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Time-lapse made easy: Pico accessory automatically sets, controls your camera

Pico is a small accessory that adds smartphone-like controls to a traditional camera

You may have noticed (and are perhaps even using) a unique shooting mode popping up in your smartphone camera app: time-lapse. Time-lapse photography is that cool technique in which a stationary camera is set to automatically capture a sequence of photos (at selected intervals) within a specified duration. For example, you can shoot every minute for six hours, giving you 360 shots; in turn, you produce a short motion picture that’s sped up during playback (if you’ve seen those videos of a flower blooming or stars moving across the night sky, that’s time lapse).

While cameras like the iPhone (which added time-lapse via iOS 8) have made time-lapse a breeze, it’s slightly more involved with an interchangeable lens camera. While a DSLR or mirrorless camera can shoot higher quality images, setting one up for time-lapse is more technical. But a new product called Pico aims to change the experience, by putting smartphone-like ease-of-use into a higher-end camera.

Pico is a little device designed by Mindarin, the six-man team behind the Astro, a successful Kickstarter product that’s an intervalometer and motion controller for time-lapse photography. Whereas the Astro was made for advanced users, Pico was created to be easy to use by everybody else.

Related: How to create time-lapse video on your iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

“Time-lapse photography has become very popular in the past couple of years, but it still feels unreachable to many people,” the company says. “There is so much that can be done with time-lapse, from home videos to professional movies, and we feel like its potential is still yet to be reached.”

Here’s how it works: Pico plugs into the headphone jack of your smartphone (iOS and Android). Using the companion app, you can create a program with all the time-lapse settings, and save it to Pico. You can then remove Pico and reattach it to your camera (via a special cable), and Pico then takes care of the camera controls. If you don’t have a smartphone handy, you can also manually set Pico by pressing and holding it; the number of beeps emitted indicates a one-second interval, and it will tell the camera to keep shooting until you unplug it.

Here’s how the Pico works. Attach it to your smartphone and adjust the settings, then plug it into your camera. Pico takes care of the shooting from there.

Within the app, you can also set Pico to take high-dynamic-range (HDR) photos, bulb ramping (to compensate for changes in natural light, like creating a seamless transition from day to night), and time warp (to adjust speed of time within time-lapse for slow or fast effect).

Pico is small enough to stash in a pocket, and it has a battery life of up to eight year – that’s right, years. With nine special cables to choose from, Mindarin says Pico supports more than 300 cameras that include not only DSLRs and mirrorless models, but also certain advanced point-and-shoots.

Mindarin just launched a Kickstarter campaign for the Pico on November 11, 2014, and a $50 pledge will get you one and a cable compatible with your camera (early-bird specials have already been gobbled up). The team says they have already tested several prototypes and are confident they can deliver the final product by July 2015. It has a goal of $100,000, but it has 59 days (as of this writing) to raise that amount.