What is a Slow Motion Camera and How Does it Work?

    50000 frames per second camera

    Slow motion cameras first came in handy back in 1878 when Edward Muybridge used one to answer the age-old question about a horse?s gallop. Experts wanted to know if there was ever a point at which all four hooves were off the ground at once during a horse?s motion of gallop. The slow motion camera was able to capture that very moment, confirming the hypothesis.

    The shutter speed of the cameras that captured the gait were operating at 1/2000 s, which now seems like nothing compared to the one million frames per second reached by some of today?s most impressive high speed cameras.

    How does a slow motion camera work?
    Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second, ranging from one full second to 1/1000th of a second. While regular photographs taken in sunlight work with shutter speeds that are 1/125th of a second, high speed photography requires much faster shutter speeds. A faster shutter speed means that more light must be allowed onto the film in order to get a clear picture. When a motion is recorded this way, the action can be played back at a speed that is much, much slower, allowing for close observation of otherwise visually challenging motions like a horse?s gallop.

    For what other purposes are these cameras used?
    While cinematographers might find high frame rate cameras incredibly useful for capturing fight sequences in action movies, this is not their primary purpose. Scientific laboratories rely on these ultrahigh-speed cameras for research that requires intense observation. Recording the development that occurs during an experiment is a main use for these high-tech cameras, particularly for tests that take place over an extended period of time.

    Additional uses:

    • In 1950, Morton Sultanoff, an engineer for the U.S. army used a slow motion camera that took frames at one-millionth of a second to record the shock wave of a small explosion.
    • High speed photography has been an asset in the development of biomechanics research methods.
    • Directors of nature documentaries often feature slow motion action shots of predators capturing their prey. Scientists have also used this method to learn how a butterfly extracts sustenance from a flower or how bees gather pollen.