Saturday, November 14, 2009

How to: Stop Motion for Alpha Camera (A700)

I realised that old Minolta DiMAGE cameras used to have an intervalometer built in. Newer Minolta DSLR and Sony ones have no such great feature. This mean that current A-mount owner wouldn't have the ability to produce stop motion video. Well, we can technically by spending time pressing the shutter button at intervals if we wish to but that is not cool at all. Imagine if I wish to capture a stop motion picture for every second, or to capture stop motion pictures of evaporated salt water that might take 1 day. Staying there pressing the shutter button for every hour just not practical at all.

I knew that Sony A700 has a cool function that call "Remote Camera Control" that enable us to control the camera from a PC. The program could be installed from the CD provided together with the camera.

Although I could not change the shutter speed and the aperture from this remote control, but I could take photo just by clicking on the "shutter button" (shown as a camera icon of the program). And the picture taken will be directly saved into the computer. In order for this Remote Control to work, I need the cable:

This cable comes together with my camera.

Now I have the remote. What I need to do is to create a script that can periodically press the shutter button at the interval time I want.

Where should I look for this script ? I asked my good friend, Uncle Google and, and both of them return an answer that I am looking for. What I need is "Automate and Script Windows Tasks - Autoit". It's a free program that could download from here.

Technically speaking, it's not a program. It runs script. The script should be written in Visual C++ language. What is this script do is to ask the computer to perform tasks automatically without our input. The most cool thing for this small program is it could actually "move" the mouse cursor to any place within the screen and perform right click left click.

The problem is: I don't write Visual C++ programming language. I was hoping it was Visual Basic....

I guess the Autoit programmers reckon the problem I faced. Hence, they introduce SciTE ! See here.

Download the SciTE add-on, run the ScriptWritter. A windows pop up as shown in the pic above. What this fella could do is to record all mouse move, mouse clicks and program run whatever task I want to do. And it translates all my movements and tasks into Visual C++ language. This recording can be done just one click on the "Click to Record" icon on the program. How cool is that !!

So, I wanted that my computer would perform task of the mouse selects the Remote Camera Control program, and click on the shutter button. What I need to do is click to record on SciTE, select the Remote Camera Control, right click the shutter button, and return to SciTE, save it. This is what I got:

The script is basically telling what should the mouse do. Quite easy to understand from the script. But this is not done yet. What I want is repeatedly doing this task for, say 1,000 clicks at interval of, say 30 seconds.

I studied C++ programming language when I was in University. But I am more pronounce in BASIC programming. Hence, some reference back to the text book solved my problem: A for-next command, and a sleep() command are what I need to make my very own Intervometer. The codes should be added as highlitgted:

What I have done here is to include a command line that tells the mouse repeat the "clicking exercise" for 2000 times (for $a = 1 to 2000 ... next), but before every click, delay for 30 s (Sleep(30000)). Test run, and my camera clicks for every 30s ! Woohoo ! I have my own intervometer ! :D

Save it and I am ready for my Stop motion pic !

Of course a Laptop would be a better one than the desktop because it offer mobility. Be sure that the laptop has sufficient disk space to store huge amount of pictures from the stop motion action. If I ask for 2,000 pics, and each pic is 2MB, I'll need 2GB of space just for the pictures !

Another very important thing to have is tripod but optional, if you need one. A sturdy and strong tripod is recommended for this stop motion task. Because for stop motion, the camera is left alone there for a long period of time, and I don't want my camera falls down hit by wind etc.

So, here I am, my check list for my stop motion movie:
1) Laptop with Autoit installed - checked.
2) Laptop to be powered by wall plug - checked.
3) Camera click script installed - checked.
4) Cable linking camera to laptop - checked.
5) Camera with full battery power - checked.
6) Sturdy tripod - checked.
7) Moving cloud or dynamic sky - checked !

I left my set-up in my room, run the script, and I'm off for my normal life routine. After about 3 hours, I came back to find out my camera was run out of power ! LOL. However, I managed to get about 300 pics of moving cloud at 30 second interval.

Pardon me for not avoiding the black bar on the upper right corner there. I didn't see this through view finder, but it appeared on my pics. That's the problem of having a non 100% view camera. LOL.

You may notice that there is a skip at around 34 sec. It's due to low camera battery and the a reminder pop up on the computer screen. That stop the script.

There are some pre-cautions need to look into:
1) Camera battery to be fully charged. I started mine with 90% battery confidently thinks that it should able to finish the 2,000 clicks, but I was wrong.
2) Well ventilated place to place my laptop. The above about 40 sec of stop motion took about 2 and half hours to perform.
3) Set camera mode to A-mode. M - mode is not recommended as I might get funny exposure pictures. Let the camera do the exposure job, since it was made to do that, right ?
4) 30 second interval is a bit long. Prefer to set at 5 sec interval.
5) Resize pictures to 640px on wide side. I tried 800px on wide side, and I ended up letting the computer running whole day joining my 300 photos and got a hang mode. LOL
6) Well, a powerful computer is recommended because of No. 5.

I admit my stop motion is boring, but I am exited about it. I call it a success.

I shall plan for a better one. :D


fook said...

well its not boring at all, i love seeing the cloud moving, nice job!

kenny said...

This is great! Thanks for sharing. will try it when really free...

Templar Tan said...

Thanks. :D

Anonymous said...

This is great! Thanks! Do you know if it's possible to hold the shutter for a couple of seconds to make a exposure bracket?