Maybe you’ve been to the park on a lovely spring day and as you’re sitting against a tree, a beautiful bird lands right on your blanket. You reach for your camera and begin to focus on the gorgeous creature. But before you can get your shot off it flies away. You snap about a half dozen clicks, but none of them yield anything. The bird was too fast for your phone’s camera. In today’s world of photography, virtually everyone walks around with a camera in their pocket. But an ultrahigh-speed camera is something else entirely.
Let’s say you want to capture the running of a greyhound on a racetrack, or, better yet, a racehorse. You would need a very high speed camera, indeed. That is exactly what happened in 1878 when Eadward Muybridge put together a sequence of photographs of a horse galloping. For the first time in the history of the world, humankind could see that all four of a horse’s feet do indeed leave the ground when in full gallop. This could only have been done by using a high frame rate camera. The fastest of its kind at the time.
To take a series of photographs that quickly, the photographer must have an ultrahigh-speed camera. When a shutter has that kind of speed, there are not too many things that move too quickly to be captured by the camera. Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of seconds. They can range away where from one full second to 1/1000th of a second and faster. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light gets in. The quicker the shutter speed, the more able you are to capture Seabiscuit on a training run. For regular photography in the daylight, the shutter speed that will capture a lovely photograph of you and the kids is typically about 1/125th of a second. A high-speed photograph will usually need a camera that can shutter at a speed of around 1/8000th of a second. To get much faster than that, you might need to go to a research laboratory where an ultrahigh-speed camera is often used.
An ultrahigh-speed camera that you would find in a research laboratory is capable of exceeding 100,000 frames per second by far. Phantom cameras are high speed cameras used by scientists in physics and space science to test theories by capturing objects in motion at very high speeds. In 1950, and Army engineer named was able to capture the shock waves of a small explosion because he had found a way to make a camera that would take frames at 1 millionth of a second. If you’ve ever seen a photograph of lightning, you know how fast cameras can be.
Cameras have come a long way since they first came into being. The inventors of the first cameras had much equipment to lug around and after they took a shot and wiped the soot off of their face, they couldn’t be sure if they had a quality picture until the developed the negative. Today, it’s just point, shoot and look.