January 20, 2021

What’s the Point of a 1000 FPS Camera?

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Ultrahigh-speed cameras are the cutting edge of digital imaging technology. They can easily exceed 100,000 FPS, but they’re not designed for the average consumer.

A standard movie camera can record images at a rate of 18 frames per second. That’s fast enough to fool our eyes and brains into thinking we’re seeing a continuous flowing image, but in fact, it’s just like those cartoon flipbooks you used to make as a kid (only a little more professional).

If 18 FPS is good enough for the movies, why would anyone want to bother with a 1000 FPS camera or more?

Well, with that many frames, you can easily slow down the image to get a better picture of what’s happening in those split-second moments between average frame rates. This is particularly helpful in biomechanics research fields — it captures so many frames per second that you can analyze each tiny moment in greater detail.

So, paradoxically, a high frame rate camera is both a highspeed camera and a super slow motion camera. Imagine how quickly it must function for a 1000 FPS camera to capture that many pictures. Now that’s cutting edge!

So where did these cameras come from? Most people are familiar with Kodak cameras and other old film-type cameras. But in 1950, a U.S. Army engineer by the name of Morton Sultanoff wanted to capture the shock wave of a small explosion while stationed at Aberdeen Proving ground. He developed a camera that could capture frames at one-millionth of a second. And it worked!

1000 FPS cameras have found their way from science into sports too. Horse racing was the first sport to use photography as a part of the game; although the original “photo finish” relied on precisely timed moving film to catch a single “still” view of the finish line, modern racetracks use high speed cameras to capture the closest races.

Because these cameras are so high-tech, they can also be very large and expensive. There’s no reason for the amateur photographer or videographer to go out and buy one — although, they can make for some very cool slow-motion scenes.

Even though most TV broadcasts (and booth reviews) feature slow-motion instant replays, these are usually filmed at just 60 FPS, and played back slowly.  This still has some drawbacks: sometimes the play is still too close to call, or a fast-moving ball looks like an elongated blur. While it’s normally good enough for TV,

From the crack of a bat to the thwack of a perfectly struck backhand, the fastest moments in sports can be caught, analyzed and improved through the magic of 1000 FPS high speed cameras.  When a coach can see exactly where the bat strikes the ball, or count the spins of a curveball, or diagnose a slice from the precise moment the driver and ball collide, the best athletes can gather data to support their intuition and help them reach the peak of their athletic achievement.  And it’s not just for the players and coaches… slow motion video of even common, seemingly ordinary events can give a fascinating new perspective.

It’s amazing to think of all the ways that medical and engineering research fields really pave the way for Hollywood production. Thanks to technologies like 1000 FPS cameras that might be used to study shock waves or microorganisms, we can get the action of a super blockbuster film and feel like we’re in the midst of the action (and in slow motion, no less)!

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