Violating the laws of nature. Playing God. Capturing stuff we are not supposed to see. Potentially opening up a wormhole in the fabric of time.

These are a few of the things I think about while shooting with a Phantom High Speed Digital Cinema camera. The above video is a bunch of test footage I shot to get familiar with the new “Flex” version. I shot inside my Las Vegas Palms Casino hotel room between the hours of 2am and 6am. If you had a Phantom in your bedroom, you would stay up too!

This past weekend, I worked in Las Vegas for FOX shooting the World Championships of Ping Pong (WCPP). Yea, Ping Pong. This is a big sport in many parts of the world and I was working one of the first big televised events. In fact, this program will air all around the world to over 80 million households in the coming months. My job was to capture this fast and mentally demanding sport in a way that was never before seen. Slowing down a celluloid ball by shooting at 2,564 frames per second using a Phantom Flex. The beast can even slow a bullet at 10,000 FPS 480p!

UPDATE 2/21/11: You can see the official WCPP trailer by clicking here! See the Phantom Flex in action.

I worked with Cox Communications in Rhode Island, the company providing the production services for the Vegas event. These guys secured a Phantom Flex from Rule Boston Camera and sent the expensive rig to Vegas for its very first shoot.

Before the gear hit FedEX for the west coast, I spend a few minutes with Dave Kudrowitz at Rule and got a quick refresh on the Phantom. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was very similar to the Phantom HD GOLD I was use to using. I wrote a blog a few months ago on how the HD GOLD operates and the workflow I use to get the high speed footage to broadcast clients. You can read that by clicking here.

The most surprising thing about the new Flex camera is its light sensitivity and native noiseless 1000 ISO. Dave and I were able to record 600 FPS under Rule office fluorescent ceiling lights! The picture was not perfectly exposed, but we were making flicker-free images at that insane frame rate. If you are not familiar with high speed, a ton of light is needed and flicker is almost always a problem. But this camera is the most sensitive yet. The new Flex is “simply magic”. I think I said that to Dave more than once at Rule.

When I got to Vegas, I had a ton of gear. Fortunately, a bunch of us flew SouthWest where two checked bags travel free. We spread out the load and we did not pay anything in excess. I carried on my Sony PDW-F800 XDCAM in a Porta Brace bag.

At the Palms hotel in the Pearl Theater, I found the Phantom hiding downstairs! I managed to borrow a Mag-Liner cart for the days I was working. Big thanks to the West coast Paul Goldman, I would have been in trouble without it.

I had an Angenieux HR 25-250mm t3.5 zoom lens while shooting in Vegas. I never would have even tried to mount a slow and light hungry lens like this to any high speed camera, unless shooting under bright sun. The big old cine zoom lens worked under tungsten lamps during indoor match play at the event running at 300 FPS. That was as high as I could safely go with the t3.5. I wished I had an Optimo zoom at 2.2!

To shoot 1000 FPS and over, I used a sick set of Zeiss super speed primes. I had the 18mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. All these lenses were t1.3 and worked excellent on the Flex. I was able to shoot in the same event lighting conditions but at up to 1200 FPS! I missed the shot selection I had covering action with the Angenieux. I was not able to push in and out to follow the Ping Pong ball super tight with the primes.

I was using my O’Connor Follow Focus One to pull focus. I absolutely adore this piece of kit because it is built rock solid and has zero play in the gears. I pull focus perfectly almost every time! And man is that ball moving fast!!!

We also set up a private room in a closed section of the building to shoot at ridiculous frame rates, like 2,564 in glorious 1080p. I had a VER rented ARRI light kit with four 1k lamps. John Parris and I set up all four lamps and spot-pointed them at a central location on a private Ping Pong table.

The lights were on stands at each corner of the table. We shot the ball clipping the net, dusting the lines on the table and getting crushed by the sand paper paddles.

We had a separate interview area in this room and I used my Sony PDW-F800 to get sound bites from the players. I lit the entire room with two ARRI light kits and a Kino Flo DIVA 400.

Later in the day, we had a few table tennis pros show up. I focused the hot and very bright lights on the athletes and had them serve, snap return and bounce a ball on their paddle. All of these shots will be used in the trailer, show open, bumps and in other creative methods to capture the attention of a table tennis illiterate (United States) audience. Keep an eye out for the show, I will try to post information to this page when I find out the air dates.

After hours, Anthony Finucane and I went off our “Palms Casino Island” and grabbed a cab headed for the Las Vegas strip. I mounted a GoPro to the hood of the cab (and later was disappointing by the low light performance) and tossed my Sony F800 in the back with me. I shot out the window as the driver took us up and down the strip. This fast and dirty footage will be used in show opens, trailers and bumps for the broadcast.

Back in the mobile production truck, all of the cameras used to cover the tournament were ISO recorded to KiPro decks. We backed up each of the KiPro drives each night using Mac Book Pro laptops and LaCie rugged 1TB external drives. I dumped the Phantom footage out of the CineMags via the HDSDI connector on the back of the Flex. I recorded Apple Pro Res LT 1080 Psf. That was my high speed workflow! As for the F800, that content lives on XDCAM disks. I just though you might find that interesting!

The view out my hotel room! I did not have my Canon 5dmk2, so I did not do a Philip Bloom “Room with a View” style timelapse.

I was careful with the Phantom Flex. I was sure not to tell anyone where I was using it on Twitter or on other social media. There are only a handful of these cameras in the world but fortunately many people don’t even know what a Phantom is. I kept the camera in my sight or locked up in my room when it was not in use at all times. I even covered up all Rule Boston Camera stickers and the dreaded, “PHANTOM FLEX” label so that people couldn’t tell what I was transporting! A bit over the top I know, but the thoughts of the stolen EPIC were on my mind.

Please do not ask for any footage from the Ping Pong event, I cannot post it here. I will post a few Apple ProRes 1080p KiPro files to the bottom of this page for you to experiment with. I locked myself into my hotel room and shot after a long day at the tournament. I could not just sleep while a Phantom was sitting there all ready to ship out in the morning. Needless to say, I stayed up all night shooting anything I could in the small hotel room!

Phantom Flex Apple ProRes 422 LT .mov Downloads:

Download a couple Phantom Flex 1080p clips in a TORRENT by clicking here. Thank you Jesse for seeding 403.4 MB.

You will need a Torrent client like uTorrent to download the file.


Special thanks to production manager Chuck Murphy for sleeping the entire way back to Boston. He will talk the skin right off ya.