Fstoppers Reviews the Long Duration and Self-Powered Time-Lapse Tikee Camera
Need to capture a time-lapse out in the wild over a six-month period? The Tikee camera might be the solution.
Disclaimer: Enlaps provided a Tikee camera but I didn’t receive any payment, freebies, or compensation to conduct this independent review. The Tikee camera will be returned to the manufacturer.
The Challenges of Long Duration Time-Lapse
Most regular time-lapse sequences last for a few minutes up to several hours. Usually, the battery life of the camera is the main limiting factor of long duration time-lapse. Once the battery runs out of juice, the sequence ends. One can plug an additional grip or external power bank but leaving a camera outside for an extended period of time might be challenging due to the weather conditions.
Therefore, how do you capture an event taking place over several days, weeks, or months?
Many DIY solutions have emerged over the years. Usually, some handy photographer would build a weather-resistant box containing a large battery plugged into a DSLR or GoPro camera. Eventually, some companies proposed a dedicated but expensive solution.
Enters Enlaps. This French startup won an innovation award at the CES in 2016 and successfully raised $250,000 on IndieGoGo afterward. Then, they came up with the first iteration of the Tikee camera (Tikee stands for Time Keeper): an affordable all-in-one solution to capture long-term time-lapse projects. The Tikee is also self-sufficient thanks to an integrated solar panel that recharges the large batteries inside the devices. But there is more, Enlaps provides a fully integrated solution designed to facilitate the creation of time-lapse video during the post-production phase. The user can program sequences remotely over WiFi and 4G, download the images, and render the sequences seamlessly in the cloud.
Hardware and Software
The Tikee camera comes in two flavors: the Tikee 3 and the Tikee 3 Pro. What are the differences? Externally, the two products are nearly identical but the Pro version offers shorter minimum interval, the ability to record DNG, to geotag the images, and to upload 6K footage. Please head to the manufacturer website to check the features of each version. I would say that most photographers would be fine with the $1,300 Tikee 3 but power users can pick the Tikee 3 Pro for $2,000 to unlock the full potential of the system.
The camera under heavy tropical rain. The solar panel is fully retracted (flat) here. Note the weatherproof card and connector doors in the back. A safety or anti-theft line can be attached to secure the device.
Essentially, the Tikee is a squarish IP66 weatherproof box containing two 16-megapixel images sensors, several communication protocols (WiFi, Bluetooth, and 4G/LTE), and an oversized built-in Li-ion battery hooked to a small solar panel on top of the device.
Cameras and field of view: dual f/2.8 lenses with two type 1/2.3 Sony EXMOR R 16 MP sensors, each capable of generating 4608 x 3456 images in JPEG and DNG formats. The dual sensors generate an ultra-wide image with a field of view of more than 220° and a vertical aperture of 90°. The system can output a 7360 x 2650 panoramic 6K image after fusion. Battery and solar panel: without solar input, the large 24,000 mAh built-in Li-ion battery can supply the system for up to 36 days without image upload or 12 days with the connectivity enabled. These numbers are based on an interval time of 1 photo every 15 minutes. But in real life, the 4.1 Wp solar panel produces enough energy to recharge the battery and allow for ultra-long time-lapse capture — up to several months. Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, and 4G LTE. Note that only the device is only compatible with AT&T 4G data plan in the USA. Size and weight: 3.9x7x2.8 inches, 3.5 lbs / 210 × 180 × 70 mm, 1.6 KG Operating temperature: 14 to 122 °F / -10 to + 50 °C
There isn’t much to say on the hardware side, the Tikee is well-made, feels sturdy, and easily handles challenging weather conditions thanks to its IP66 environmental rating (resistant to sand, snow, rain, etc.).
But the Tikee camera represents only half of the ecosystem as most of the user interface and post-processing tools take place on the smartphone and online application. Both apps are well designed, slick, and stable. I haven’t noticed any crash on my Android phone.
In terms of usability, the workflow was a bit strange at first for an advanced time-lapse photographer like me. Normally, I would shoot a time-lapse sequence, remove the memory card, and drop the files on my computer before editing the images directly with software such as Capture One, Lightroom, After Effects, or Premiere Pro.
That’s not how it works with the Tikee. Sure, the micro SD card located in the device stores the files, but each frame is composed of two images (right and left) recorded by each sensor. To become usable, these two images must be stitched or merged together in post-production. And to do this, you must go online in order to edit the sequence and render the video file. Fortunately, past the login phase, the interface is user-friendly and everything flows naturally. If you choose to upload the files during the time-lapse capture (you may want to disable this feature to save bandwidth on the data plan with a 4G connection or simply to lower the battery consumption), you will find your time-lapse sequence directly imported and rendered in the software. From there, the status of the Tikee(s) is visible: battery life, duration of the time-lapse, time left to shoot, etc. A new project can be programmed and launched from the app. Otherwise, you can simply export the sequence from the online App based on your preferences.
Here is what the step by step workflow looks like:
1. Charge the Tikee, download the Enlaps App (IOS & Android), create an account, turn the Tikee on and link the device to your account. Proceed with the firmware update if needed.
2. Connect the Tikee camera via WiFi, 4G, or via Bluetooth connection on your phone app. Unfortunately, the Bluetooth connection doesn’t return any live view image of what the camera sees. The user must be aimed at the subject “in the dark” but the huge field of view is very forgiving for framing. However, it is possible to take a snapshot to control the framing. Moreover, the WiFi and 4G connection permit the display of the camera’s live view on the online app.
3. Program a time-lapse project by dialing the settings in the app: start and end date, duration, shooting hours (e.g. 7 am to 6 pm), interval, etc. The Tikee can be precisely programmed to shoot during a specific timeframe by excluding certain days of the week or nighttime hours. For instance, you may physically place the device in a convention center building two weeks before a trade show and program the Tikee to start shooting during the exact opening hours of the event from 8 am to 5 pm. The entire setup process is extremely simple as the app guides you through each step. Finally, the project settings can easily be modified later via the online App (WiFi or 4G). Surprisingly, the main image settings like ISO range, shutter speed, and white balance are not accessible because the Tikee shoots the sequence completely automatically.
4. Once the time-lapse project has been captured, head to the online app to preview the video, edit the sequence, and export the final video file. A download link will be sent to the email entered in your account profile. By default, the free app allows you to store up to 10,000 files and export 1080p (full HD) videos with the Enlaps watermark embedded in the video. The user will be invited to open his wallet to unlock the advanced features of the Tikee Pro editor. Enlaps proposes several subscription plans starting at $99 for the first 3 months, all the way to $220 per year. Joining the Pro membership allows you to export 6K video without a watermark, stores 50,000 images on the server, and gives access to advanced post-processing tools such as deflickering and smoothing. Further video sharing options can be unlocked with the most advanced “Storytelling” plan. However, the advanced users can simply click on the “export subset” button to download the original stitched images (JPEG) in full resolution. From there, you’ll receive a download link via email to retrieve the merged images. This option is completely free even without subscribing to the online editing software. By default, a free user account stores up to 10,000 files in the Enlaps’ server. This is more than enough for a regular time-lapse project as 10,000 images can generate a 7-minute time-lapse video at 24 frames per second.
In summary, Enlaps offers three options to edit and render the sequence:
Basic online workflow for free: without subscribing for the Pro Editor, the online app can render a time-lapse project in 1080p (full HD) with a watermark in the bottom corner of the video. Advanced online workflow with a paid subscription: opting for one of the Pro Editor plans allows you to unlock the full potential of the online app. The video can be exported in 6k resolution without a watermark. Download the stitched images for free on the online software. Do you know how to use post-processing software and prefer to create your own video without enrolling in the paid subscription software? Yes, you can, just download the stitched images directly from the online app and edit your own video from the “source” files.
The dual 1/2.3 Sony EXMOR R 16 MP sensors found in the Tikee are not great, nor terrible. As expected, these tiny action cam-like sensors don’t shine in any category but they are enough to deliver a decent image under normal conditions. Don’t expect to capture the Milky Way in the dead of the night with the Tikee; it was not designed to do that. This camera is not meant to break any image quality record, it is designed to capture long-term time-lapses, and to do it easily, without technical hassles, reliability issues, concerns about weather resistance, or post-processing headaches. Therefore, I believe the 6K image coming out of the Tikee is more than enough to fit the bill and meet the requirements of most customers.
The solar panel can be rotated and tilted to get the best angle to recharge the battery. The kit contains a standard wrench tool to lock the solar panel in position once the device has been set.
With the third version of the Tikee, Enlaps offers a reliable and mature solution to capture long-term events taking place over a period of several weeks or months. The hardware and software are well designed, efficient, and dependable. Thanks to the addition of an adjustable solar panel (pan & tilt) on top of the camera, the Tikee becomes self-sufficient and can be mounted off the grid with a minimal degree of solar exposure. The entire system can be controlled and programmed remotely via a WiFi or 4G connection. Ongoing projects are uploaded to the cloud in real-time and saved on the micro SD card in the device.
The Tikee 3 is not cheap, but not overpriced neither, costing the same price as a mid-range mirrorless camera kit. Having the possibility to shoot long-term time-lapse might be a huge plus for any professional photographer. In my experience, these types of projects come from large corporations in the construction and event industry where money is not an issue.
Absolute image quality, resolution, dynamic range, and low light performance are not the right metrics to assess this system. But in my opinion, the 6K image is more than enough to get the job done. Furthermore, the Tikee is more than just a camera, it’s an entire ecosystem that includes cloud storage and online editing tools. Creating a long-term time-lapse doesn’t require any photographic or technical skill as the system is highly automated and streamlined. Fortunately, Enlaps left the door open if you prefer to be in control of the editing phase without purchasing the online editing software, as the online app lets you download the original stitched files (the ones on the memory card are not stitched). Overall, the Tikee 3 is a solid and reliable product capable of shooting long-duration time-lapse projects without hassle.
Reliable all-in-one solution Excellent build quality Up to 6K time-lapse rendering Robust and weatherproof, IP66 rating (resistant to sand, snow, rain, etc.) Huge built-in battery Universal charging method: rechargeable via a standard micro USB cable (5V/2A max) Effective solar panel and oversized battery combination can shoot for weeks or months at a time in a relatively sunny environment Fully integrated solution with a smartphone app, online interface, cloud storage, and editing tools No prior photographic knowledge required to capture and render a time-lapse video Advanced users can bypass the paid online app if they download the stitched images from the online software. No need to purchase the software if you prefer to use your own workflow. Well designed and stable smartphone app for IOS and Android Nice and clean user interface of the online editing software Ability to control the device remotely via WiFi and 4G network Images can be uploaded wirelessly via WiFi and 4G network Easy post-processing via the online interface and editing software Ultra-wide time-lapse capture (220 field of view after image stitching) Decent image quality for this type of product (similar to an action cam) Good support material, user manual, and video tutorials available on the manufacturer’s website Easy firmware update
Takes a little bit of time for seasoned photographers to get used to the workflow Must use the dedicated online software to stitch the panoramic images (the images saved on the micro SD cards are not merged) The shooting settings are completely automatic (white balance, ISO, and shutter speed) Impossible to adjust the video rendering settings (frame rate, codec, bitrate, etc.) when you render the video via the online app.