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Raspberry Pi Time-lapse Videos with USB Webcam

How to turn your Raspberry Pi and webcam into a time-lapse camera

Written By on in Linux

1,022 words, estimated reading time 5 minutes.

Create Time-lapse videos using a Raspberry Pi to take a picture from a webcam at a regular interval, such as every minute, then use an application to stitch the pictures together into a video. Times flies.

This guide assumes you already have a working Raspberry Pi configured ready to go. Please see the article on building a NextCloud server to find out how to install and configure a Raspberry Pi.

In order to complete this project yourself you will need:

  1. Raspberry Pi running Raspbian (or another OS), configured, running and accessible on the network or directly connected to KVM
  2. Internet Connection
  3. USB Webcam
  4. Optional: Powered USB Hub. Depending on the Raspberry Pi model and webcam, the Pi may not be able to supply enough power to the webcam. A powered USB hub should solve this.

There are two ways of using a Raspberry Pi as a time-lapse recorder. We can either use the built-in Raspistill application if you are running Raspbian, or we can use the much more powerful >code>motion application which works on all variants of Linux.

Using Raspistill inbuilt time-lapse mode

The raspistill application has a built in time-lapse mode, using the --timelapse (or -tl) command line switch.

The command takes a few options, but the one we are interested in is --timelapse followed by the time between shots, in milliseconds, and the -t parameter which is the maximum length to record the timelapse for.

Let's say we want to take a shot every 30 seconds for the next hour. The interval for --timelapse would be 30 seconds * 1000 = 30000, and the maximum length given to the -t parameter would be 60 minutes * 60 seconds * 1000 = 3600000. The next parameter is the output destination image name, which we can use a sequential number in the filename.

The command then looks like this:

raspistill -t 3600000 -tl 30000 -o image%04d.jpg

The %04d in the output filename indicates the point in the filename where you want a frame count number to appear. It will generate image1.jpg, image2.jpg, image3.jpg and so on.

You can read more in the Raspistill documentation.

Using Motion to capture time-lapse videos

Motion is a much more widely used application for using webcams in Linux. It can record at full frames per second, capture stills and time-lapse videos. It is widely available in many distribution repositories so compatibility shouldn't be an issue.

To install motion, type in the command to start the installation.

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install motion

Once that is complete we can make sure that the camera is correctly detected and the driver has been installed. We can do this with the lsusb command. Simply type it in and hit enter.

lsusb

You should see the name of your camera listed. If it is NOT there, then there is some problem with your camera or the camera is not supported in motion.

techman@raspberrypi:~$ lsusb
Bus 005 Device 001: ID 0000:0000
Bus 004 Device 001: ID 0000:0000
Bus 003 Device 001: ID 0000:0000
Bus 002 Device 002: ID 045e:00f7 Microsoft Corp.
Bus 002 Device 001: ID 0000:0000
Bus 001 Device 004: ID 046d:c03f Logitech, Inc. UltraX Optical Mouse
Bus 001 Device 001: ID 0000:0000

If all is well we should be able to go ahead and configure motion.

sudo pico /etc/motion/motion.conf

You need to set a few of the options in the config file to these values.

  1. Make sure daemon is ON.
  2. Set framerate anywhere in between 1000 to 1500.

  3. Stream_quality should be 100.

  4. Change Stream_localhost to OFF.

  5. Change webcontrol_localhost to OFF.

  6. Set quality to 100.

  7. Set width & height to 1280 & 720.

  8. Set Snapshot_interval equals to 10. ( every 10 seconds 1 photo will be taken )

  9. Set target_dir as the path that you have copied earlier.

  10. Press ctrl + x to exit. Type y to save and enter to conform.

Now, to edit the daemon to start the service.

sudo nano /etc/default/motion
  1. Set start_motion_daemon to yes.
  2. Save and exit.

To start capturing photos simply type the command and hit enter.

sudo service motion restart
sudo motion

Stitching Multiple Images into a Video

When you have all the images you need we can then join the images to make a video. Since this process can be quite CPU intensive I found it easier to transfer the images to my desktop Linux machine. The commands are the same, you can do this on your Raspberry Pi as well, it'll just take a lot longer.

We are going to use ffmpeg to convert the images to video. FFmpeg is a cross-platform solution for streaming audio and video as well as recording and conversion. It’s also useful to convert multimedia files between various formats.

We must first add the developers PPA repository then we can install the software. Just type in these commands and let the Raspberry Pi do the work.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:jonathonf/ffmpeg-3
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ffmpeg  libav-tools x264 x265

Next, chdir into the folder containing all the captured frames. We will issue one single command which will take these frames and convert them into a video which you can upload to Facebook or YouTube.

ffmpeg -r 30 -pattern_type glob -i "*.jpg" -c:v libx264 -pix_fmt yuv420p -movflags +faststart timelapse.mp4

This will output an x264 encoded MP4.

  1. -r 30 is the framerate, 30 fps
  2. -pattern_type glob is for creating a video from filenames matching the glob pattern
  3. -i "*.jpg" is the glob pattern, in this case picking up all jpegs,
  4. -c:v libx264 specifies the libx264 codec
  5. -pix_fmt sets the pixel format, in this case the YUV color encoding system

Depending on the number of frames you captured and the specification of the machine running it, this process will take several hours or even days to complete.

The Results

The final results are sent to an MP4 video which you can then share on the internet or keep for yourself. Here is an example video I took over the winter of snow falling during the day.

If this tutorial was useful to you, why not share your time-lapse videos with us in the comments below.

Last updated on: Thursday 28th June 2018

 

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