a Nikon Coolpix 995 camera and the Digisnap 2000 time-lapse controller. Originals are tens of MB in size, but I've squeezed most of them to under 1 megabyte (and made even smaller ~ 100K thumbnails seen on this page), at great expense- temporal and spatial resolution are reduced, and there are compression artifacts galore. But they still give some of the flavour of the originals.

A review of the Digisnap 2000 from Steve's Digicams.

Lessons I've learned about using the Digisnap controller.

Time lapse links

You need the Quicktime player from Apple, or equivalent, to view these movies- available for free download for Windows or Mac. Compression is done with the "Indeo Video 5.1" codec, which gives by far the highest image quality for a given file size of all the codecs supplied with Quicktime that I've tried so far. For Linux users, MPlayer apparently works well to play the animations, and has an associated browser plugin (thanks, Henry).

I welcome feedback on any problems you might have viewing this page, or suggestions for improvement.

Click on the links to download double-size, higher-quality, versions.

A striking lenticular cloud created by the San Francisco Peaks, April 1st 2003. It diffused after an hour or two, but I left the camera running, and thoughout the day there was clearly a cloud-forming disturbance where the lenticular cloud had been. Surprisingly to me, the wind flow is perpendicular to the long axis of the cloud, which appears to point at the Peaks- if this is true, the air in the cloud was never anywhere near the Peaks. Maybe there's a lower-level, invisible, disturbance created by wind flowing past the Peaks, that is creating condensation in a higher-level crosswind, which is what you see. Or perhaps the cloud is higher than it appears, and is behind the peaks with its long axis tangential to them, so the air in the cloud flows over the mountain after all? I've never heard a good explanation for the layered appearance that makes lenticular clouds so amazing to look at. Original duration 7h 15m, from 11:20 am to 6:34 pm.
Larger version (1.7 MB). Much larger version (16 MB).

Icicles growing outside our living room window, December 21st 2002. Comparing the first and last frames shows that the icicles grew fatter as well as longer. Original duration 3 hours 45 minutes, ending at dusk.
Larger version (1000 KB).

Dinner time for the astronomers at Hale Pohaku, the Mauna Kea Observatory dormitory, at the start of a night's work, December 10th 2002. That was the plan, anyway, but bad weather prevented anyone from observing that night. Hints of the unsettled weather can be seen in the varying brightness of the patch of sunlight on the floor, as clouds blew over the dormitory. Lighting changed from daylight to artificial during the movie, creating a large color shift, and exposure time increased from 1/24 sec to 1 second. Original duration 2 hours 20 minutes.
Larger version (1000 KB).

The peak of the Leonid meteor shower over the moonlit San Francisco Peaks, between 3:28am and 4:28 am MST, November 19 2002. The 110-frame sequence has only four or five obvious meteors (and one plane), though with some work, including looking at the difference between successive frames, I found a total of 23 meteors, mostly very faint. More obvious is the circling of the stars around Polaris, at the top. This was my first use of the Digisnap in time-exposure "Bulb" mode. I requested 30-second exposures but most were actually near 28 seconds and a few were as short as 22 seconds. Aperture was f2.8 and ISO was set to 200. To maximize efficiency I didn't switch on automatic noise reduction: I removed the dozen or so hot pixels later using an IDL program which also removed the brightness variations due to the variable exposure time. The stars and meteors are only visible in high-resolution, high-quality, and large versions of the animation, so that's what I've posted here.
640x480 version (3.5 MB).
1024x768 version (14 MB!).

Datura flower opening in the evening. My fourth attempt at a datura flower timelapse: none of them were totally satisfactory but this is the best. Flower timelapse movies are tricky! Challenges include unpredictability of the flowers (failing to open, moving out of the field, etc.), wind, and changing lighting. Daturas bloom predictabily at dusk, but then the rapidly dropping light level is a challenge, as it was here (exposure time was over 1 second at the end). Note the impatient bees sneaking into the flower before it pops open. Original duration about 28 minutes.
Larger version (600 KB).

Sunset clouds over Boulder, July 29th 2002. Exposure level dropped by a factor of 64 during the movie, but the change was deftly handled by the camera's auto exposure. The camera was accidentally nudged after the first 30 frames, so I had to shift these in Corel Photo-Paint, causing the black stripe on the left in the first part of the movie. Original duration 26 minutes.
Larger version (1000 KB).

The morning after a spring snowstorm in Boulder, May 24 2002. Trees are released from their ice burden, and the snow slides off the car and melts off the grass. Meanwhile on a house under construction across the alley, workers clear snow off the roof, put up a tarp, and take deliveries of drywall. Gusty winds nearly remove the tarp again near the end. A mystery- why do the trees droop again slightly, and then recover, in unison, halfway through the movie? Original duration 6.5 hours, from 8:45 am to 3:15 pm.
Larger version (800 KB).

Sunset from Lowell Observatory, February 21 2002, looking in the anti-sunward direction. The shadow of Mars Hill sweeps across Flagstaff and lifts off the horizon as it merges with the shadow of the Earth itself. Converging anti-crepuscular rays (is that a real term?), shadows cast by distant clouds, are visible in the sky at the end. Original duration 41 minutes.
Larger version (900 KB).

The Lowell Perkins 72" telescope observing Jupiter, January 20th 2002. Many stars are visible in the original animation but only Jupiter itself has survived the compression (on the larger version). Both the telescope and dome are following Jupiter under computer control. At the end, the telescope moves to point at a spot on the dome to take some "flat field" images for calibration. Manual mode, 8 second exposures. To reduce overhead I didn't switch on noise reduction, so the original frames had a few hot pixels- I removed these from each image using a script in Corel Photo-Paint before assembling the animation. Original duration 35 minutes.
Larger version (700 KB).

Sunset in Sedona, January 12th 2002. You can see the earth's shadow sweeping across the cloud deck, separating clouds illuminated directly by the setting sun from the less brilliant clouds illuminated indirectly. A plane leaves a vapor trail which then disperses, but that's hard to see in this highly compressed version of the animation. The camera was set in "Program" mode, and the exposure adjusted to the fading light until reaching the maximum 1 second exposure possible in this mode, then stayed with that exposure as the scene faded to black. Original duration 41 minutes.
Larger version (700 KB).

Painting a fence in Sedona, December 30th 2001. Note the cloud shadows moving in two opposite directions on the red rocks behind. The camera was in "Manual" mode so all images have the same exposure. Original duration 36 minutes.
Larger version (900 KB).
All animations (c) John Spencer

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