This is part 4 of a series on timelapse photography.
Your camera offers two or even three ways to make a timelapse movie. The method you choose will influence both the quality of the final output and the amount of post processing time.
You’ll choose JPEG if you’re going to be likely recording for very long durations. Because of their smaller file size, you can shoot longer on the same card. JPEGs offer more sizes to choose from in camera, so you can choose an image size that more closely matches the requirements that you need for video.
However,JPEG files can show compression artifacts. They also offer much less control when it comes to color correction. When you’re shooting JPEG, you don’t really get the benefits of all the highlights recovery.
Those photographers who’ve switched to raw have come to appreciate the great flexibility that raw files offer in post. There is a big visual difference between the JPEG and a RAW file. Particularly, in the flexibility you have for post-production.
In the field though, there’s also a big difference, which is the file size. Unfortunately, raw files are enormous (often 10X or more than a JPEG). This means less recording time to the card and longer delays as the raw files write to the card. If you are shooting on a Canon, you might find yourself for a few different file sizes to choose from, and that’s a nice benefit. You’re still shooting RAW, you just can shoot a smaller RAW file. You might not need all those 27 megapixels for your Time-lapse file when in fact, you’re only using maybe three or four.
If you want the maximum flexibility during the post production stage, you will shoot RAW. The ability to recover highlights and shadows, to add clarity is just absolutely awesome.
Shooting a Movie
Depending on your camera, you may shoot a movie directly on the device. Time-lapse apps for smart phones tend to shoot movie files as the end result. If you’re shooting on DSLR, some DSLRs offer it as an in-camera feature. The good news is, is that you instantly have a file that’s ready to post and share. The bad news is, is, you don’t have as much flexibility when it comes to adjusting the movie. If you’ve got a lockdown time-lapse movie, it’s really tough to deal with exposure issues.
Essentially, you’re just making a video file. And if the exposure was clipped, you don’t get any of the benefits of RAW. Now, it’s about the same quality as JPEG. With the added exception that you lose one important thing. When you shoot, directly to a movie file, you don’t get the ability to shoot at higher resolutions, so you end up with a video file that’s 1080p or 720. That file might not be future proofed, if you need to deliver at a higher digital resolution. Nor can you go in and re-crop the photo or recompose it, or add an animated move in post production.
For these reasons I recommend you stay away from shooting movies. If your camera can shoot both (my Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony can) then consider using the movie for quick feedback and still process the stills.
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