A Camera for the Shot You Missed

We subscribe to David Pogue’s video feed at the New York Times [via iTunes of course]. Last night we enjoyed his review of Casio’s High-Speed Camera, the Exilim EX-F1 [David’s review in print at NYT here].

If you have children, an interest in photographing wildlife on the move or sports photography — check out this $1000 camera [specs at dpreview.com]. It’s not a general purpose SLR, low-light performance is horrible and has other downsides. But it does some innovative things with time, based on a 60 frame per second burst capture rate.

How is this possible? Because, for starters, the F1 ($1,000 list price) is the world’s fastest camera.

A typical shirt-pocket camera, if you’re lucky, can snap one photo a second in ‘burst mode.’A $1,000 semipro model will get you 3 shots a second. But this Casio can snap — are you ready for this? — 60 photos a second. These are not movies; these are full six-megapixel photographs, each with enough resolution for a poster-size print.

After such a burst, you’re offered three options: delete all 60 shots, keep all 60, or review them and pluck out the individual frames worth keeping. The whole batch begins to play like a flip-book movie; you control playback with a back-panel control dial. As you watch, you press the shutter button once to identify each frame you want to keep; the rest will be discarded.

You can parcel out the 60-shot maximum in different ways: 30 shots a second for two seconds, 20 for three seconds, 15 for four seconds, and so on. You can even adjust the firing rate in midshot by turning the lens barrel. (The camera’s menus let you choose what you want the lens ring to govern: zoom, focus or burst rate.)

…The F1’s second trick is that business about photographing a moment after the fact. In pre-record mode, you half-press the shutter button when you’re awaiting an event that’s unpredictable: a breaching whale, a geyser’s eruption or a 5-year-old batter connecting with the ball. The camera silently, repeatedly records 60 shots a second, immediately discarding the old to make room for the new.

When you finally press the shutter button fully, the camera simply preserves the most recent shots, thus effectively photographing an event that, technically speaking, you missed.

Will we see similar capabilities showing up in the consumer SLR’s? I don’t know. The high speed LSI processor that manages the burst-mode data stream shouldn’t be a problem, other than $$. But the high speed CMOS sensor may have weaknesses that make it unsuitable for general photography. The sensor may be the new Sony IMX017CQE.

And there is room for improvement and leap-frogging by competitors:

Unfortunately, this highly unusual, almost experimental piece of equipment includes nearly as many downsides as breakthroughs.

…Now, it does seem ungrateful to criticize such an astonishing camera; it’s like complaining that your 7-year-old violin virtuoso is lousy at sports.

But make no mistake: no camera has ever offered anything like the F1’s high-speed stills, high-speed videos or high-speed flash for anywhere near its price. Everybody who sees this camera in action winds up slack-jawed with disbelief.

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