Question: Has anyone used a timelapse camera in stream monitoring?

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stevie asked on September 06, 2016 19:15
753 | 2 answers | #13427

What I want to do or know

I'm exploring if timelapse cameras can be used to monitor for pollution runoff into a stream.

  • Has anyone used this method before?
  • Are there any cameras that would be better than others for this?
  • What is the best way to set up a camera for this?
  • How far away should the camera be from the waterway?
  • Does it need to have a particular angle? Is it better in the sun or shaded?

Background story

Here is a link to some background I've seen for this And another case where a timelapse camera was used in [monitoring a mining site] (

I'm not sure how often photos would need to be taken or how to set this up, but I'm interested in the series something like this could produce in terms of capturing visual changes in streams (pollution, or water depth).


I saw your related request on the LEAFFEST organizing thread, just wanted to connect that info here as well:

- how the cams could be set up (angle, location, hight etc.)
- what types of pollution could be captured by the camera
- if the camera could also capture information like water depth? 
- what type of camera would be most useful for this? if any special housing or mounting is needed? 

Here are a couple threads throwing around this idea. 

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Oops, my comment is poorly formatted, (can't re-edit but filed an issue) -- but you get the idea. I don't know of a moving body of water near LEAFFEST, but we could try a really basic timelapse of, say, the camping area?

There are some creeks, but they're very dark and shaded, and I don't think you'd see much change. @cfastie, what do you think?

I'd found this one on the thread I mentioned in my last comment:

Yeah - i saw that trail or hunting cameras have come down in price and gone up in quality a /lot/ since we tried them out in ~2011 (Hunter Daniel and I were hoping to do a timelapse of actual wetlands loss by running one for 6 months on solar power, kind of like that glacier timelapse project). They're now available at 12 megapixel resolution for under $100:

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Shall we order one of those and try it out?

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There are a lot of options for cameras to do this type of timelapse recording:

  • Trail cams (smart battery power management, limited preprogrammed routines, weatherproof)
  • Dashcams (most need USB power, limited preprogrammed routines)
  • Mobius (a keychain/dashcam hybrid with good battery power management, limited preprogrammed routines)
  • PowerShots (short battery life, some have wall power adapters, CHDK allows custom programmed routines)
  • Microcontroller cameras (RPi or Arduino, mostly need USB power, any routine is programmable)
  • Action cameras (easy to weatherproof, power? programmability?)

There is a creek, a stream, a pond, and a spring house at LEAFFEST HQ. It always rains at LEAFFEST, so these water bodies will change during the weekend and could provide an interesting test. I have temporary power near the stream (for another project) so that increases the options.

LEAFFEST HQ is on an unpaved road which is very dusty when it has not rained for a day or two. So air particulate monitoring is also relevant if the weather makes stream monitoring boring.

Trail cams (if no power is available) and dashcams (if power is available) vary in the preprogrammed routines. So some models will be better than others for a particular monitoring task. Some research is needed prior to purchase. Or the purchase can be considered part of the research (hooray for external funding organizations).


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Oh this sounds great! I think you mentioned you have a Mobius already @warren? Can you order one of the trap cams as well? Would be great to have some comparisons on some of these questions. Love the spring house testing idea @cfastie!

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Stevie -- on a price/features comparison, this $95 one looks pretty good: But do you have a specific set of features or constraints you'd like us to test out? Or another model you'd like us to try?

  • 5 Megapixel CMOS sensor, 12 Megapixel high quality full color resolution and 1080P HD video with audio record.
  • Full automatic IR filter, Bulit-in 42pcs LED for a 20m night time vision.
  • Two PIR design for sensing angle, maximum 120 degree.
  • Functions: Multi-shot, Interval, Timelapse, Timer, Password protection, Time stamp, Serial, Alarm at low battery power.
  • Up to 6 Months Long battery life with 8 AA batteries and IP54 Waterproof with 1 Year Warranty.

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I don't really have clear ideas about specs for this, except battery power, durability, and one that's low cost. Let's give that one a try!

great -- just ordered it!

Reminds me of when we modified a Plant Cam (a gardening variation of these hunting cams) for infrared:

Hey Stevie -- was thinking about how to refine this question for a specific use case, and came across this post by @tonyc:

He proposed a set of specs like this:

  • should be waterproof, able to survive inclimate weather.
  • should be able to record photos at 10 minute intervals for minimum of 30 days without recharge.
  • should be able to have data removed and battery replaced/recharged in the field by a non-technical user.
  • should be able to be mounted to a variety of bases, in urban and natural environments.
  • should be of a minimum of 8MP resolution.
  • should have total BOM cost of less than $100.
  • should provide accurate time stamp or ability to determine time/date for every photo

I think the Crenova (which we tested, and listed in an earlier comment) fits all of these, actually! It actually also has a temperature mark next to the timestamp in each picture, which is cool.

Hi Stevie, I have been using the Mobius ActionCam ( for monitoring silica sand mines in small towns around Wisconsin. I have been monitoring these sites to try and observe a blasting event, where elevated levels of particulates are released into the air as a direct result of the blasts. I have been using the time lapse setting on the camera which takes a photo at a 2 minute interval. The camera does have a motion sensor setting, but I am hesitant to use it because I am unsure if the disturbance of the blast would be enough to trigger the motion sensor.

Overall I think that this camera is a good camera, but there are some things that could be better. 1. I have had an issue with fogging in the lense. It could be from internal temperature change, or just a result of morning dew. Regardless when the lenses are fogged, pictures are rendered useless. This problem has lasted up to 2 consecutive days, although a duration this long is rare. 2. The battery life could be improved. The battery life is limited by the physical size of the camera. The camera is very small, which means that the battery is pretty small as well. The battery lasts just under a week typically, but it can vary greatly depending on the setting that you use.

The photos produced by this camera are of good resolution. The photos can be white-washed when facing into the sun, so the camera should be positioned where the exposure won't be as direct. I would be happy to send you some of the photos that the camera has taken if you would like.

If you do end up using the Mobius Actioncam or a similar camera, the best set up would be close to the stream (10-20 meters) for best resolution results. The photos turn out best when lighting changes doesn't change too drastically, so if there is a shaded spot that ensures a consistent lighting throughout most of the day, that's your best bet.

Hope this helped :)

Hi, @bkleist - did you receive the Crenova timelapse cam we sent you? Curious if that'll end up being a lot more reliable. Thanks!

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2 Answers

We (@cfastie and I) tried this out at #leaffest2016 and will post an activity based on it soon!



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so did the stream trigger the motion sensor? I wouldn't imagine so...

yeah, we didn't have it set up for motion -- just interval triggering. But i don't know if that'd work!

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