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GoPro Timelapse Review, Hero 4

Updated on April 26, 2015
The GoPro Hero 4, an unassuming timelapse weapon
The GoPro Hero 4, an unassuming timelapse weapon


Its no secret that introduction of the compact, 'go anywhere', action cameras known as the 'GoPro Hero' has revolutionised the way we capture our lives. Whether we are jumping off something, riding in something, swimming under something or filming ourselves performing feats so unspeakably insane that no-one, not even a family member or loved one, would believe us unless we have the crispy high definition footage as evidence of our endeavours. However there is more to this device than first meets the eye. This robust little package is also capable of a lesser known function called a 'Time Lapse'.

What is a Time Lapse?

Timelapse in its simplest form is a process of taking a sequence of photos over a period of time then playing that sequence back at a faster speed. Timelapse is a great way of capturing movements that are usually too slow for our naked eye to notice in any great significance, but when the footage is sped-up (usually many times) it allows us to view the movements of a few hours, days, weeks etc in a fraction of the time, possibly as fast as a few seconds. Often the footage can be quite breathtaking. Examples of great timelapse subject matter can be;

Sunrise or Sunset

Beaches and ocean tides

Sky & clouds

Pedestrian activity on a busy street

Traffic through peak hour

Rain clouds or storms...from a distance of-course

Insects building/disassembling

As you can see a time lapse can be effective almost anywhere a pattern or movement can be created by speeding up motion. One that cannot normally be detected by the human eye.

The Na Pali Coast. Very hard to film a bad timelapse here.
The Na Pali Coast. Very hard to film a bad timelapse here.

Why a GoPro Timelapse?

This little nugget of a feature is one of the most under-rated features of the small form factor device responsible for a large amount of the worlds You Tube footage. Some adrenalin charged individuals may have been too busy, filming themselves becoming a human missile while street luging a piece of highway neighbouring a vertical drop, to notice this also mind blowing feature. Why would someone, so focused on accelerating the heart rate, care for filming a sunrise capable of slowing ones heartbeat? The simple answer: Context

If a surfer went out and filmed his dream 'barrel' on his trip to the Kauai North shore, and simply popped it up on a popular video hosting website, all we would see is 30 secs of someone having a lot more fun than the person viewing the GoPro YouTube video. But we would be missing a large part of the picture. Its kind of like watching the final shot at the net at the basketball, its good to watch but without seeing the previous 99% of the game, it doesn't have a lot of meaning.

Now if our surfer had a timelapse of the planes coming and going at the airport while waiting for his flight, the drive in the rental Jeep Renegade from the airport to the Hawaiian surf shack shadowed by the mountains from Jurassic Park, the heart stopping sunrise presenting the ocean, the playground, the 'stage' for our performance, the tide coming and going on the north shore. All of this building to a final climactic moment where the story's hero is captured in slow motion in the middle of a barrel so perfect you'd think it was CGI'd in. Couple this with Jose Gonzalez's 'Step Out' and you'll have a piece of video choreography capable of tear jerking emotion and worthy of an Oscar. Now the viewer has more of an appreciation for the event, they feel like they were, at least in some way, involved in the journey. They have a context of the event or events that took place.

Add to this fact the surfer had intentions of filming himself in his heavenly pipeline using his spanky new GoPro Hero 4 anyway (probably by means of a suction or adhesive mount on the surfboard) it means he didn't need to carry around another camera, he had the perfect tool for the job all along.

An included touch LCD in the Hero 4 is a welcome bonus
An included touch LCD in the Hero 4 is a welcome bonus

How to create a Time Lapse

So lets get down to it. On the Hero 4 press the Power/Mode button until you get to 'Multi Shot' page. Press the settings button on the side. Then press the Shutter/Select button on the top until the top line of the display reads 'Timelapse'.

Interval Setting

Most video we watch is filmed at around 30 fps (frames per second), with movies generally shot at 24 fps and video games generally around the 60fps. In theory the human eye sees at 24 fps which is why 30 fps is commonly used as it sits just outside the range of the human eyes capability. For the sake of this exercise we will stick with the 30 fps format.

The interval for your time lapse will ideally depend on 2 things; How much change is happening between each frame? & How fast do you want it to play back?

The first of those points refers to how fast the movement is occurring in-front of us. If we set the interval too long, the video will appear chunky or jerky, if we set it too short we will use up the space on our memory card too quickly. That said the footage we do capture will be 'liquid' smooth, but possibly not long enough to create anything meaningfull. What we should be aiming for with our timelapses, is keeping the focus of the timelapse smooth, fluid, liquid like, while at the same time, capturing the entire event.

How fast to play the event back? Its good to have an idea of this and be warned, I'm going to use some maths now. Imagine we're filming a sunrise. I've found 2 hours is a pretty good amount of time to capture a sunrise. I'd like the video to playback over 10 seconds. It doesn’t sound very long but when you count it out and imagine your typical short attention spanned You Tuber or generally dis-interested family relative, its plenty. Remember the 30 fps I mentioned above? 30 frames per second, for ten seconds = 300 frames are required. So 2 hours = 120 minutes = 7200 seconds. So we need to get 300 shots into 7200 seconds. 7200 divided by 300 gives us our ideal interval of 24, meaning a photo every 24 seconds needs to be taken. Unfortunately we cannot select an interval of 24 seconds on the GoPro Hero, so we will just bump it down to the next available, being 10 seconds. Even better, the footage will be that much smoother.

Big hand or tiny camera? No, its just a really really tiny camera.
Big hand or tiny camera? No, its just a really really tiny camera.

Image Size

Always go for the largest megapixel size you can fit on the memory card. How do we know how many frames we need to fit? Using the reverse of the above method. The camera will be taking a pic every 10 seconds for 2 hours. This means (maths warning) 6 frames per minute = 360 frames per hour x2 = 720 frames required for the 2 hour timelapse . Once you've selected an ideal Image size, just exit back to the main page, check the number in the bottom left corner, this is the number of photos or 'frames' the currently loaded card is capable of holding. If that number is bigger than the required number of frames you need...your ready to shoot.

By the time you've got to this stage your nearly ready to hit the shutter button on top the camera and start your time lapse but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Keep it Still

You will need to consider how to keep your camera both still and facing the direction you want for the period of your time lapse. Given the GoPro will have a battery life of around 1 to 2 hours performing this process, holding the camera is probably not an option, your going to have to place it somewhere or utilise a tripod of some sort.

For a tripod I can recommend the GoPro 3 Way. It can be used as a tripod for filming your timelapse but also doubles as a selfie pole for when you get back to filming your action scenes. 2 bits of kit in one piece, less things to pack/loose when your on your adventures travelling from place to place.

The GoPro 3 Way. A Grip, stand and selfie pole in one unit.
The GoPro 3 Way. A Grip, stand and selfie pole in one unit.

Virtual Dolly

Other mounting solutions such as 'egg timers' and 'dollys' can deliver great results also. That said, because of the massive 12 mega pixel resolution we can get from our timelapse we can create a 'virtual dolly' without any extra equipment. This can be done in a video editing such as 'Sony Vegas Pro' or 'Adobe Premiere'. After we shoot a 12 MP timelapse we end up with a video with a 4200x2800 resolution. If we are accepting of the fact that a 1080p video is a perfectly acceptable resolution, we can afford to crop down to a portion of the image and pan across and not go below 1080p. As seen here:

Another thing to consider is security. I wouldn't feel confident that your camera would be there 2 hours later if you we're leaving it in a public place. If this is the case you will need to plan your day around sitting with the camera. Even if money is not an issue its the footage you lose that can be a frustration.


Although Timelapse has been around since the invention of photography itself, having it with this quality in such a portable package that is already accompanying people to some of the worlds most remote and wonderful places, is truly new territory. We can hope that the GoPro Hero 4 will lift the standard of web hosted videos to a new level, and help take the rest of the viewing public along for the journey.

Would adding a timelapse to your GoPro videos make for a better video?

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