Cameras as clocks

Consumer-grade digital cameras have become ubiquitous accessories of science. Particularly in glaciology, the recognized importance of short-term variability has motivated their deployment for increasingly time-critical observations. However, such devices were never intended for precise timekeeping, and their use as such needs to be accompanied by appropriate management of systematic, rounding and random errors in reported image times. This study describes clock drift, subsecond reporting resolution and timestamp precision as the major obstacles to precise camera timekeeping, and documents the subsecond capability of camera models from 17 leading manufacturers. We present a complete and accessible methodology to calibrate cameras for absolute timing and provide a suite of supporting scripts. Two glaciological case studies serve to illustrate how the methods relate to contemporary investigations: (1) georeferencing aerial photogrammetric surveys with camera positions time-interpolated from GPS tracklogs; and (2) coupling videos of glacier-calving events to synchronous seismic waveforms.


Welty, E.Z., T.C. Bartholomaus, S. O'Neel, and W.T. Pfeffer. 2013. Cameras as clocks. Journal of Glaciology. 59(214): 275-286. DOI: doi: