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Fast, Faster, Fastec: Handheld High-Speed Cinematography with the TS3Cine

5/29/2013 9:18 AM Eastern

You can think of high-speed photography as having its genesis with Eadweard Muybridge’s series of shots of a galloping horse in 1878 that proved the steed did indeed have all of its hooves off the ground simultaneously at a point in its stride. To film that famous shot, Muybridge used a series of cameras triggered sequentially. The photos were later displayed either via a spinning disk or like a strip of film.

Fastec TS3Cine

By the 1930s Bell Telephone Labs had developed a 16mm camera called the Fastax that cranked up to 5,000 frames per second past its lens, and in 1940 Cearcy D. Miller filed a patent for a rotating-mirror camera that would be capable of shooting a million frames per second. The idea was actually employed by the photographic technician on the Manhattan Project, Berlin Brixner, for use by explosives engineers working on the first atomic bomb.

High-speed techniques for slowing motion down have always involved some pretty tricky technology and the help of highly paid specialists, even in our era of digital cinematography. But at the 2012 NAB Show, Fastec Imaging Corp. gave us the Fastec TS3Cine, the first battery powered, run-and-gun, high-speed video camera that records broadcast-quality images at a fairly reasonable price.

In April 2012 the TS3Cine sold for $22,900, but at last month’s NAB Show Fastec cut the price to $16,900 and added a number of new features. I’ll discuss those in a minute.

As Fastec vice president of sales Matt Kearney tells me, the goal is to bring this speed demon out of the military and scientific back rooms and into mainstream digital productions. Assisting Fastec with this task is their partner and distributor, Rule Boston Camera.

Director Torey Champagne (at left) and Tom Guilmette with a TS3Cine on the set of Herra Terra’s “Reason to Lose It” music video.

“The TS3Cine uses a 1280 x 1024, 1.3 megapixel CMOS image sensor made just for us,” Kearney says. “Although at full resolution it can go up to 500 fps, its real appeal for the production community is the capability of 720 fps at 720p.”

The camera can shoot color at 1,600 ISO (3,200 ISO monochrome) and has a global electronic shutter (from 2 µsec to 1 second.) Equipped with a 256 GB solid-state internal buffer capturing high-speed images to Fastec’s own .cap file format, it can output in .bmp, .tiff, Cinema DNG (raw), .jpeg stacks, or .avi files onto thumb drives, SD cards or portable USB hard drives. The TS3Cine sports its own 7” touchscreen panel, but for long distance control, it can also be operated from a PC or Mac via gigabit Ethernet using a standard web browser.

Tom Guilmette

Freelance director of photography Tom Guilmette has blogged about an early version of the TS3Cine, where he described it as “a glorified DSLR” for its small form factor and praised its removable battery for lasting nearly four hours while shooting high-speed 720p. He recently used a TS3Cine to shoot a slow-motion-infused music video directed by Torey Champagne called “Reason to Lose It” with the synth-rock group Herra Terra.


Herra Terra’s “Reason to Lose It” music video, shot by Tom Guilmette with a TS3Cine

“Torey wanted me to use the TS3Cine not only because it rents for less than a quarter of the bigger high-speed cameras, but also because it is easy to set up and operate,” Guilmette says. “I really put it through its paces on a documentary shoot on the summit of Mt. Washington.”

Champagne and Guilmette.

It was there, in New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington State Park, that Guilmette battled what is known as “the world’s worst weather” (meteorologists clocked a wind gust of 231 mph there in April 1934) to shoot a documentary about the Mt. Washington Observatory weather station. He and his production equipment were actually being evacuated by a snowcat tracked over-snow vehicle when we spoke.

“I was able to get some beautiful shots of rime ice, the result of frozen fog, in slow motion with the TS3Cine,” he describes. “I could never have come back with those shots if I had to rely on a high-speed camera that is not as portable and simple as this one. There is no room for a DIT at 6,288 feet above New Hampshire.”

Guilmette recognizes that the relatively low cost and small form factor of the TS3Cine requires some trade-offs. “You get what you pay for,” he says. “Its sensor is not as forgiving as the bigger high-speed cameras, so you can risk blowing out the whites if you are not careful with the exposure. But handled properly, you can bring home some pretty amazing 720p images with the TS3Cine, and it held up to the extreme weather conditions flawlessly.”

Isaac Deitz

Freelance cinematographer Issac Deitz shot some amazing footage with a TS3Cine over last year’s July 4 weekend for a music video featuring Family Force 5 called “The Cray Button.” In the video, the world goes crazy wild whenever a big red button is pushed.


Family Force 5's "The Cray Button" directed by Isaac Deitz.

“We wanted the high-priced impact of slow motion on a low-priced music video budget, and the TS3Cine gave us the look we wanted,” Deitz says. He was shooting at the opposite weather extreme from Tom Guilmette. “It was mid-summer in Texas, but the camera performed amazingly well in the heat.”

Issac Deitz used a Fastec TS3Cine to shoot the Family Force 5 music video “The Cray Button.” Photo by Bobby K. Russell.

The post trigger that the TS3Cine shares with most high-speed cameras, which allows users to “back-record” several seconds of footage stored in the camera’s buffer, was invaluable on this production.

There’s an amazing shot 4:11 into “The Cray Button” in which teams of extras explode out of a deeply muddy river. Deitz had to coordinate their eruption with the timing of the camera trigger.

“I also took maximum advantage of the ability to edit captured shots directly on the camera,” he says. “That let me save only the action I wanted to the SD card, which is essential thanks to the correlation of extended slow-mo durations compared to real-time action. To save time, I always recorded in normal 720p .avi video rather than Fastec’s .cap format. But it looked great.”

Deitz was uncomfortable with the fact that the batteries in his TS3Cine model could be charged only in the camera. “Make sure you bring extra batteries into the field,” he recommends.

Jason Diamond

As part of the New York-based Diamond Brothers directing/videography team with his brother Josh, Jason Diamond was a beta tester of the TS3Cine and has used it to run some extensive tests for his clients.

Jason Diamond. Photo by Roman France.

“At its price point, the TS3Cine is a terrific value for budget high-speed productions,” Diamond says. “The idea of having a high-speed camera that you can hold like a DSLR makes this a real production tool for action sports or shooting on a jib.”

Diamond recommends mounting the TS3Cine on something like Bot & Dolly’s IRIS programmable motion control arm. “It can move insanely fast,” he says. “With a TS3Cine mounted on the IRIS shooting at 720 fps, you can bring back some unexpectedly intricate high-speed shots. And that huge 7” touchscreen means you don’t absolutely have to bring an external monitor to the set.”

At last month’s NAB Show, Fastec made a good camera even better. The new Rapid Download feature improves the saving path from the internal memory, enabling much faster write speeds to SDHC card. The camera’s new Rapid Fire mode lets users save long shots in multiple preset buffer “sessions,” allowing the shooter to download one shot while recording another shot to the next “session.” The capture workflow has also been improved, with Batch Capture letting you offload multiple .cap files.

On top of that, Fastec lowered the price of the improved TS3Cine to $16,900, and Fastec’s Matt Kearney tells me that all the users who participated in this article will receive the upgrades for free. Better grab this high-speed camera fast because, as they say, “Nothing is too fast to be shot with a TS3Cine.”   

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