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Testing: Instagram's Hyperlapse App for iOS

By Norman Chan

Just call it a stabilized time-lapse.

Instagram today announced and released a new iOS video app called Hyperlapse. It was a pet project of Instagram engineers Thomas Dimson and Alex Karpenko, and impressed Instagram founder Kevin Systrom enough that the company developed it into a full-fledged app. Wired Design's Cliff Kuang has an exclusive story about the app's origins, if you're curious. But after a morning of testing, here's what you need to know about it.

Hyperlapse is a time-lapse app for iOS, much like Studio Neat's Frameographer or the time-lapse feature built into many smartphones. Unlike those apps, three isn't much to configure--you don't set the interval time between snaps, nor the framerate of your output video. You just hit record and Hyperlapse starts record, at a default rate of five frames a second (assuming 30fps output). That translates to one second of video for every six seconds of time passing--pretty fast for a time-lapse. But what makes these time-lapses a "hyperlapse" is the stabilization between captured frames, making it look like your time-lapse video was shot on a gyro-stabilized gimbal. And technically, your video is gyro-stabilized, since the app takes into account the iPhone's gyro data to match frame angles and smooth out the video movement. The result is smoother time-lapses that you'd get than just putting your phone on a tripod, without using complex motion-correction algorithms like Microsoft Research's hyperlapse project.

I shot a few Hyperlapse videos to post on Instagram, and frankly wasn't very impressed by the output. The gyro-stabilization works to some extent, but doesn't do a good job compensating for very shaky movement. You still have to try to keep your hands still or your phone held steady against a fixed object. Also, the video output on my iPhone 5 took a long time to process for a minute-long clip, and compressed the hell out of it. Hyperlapse is really only ideal if you're shooting the Instagram-preferred 15 second clips (about three minutes in real time), and if you don't care about video compression whisking away HD details. Full clips are saved to the iPhone's camera roll, like the video I uploaded to Vimeo and embedded below. A two minute clip ended up being only 120MB on my phone, and looked worse than a stationary time-lapse I shot and exported with Frameographer.

A few tips if you want to experiment with the Hyperlapse app:

  • Shoot in portrait orientation, even if that goes against your natural inclination. That's because Instagram will want you to crop it into a square anyway, and you're better off adjusting the crop vertically than horizontally.
  • First-person videos aimed along your direction of movement look the best. If you're filming a Hyperlapse while driving in a car or walking down the street, aim it in front of you, not off to your side.
  • Hyperlapse pans can look cool too, and I expect lots of Hyperlapse videos taken from window seats on planes. If you're a passenger in a car, the best street pans are if you are a few lanes away the side of the street you're shooting. Being in the right lane (in the US) as your film a Hyperlapse means that most of your footage will be buildings passing by too quickly. You need a some distance to show parallax movement and to create a reference point for viewers to anchor their eyes (eg. the sidewalk or street).
  • Resist the urge to tap and refocus your video during the recording. Since Hyperlapse doesn't let you differentiate between focus and exposure adjustments, you're more likely to shift exposure and either blow out or over darken your shot mid-video.

Despite the quality of the video being a bit disappointing, I think people will have fun with the Hyperlapse app. I just wish there were famerate and focus settings, as well as higher quality video output. The fast time-lapse (6x real-time) is likely a result of Instagram's algorithm not being able to acceptably stabilize video at longer time-lapse intervals. Microsoft Research's hyperlapse project makes of of heavier computational processing for a steadier video, but I think there could be some middle ground between the use of gyro data for fast processing and heavy stitching and blending for better smoothing. And I still think that the 4K hyperlapse videos manually composited together by DSLR photographers like the one below are still the most impressive.

Right now, the Hyperlapse app iOS-only, as Instagram engineers can't tap into the proper camera and gyroscope controls across all Android devices yet.