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The Phantom Flex4K-GS camera. Credit: Vision Research

A high-speed camera—originally designed for movie production— is now moving from Los Angeles to the laboratory.

Vision Research recently introduced the Phantom Flex4K-GS, a high-speed digital video camera designed specifically for the science, aerospace and defense industries. The camera—which boasts a 35mm, 9.4-megapixel sensor and global shutter—is an updated version of the Flex4K, a full-featured digital cinema camera popular in the film industry.

The biggest differences between the original Flex4K and the Flex4K-GS is its shutter. The original cinema model, which came out in 2014, only has a progressive scan shutter, also known as a rolling shutter, which isn’t ideal for science and defense applications. While rolling shutter cameras typically achieve higher dynamic range and lower noise, the way the electronic shutter integrates can create motion artifacts, making high precision measurements impossible. The Flex4K-GS has the ability to switch between global and rolling shutter modes to take advantage of both scenarios.

“The customers that wanted to use it as a scientific instrument weren’t able to use it with a rolling shutter because this makes it so the top and the bottom of the frame are actually being recorded at slightly different times,” said Vision Research product manager Toni Lucatorto, in an interview with R&D Magazine. “The global shutter records every single pixel at exactly the same moment in time. This makes it more reliable for people that use the cameras with measurement software.”

This capability is also important in aerospace applications, as it prevents motion artifacts with propellers, motors and other rotating objects and ensures timing precision throughout the entirety of each frame.

The 4K resolution, a design feature from the original cinema camera, is also helpful for those in the aerospace and defense market, said Lucatorto.

“These customers are primarily looking for cameras that will do overview shots of rocket launches, including those in space shuttle development and ballistics,” she said. “The camera is positioned far away from the subject with a long lens and the user wants as much resolution as possible. The 4K gets them really nice crisp images and they can position the camera far away and still get really good detail on the subject.”

Also critical in the defense industry is the camera’s ability to operate in extreme temperatures. Its isolated electronics and thermal design allow for operation in environments within the temperature range of -20°C to 50°C.

There are also many applications for this camera in the science market, said Lucatorto. One industry where she feels it will be particularly useful is microscopy.

“If the camera is attached to microscopes and optics that allow you to really get super macro type-shots, the more resolution the better,” she said. “You can actually resolve things that you would not be able to with a lower-resolution camera.”

The camera’s high resolution does require tradeoffs regarding frame rate. At its full 4096 x 2304 resolution the camera can capture 938 frames per second (fps). At 4K 4096 x 2160 the frame rate goes up to 1,000 fps and at 2K resolution the camera can capture 1900 fps. The minimum exposure is five microseconds. This frame rate is slower than other high-speed cameras with lower resolutions.

“The Flex 4K doesn’t go as fast as some of our other models, but our science and defense customers are generally more concerned about the resolution than the frame rate,” said Lucatorto. “They need more than a typical camera can do, but they don’t need the 100,000 frames that some of our other cameras can do.”

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