Finally finished my DIY (do it yourself) time lapse track and dolly setup. I started this little (not so little) project last fall but stalled as the cold winter set in and I didn’t have good reason make use of it with the cold months. There were a few ideas driving my final design. I wanted the cheapest possible solution as this was meant more for my personal projects and would not be used for any paid projects. I also limited myself to using readily available components around my workshop and home. Buying a ready made solution was too costly. Most DSLR time lapse track/slider rigs were starting at over $1000. I’ve seen a lot of DIY solutions out there but honestly they just seemed too unnecessarily complicated with PLCs, Arduinos, Raspberry Pi, custom PC boards etc.
I do have a background in Electronics Engineering and a Software Engineer by profession so I am by no means intimidated by the various DIY solutions I found nor did I find them unapproachable. However I just felt that they would only serve to derail my passion for photography at the time. I have only a limited amount of time to explore my creative photography projects and I simply did not want to spend it tinkering with circuits.
With that said all I wanted was a somewhat sturdy track that was longer than the 3-4ft tracks I was seeing out there. I felt this would make for more dramatic slides/pans across a scene. I settled on a simple design using two 8ft Aluminum L-channel beams and some square tubes with butterfly/wing nuts and bolts so I could disassemble and haul it around fairly easily in my Nissan Murano.
As for the drive mechanism I eventually realized the LEGO Mindstorms set I had laying around unused was exactly what I needed to drive the dolly. It also came with 3 very capable stepper motors which when combined with the very simple but advanced LEGO Mindstorms program/design/robotics software allowed me to control the movements with great accuracy and precision.
The only hack I did was to reverse engineer the wiring and set one of the motor ports to drive two simple relay switches that would in turn drive the shutter release/remote for my DSLRs. I could also program the relay activation duration and intervals to accommodate single shot lapse or HDR bracket shots. The computer brick also packed enough power to crank out multiple hour time lapses, one after the other, all weekend long.
It is far from perfect; there are already several changes I would like to make to the drive setup but for the most part it works great and delivers suprisingly good shots for how much I have invested in it – about $240 (I bought the Mindstorms NXT set at a $140 bargain and spent about $100 on Aluminum, nuts, bolts and bearings). Below is a short video of my first test run and the compiled time lapse. I think it’s funny how slapped together the solution is, but I can’t argue with the results…LOL.