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Stop Motion: Digital Still Cam Overview

Posted below you will find an update. I recently received from someone, who has much experience in the use of  Digital Still Cameras and also the use of modern frame grabbing software. It critiiqued the original information that I researched at the time back around 2005.  I communicated with the person, that his criticism were valid and also to not forget that was 6 or 7 years ago and has not been updated to reflect the more current information about the use of  digital still cameras tthat has been adapted for the use in Stop Motion Animation photography. I run this website myself. It has long been neglected in keeping all the pages updated (& needs redesigning)  due to the vicissitudes of 'real life' getting in the way.  So, as temporary alternative, I will just publish the person's letter below, Uncensored & Raw .

While I do agree with most of what is stated in the criticism, I have only minor differences.  Not everyone is approaching Stop Motion Animation  in a professional capacity to produce mega humongous high resolution. There are beginners, newbies, hobbyists who just want to do it for FUN & simple form of artistic expression and they would like an easier method. Camcorders  &  the newer  Webcams provides that option. They also want an easier user interface ..... you animate, then play it back, then you do your basic editing, add sound, music, titles, etc. With the use of digital still cameras, you have to jump through various technical hoops to process the images and it ismore work to get your animation movie in its finished, in the can  & done product.  Again, I am speaking from a beginners perspective. 

The other thing  -  I appreciate the many categories & styles of Stop Motion Animation but I'm particularly am an advocate in our small niche of the Ray Harryhausen-esque aka Dynamation style of Stop Motion, which is combining quasi-realistic or surrealistic, creature characters stop motion animated puppets with the Live Action. The digital still camera only provides the stop motion animated element, but what about the 'Live Action' background? That is why I somewhat have lobbied for using the newer High Resolution Camcorders --- so ideally, you have ONE CAMERA that can be used for the frame by frame Stop Motion Animation, then you can also use that SAME camera to record your live action background. 

I do admit, I am not currently up to date with the most current of Digital Still Cameras & all the related techy paraphanellia. As with the insanity of TECHNOLOGY, new techy or improved versions of cameras, equipment, etc. are introduced by the manufacturers almost every fricken month!  It's NUTS, INSANE .  Just to let the person who kindly submitted the feedback critique (which I appreciate), I am aware that there are Digital Still Cameras that can also record somewhat High Resolution Video. So, I am not a complete backwards stubborn Luddite . A few years ago I did post this, Only for Harryhausen'ers: Digital SLR combo Hi-Def Video. So, perhaps maybe those dual featured digital still cameras (that have video recording capability) are likely improved and could be adapted to serve the needs of us Dynamation practioners.  - August, 2011


Hi Lionel,

I noticed that you still have some info on your site referring to the advent of HD cameras for Stop Mo. And a page for DSLR's that is for the most part fairly negative on the subject.

As you know, there have been many improvements to the DSLR technology and price. You can pick up a Canon DSLR with Live-View for $500. - That will shoot a higher res image than a $100,000.00 RED camera.

It is also much simpler to connect a DSLR to a computer than an HD camera. (just USB) You usually have to have a special card to move a full HD Stream.

Movie film cameras that were used to birth this art form are essentially still-picture-cameras with a giant magazine. When shooting Stop Mo - they became still cameras with detachable lenses and optical viewfinders. - Like a DSLR - but the DSLR "giant mag" is now the computer.

Video cameras on the other hand are a completely different animal. The are made to STREAM images. This causes so many issues - The first being that they can not stream full res without a lot of help. - the second - that they do not handle go-motion and other old school long exposure tricks very well. But most importantly - the emphases on streaming diminishes the overall quality of the image.

DSLRs are easier to connect and cheaper for the quality. And they produce images that can be projected on the worlds biggest screens.

Most importantly to realize -is that regardless of our opinions - the world has spoken. The vast majority of those who shoot stop motion and complete films, shoot with DSLRs.

I guess what I am getting at here is that the landscape has changed and I think you should consider making some adjustments to the site, not just as a service to your readers - but also to show that you are keeping with the times.


Name hidden to protect the innocent or guilty   

July, 2011

All below is earlier Info / Some may be dated 

I always get inquiries asking about using Digital Still Cameras for Stop Motion Animation. I am not an expert on Digital Still Cams and sometimes, I get headaches about this subject. I am guessing, the reason why they ask, is because most people have the consumer level digital still cameras and they usually cost less than DV Camcorders. By the way .... with DV Camcorders or Webcams, it is the easiest and most user friendly way to accomplish Stop Motion.You connect the DV Camcorder to computer and then you use Stop Motion Animation programs (designed for D. Video) that connects to your camcorder or webcam for recording and you instantly see what you just animated. With Webcams .... they are much cheaper than DV camcorders and have less quality image ( but good enough for practicing animation) Take a look at Recording Stop Motion and Stop Motion Software Overview. Personally, I do not recomend Digital Still Cams for beginners or those starting out because the workflow is more involved. First, get your feet wet (Walk before you Run) with minimal investment in a Webcam (for example), or the next level image quality level, a DV Camcorder. Both cameras are very compatible with Stop Motion Software.

First: you should know, if you use Digital Still Cams for frame by frame animation, you are pushing the camera to its limits. It was not designed to do the high volume of single frame picture taking as required for animation. The life expectancy of digital still cams is engineered for regular picture taking purposes (not animation). Further down this page, there is a little more detail info, DSCs Exposure Cycles and Camera Longevity - Shutter Life Second: Stop Motion Software does not "directly" interface with Digital Still Cameras. Just read as much as you can, over & over, and 'maybe' you will eventually 'get it' or have an epiphany.

There is no definite way to set-up a digital still cam workflow for Stop Motion. It depends on various factors, especially what kind of digital still camera brand, make, model, features, etc.., different ways to process or convert the single still images into movies, different kinds of specialty software you need, and so on. I will be posting here, what other's have commented about Digital Still Cams, and include links to other informational resources. The first thing you should know; using Digital Still Camera is not exactly a user friendly method because you need to jump through more workflow hoops (steps) to process & view the finished animation. Difficult for me to explain if you have no understanding of it. Here is Digital Still image setup diagram that might help you. Some of the following comments below are written from different people and they may contradict each other in some areas. Again, it is up to you to draw your own conclusions. As I discover information that seems interesting or perhaps shed more light on this migraine inducing subject; this page will be periodically updated, re-edited, revised, etc. Update: An underpowered computer cannot playback (e.g., editing) the Higher Resolution Stop Motion captured Still Images in Real Time. More about that later.


I did not write this article. It is for those who are seeking Xtreme High Pixel-Schmixel Resolution Nirvana ....

"Everything you wanted to know about SLR-like cameras, but were afraid to ask"
by Gaijinking

The only reason you would really need anything of a higher megapixel, other than at full frame video resolution (camcorders or low pixel digital still cams), is if you plan on doing any sort of post production zooms in AfterEffects, as at video res the closest you could zoom in would be 2x if you shoot at highest quality- not bad for subtle stuff. However, there are also a few more cameras that are stop motion ready with much higher resolution (see below), but at a slightly steeper price.
If you browse around on dpreview.com just about any "SLR-like" camera with an EVF or (and a/v output) will work perfectly for our stop motion needs. EVF simply means electronic view finder- it's a common high end consumer camera model feature which lets the user compose shots using the rear LCD preview display. In some cases even the view through the small viewfinder is just a small CRT display (but some do have real optical viewfinders too), which differentiates them from a true SLR. These cameras are made by just about every company, as they fall just under the Prosumer line of features, but most include the necessary manual settings required for stop motion.

The only real trade off with using a camera like this would be the fixed zoom lens. While most of them have excellent versitile lenses (usually decent wide-telephoto and some with Macro), you also have to remember who they are mostly designed for- the average point and shoot guy/gal who wants outstanding quality but with ease of use, especially on the go. This is actually GREAT for fast easy set ups in stop motion-especially television. I know it can be very difficult to see which camera will be good to use for your stop motion project, but you have to ask yourself a few questions first when selecting a camera with suitable features. So, I've made my own little faq for you:

So how does an "SLR-like" camera differ from other point and shoot cameras?
It actually depends on the type of point and shoot. SLR-like implies that your viewfinder sees through the cameras mounted lens. Whereas most point and shoots are range finder style viewfinders. These have a small optical "bubble" lens parallax to the mounted lens that you use for composing a shot- this also implies there will be a small amount of parallax error - meaning you don't get accurate view of what image the camera actually sees. These digital rangefinder cameras are mostly unsuitable for stop motion because of the lack of manual focus, but there may be one out there that does have it.

What is the main difference between a prosumer SLR and an SLR-like camera, and why is it so important for stop motion?
, SLR-like cameras have a fixed lens, meaning you can't swap the lens out when you want that crazy fisheye look or use your old set of primes. But there are always front thread mount adapters you can find for adding effects to your image, just look on b&h.
Second, features, features,superfluous features. But surprisingly, some SLR-like cameras do offer the almighty uncompressed image setting, or high quality jpeg compression to keep flicker to a minimum. Honestly most of the pro/prosumer high end features apply to specifically photograpy, whereupon you tweak for multi shooting situations, and single image types for print. Lets face it, we need these things for one type of setting and thats the studio, and we need it to sit there and not change settings at all. Just about every SLR-like camera you will find is suitable for this ideal situation, of sitting there in a studio under artificial lighting.
Lastly, SLR-like cameras suitable for stop motion will have "live video preview" Analog Video Out, built-in. It works like this, the camera lets you plug into a TV/monitor instead of using the rear LCD viewfinder screen. You plug this straight into your Lunchbox, or into your computer via a DV converter such as the ones Canopus makes- you can find cheaper ones if you look. And yes you can do live video out while downloading directly to your PC via USB. The big difference here is that if you went the SLR route you would need to
Video Tap the viewfinder with a smaller video camera in order to see what the camera sees LIVE. So that will be more $$$ and you have to rig-attach video tap to the camera.

But don't most high end consumer cameras auto-turn off when you walk away or leave the camera on for long periods of time?
Yes they do, but as long as you have the battery in the camera AND you have the A/C adapter connected it will not reset your settings. All settings are saved unless a) the battery runs dead b) the A/C is disconnected without a battery present. So just keep both battery and A/C in/on! Most also have a menu setting to keep the camera alive for a max of 15-30 min. after that to wake up the camera you simply press the shutter button to revive it exactly as it was.

You say SLR-like, what does this mean? How can I tell the difference between one suitable for stop motion and one that is not?
SLR-like cameras suitable for stop motion will have these three essential features: Manual Focus .... Manual Exposure .... Analog Video Out for Live Preview. (LIO comment: There is another feature Manual Zoom but perhaps not as critically needed). Another tip for spotting which ones are most suitable, most SLR-like cameras also support limited video clips.

So what cameras do you recommend?
There are many suitable SLR-like cameras made by almost every manufacturer including Nikon, Canon, Sony, Minolta, Fujifilm, and Olympus (most have atleast one SLR-like camera to offer in their full camera lines, some even as high as 8+mega pixels.

Which should I choose? an SLR or an SLR-like camera, isn't a full blown SLR better?
Not necessarily. Ultimately it depends on you and your needs. This mostly depends on your budget, as an individual or as per your project. Obviously, the SLR-like route is exponentially cheaper, given that you can pay as much as $600.00 for just a mediocre SLR lens alone. IMHO, unless you've already got an impressive set of lenses that are compatible with digital mount bodies, or a large budget to allow for not only the $$$ equipment costs, but also the *time to allow for more complexity of shooting, then SLR-like cameras are PERFECT for just about all types of stop motion.

How does an SLR-like camera compare to shooting with a DV camera?
The big difference is that the size of the images on an SLR-like camera will be much more scalable, meaning you can easily shoot for film, HD, and video depending on what size you want to shrink it down to. With a DV camera you're locked into video only resolution, which means you can only scale smaller to say a quicktime, not up larger to say... HD which would mean a great quality loss (additionally you don't get much leeway when adjusting comps in AfterEffects either.) SLR-like cameras have fixed lenses, but so do video cameras. However, you'll quickly find that most DV camera lenses are not as versitile as any SLR, unless you make the jump into more professional/prosumer models of DV equipment.
Again, unless you already own a decent DV camera, it would be hard to justify the cost of one over an SLR-like camera or even an SLR since pro video can be very expensive.

Good luck, and remember, it is easy to let your great ideas get swallowed by technical details. Find the most cost effective method for your needs and let the magic happen, so to speak .....


Digital Still Cams: Flickering, exposure variations, etc. .... by Roger Evans

There are TWO types of digital still cams: The expensive kind that have an actual mechanical shutter and standard removable lenses (like the high end Nikons) and then there are the cheaper kind that have a permanent lens where the APERTURE (the iris for f-stop setting) ALSO acts as the SHUTTER (for exposure timing) -or conversely- the aperture is wide open until the instant the image is recorded. (LIO note: High end SLR digital still cams have separate "shutter" that is in the camera body and functions to "time" the length of exposure, and the Aperture/Iris for f-stop setting, is "in the lens" and can be manually set .... aperture & shutter function independently of each other)

Now, if using something like the high end Nikon, there are no real problems in doing stop motion other than the number of frames you can record before having to transfer to the computer. However, on the cheaper cams, the fact that the aperture can not be "locked" into one position means that it has to jump to the designated aperture at the instant the picture is taken. Because it does not reach the EXACT same position each time means there are very minor variations in the exposure from frame to frame. For normal picture taking, this works fine and several photos taken in the same spot and under the same lighting conditions will look virtually identical if looked at one at a time. But if these multiple frames were sequenced rapidly through a projector or watched as animation on video, the flicker becomes quite noticable.

The solution for the cheaper cams seems to entail doing all your animation with the aperture wide open, where the aperture doesn' t have to move to achieve correct exposure. Unfortunately, this isn't always ideal or desirable, depending on the lighting conditions or effect needed and, certainly, not that desirable if trying to do macro work where depth of field is at a premium. ---- Roger Evans aka MovieStuff

LIO Update, April '06: Flickering & exposure variations using Digital Still Cams is still an issue and unpredictable. It seems, the more expensive the Digital Still Camera, the less likely of flickering, but not always.


* Setting your camera's aperature wide open, as Roger mentioned, but then that introduces shallow & blurry depth of field issues.

* Setting your camera to take long exposures might reduce flicker. It averages out the light exposure .... compared to short exposure cycles.

* Post production workaround; use of specialize De-flickering software, plugin filter, which seems to be a more foolproof solution, however these are not readily available software or plugins. The Foundry does offer a De-flicker plugin for After Effects (PC or Mac), but you cannot purchase "just" the De-flicker; you are forced to purchase the other plugins/filters in a package called TinderBox 1 which costs over $600. USD.

Then there is a free Anti-flicker filter available only as a plugin for Virtual Dub (PC-Windows).This is for Video / AVI format for DVD or Video broadcast. It is not for those who are immersing themselves into Xtreme Hi-Def work.

Here is another Flicker removal standalone software (PC-Windows) which is free. It was created by Russian programmer, however, I am not sure if this program specifically deals with exposure variances. He seems to be referring to flickering as caused by interlaced video. It is for post production video work such as AVIs (video broadcast).

Finally, here is one, a De-flicker tool included in a Stop Motion frame grabbing software, Stop MotionMaker Advance (for PCs). This one looks user friendly and specifically targets flicker issues as caused by exposure or lighting fluctuations. This is not free .... but the package is most reasonably priced and custom created for Stop Motion. I believe, SMMadv flicker removal works on images in the BMP / AVI format .... before you convert to MPEG-4 codec for burning DVD copies.

If you know if any other software, tips, or tricks concerning the Flickering issue, please share and Contact us


Digital Still Cams Exposure Cycles: Not Designed for Animation

There was some discussion in past when the very knowlegdabe Jim Arthurs use to frequent the message board, discussing performance aspects of camera models and possibility of doing online reviews. It's such a niche area, Stop Motion, and no real detailed info about Still Cam use and at that time, some ocassional revelations from those venturing into Hi-Res arena.

The basic thing about Digital Still Cams and the design glitch ..... they perform well for single pictures but never engineered for repeated & high number of exposure cycles, especially the consumer cam models. With higher end priced Digital SLRs ... or those in the prosumer range, "perhaps" you will get some longevity from them. Susanna at the message board, posted about her Canon cam breaking down. It seems it could have been premature failure at about 30,000 exposure cycles, but then Canon made a subjective call by not honoring the warranty and refusing to fix her camera. Another person Michael, posted about his Canon 300D, Digital Rebel, which also also broke.

Definitely not enough publicized statististics about Digital Still Cams use in Stop Mo specific applications. Someone emailed me though, and said some of their digital cameras have supposedly exceeded 100,000 exposure cycles on a professional production. They forgot to tell me the camera make, but I am guessing it is the high pricey SLR cams. The few Studios doing Stop Mo and using digital still cams would probably have some better statistics on camera longevity but they either do not frequent the Stop Mo message board or do not post; or for some reason, maybe being tight-lipped secretive about it.
P.S. Someone posted some anecdotal statistics, about how many shutter cycles from the DSCs. Also, this person says that there were multiple cameras on the Stop Motion production shoot, so it may not be accurate or difficult to determine how many actual shutter actuations from each camera ....
Going D50 Do not rely on just one source. Do research and look at other sources.


Continued: Digital Still Cam "Life Span" for Stop Motion .... almost none of the camera
manufacturers volunteer camera longevity info. I wonder why?

Those who are more into serious Stop Motion work, are getting into high-resolution Stop Motion image capturing, using Digital Still Cameras. You may not need to go to this high level of Stop Motion photography. If you are just starting Stop Motion, webcams or better quality DV camcorders, might be a better choice for you and much easier overall Stop Motion workflow. Below, you will find some links, where they discuss Digital SLR longevity. Digital Still Cam longevity is apparently a mystery. From what I read, maybe about 10,000 to 200,000 Shutter Exposure Cycles, depending if it's low end consumer digital non-SLR cameras all the way up to the higher end prosumer level Digital SLRs. I have no info on life expectancy of the lower end consumer digital non-SLRs.The pricier, Digital SLRs are "suppose" to last longer. Some math here: If a Digital SLR has a rated shutter life of "about" 100,000 cycles, and you shoot 24 frames per second, that will give you about 69 minutes of animation. If you shoot animation at 30 frames per second, then you will get about 55 minutes of animation. Kind of sobering .....huh? $800. or more for pricey DSLRs giving you a total of about 1 hour of animation. To get about 200,000 guaranteed exposure cycles, you would need to buy the Canon EOS1D Mark II .... but ouch.... at about $8000.(USD) for the camera . I also read that cameras can sometimes exceed the rated life expectancy or fall short and fail prematurely, however, that is anecdotal accounts and there are no accurate statistics that I could find. We can thank the camera manufacturers for that. Hopefully, you will have luck on your side and your camera will have somewhat reasonable shutter cycle life expectancy.

Again .... no hard statistics available. You can reasonably make the assumption, that non-SLR Digital Still Cams, something like the PowerShots (as an example) will have much less shutter life than the pricier Digital SLRs. Here is possible scenario: If you do not want to invest in the costlier Digital SLRs and you are doing a Stop Motion project for your serious creative animation works, then for example, as an alternative to DSLRs, you might consider purchasing two identical affordable PowerShots ..... one as a back-up. If one camera fails, you have a spare, and unfortunately, it's just cheaper to throw away the broken camera (since it didn't cost you much), than spending the money to repair it.

Do not get mad at ME for being Straight about Digital Still Camera Shutter Life. I am only the messenger. If you are a Die Hard Stop Motion practioner, then this is part of your "cost & expenses", for the insatiable desire in seeking High Resolution Nirvana . But seriously folks .... do not go into denial. Look at the truth and be realistic. No matter how much you pay for hi-tech toys .... they are not designed to last like the good ol' industrial age products. Manufacturerers & companies practice the Planned obsolescence religion. It has existed for many years but getting worse. Today, techy based products now lasting only a few years, it seems.

Random anecdotal postings of approximate shutter life data as reported from the general public (not from the camera manufacturers). You can also post your results. Be truthful with the facts. It would be helpful if any lurking Stop Motionists using DSCs on professional projects, could contribute to the database. You can remain somewhat anonymous. Go to ......

SUMMARY: As I already said before, you may have to look at Digital Still Cams-DSLRs, as an expendable/disposable item; you use it; it breaks; you throw it out or pay more to get it fixed, or purchase another cam. You are paying for the CONVENIENCE for that plethoric cornucopia of pixel image resolution, similar to 35mm film quality/look. Of course, with DSLRs you see the results right away and you save money on film lab costs and "waiting" for film to be processed overnight. You already should know, with DSLRs, the digital workflow is more involved to process the animated images to see the final results and you need lots of 'Puter horsepower. Specifically to beginners, do not go DSLRs just because you see everyone one doing it. It might be overkill and especially if you are just starting out. I would ask you first: "Have you done any animation at all?" Focus on that first, with easier Stop Motion animation setups (like webcams or camcorders), before you BLOW your $WAD$ on Digital Still Cams. Also, ask yourself, "What is the final release format for my animated works?". For DVD, online/internet, for TV or home TV projection? Again, Digital Still Cams aka DSLRs are ELECTRONIC items .... they have a limited life. That is the price you pay for Hi-Resolution and other conveniences.

Affordable: Read


How do I record-shoot Stop Motion?Choosing a Camera for Stop MotionStop Motion Software Overview


To be continued .... stay tuned ....




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