Introduction: High Speed Videography for Beginners.

About: Avid Geocacher and fan of all things iBles.

Everyone I have met and talked to share one thing in common: the desire to own, or at least play with, a high speed camera. Though I doubt that many of the people reading this have a high speed camera of their own, it is my wish that the few who's dream came true will find this guide useful. This is a guide based on personal experiences and trial and error.

Step 1: The Camera

This guide is based off of the Casio EX-F1. It is a $1000 multifunction digital camera with options of 300, 600, and 1200 frames per second. At the time I write this, it is the cheapest consumer high speed camera available. To those wishing to buy a high speed camera; save, save, save! I saved since the fifth grade to buy one of these puppies.

Here is a walkthrough of the different frame rates in order of speed. Changing the fps is simple, press MENU>Quality>HS Speed> 300, 600, 1200, or 30-300.
This setting has the largest viewing window (512X384 pixels) and requires the least amount of light. It has the slowest frame rate, meaning the playback footage is faster than than 600 and 1200 modes, but slower than real time (which is around 60fps).

Just like Goldilocks, this setting is "just right." It has a manageable viewing window and does not require an excessive amount of light, making it perfect for larger actions such as a football tackle. The playback footage is pleasingly Matrix-time slow.

The shutter moves fastest in this mode; it opens and closes 1,200 times each second. Although it has a very narrow viewing window, this mode produces the best end results. Recordings can last about fifteen seconds before frames are lost, resulting in jumpy footage.

The thirty-three-hundred mode means that the camera is filming at regular speeds, but with a turn of the ring, switches to 300fps mode. Another turn of the ring brings the speed back to 30fps. The ring, located just behind the lens, has three functions: zoom, focus, and CS fps (camera shutter fps). The default setting is "off;" turning the ring does nothing whatsoever. To change this, press MENU>REC>Ring Setup>CS fps.

I highly recommend buying a lens filter/protector. These nifty little devices screw over the lens to protect it from harm (you are blowing things up, remember). If the lens protector becomes scratched or damaged, it is easy and cheap to replace; as opposed to a $1000 camera lens.

Step 2: Setup

Being a portable camera, both the 300 and 600fps modes can easily be filmed "point and shoot" style. These modes require the least amount of of light (about as much as a regular camcorder would require) and have a large viewing window. Bringing this camera to a ball game and filming the pitcher in slow motion is about as easy as doing so with a regular camcorder. Film a football player running up to the other team in 30-300 mode, switching to 300fps just as he starts his tackle. If you are an athlete, the footage can be used to review your performance.

The 1200fps mode, however, requires a studio setup (see below). It is very important to place the camera on a tripod or other firm surface. If the camera is unsteady, even the slightest of movements will be drawn out in the film.

Studio setups:
There are three categories of studio setup (see below). Each of these require several things in common:
  • A black backdrop: I use a black table cloth. If the subject is dark, use a contrasting backdrop such as white or light grey.
  • A sawhorse: the sawhorse is used to support the backdrop, any similar structure can be used. Use weights such as wooden blocks to hold the backdrop down, preventing it from blowing away.
  • A raised, sturdy surface. Preferably uniform in color, this is the surface your subject will rest on. It should be able to withstand abuse as well, unless you want to add a little extra to your footage.
  • A raised, sturdy surface for the camera.
  • Lots of light.

Planning to unleash a little mayhem? Expect bits and pieces of who knows what to fly in every conceivable direction? If you do not want your camera to become part of the carnage, build yourself a "Safety Box." To build one, you will need four plywood boards, plexiglass, and a silicon sealer. Glue and staple the boards together and finish by waterproofing the box with the silicon sealer.

Large scale:
This setup is used if you wish to film an action that does not put your camera at risk. Essentially the same set up as destruction, the only thing lacking is a Safety Box. The absence of the Safety Box allows a tripod to be used to stabilize the camera.

Small scale:
The rainy day setup, this can be used to film smaller scale actions such as a coin flip or lighter ignition. This requires multiple light sources, diffusers, and a backdrop. I suggest reading steps two and three of this Instructable by Weissensteinburg.

Step 3: Lighting:

By far the hardest and most frustrating part of high speed videography is the use of proper lighting. The camera needs massive amounts of light to make up for the low exposure time. The lighting is needed most for the 1200fps mode; the shutter is opening and closing 1200 times each second, allowing very little exposure time. The lower modes are more forgiving.

Light sources in order of best to worst:
Natural light is perfect for high speed. It's plentiful, bright, soft, diffused, and does not flicker.
Blue skies:
A rarity where I live. Drop everything and take advantage of this while you can.

Grey skies:
The most common where I live. It produces soft, diffused light; great for picking up detail.

This is the kind of natural lighting you do not want to use. It creates dark, grainy film.

Tungstun work lights provide harsh, bright light. The orange glow, however, creates grainy footage and it is often hard to discern small details.

HappyLite (CFL):
Use compact florescent lights only as a last resort. The flicker is not as bad as a florescent bulb, but is still evident in high speed footage. The brand I picked up "simulates natural sunlight." Although it appears to be perfect for high speed; bright, diffused, soft white light, this is not the case. Unfortunately, even natural lighting simulators flicker.

Florescent lighting is by far the worst type for high speed videography. Under no circumstances should you use it. Every flicker is painfully obvious, the end result is terrible. However, in some situations, and if used right, the florescent effect can actually be kind of cool. If used sparingly, florescent, dark, or grainy footage can create a dramatic or "artistic" effect.

Step 4: Framing

When the object you plan to film is stationary, it is fairly easy to frame the shot. You want a balance between a close up and a medium shot, depending on the size of the action. If the object creates flying debris, provide some extra room to catch it all on film.

The toughest shot to achieve is a thrown or dropped object. Most of the time, you will be basing your framing on a guess. Judge how high the object will bounce, how far the liquid will splatter. This does not always work, however, as seen in the examples below.

Oops! Missed it by that much! Don't fret, this will happen more often than you'd like to admit. Adjust the zoom and try and try again. It will often take multiple attempts to perfect the framing.

Getting better! This is an acceptable shot, the only adjustment needed is a slight zoom-out to catch the vertex of the bounce.

Choose a point of reference; something you can easily spot and aim for. This can be anything from black electrical tape just off screen to a leaf laying in the center field of focus.

There is a strip of black electrical tape just off the top of the screen. This marks the edge of the viewing window, telling me to aim one or two inches below it.

Sometimes a vetical action, like a flip of a coin, will not fit in the slim viewing window. No need to despair, simply turn the the camera sideways and film the action. Open up a movie editor, I use Final Cut Express, and flip the image ninety degrees.
Notice the rock marking the right hand side of the screen.

I know what you are thinking; "Who needs 300 or 600fps? I want to jump in and film at 1200, baby!" Unfortunately, not all situations meet the requirements for filming at the highest setting. If the action taking place is too large for the limited viewing window, or not sufficiently lit, switch to the next highest mode. Your shot will still look awesome.

Step 5: Montage

Now that you have some awesome footage, have some fun with it and make a montage. Just as in writing, you want your montage to have a beginning, middle, and end.

Start with a bang:
I suggest starting the montage with your best footage. You want to hook your viewers from the get-go. After all, it is the first impression that matters most.

Keep the audience interested:
High speed playbacks are often long, and many of them side by side can get dull. Try to have variety in your footage, too much of the same thing results in boredom. Place your second best clip near the middle to rekindle their interest. Try not drag things out as well. The clip should begin a split second before the action starts and a split second after in ends. Cuts that are too short might disorient the viewers, too long will bore them.

Below is an excellent example of too much of the same thing. Boring isn't it?

End with a bang:
Add something unique to the end of your film. Keep the theme, but add a twist. It's a great way to end a montage of similar clips.
Here is an example of a unique ending:

If you feel the montage is too long, add some of your favorite music, or music you think fits the mood.

You might have noticed that I have used embedded videos from both YouTube and Metacafe. The YouTube videos contain my "bad" examples, whereas everything else is Metacafe. This is all due to quality standards and, as you can see, Metacafe holds the higher standards. I highly recommend using Metacafe for your high speed footage. The video quality is better, and there is the possibility of $$$. : )

Step 6: Further Questions

As this Instructable is largely biased toward someone who is already familiar with the camera, I might be missing some simple-yet-vital information; such as well, how do you turn the darn thing on? If you have read this guide and have any further questions, I will do my best to answer them here.

Here are a few preemptive questions and answers:

  • What is the battery life?
Although I don't exactly wish to drain the battery of my camera and tell you how long it took, I can tell you that the camera will last one or two weeks without charge if it is turned off after use. Recharging only takes an hour if you are hasty, but I recommend leaving it there for a few hours to obtain a full charge.

  • What is the recording time?
1,200 mode can record up to fifteen seconds of real time action before it begins to lose frames. Remember that fifteen seconds filmed at 1,200fps is an incredibly long time.
600 mode can record up to thirty-five seconds real time.
300 mode can record up to fifty seconds real time.
Here is an example of a full length 1200fps shot:

  • How much memory can it hold?
It all depends on the memory card you use. This camera contains internal memory and a memory card. As I type this, I have 134 high speed videos and 227 pictures on a 2GB memory card.
A five second (real time) 300fps shot takes up ~8.9MB.
A five second (real time) 600fps shot takes up ~9.7MB.
A five second (real time) 1200fps shot takes up ~9.2 MB.

  • Is there a special reason why the frame gets wider and wider as the rate goes up?
The narrower frame allows an increase in shutter speed because the shutter does not have to open and close as far in such a short amount of time. The shutter can only open so much in that very short period of time.