We can’t really synchronize the clocks in our cameras; we can sync up our metadata capture times
In most of the US, we have just sprung forward for Daylight Saving Time.
While we are busily setting the clocks in all our cameras, some of us might wonder if we can synchronize these things so that we can sort images by time. For real. Like frame by frame. Or play by play in a ballgame.
Well, no. The crappy clocks in cameras just don’t run well enough for that to really work. But we can use Photo Mechanic’s time manipulation feature to sync up multiple cameras after the shoot.
It would be nice if cameras could keep themselves in time the way mobile phones do. And thus, in sync with each other. Some fancy new models are coming out with built-in GPS functionality. GPS signals include a brilliantly precise time reference. Those cameras’ timestamps should be perfectly correct and they should all be in sync with each other. Very cool. But not cool enough to make me go out and buy three new $6,000 cameras. Actually, nothing would be cool enough to make me do that. So I learned to do the technique in this How-To and saved $18K.
So how can we do this?
First, we need to know, for each camera, the difference between camera time and some reference time. To do that, we can just shoot a picture of the same running clock with each camera and correct our Exif data to match that clock. If all the cameras match the same clock, well, you get the idea….
If you’re at a ballgame and there’s a day-of-day clock on the scoreboard, shoot that with each camera. Ah, don’t shoot the game clock! That one starts and stops. You probably shoot it to keep track of where you are in the game. But for this, we need a real clock.
If you have a mobile phone or a smartwatch that can display seconds, you can use that.
On my Android phone, I can display the time in HH:MM:SS format by pressing the power button to bring up the lock screen. (Where you use your fingerprint, eyeball, PIN number or whatever to unlock the phone.) On the lock screen (not the always-on page) just tap the time display and it will change onto a nice big HH:MM:SS format. On my Andoid phone it does anyway. Your mileage may vary.
I don’t have an iPhone at hand, but I’m told that the built-in clock just won’t digital seconds. Sigh.
On both Android and IOS, there are third-party clocks that display seconds, if you are into third-party apps for things like your clock, you could go that way.
If not, on any smartphone, you can go to www.timeanddate.com or a similar site. Tap on timeanddate.com’s clock image. Tap “enlarge” and you have a big-enough-to-shoot HH:MM:SS image ticking away on your display.
Watches can work, too
Smartwatches can display (a very accurate) HH:MM:SS digital clock. The $7 piece of timekeeping plastic that I wear when I paint my house displays a not so accurate HH:MM:SS readout that will actually work OK for this technique. You have options.
Now that we have images showing the difference between camera time and reference time for each camera, all we have to do is add or subtract time on the timestamps of photos from our cameras to synchronize them.
I’m using Photo Mechanic for this How-To because I use Photo Mechanic. If you have a need to do this, the chances are good that you do, too.
In Photo Mechanic
In Photo Mechanic, make sure you have images from each camera where you can find them, like in separate folders.
Select all the photos from one camera. Or not. It’s up to you, as we’ll see in a moment.
Go to Tools in the main menu and then “Adjust Capture Dates and Times”. The time adjustment dialog will open.
Use the arrow buttons in the dialog to navigate to the frame of whatever clock you are synchronizing to. (I used my Android phone.)
Simply click to highlight minutes or seconds or whatever and type in the time shown in the image.
Notice that the values in “Adjust Relative” change to match the difference between your old and new times. In the example shown in the main photo above, the delta was -41 seconds.
If you selected all your photos to adjust, “Adjust Photos” will apply the delta to all photos. If you only selected the image of the clock, “Adjust Photos” will change the time on that one image and leave the delta (difference) loaded in the dialog. You can now select some images and correct their times.
Note! Leave the “Use the adjusted time above for all selected photos” tickbox unchecked. It would set the same time on all your selected images. I’m pretty darn sure you don’t want that.
Repeat the process with your other cameras. Remember that each one needs it own clock image.
If you sync each camera to the reference clock, they will be synced with each other. Now, images from the various cameras can be loaded into the same Contact Sheet, sorted by time, and they will appear in the correct order. (Right-click on a folder in the Navigator and choose “Open in current Contact Sheet” to see folders together.)
And you’re good to go
If you have a camera that displays the current time to the second, you can shoot the menu of that camera with another and sync camera-to-camera instead of camera(s)-to-a-reference, if you want. (The Nikon that made the photos above does have a running display of time to the second in its menus. The Fujifim that appears in the secondary picture doesn’t, even though it encodes time in the Exif to the second. Your cameras may -and likely do – vary.
Yes, you can do this in software other than Photo Mechanic. But, honestly, I don’t know of another program that works as straight-forwardly.
As long as you make your clock images within a few hours of when you shot the pictures you want to synchronize, it should be fine. If you wait days, the crappy clocks in your cameras may drift a few seconds in either direction and mess up your results.
There’s nothing I can do to get back that hour you lost springing forward. But maybe the shoot-the-clock technique can save you some editing time. That will help.
Do you have a fancy new GPS-equipped camera that makes all this fuss about setting and synchronizing time meaningless? Let us know in the comments and make me jealous.