High-Speed Cameras Fuel New Discovery Show ‘Time Warp’

Posted on: Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
Comments: 1

Guinness Record holder Darren Taylor doing a high dive into a kiddie pool

Wired is reporting on the camera technology behind the new Discovery show Time Warp “whose premise is to make the ordinary extraordinary with one trick: slowing it down.”

Typically costing upward of $100,000, high-speed cameras are capable of shooting at amazingly high frame rates, stretching a single second into minutes of super slow-motion playback. In order to achieve this feat, each of these cameras draws its powers from a unique, highly advanced complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) — or, in simpler terms, an extremely beefed-up pixel sensor. The cameras were designed for military testing, scientific research and other industry applications.

Though earlier high-speed cameras used film, digital devices have since become the standard due to their more precise ability to capture serendipitous and unexpected phenomena, utilizing a special data-writing method. With hundreds of thousands of frames captured per second, the data needs somewhere it can travel speedily. The high-speed cameras process images using the fastest DRAM available, and writing is performed using a data structure called the circular buffer. The circular buffer keeps recently written data while overwriting older data when the buffer is full, thereby preventing overloading.

In Time Warp, Lieberman leaves the camera recording for as long as he wishes, and when he spots a segment he wants to keep, he hits a trigger. Then, the camera stores only the previous few seconds, erasing earlier, unwanted data.

“It’s not really feasible to record 20 minutes when all you want is 100 milliseconds,” said Andrew Bridges, sales and marketing manager of Photron, which manufactures some of the cameras used in Time Warp. “Digitally you have these various options…. And it’s a lot better than the old film way where the event had to occur in the brief amount of seconds the camera was actually recording onto film.”

The cameras in Time Warp’s arsenal include the 720P Photron SA-1, which shoots at a maximum of 675,000 frames per second, and the higher-quality, 1080P Photron SA-2 (below), which can shoot up to 86,000 frames per second. The cameras cost $108,000 and $130,000, respectively. The third, only occasionally used shooter is the Fastec HiSpec II — a small, battery-operated camera that can shoot 720P video up to 750 frames per second. Its compact size makes it ideal for underwater shoot, in-car crashes, skydiving and so forth.

Photron SA-2 high-speed camera lens housing handle slomo slow motion gear tech technology equipment tool photo

Valued at $130,000, the Photron SA-2 shoots up to 86,000 frames per second.

More amazing slow-motion video:
Hummingbird Neck Evolution Adaptive Advantage: Amazing Slow-Motion Video
Galapagos Sea Lions: Amazing Slow-Motion Video
Water-Proof High-Speed Cameras Reveal the World Inside Time and the Tube

One Response to “High-Speed Cameras Fuel New Discovery Show ‘Time Warp’”

  1. Underwater Ultra High-Speed Camera Deployed by BBC Says:

    […] part of Wired’s story on the camera tech behind the new Discovery show Time Warp, they have some deets on the […]

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