I've always wanted a good slow-motion camera but they're terrifyingly expensive. Until now.
Co-worker Ron Ritchie casually asked me if I had heard of the Edgertronic and their kickstarter campaign to make a slow-motion camera that was affordable. "Huh? No!" By that afternoon I had charged the initial downpayment of $1000 against my camera, which was delivered 4 weeks later.
(2000FPS@ISO100, Just to whet your appetite - download)
This camera says "labor of love" all over it. It arrived in its own Pelican case, with cut foam inserts, and everything you need except a tripod was included. This somewhat threw me since I had already sourced a Nikon F-mount F1.2 50mm lens, when I discovered that the camera includes a perfectly serviceable F1.8 50mm lens. But that's hardly bad news.
The camera itself is beautifully made and fitted. It's got a great hand-feel and reeks of high quality.
(Edgertronic camera in shipping case, Zyxel access point and battery separate)
There are a couple things that strike me: the documentation is on the web; there's no "quick start guide" or anything like that, really, though there's a paper insert that tells you a few things about what to do. It makes the camera seem a bit more intimidating than it actually is.
The U/I is very simple. There's a settings panel (not shown) that allows you to enter the frame rate, video duration, preload capture, ISO, etc. Then you're presented with a live view that you can use to compose your image. If you're using it tethered via a laptop with the (provided) Cat-5 cable, there's some slight annoying lag that means you have to move slowly while positioning the camera. When you start fiddling with the adjustments, it's fairly straightforward: if you set it so that it doesn't have enough light, you get blackness. It's pretty much "what you see is what you get" except that you have to take into account the inherent brightness in whatever device you're using to access it. I was using my iPad, which is set for maximum brightness and, outdoors in the sun, it's hard to tell what your final images will look like. I solved that problem by setting my camera up to work wirelessly, then I could just throw a dark cloth over my head and look at the iPad without extra light-bleed.
When you adjust the settings to different frame-rates, the camera's sample region will change as well. If you're a traditional photographer, that will drive you a bit batty because suddenly your lens' effective focal length has changed; now you're shooting close-ups or full-length images. You get used to it quickly, though.
I went from start-up to shooting videos I am happy with, in about an afternoon.
There were only a few things that I found a bit frustrating about the camera, none of which are Edgertronics' fault or problem. When you shoot a clip, the camera encodes it into a quicktime movie then saves it on the memory card. 1 second of video at 2000FPS takes about a minute to save, which is not too awful but I wish it was nearly instantaneous. If you then download it to view on your laptop or whatever, that's another minute or two. So you're not exactly shooting snapshots. Still, it's far from bad, and I chalk it up to the price constraints Edgertronic was under to produce such a fantastic camera at such a reasonable price. They could have made it faster by including MPEG compression silicon and an assload more RAM for an extra couple thousand dollars. But, seriously? Once you've gotten into the swing of working with the camera, you really won't notice it. I know that very fast MPEG encoding is possible because I own a Casio EX-F1, which somehow manages to do the MPEG compression on the fly, so that you can effortlessly record seemingly endless amounts of slow-motion video to its onboard SD card. I am guessing there's a silicon assist in there; Casio can afford to do their own ASICs. [ Michael Matter from Edgertronic comments: Regarding the Casio EX-F1 realtime encode. Our encoder is basically the same speed as theirs, but our pixel rates are ~17X greater than the Casio. At 336x96 1200 FPS, the Casio is capturing 38 Mpix/sec. There are many encoders, including ours, that can keep up with this data rate. At 1280x1024 493 FPS, we are capturing 646 Mpix/sec. There are no encoders that can keep up at this rate. None. All true high speed cameras work this way and it’s a reasonable trade-off to get the high frame rates and not need $100K+ of dedicated custom encode hardware. Besides, what if you were able to record 2 hours at 2000 FPS? The file would be 216GB and it would take 5.5 days to watch.]
There is only one thing I'd change about the camera, if I could, and it's very minor: if you record a largeish clip, when the camera goes to write it to the card, it fails because of file size limits on the FAT filesystem. And it doesn't tell you what's happening - it starts blinking annoyed lights at you and expects you to figure out what's gone wrong. That's hardly a disaster, really. I'm happy with the camera as it is, though I wish I could shoot 2-hour long videos in one chunk like I could with my Casio. You will not use your Edgertronic to do wedding photography, like I did with the Casio.
(Edgertronic with Zyxel Wireless access point and USB battery
velcro-mounted to side)
I didn't like working with my laptop tethered to the camera over the Cat-5 cable, so I rigged it to use a wireless interface by velcroing a Zyxel Nano-Wireless access point (for details, see here) to the side of the camera. Problem solved. Triggering using the wireless interface is less precise than with the (provided) cable. I'm making an adapter cable so I can use my wireless Pocket Wizard flash controller as a remote control. Since the camera can be powered with a car battery adapter (provided) I am planning on rigging up motorcycle battery in a box with a small inverter and battery adapter so I can power the camera and the Zyxel out in the field. [ Pete Kastner comments: I found a nice laptop battery for the edgertronic With laptop and USB outputs it can power both the Edgertronic and the Zyxel] Update: The edgertronic outputs enough power on its USB port that you can power the Zyxel without resorting to an external battery.
Since the camera is manual focus, forget fancy tracking shots (again: no weddings or sporting events) unless you're in very bright light. You need to keep an eye on your subject if it's moving, since a few inches one way or another can put you off critical focus. Mostly, I'm a studio shooter, so I was working at fairly close range with illumination from multiple light-banks. I use the Fotdiox 16 CFL light-banks for my wet plate work, and they appear to be pretty good for slow-motion as well. The flickering effect of CFLs appears to be compensated for by the fact that there are a whole hell of a lot of CFLs flickering out of sync. In some of my shots you can see a faint flicker but with for light banks of 16 CFLs on the subject, that's a total of 62 bulbs flickering away...
(Fotodiox 16 CFL light bank)
[Michael Matter from Edgertronic comments: The Fotodiox light banks are a good solution. I use GE 26W (100W equiv.) Daylight (6500K) CFLs. Digital Anarchy has a deflicker plug-in that works really well. check it out.]
In order to down-render the videos off the camera, I cropped and re-compressed using FFMpeg at a reduced quality level. Here's a frame right off the camera:
(Saved as 75% JPEG, original 736X928 JPEG 95% is here)
SInce Youtube downsamples and re-renders everything that's posted, here's a full-size (slightly reduced quality) piece of video:
(Click to download - 15.8MB)
This is just gorgeous stuff. It compares favorably with cameras in the $100,000 range. If you are a casual slow-motion user, and aren't doing sporting events or weddings or something that requires instant review and turn-around time, you can buy an Edgertronic and a Range Rover to carry it around in for what you'd spend on one of the other cameras.
I love it. If you like high-speed video: buy one.
PS - I sometimes shoot "Not Safe For Work" video in slow-motion, because I can. Here's one. And another.