Timelapse on a Budget – Tutorial

This is going to be a quick one. For those who don’t have the Extended version of Photoshop or access to other video editing applications like Sony Vegas, Adobe Premier or Premier Elements, there are a few options that you can use and that are, wait for it…… FREE. And who doesn’t like free.

If you’re on the Windows platform, Virtuadub or Avidemux are two choices. I’ve some screen shots below to give you the basic workflow. On the Mac, Avidemux also works and you’ve got iMovie too (no screen shots for iMovie, I’m on Windows and an ABA – Anything But Apple guy).

Virtualdub, on its own, isn’t considered an editing application. There are; however, a ton of plugins (filters as they’re called) that give you a lot of the capabilities of higher end and expensive NLE software programs. Vdub can open a number of different video formats for editing but it’s biggest downfall is that it can only output to AVI. AVI is fine, there’s nothing wrong with it but some sites like Vimeo take longer to convert AVI files and AVI files tend to be larger than other formats (e.g., MP4) with similar quality levels. There’s a decent wiki for it and an active user forum.  The link above has a long list of filters and a bit of Googling will turn up links to plenty more.

Avidemux is a new one that I’ve only played around with a little bit. Someone asked me what options were available for doing timelapse on the Mac so I did a bit of Googling and found it. I’m not really familiar with it but can give a quick overview. It too is a free, open source application and it comes with a decent variety of built in filters. It doesn’t have as many as Vdub and there aren’t people developing filters for it like there are for Vdub. It too has a good wiki and an active user forum. It can open and render a wide variety of formats.

One thing to keep in mind with both of these is that they’re free programs that are created by people with a deep interest in video and are built for functionality.  They’re not the easiest to use and don’t have the pretty user interfaces of the expensive programs but they get the job done.

Virtualdub

Once you’ve got the program opened go to Options>Preferences>Images and set the frame rate to 24 (or 30 if you prefer).  This way, when you open image sequences the default frame rate will be what you set here and you won’t have to change it.   To open your image sequence, go to File>Open Video File, select the first image in the sequence and Vdub will open the rest automatically.

To help with file sizes, I’d suggest downloading the Lagarith Lossless Codec which will give you a good amount of compression but without loss of quality.  When I’m working with Vdub, it’s typically as an intermediate step to apply a filter and I’ll use Lagarith to keep the file size reasonable but without a loss of quality then bring that AVI clip back into my video editing software to render out into a final format (e.g., MP4).

Once your images have been imported, you can render it out as a video clip and you’re done.  You’ve made your timelapse clip.  To render the video go to File>Save as AVI.  If you go this route, it will be saved uncompressed (big files).  A few tweaks will get it where you want it.  Go to Video>Color Depth and verify that Autoselect is active on the left side of the box.  On the right side you should see 24 bit RGB (888) active.  This is what you want using JPEGs as your input files.  Next, go to Video>Compression and select Lagarith from the list of options.  Now you can render your clip and get the quality with better file size.

There are a couple filters that I’ve used in Vdub for timelapse.  One is a deflicker filter, the other is a deshaker filter.  Both can be found at the link above.  Both can be useful, particularly the deshaker filter and there’s documentation about how to use them at the links.  One note with the deshaker filter is I’d recommend using it on Fixed Zoom for the 2nd pass.

Avidemux

As I noted earlier, Avidemux is a new one that I’ve only recently found out about so am not as familiar with it.  I haven’t gone through all the preferences yet so don’t know the ins and outs of the program really well but what’s below will get you started.  Have a read of the extensive documentation available for the program.

To open an image sequence, go to File>Open, navigate to the folder, select the first image in the sequence, click OK and all will open automatically.  Avidemux is set up for European specs.  The default frame rate is 25.  I haven’t found a way yet to change the default so you’re going to need to set it for each project by going to Video>Frame Rate.  Make sure Use Custom Value is checked and input 24 (or 30) in the Frame Rate box.  Or, uncheck Use Custom Value and select Film 24 or NTSC 30 from the dropdown menu.

To do anything with the video – apply filters or render – you need to change the mode on the left side of the screen.  There are three dropdown menus – Video, Audio and Format.

Avidemux GUI (click for larger version)

From the Video dropdown, select the format you want to use (e.g., MPEG-4 AVC).  If you’ve got audio in the clip or are adding audio you can set that mode as well.  In the bottom dropdown you select the overall format for the video which includes the audio (e.g., MP4).

Clicking the Configure button (if active) on any of the three options will take you into a screen where you can customise the output.  I haven’t spent enough time with it to be able to explain what’s happening with all the options in these screens but in the Video configuration, under the General tab for Mpeg-4 AVC, slide the Quality slider all the way to the left for highest quality.

If your clip will have audio, you can configure that in the Audio section.  For the Container (the ‘envelope’ that contains both the video and audio) choose the desired option. [I’ve run into what may be a bug in the software in saving files in the MP4 container.  I’m trying to get it sorted with the help of folks on their user forum.  Other formats work fine, and encoding the video as mp4 in a different container seems to work but I’d avoid using the MP4 container for the time being and would select AVI instead.]

To save the clip go to File>Save>Save Video, choose the save location, name it (NB, you have to include the file extension  – .mp4, .avi, etc – in the name and this should be the extension of the container, not the format the video is encoded in) and click OK.

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