DIY Motorized Time-Lapse Camera Slider

I wanted to build a camera slider for time-lapse photography because it enables stunning cinematography. To get a professional equipment, you have to pay many hundreds of euros. But with a few manual skills, an awesome slider can also be built on your own. There are already some solutions and tutorials for different sliders available on the internet – all have advantages and disadvantages. The focus of my design is a robust motorized version that can be disassembled for storage and is not very expensive to build. I tried to make a good combination of purchased parts and building them by myself. An easy controlling and user interface to control the slider was also important for me. For that reason, I developed a solution that can be controlled by a smartphone.

The first part of the tutorial shows the hardware assembly. The electronics and the programming will be described in the second part. The finished slider and impressions from some time-lapse shots can be in this video.

Material List for the Camera Slider

2 side elements
1 engine mount
2 deflection angles

1 base plate
1 ball head
1 motor + driver (ULN2003)
1 gt2 pulley
1 gt2 toothed belt
2 aluminum rods 16mm x 1m
1 plywood 15mm
10 ball bearings

2 hexagon socket screws 3/8“-16 UNC x 1/2″
2 hexagon socket screws 3/8″-16 UNC x 1″
10 nuts M8
8 hex bolts M8, 20mm
4 countersunk screws M6
4 nuts M6
6 bolts M4
2 nuts M4

1 raspberry pi2
1 WiFi dongle
1 Akkupack

The Dolly

1. 3D Printing the Parts

I decided to print some parts of the dolly to get custom-fit parts in a cheap way. The files for the 3D printer can be downloaded from my Thingiverse page.

2. Attaching the wheels

Use the ball bearings as wheels for the slider. They are mounted with a bolt that is fixed by a nut, which is placed inside the dolly. The bearing balls provide a smooth and easy rolling of the slider on the rails.

3. Screwing together the base plate with the side elements

The baseplate is purchased on Ebay and holds the two side elements together with 4 M6 bolts and nuts. It has many pre-drilled holes, which will be used to attach the other parts.

4. Assembling the engine mount

Stick the pulley onto the motor and fix it with an Allen key. Put the engine into the 3D printed mount. It should fit well and be bolted down with two M4 bolts, which are fixed by nuts at the rear end. The whole engine mount is attached to the middle plate with two 3/8″ screws.

5. Attaching the deflection pulleys

Ball bearings are used to deflect the toothed belt. Around that sits a 3D printed right angle, which holds the belt at the correct height. Washers are placed in between to guarantee free movement of the bearings. Torque down tightly a nut at the end of the bolt to hold everything together.

6. Attaching the ball head

The ball head is bought on Ebay and even gives a firm support to heavy SLR cameras. It is attached to the plate from the bottom by a 3/8″ screw. If you intend to use smaller cameras only, you can also use a smaller and cheaper ball head.

This finishes the assembly of the dolly. The next step is to build a rack with two steel rods. I am currently using a makeshift solution for that. I tried to make it cheap and easy to assemble.

The Frame

1. Cutting the tail ends

I used 15 mm plywood for the holding of the rod. Wood is cheap and easy to process. I used a laser cutter to cut out the wood, but you can also cut it by hand or use a jigsaw. Keep in mind that the distance between the center points of the two rods is 156 mm.

2. Preparing the rails

Screw a hole in the end of the rods and put a bolt in it to give a firm connection between the rod and the endpoints.

3. Fixing the belt

Finally, I used two metal pads, which are screwed together to clamp the toothed belt tightly into the frame.

This concludes the hardware part of the time-lapse camera slider. The slider is ready to operate, it only needs to be wired and programmed. This will be shown in part two of the instructions. After that, we have a motorized slider, which can shoot stunning time-lapses and be controlled by any smartphone. I hope you enjoyed the tutorial so far. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know!

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