An intervalometer is a clever piece of kit that automatically presses your camera’s shutter release button for you. It doesn’t do this with a robotic finger, although that would be worth seeing, but using a small port on the side of the camera body that gives it access. You can program them before you start shooting, and leave them to do their job while you get on with something else, which in the case of astrophotography projects may well be sleeping.
Increasingly, intervalometers are being built into camera firmware, meaning the distinctive little black boxes on the end of cables sticking out of the side of a camera are becoming less common sights. However, some of the best cameras for astrophotography don’t have them built in, so acquiring one is essential for star trail images, time-lapses, and much more.
An intervalometer allows you to set up your camera, program the number of exposures you want to take (most have an ‘infinite’ setting), and how far apart, then plug it in and set it going. A simpler way to do this is to use a shutter release cable locked in the ‘release’ position, then use the camera’s own motor drive settings to keep the shutter opening and closing, with the interval set by its own shutter speed settings.
Using an intervalometer, however, gives you more control over the process, especially if you want to shoot a specific number of frames or want to exceed the camera’s in-built maximum shutter speed. So here are some of the best on the market.
Available for a broad range of camera systems, including Canon, Nikon, Sony and Panasonic, this is everything you need in an intervalometer. It works as a remote shutter release, with single-shot, continuous and bulb modes, and is also programmable so that you can schedule bursts of frames at specific times, or delay the release up to a minute after you press the button.
The included wireless remote is another nice feature. With a range of up to 80m you can set your camera up close to something dangerous or easily spooked, then shoot from a safe distance.
It’s a bit complicated, with menus you’ll need to trawl through to find the setting you need, but it’s fully featured, and comes with adaptors so you can use it on several different cameras.
Neewer 6-in-1 Timer Shutter Release
Another model that can be used across different brands, the Neewer uses two AAA batteries that are not included. Without them, you can use it as a remote shutter release, but its timer functions rely on having the batteries in place.
With six different plugs, this intervalometer can be used across Canon, Sony, Olympus and Nikon camera bodies. It’s completely programmable, so all you need to do is set the time intervals that you want images taken at, then set the number of images you need, and leave it to do its thing. The backlit display means you can work with it easily in the dark too. There's a small drawback with this wired model, in that its range is quite short (just 1.2 metres) but that shouldn't matter if you plan on standing next to your camera during astro shoots.
PHOLSY Wireless Timer
Available for most popular brands of camera, the PHOLSY is a completely wireless system with a range of 60m. Perfect for leaving your camera out on a winter’s night while you control it from indoors, you can change shutter speeds and intervals on the fly. There's also a bracketing feature for those times you want to create an HDR image in post production, and timing is accurate down to a tenth of a second.
Camera bodies with Wi-Fi connectivity and a matched smartphone app may find that this functionality is already available to them, albeit with a shorter range, but this is a neat little system that makes the creation of star trail images much easier.
AODELAN wireless intervalometer
At just under $60, this isn't the world's most expensive piece of kit, but it is a little more expensive than some others in this list. But you get plenty for that amount, with a wireless receiver and transmitter capable of communicating up to 60 metres.
Users often remark on how intuitive the gadget feels, despite all the different settings, and you can take an infinite number of shots using the kit. However, you can only program 199 shots, after which you have to rely on the 'infinite' option. It feels like AODELAN missed a tricky here, as it would be useful to have a number greater than 199 – but smaller than infinity – when you're doing time-lapse photography. Still, it features everything else you'd need from an intervalometer, with various shutter release modes and timer settings available.
Canon Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3
Canon’s official intervalometer exists only to show what good value the thirdparty options are in contrast. Of course it works perfectly with all Canon cameras (many of which have an exposure timing function built in anyway) but offers nothing exceptional that you can’t get for much less elsewhere.
If you’re a Canon owner who just must have firstparty accessories, then the TC-80N3 is a very nice example of an intervalometer. You get an 80cm cable (a 10m extension is available), timed exposures up to 99 hours, an illuminated LCD panel and a thumbwheel that makes it easy to use while wearing gloves. The battery powers the timer functions, and lasts three years (officially) and anything up to nine depending on use (anecdotally). The device doesn’t have an off switch, but if the battery does fail, it can still be used as a remote shutter release.