The Phantom camera is known to be the ultimate tool super slow motion. It also comes with a high sticker price. So why use it? Yes, most cameras these days shoot some kind of slow motion imagery. If you want to get up to 60fps or even 120fps, you can get it from most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, and even many smartphone cameras. And if you need to go a step above for, say, a commercial or music video, RED cameras will usually deliver.
But if you are looking to capture motion that is truly fast, like candy falling through the air like a feather, a beautiful hair flip, or balloons popping, you need to rent a camera to get the frame rates much higher: over 500fps or even 1000fps. Currently, the best option for this is the dedicated high speed camera offerings from Phantom, particularly the Phantom Flex. The Phantom Flex 4k has been used by Fox News for slow-motion sportscasts; by scientists, to capture motion too fast for the eye to see; and by artist and filmmaker James Nares in The Street, among other projects. Here’s a sample of some breathtaking Phantom Footage:
Rent the Phantom Flex on KitSplit here.
The Phantom Camera Lineup
The Phantom line of cameras is made by Vision Research. It started as a division of the Photographic Analysis Company, which did film based high speed photography dating back to the 1950s. PAC was smart enough to see the digital revolution coming, however, and began developing tools for digital high speed capture in the 1990s. Their expertise from the days of film based imagery, combined with their existing scientific and military client contacts, had them well poised to create some of the most dynamic high speed cameras available.
Vision Research started targeting the motion picture industry in the mid 2000s. While they could deliver framerates no one else could, in the beginning, the cameras were clearly more targeted for scientific clients and didn’t always offer the stability and post integrations that filmmakers expected. They gained a reputation for being hard to work with if you didn’t bring along a well trained tech. Vision Research has continued to pursue the motion picture marketplace, however, and with the Phantom Flex4k, there is a model that many filmmakers have come to rely on and that can integrate well into a traditional film shoot.
While a dedicated Phantom technician was an absolutely requirement for early Phantom shoots, with the Flex4k the camera became more user friendly. While you should still bring on a Phantom Tech if you haven’t used one before, experienced ACs are getting more familiar with the platform and you can potentially go without a dedicated tech once the crew is sufficiently trained in the ins and outs of how the camera works.
Triggering vs. Rolling
The biggest change once you upgrade to real slow mo is getting used to the habit of “triggering” the camera instead of “rolling.” The data captured by the flex when shooting the full 1000fps is too fast to be written to anything except the internal flash storage. The camera comes with a certain amount of internal storage (say, 128GB), and once that is gone, it’s gone! Thus instead of “rolling” and waiting for the action to happen, you “trigger” the camera and it shoots for a pre-set burst of time, until it’s full.
You can program the burst to come either after you trigger, or—amazingly!—before you trigger. This is huge, since some actions happen too quickly to be able to process them with your brain in time to roll…and by the time the signal has gone from your brain to your thumb, it’s too late. By using post trigger recording, as you watch, say, candy falling through frame, you can trigger the “capture” for the moment you see the candy leave frame, and it will capture backwards in time so you can have the candy moving through frame in shot. It does this by constantly recording live to memory, then “capturing” the most recent chunk of time when you trigger the camera. This is actually a somewhat common pre-roll feature in many video cameras dating back to at least the HVX200, but it becomes essential with slow motion.
Once the memory is full, it will need to be downloaded to create fresh room in the camera to prepare for another take. However, since most slow motion work requires somewhat extensive rigging, it’s possible to get that going and get the camera ready to shoot again by the time the scene is reset.
Why is the Phantom Flex worth it?
Some of you might be asking, can’t RED DMSC2 cameras also achieve a similar effect? Can’t I just rent one of those, especially since they are a much more common camera rental option? You can, but keep in mind that as you go to higher framerates, RED uses a smaller portion of the sensor. In order to use the full sensor at high frame rates and have the same image qualities as their normal speed footage, many filmmakers prefer to rent a dedicated high speed camera. The RED DSMC2 Monstro 8K VV, for instance, goes up to 240fps, but windowed down to 2k. Not only is this frustrating since the 2k resolution doesn’t leave room for reframing, because of the bayer array pattern of red raw, 2k on that camera doesn’t always provide the clean, noise free results many DPs are looking for.
It’s also just a small slice in the center of the imagery, creating different framing and using just the middle slice of the lens. This can give you a different personality than you intended, which might not match well with other shots in a scene that are using the full sensor and full field of view of the lens.
The Phantom platform windows the sensor as well to get up to readily ludicrous speeds, but at full resolution the Phantom 4k Flex offers 1,000fps at 4k resolution. If you are willing to window down to 720p, you have up to 3,000 fps at your disposal, but again with the sacrifice of some image quality due to using the smaller slice of the sensor.
The Phantom Flex comes with a hefty price tag—$70k-$150k. As a result, it’s a popular item to rent. Rent the Phantom Flex on KitSplit here.
If you’re looking to learn more about the Phantom camera and how to use it, check out this Phantom Flex workshop we did with KitSplitter Tore Knos in NYC. Read our key takeaways from that, or watch the whole workshop here.
Looking for a Phantom Camera, Phantom Flex, or Phantom Flex 4k online camera rental? You’ve come to the right place! KitSplit has several Phantom rentals as well as thousands of other video camera rentals, lights, lenses, and more. Search here or contact a concierge today.