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A Seriously High Speed Video Camera (Video) 62

Posted by Roblimo
from the there-is-no-such-thing-as-too-much-speed dept.
Mike Matter was showing off his edgertronic (named after Harold Eugene "Doc" Edgerton) high speed video camera at O'Reilly's inaugural Solid conference, when Tim Lord happened by his little show booth and started interviewing Mike with his normal speed camcorder. While Tim's camcorder shoots 720p at 30 or 60 frames per second, the edgertronic video camera shoots 720P at 700 frames per second, and can shoot lesser resolutions at up to 18,000 frames per second. But the big breakthrough here isn't performance. It's price. Most high-speed video cameras cost $20,000 to $50,000 (or even more), while Mike's edgertronic starts at a mere $5,495.00. This is still a little steep for hobby photographers, but is not bad for a tool used by professionals. And Kickstarter? You bet! Last year Mike raised $170,175, which was much more than his $97,900 goal. Now he's busy making and shipping cameras, working so many hours that he doesn't have time for his own photography. But sometimes that's the way life goes, and Mike seems to be handling it well. (Alternate Video Link)

Tim: Mike, what is it you are holding in your hand right now?

Mike: We have here the Edgertronic high-speed video camera. This is a product that we’ve been in development for about two years, and we’ve been shipping for six months starting in December of 2013. We have quite a few of these cameras already in the field and a lot of customers that are doing very interesting things with it.

Tim: When you say high-speed, can you quantify that a bit?

Mike: The camera has a range of resolutions: At the highest resolution which is 1280 x 1024 we can shoot approximately 500 frames per second. At the common 720p resolution, we can shoot 701 frames per second. And by reducing resolution, for example, a VGA resolution 640X480 we can shoot 1850 frames per second all the way down to 18,000 frames per second at very small resolutions.

Tim: Now there are other high-speed cameras in the world, what makes this a different proposition?

Mike: Well, what makes this camera different is it’s accessible. There are many cameras right now that you can buy that have this exact same level of performance—they are built around the same technology, the same sensors. If you look at our spec sheet and their spec sheet, they are virtually identical. But those other cameras cost $22,000 up to $50,000—this camera is $5495. Through clever engineering and skilful design, we’ve made this camera accessible to a market that’s previously been locked out.

Tim: Now that market includes what kind of uses? Where do you see this camera being used?

Mike: We are seeing this camera used in five main areas:

  1. The first area is industrial. Imagine some company that has a production line—it’s building something, for example, it might be a bottling plant or it might be a production line that makes cardboard boxes. Invariably these production lines have problems when things jam, things break. And somebody needs to figure out what’s going wrong and get the production line back running; otherwise, they are losing money every second of every day.

  2. Another application is research. We’re having people that are doing basic research and using this to understand the world around us.

  3. A third application is educational—both at the high school level and at the university level, we are seeing these used in physics classes, in demonstrations about materials, fluid flow, various fundamental science applications.

  4. The fourth application that we’ve seen, and it’s kind of a no-brainer, is the entertainment market. We all know that high-speed video is cool and there are a lot of shows that capitalize on this, and show high-speed video as a key part of their presentation. So this camera now allows a number of film makers that don’t have $50,000 to $100,000 or more to spend on a high-speed video camera to get that same level of performance—suddenly it opens the door for them to make high-speed part of their repertoire.

  5. And then the final application we see is the enthusiast-hobbyist market. These are people that just know that high speed video is cool. They’ve been seeing it forever, they’ve always wanted to do it—and now they can.

Tim: Are you in that category yourself? What do you take pictures of at such high speeds?

Mike: To be honest, since I started this company I don’t have a whole lot of time to do much of anything other than work on this product. Probably if I had more time, I would be getting more sleep. But this actually started a long time ago. When I was a kid, I was really fascinated by photography, and I got into photography. My dad got me a book that had some of the legendary photos that Doc Edgerton at MIT had taken—I thought that was really cool! He said, “You know, could you take anything like this?” I said, “Well, not with the stuff I have.” I knew how expensive the strobes that Doc Edgerton was using and in the early ‘70s, those strobes cost $2000 apiece. As a kid and as a teenager, I didn’t have 2000, I had ten bucks. So I figured a way to take a ten-dollar consumer electronic flash and modify it so I could get exposures on the order of 1/10,000th of a second. I was able to take some pictures of golf balls being hit with a golf club and getting that classic egg-shaped squish of the golf ball—that was pretty cool! After that, I had a career in electronics. I designed quite a few computers, consumer electronics, I’ve got products that are in the computer museum, I’ve got products that have gone into orbit, products that have been used undersea, medical devices, industrial devices—a large number of products some you might have even known.

Tim: Let’s talk about the details of this product. Could you show it in close-up?

Mike: So it’s actually not a very typical looking camera. It’s a little box with a lens on it. Inside is a very powerful computer and a lot of very specialized electronics.

Tim: What’s the sensor you’ve got in there?

Mike: So this has a special high speed CMOS sensor. It is approximately APS-C sized and when used with the Nikon F Mount lenses it gives you approximately a 2X zoom factor. Which is typical enough for most people these days, no one expects a lot with digital cameras. So it is very familiar in that way. But beyond that, this camera is unlike the typical cameras that you’ve seen—in a number of ways: One is just the sheer amount of data that it has to deal with. This camera is dealing with data on the order of gigabytes of data a second coming off of the sensor. So we have a lot of specialized and dedicated hardware that can deal with that flood of pixel data. Another thing that’s unique about the camera is the simplicity and elegance of its interface. If you notice, this camera doesn’t have a shutter button, it doesn’t have a viewfinder, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that a normal camera does. It’s designed to be hooked up to your laptop. You connect to it with an Ethernet cable, and the entire control of the camera—viewfinder, framing, setting exposure, controlling the camera, setting the shutter speeds, setting the framerate, resolution is all done through a web browser that runs in your laptop.

Tim: Now you mentioned that with these USB ports you got in here, there’s potential of these for wireless connection down the road.

Mike: That’s correct. We are working on software releases that will allow you to buy some wireless Wi-Fi dongles and plug them into the USB ports. You also can plug a memory card or memory stick into the USB port or a hard drive. So if you’re capturing a lot of videos, and a 64-gig SD card isn’t enough, then you can hook up your 4 terabyte hard drive to it.

Tim: I notice you have a power connection, but you certainly don’t have the batteries in it?

Mike: No. That was one of our design issues. A battery pack that is this size would add to the weight of it and give you maybe a couple of hours, maybe four hours of runtime. That might be good for some people; other people might want more runtime. When we designed this camera one of our goals was to make it simple, make it inexpensive, and also to make it very small. Our first application that we saw, that we talked about is industrial. Industrial users will have some assembly line, some piece of machinery and a failure is occurring in it. We’ll need to be able to put the camera inside of that machine to see the event that they are trying to capture and understand. If we make a camera the size of a lunch box it is not going to fit in some cases. So one of our design goals was to make the camera as small and light as possible without getting to the point where we start to get exorbitant in the price of the product. At some point, as you miniaturize something then the price starts to get out of control.

Tim: Right now, we are talking something a bit north of $5000?

Mike: Yeah. This camera right now sells for $5495 for a color camera, and $5695 for a black and white. Now people ask: “Why would I want the black and white if it costs more?” Well, the black and white costs more just due to economies of scale. We pay more for the sensors—unfortunately, we have to pass that cost on.

Tim: That’s quite true with the Red, if they need the black and white that costs more.

Mike: That is correct. As does Leica. But the advantage that you have with black and white is since it doesn’t have the Bayer color filter, you have an advantage in resolution and you also have an advantage of 2 f-stops in light sensitivity. People will soon discover with high-speed video, if they haven’t had any experience, that lighting becomes an issue. Every day, people are content to shoot with shutter speeds of 30 to 1/500th of a second. But this is a high-speed video camera—most people don’t shoot at shutter speeds below 500th of a second. As a matter of fact, I don’t think any of the demos we have today have shutter speeds under 500th of a second, maybe even a 1000. I’ve shot videos with shutter speeds all the way up to 1/100,000th of a second—that’s 10 microseconds. When you have shutter times that are that short, you need an awful lot of light, because there is just not a lot of time to capture the photons while the shutter is open.

Tim: And a lot of storage too.

Mike: And a lot of storage.

Tim: One more thing—would you mind addressing for people who may be as imaging-naïve as I am, what kind of shutter you are using here, how do you achieve them at very high speeds?

Mike: So this camera is a true high-speed video camera, and one of the characteristics that make it a high-speed video camera is it’s based around the sensor that uses a global shutter. Long ago, in the early days of digital cameras and digital video all cameras had global shutters. And as technology changed, they were able to improve the characteristics of those cameras and those sensors by going to what’s called the rolling shutter. For more details on the difference between a rolling shutter and a global shutter you can go to Wikipedia—they’ve got an excellent webpage that has great descriptions as well as pictures that show the differences. For a consumer product, a rolling shutter is a great technology use—it’s cheap, it gives you high pixel counts, high sensitivity, great image quality. And it works well as long as things aren’t moving too fast. But for high-speed photography the reason you want the camera is for something that’s moving too fast to see—that’s the whole reason for having high speed. If it’s not moving fast, you don’t need the high speed.

Tim: You want a series of stills.

Mike: You want a series of stills. And what a global shutter does, unlike the rolling shutter, is it captures the image all at the exact same moment. So when I have that 10-microsecond exposure every pixel is exposed for the exact same time during that 10-microsecond exposure. That’s not true of the typical rolling shutter cameras. So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is: If it doesn’t have a global shutter, it’s not a true high-speed camera—it’s as simple as that. If you want a camera for high-speed that entails motion, you are taking videos of something that’s moving and it’s moving really fast. And for those cases, you have to have a global shutter.

Tim: Let me ask you one more question:

Mike: Go ahead.

Tim: Tell our readers what your first computer was.

Mike: My first computer was a DEC PDP-8 that I scrounged out of a bunch of discarded parts from a local high school.

Tim: And how long did that work?

Mike: I actually used it during college—I actually wrote my thesis paper on it—back when people didn’t have PCs or laser printers or any of the stuff we take for granted.

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A Seriously High Speed Video Camera (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • Kerr cell shutter? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The camera will have some good applications but I'm more interested in the proprietary shutter technology. Is that a Kerr cell or something new?
    • More likely it's using cells as always on, and sampling the signal strength directly with a clocked chip. At that point, your sampling speeds depend on how quickly the cells can change state and how fast you can offload the sampled data.

      Based on the product's name, he's probably also making use of stroboscopic properties in interpretation by the sampling software to minimize the amount of data required to be handled in the offloading process.

      The cells he's using could be taking advantage of the kerr effect to increase the number of cells in a usable state at any given moment and thus increase the sampling speed accordingly, but he could also just be using fast cells, or use a holographic system, or any other number of methods of assigning cell sets per sample.

      He could even be using slow cells, and taking advantage of the stroboscopic effect in software to approximate the actual potential any cell should have if its actual potential and those of nearby cells has not changed since the prior sample.

      Interesting, no matter which method he used. And something that's actually worth patenting and licensing the patent for.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        More likely, he's using an OEM CMOS sensor chip and building his own back-end electronics, so it is all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Lots of small camera vendors do that. I would be surprised if there is anything in there worth patenting.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        You guys are thinking way to complicated. This is a standard, off-the-shelf sensor with electronic shutter. The innovation here is the system integration that turns this sensor into a scientific "camcorder" at a reasonable price. This is achieved by accepting video compression artifacts in the recorded streams. Existing high speed cameras are expensive not because of the sensors they use, but because of the vast amounts of memory and off-chip bandwidth they need to store the video uncompressed.

        • You guys are thinking way to complicated. This is a standard, off-the-shelf sensor with electronic shutter. The innovation here is the system integration that turns this sensor into a scientific "camcorder" at a reasonable price. This is achieved by accepting video compression artifacts in the recorded streams. Existing high speed cameras are expensive not because of the sensors they use, but because of the vast amounts of memory and off-chip bandwidth they need to store the video uncompressed.

          He could even be using slow cells, and taking advantage of the stroboscopic effect in software to approximate the actual potential any cell should have if its actual potential and those of nearby cells has not changed since the prior sample.

          IOW, what I said, but without the fancy language :) My entire point was that he *could* be doing something fancy, but as we said, the sensors used aren't really what enables him to do this. It's the lossy method of dumping the data off-chip.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I really hope Tim's middle initial is an E.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @06:21PM (#47258481)
    This is a nice interview and all, but a story about a high-speed camera absolutely demands some cool high-speed footage of china shattering or a face getting punched or something.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is a nice interview and all, but a story about a high-speed camera absolutely demands some cool high-speed footage of china shattering or a face getting punched or something.

      I vote for the face getting punched. Its always fun to watch the punch ripple across someones face as a small drops of spit fling out.

    • But it took 27 hours to play back ;)

      However, you can see a few examples of what it can shoot here: []

      The highest-speed (shootgun firing) is the lowest resoluton, because that's the trade-off. I am a sucker balloons-hit-sharp-objects videos, though, so I like the cactus one best.


  • by MindPrison (864299) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @06:28PM (#47258497) Journal
    Woah, that's cheap! Can you feel the wind beneath your wings? That's the customers rushing towards wallmart to buy one right now.

    I can remember a Casio camera that could take 1200 images per second in 2002, and it was a cheap consumer camera, here is the Wiki: []

    Sure, it's not 18.000 FPS...but the price/fps ratio. meh...
    • by asmkm22 (1902712)
      1200 images per second at a resolution of 336x96... That was a low resolution even for 2002.
      • by augahyde (1016980)
        1800 fps is at 192x96 resolution according to [].
    • According to the wikipedia page-- which doesn't appear to free from errors, Casio's high speed exlims date from 2008 (Pro EX-F1) and later. Moreover, the resolution at high speeds is significantly reduced-- 336*96 @ 1200 fps for one model, 224*64 @ 1000 fps for another.

      This camera also degrades video: but manages 866*720@1000, 640*480 @1849, and for the gimickry obsessed, 192*96 @ 17791.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The Casio camera had a low-cost sensor that could only do high-speed capture at very low resolutions (224x64 at 1,000 frame/s) with rolling shutter effect.

  • Not exactly needed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Simonetta (207550)

    A 700 frame per second camera really isn't needed by very many people. It doesn't matter if a new design reduces its price by an order of magnitude.

    What we need is the opposite: a very cheap camera with very high resolution and a very low price. Then we can put them on light poles and get good high-resolution courts-evidence-quality images of the people who are running out of nowhere to attack you, beat you senseless, and stealing your $500 bicycle when neighborhood is quite 100% gentrified yet.

    At the p

    • by asmkm22 (1902712)
      I guess it's a good thing this guy wasn't set out to solve your problem then. He identified a market (not yours) and went for it.
    • by Bengie (1121981)
      At really high sampling rates, you can "see around corners" using math and looking at photons one at a time. I'm sure someone will think of of something cool to do with high video sampling some time in the future as better techniques and optics become cheap.
      • That requires gating the camera on the nanosecond time scale, which is many orders of magnitude away from something like this and a whole different technology. Most work with such cameras are limited to actually very slow frame rates (e.g. 60 Hz) but with a very fast shutter. The speed of such cameras is improving, and there is some tech coming out that allows multiple frames at nanosecond to picosecond separation, but it would still be a burst situation where you take a couple dozen images then have to w
    • by GrahamCox (741991)
      Then we can put them on light poles and get good high-resolution courts-evidence-quality images of the people who are running out of nowhere to attack you, beat you senseless, and stealing your $500 bicycle when neighborhood is quite 100% gentrified yet.

      Your "vision" of the future is one I find creepy and chilling. It's what's already happening, and on the face of it (your argument) seems reasonable. Until the wrong people are fingered and framed, the fact that you cannot move without your every step bei
    • You're absolutely right. You should immediately stop whatever you are doing and develop that exact camera at a significantly lower price point then anything else out there using your vast knowledge of electronics and photography.

      Or you could stop being an arm chair quarterback and STFU. Have you ever done anything vaguely like this? Have you ever done anything on your own initiative at all? Somehow I doubt it. You post here so you can pretend to be knowledgeable by denigrating people who are actually doing

    • by SQLGuru (980662)

      I'd love a high-speed camera that is cheap so that I can analyze my bowling swing. Sure, I don't *need* 700fps, but this isn't always about *need*.

      • A bowling alley or instructor might be a valid customer for this camera. Too pricey for you or a dozen like you, but spread it out over hundreds of users, it might make sense. Or possibly set up a "sports motion analysis" business that can be at a bowling alley tonight, a golf course tomorrow, a baseball practice facility next week, and so on.

      • I can't believe the first comment realizing sports applications are awesome was bowling!! What about baseball and golf? Those are much higher speed motions where people already pay obscene amounts for high frame rate video to fix swing mechanics.

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      You really believe those two problems would be solved by better cameras?

    • by NIK282000 (737852)

      This is not a security camera, this is a diagnostic tool, a high speed camera is the micrometer of video analysis, when you need to trouble shoot a high speed, complicated process this is the only way. This camera gives decent performance at an order of magnitude cheaper than all of it's competitors. Having a double digit resolution at 18,000fps sounds crappy but when you have a 3cm x 5cm area of interest it only takes a few more seconds of setup to make sure you get the data you need. High speed cameras ar

  • Hell, I'd settle for standard 60fps over the crappy juddery 30fps all the consumer cameras seem to have today.

    You know, like we had ten years ago but with higher resolution and not interlaced.

  • by ayesnymous (3665205) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @02:00AM (#47260655)
    and 700-18000 fps. Plus some people even get motion sickness from 120 Hz TVs. Wonder how they'd fare watching a 700 fps video?
    • Can't tell if serious or trolling.

      These cameras are used for slowing things down. You shoot at, say, 600 frames per second and then you can slow it down by 20 times to 30 fps. Watching the video at 30 fps then shows a very smooth slow-motion view of what's happening 20 times faster. One of the examples he gave was in process manufacturing - if you have an assembly line that's jamming at a point, and you can't see why as it's all happening too quickly, shoot it at a high frame rate, slow it down and go over

  • You can tell that he is not is sales as his finger covered the name on the camera. If he would have moved his fingers the name would have been visible to everyone viewing the video. Even the newest "booth babes" know how to present. Still a neat camera though.
    • by Dishevel (1105119)
      Well luckily he does have some skills and ambition and does not have to count on his income from his "both babe" duties. Let the no talent pseudo whores do what they are good at.
  • with video and not include an example [] of the camera's output?

    Seriously, was it just too difficult?

    Maybe I'm just in a bad mood, but it pissed me off that the whole video was just some dude talking.

    If you're going to be that lazy just give us a transcript.

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