Dirt Cheap Time Lapse Dolly

I’d seen a few time-lapse dollies on the ‘net  and decided to make one.




Most of the designs I’d seen looked fairly elaborate, and some of them were costly. I figure if I’m going somewhere and hauling some equipment, a few extra pounds might not matter – especially if I can shave a good $200 off the project. So I set out to make a cheaper motorized dolly, even if it would be a tad heavier.

Unfortunately, I lost interest in my project before I completed it, but my prototype was taking good shape and certainly conceivable. Take a look at the aforementioned links, since my design resembles theirs in many ways.

  1. Instead of aluminum, use steel Unistrut for rails. Heavy, but only $15/rail and 10′ long. Saw to taste. Separate the rails with 4 pieces of 10″ long 1/2″ PVC “rungs” using a 12″ long piece of allthread (and washers and nuts) to bolt them together. The finished product looks like a 10′ long ladder with rails spaced 10 inches wide and 4 rungs made of 1/2″ PVC pipe. VERY STURDY, and virtually no wiggle.
  2. Use skateboard wheels on the platform following common designs on many of these DIYs. (I used my son’s old rollerblades and a scrap piece of 1/2″ plywood in the garage. Worked fine.) Some of these designs use steel bearings for wheels. I’m not sure how metal-on-metal is better than rubber-on-steel.
  3. Instead of a toothed belt, use a 1/4″ 10′ long piece of allthread ($4) running the full length of the rail system.
  4. Have the platform attach to the allthread by using 3 pieces of 1″ allthread that clamp around the 10′ long allthread. I totally fabricated this by making a small “L” bracket that held 2 JBWelded pieces of the allthread, and a spring-loaded clamp to apply tension on the third piece, squeezing the 10′ long inbetween the 3. All 3 pieces surrounded the 10′ long allthread and made for an excellent fit with nil tolerance. (This actually ended up being easier than I thought it would be, and was easy to remove as needed.)
  5. Turn the 10′ long allthread with a battery-powered drill. Even a cheap battery-powered screwdriver ($19) will work. If the allthread is reasonably taunt and lying on the 1/2″ plastic PVC rungs, you’ll get minimum wiggle and excellent stability.
  6. For super-fine motion control, hack a $20 eBay Canon intervalometer (Canon has a simple connector!) to trigger the drill to run in discrete time intervals. With this combination, you can get a system that can do a 10′ time lapse in 5 minutes or 15 hours … or longer!
  7. I control my Nikon’s shutter using a $20 eBay intervalometer. I haven’t done anything about changing the pitch/yaw/rotation of the camera on the dolly, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for others 🙂

Too bad life is too busy to complete the project 😉

If you end up making one of these babies, let me know.

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