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Motorized Camera Slider


I'm a bit of a nerd.  I know it and I'm not ashamed.

Recently, I watched a video on YouTube that was a compilation of time lapse videos.  The video was gorgeous from beginning to end.  It wasn't something that you could just stop half way through.  The most amazing thing about time lapse videos is seeing a lot in a small span of time.  No one wants to watch grass grow but when someone figures out how to cram 3 weeks worth of growth into one smooth 5-second video no one can look away.  So many cool things are happening around us all the time but at a snail's pace.  Time lapse shows us a new way to look at things.  It reawakens our sense of wonder.

One thing that made this time lapse video stand out above the others that I've seen was camera motion.  About 30 seconds into the video, it hit me.  "How do they do that?!"  I quickly answered my own question as I realized that in order to add smooth camera motion (pan, tilt, or slide), one would need a motor to control the motion.

My mind started running, but before I inadvertently reinvented the wheel I jumped on YouTube once again and found a video of an inexpensive DIY motorized time lapse camera slider.  Thanks to this fellow nerd and his willingness to share his design, I feel both empowered to build my own motorized time lapse slider as well as find and proudly wear a winter coat with a large fur-lined hood.

First, there was a trip to Lowe's to pick up the angled aluminum for the main rails, the all-thread for the dive shaft, and a bunch of various pieces of hardware for the legs and connections.  I already had some leftover flat bar aluminum from another project.  I built my wheeled camera platform completely from random materials that I already had.  I did have to buy a universal ball joint camera mount, low-speed electric motor, and AA battery pack from Amazon.com.

I also still need the gearing.  Unlike this guy, I'm not going to connect my electric motor directly to my drive shaft.  I'm going to gear mine down.  In the video he says that his motor turns at 24 revolutions per minute (rpm).  Mine turns pretty close to 28 rpm.  The all-thread I'm using is 5/16" so it has 18 threads per inch.  My slider is 4' long, but will only have a camera travel distance of about 3.5' or 42".  That means I have 756 threads of camera travel.  At 28 rpm, it would take exactly 27 minutes (00:27) to complete the camera motion.  That's not enough time to get the kind of time lapses I want to get.

This video is full of examples of the duration of time I would like to cover with my time lapse videos.  I'm looking to cover about 2 hours.  That would allow me to capture sunrises, sunsets, celestial movement, substantial work being performed, etc.  27 minutes just couldn't quite get that.  This guy's slider is shorter than mine and so he has even less capture time than that.  I think that I am going to buy a 16-tooth pinion gear and a 72-tooth spur gear.  These are used on hobby remote control cars so they're durable, readily available, and cheap.  By fastening the spur gear to the drive shaft and turning it with the pinion gear on the motor's output shaft, I am able to slow the drive shaft down to 6.22 rpm.  At 756 threads of available camera travel. it will take 2 hours and 1.5 minutes to get from one end to the other.

Another difference in our designs will be that I will have two tripod mounts, one on each end of my slider.  It will allow me to mount it in a wide range of different positions to capture motion going up, down, sideways, etc.  It will have legs just like the one pictured here so that it can be used on any flat surface, but with the added tripod mounts I can set it up anywhere.

I'm looking forward to the finished product.  I've got other things going on, so it's not a "front burner" project or anything.  But, I'm sure I will get it all put together soon so that I start setting it up and capturing some cool video.  Of course, you'll know when I have some because I'll be posting some stuff on here.

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