How to Make Timelapses with the JJC TM-F2 Intervalometer and the Sony A7s: My Workflow

In this lesson I’ll walk you through the steps of creating timelapses with the JJC TM-F2 intervalometer and the Sony A7s. I’m not going to be covering what timelapses are or how to create timelapses. I’m not an expert and the topic is really vast. There are tons of free videos and articles on the subject online.

However, I will share my personal workflow with you, what settings I use, and how I create sequences in post production.

Prep

Before you start worrying about technically accomplishing a timelapse, it is important to first consider what you’re getting into:

  1. Start with the end in mind. How long is it going to be, what frame rate is it going to play back in, and what resolution do you want it to be?
  2. Look at the scene or subject of the timelapse and ask yourself how many stops of latitude will you need in camera,
  3. How long will the actual event be. E.g., sunrise and sunset are events, a flower blooming is an event, and so on.
  4. Where do I place the camera, not composition wise, but location-wise: Is it going to be in a stable environment on a tripod or motion rig? Will there be wind, birds, vehicles or humans that can interfere with the operation of the camera? Will the weather be a problem?

The goal of asking myself these questions is to eliminate as many variables as I can. Once that happens, the technical solution to the problem usually emerges by itself.

Decisions

Now it’s time to choose.

RAW vs JPEG

The first major decision I need to make is whether to shoot RAW or JPEG. Obviously, JPEGs are easier on your computer and storage. RAW gives you more control. I pick the format based on how challenging the exposure is.

Here’s a quick chart comparing the two:

Advantages Disadvantages
JPEG Easy workflow, low storage needs sRGB color space conversion problem, image already sharpened or sharpening less effective, 8-bit only
RAW Best possible quality, can alter white balance, color space, sharpening, etc., has greatest dynamic range Large file sizes, hard to work with them directly in video software, computing HDR and stabilization takes a lot more time

Don’t get confused. All I consider are two things:

  • Do I have the time and patience to render frames and work with RAW?
  • Do I have enough storage space for RAW files?

If the answer to both are yes, then shoot RAW. Ultimately, we all want the best quality possible.

If the answer to the first is no, but the second is yes, shoot RAW but use Lightroom (or other RAW conversion app) to convert to TIFF. One cool technique is to use Photomatix Pro (or another HDR software) to work on just one RAW file to get the best dynamic range out of it. Then export TIFFs and proceed. The whole thing is sort of automated.

If the answer to the second is no, but the first is yes, then bracket JPEGs.

Storage needs

How do you determine storage needs? Here are things to consider:

  • The typical frame from the Sony A7s is 4240×2832.
  • RAW needs about 13.4 MB per frame.
  • JPEG can go up to 9 MB per frame. Often it hovers around the 6-8 MB range.

Let’s say you want to create a 10 second timelapse. The total number of frames needed = 10 seconds x 24 (assuming 24p) = 240 frames.

Here’s how they differ in storage needs (no bracketing assumed):

JPEG RAW
Seconds 10 10
FPS 24 24
Frames 240 240
Size per frame (MB) 8 13.5
Total Size of Source (MB) 1920 3240
Intermediate (MB)* 0 9720
Prores HQ Master in 4K (MB) 1100 1100
Prores HQ Master in 1080p (MB) 275 275
Youtube 4K (MB) 56.25 56.25
Youtube 1080p (MB) 24 24
Total size on drive for one copy 4K (GB) 3.0 13.8
Total size on drive for one copy 1080p (GB) 2.2 12.9

*When you shoot RAW you will typically need to use a RAW converter to convert files to TIFF.

Bracketing mostly means you need to triple your data needs. On average, you can say a RAW workflow will need about 3 to 5 times more storage.

Then you factor in the time it takes to process and work with RAW frames that are 12MP large. You need about 8-32 GB of RAM, and a fast storage array to make it work on a regular basis. One-off timelapses can be done on less powerful hardware, it will just take more time that’s all.

Workflow

I use Adobe After Effects for timelapses, shooting JPEGs. If I need higher dynamic range, I bracket exposures in JPEGs.

What advantages does After Effects offer me? Here’s a list:

  • I can play with color space and see how my final video will look like easily
  • Retiming and playing with the final result (temporally-speaking) is easy.
  • Image stabilization is brilliant with Warp Stabilization. In fact, the balloon lighting shot in the mall (in the JJC TM-F2 review) is totally handheld and image stabilized.
  • I can color grade and finish in After Effects, including adding titles and motion graphics.

If I were to shoot RAW, I would be forced to start with Lightroom because After Effects does not support the ARW RAW format from the A7s.

Then the workflow would go like this:

  1. Lightroom to process RAW files – white balance, image manipulation, color space, etc. Export to TIFF.
  2. If bracketing is involved, then bring TIFF files to Photoshop for HDR work. Export completed frames to TIFF.
  3. Use After Effects to create and finish timelapse.

I won’t be covering Lightroom workflows because it’s beyond of scope of this tutorial, and I’m not the right person for it anyway.

All of these need to be addressed before you even begin tackling the practical challenge of pulling off the timelapse.

Shooting

First, the camera. I always shoot in FULL manual mode. This means:

  1. Manual focus – because sometimes the autofocus can be fooled. Also, it saves battery life.
  2. Manual exposure (aperture, shutter speed). The camera meter can be fooled by passing objects in the frame. This will lead to flicker afterwards.
  3. If I’m bracketing, I set ISO to Auto ISO. Otherwise ISO is also set manually.
  4. I have to judge the ‘middle’ exposure of the timelapse (if it involves changing light like a sunrise, etc.). If the demands are greater than what the A7s can achieve, then I bracket.
  5. Image stabilization off. Use a tripod.
  6. To shoot in tough external conditions, you will need two things:
    1. Constant power, either AC or larger batteries or someone always changing batteries regularly
    2. Weather-proof enclosure fixed on a non-moving object like a pole. This setup is critical for long-event timelapses like construction work, etc.

To choose shutter speeds, think of motion blur, and start with the end in mind. If you want motion blur akin to 24p, then stick to 1/50s. If you want car trails (like the one shown in the review), then you’ll need it to be a few seconds. Night sky exposures need several seconds.

Then, you choose the lens based on the field of view, and the desired aperture. The night sky could use a large aperture (f/2, f/1.4, etc., focused on infinity), while a day scene might work with a stopped down aperture. It all depends.

Now it’s time to bring in the intervalometer. Let’s take the earlier example and assume we want to shoot a sunset that’s going to be 10 seconds long. We can speed it up later in post production, so it’s always a good idea to aim for more.

  • Event (sunset) takes 30 minutes, or 1800 seconds.
  • Final timelapse will be 10 seconds long. At 24p, I will need 240 frames.
  • This means, the Interval on the JJC TM-F2 should be set to: 1800/240 = 7.5 or 8 seconds.
  • I decide I want cinematic motion blur, so my shutter stays at 1/50s, or less than one second.

Using the JJC TM-F2

First, switch on your device:

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Here are the buttons on the JJC TM-F2 so you understand me:buttonsWITHNAMES

Click the SET BUTTON to start inputting your settings. You will be taken to the DE (Delay) screen (There’ll be a small bar on top of your numbers, see below).

If the tripod is perched at a tough spot, or if the event will start only in a little while, set the delay to whatever you desire. Let’s assume it is 5 minutes. Click the SIDE ARROW BUTTON once to go to the minutes (It’s HOURS:MINUTES:SECONDS).

Click the UP ARROW BUTTON to increase the time. Click it 5 times for 5 minutes:

delay

Click the SIDE ARROW BUTTON twice to move to the exposure setting (BU). Set the camera shutter to 1/50s and the TM-F2 exposure time can be set to 00:00:00 (zero). Which means, do nothing. exposure

Just press the SIDE ARROW BUTTON thrice to move to the interval setting (INT). We’ve established our interval needs to be 8 seconds, so move to the seconds counter and click the UP ARROW BUTTON eight times.   interval

Click the SIDE ARROW BUTTON to move to the number of exposures setting (N). We need 240, so click the DOWN BUTTON and keep clicking. Whichever way is fastest. The F2 doesn’t speed up so this is a tedious process.

Remember, always choose more than you need. Here’ I’ve settled on 250:numberWhen I’m happy with all settings (you can use the SIDE ARROW BUTTONS to scroll through to check), I click on the SET BUTTON and it’s set. It beeps (if the speaker is on) to let me know.

When I’m ready, I click the START/STOP button and the camera starts counting down to 5 minutes and then the firing starts.

That’s all there is to it!

Post Production

This bit’s easy if you’re shooting JPEGs. Just import them as a JPEG sequence in After Effects and open a new composition.

I typically use a composition size that matches my final output. If I’m shooting 1080p, then the comp size will be 1920×1080. If I’m shooting UHD, then it’s 3840×2160.

I then resize the image using the scale option. You can create pans and tilts in after effects if you have a large frame to play with. The night sky shot (second to last timelapse in the review) was tilted down in post.

If necessary, I add the Warp Stabilizer VFX plugin. For the mall balloon shot, I set it to ‘No Motion’ so I got a rock solid result. You can also use tracking here. After Effects is really powerful with this kind of work. Typically, the image will be slightly cropped afterwards.

Then I grade and sharpen until I’m satisfied. I use Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse for it. None of the timelapses in the review were color corrected. Export to Prores HQ as master, and another smaller file for Youtube.

That’s it! I hope this glimpse at my workflow helps you with your own timelapses.

Click on the link below to the next lesson or head over to the main menu (above). If you need help with something, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.