The 2013 World Lumberjack Championships in Hayward, Wisconsin were a perfect application for us to use the high speed Fastec TS3 Cine camera. Michael Andrus and I were very exited as our local equipment shop Rule Broadcast gave us a great hookup on price and a lengthy tutorial before we left. The camera is capable of shooting 719 frames per second in 720p. For shots of lumberjacks sawing, climbing, chopping and ax throwing, this camera would give us some great options. We brought the camera back to our equipment room and started testing the workflow.
First off, the camera has a LCD touch screen that controls all functionality. It worked great in the shop but once in the field, especially during the day, the screen becomes very hard to see. Make sure you have a Hoodman of some kind if you plan to shoot outdoors. Its very difficult to judge proper exposure as well. With no zebras on a reflective screen, we basically exposed til the highlights were blown out, then dialed it back a tiny bit. Figuring we would have latitude in post, we underexposed hoping to bring out the shadows later. Another thought to consider is the camera needs a ton of light. Shooting in direct sun worked fine but going into shadow presented problems for any lens that was an f4 or higher. F2.8 lenses wide open were acceptable for most situations.
The camera is activated for use with a button push and rolls in a continuous, 8 second loop. Another button triggers the cut point after the action takes place. You then use the LCD screen to trim your clip (with a scroll bar along the bottom that worked fairly well). You then save the clip and the camera buffers according to time and file size.
Once the stills are dumped to the internal solid state drive, the shot was gone from view. You could see the folder the photos were sitting in on the hard drive, but weren’t able to call it up and watch it as a movie or even as individual pictures. That made sense as we hadn’t yet built the movie with the pictures so this is a reasonable limitation. The camera also has a SD slot you can record to as well, but we found buffering to be much faster using the 128gb internal drive.
Because the camera takes actual still photos and not video, we needed to figure the best method for compiling the stills into our slo motion image. We treated the workflow like a timelapse, by importing the file into After Effects and creating a file sequence. In theory we could shoot DNG, TIFF (raw), TIFF, JPG, AVI, or a partition capture. Partition capture holds the most info but didn’t let us trim our clips and took way too long to buffer. The TIFF (raw) gave us monochrome images. The DNG files need to be transcoded into a usable format and we didn’t have a ton of time. JPG is lower quality and avi created way too much noise and couldn’t hold contrast. We settled on TIFF capture after testing all options.
The post workflow was fairly disappointing. This ingest time was painfully long. Often there would be a corrupt file/picture and the whole ingest would have to be restarted. We would have to troubleshoot for the bad file, and import around it hoping not to lose our overall ingest. Painful as it happened EVERY time we tried to bring in the footage. If you record to the internal drive, the camera must be connected directly to the computer. Problem with this is that there was no battery charger, so you had to charge the battery through the camera also. The camera cannot dump footage and simultaneously charge a battery. The average battery takes about 4 hours to charge. You can see that this process takes way too long, especially since we were shooting all day into evening and had to media manage all our other cameras (C300’s, 5d’s, go pros, etc).
Once we finally got the images into After Effects, we were very surprised at what we saw. Lots of noise in the shadows, milky blacks, and an overall disappointing picture. The TIFF file size was only 1.8mb per image, leaving us little room to play in post. The images shot in direct sun seemed to work best, but still suffered from a washed out look and overexposed highlights. We corrected as best we could and exported into quicktimes. Sad but not shocked to see artifacting and noise everywhere. We kept thinking we were doing something wrong. But then looking at the Fastec website videos, we saw that they had the same issues we were having.
We loved what is the possibility of the Fastec, and it seems like they aren’t that far away from getting it right with some updates. I loved the ergonomics of the camera, robust and comfortable. I would give this camera another chance if we can figure a way to get the image looking better. For now, I will stick with Phantom Flex for our fancy high speed, a Sony FS700 for mid range slo mo, and live with a GoPro Hero 3 Black at 120fps if the shot isn’t critical. We will be receiving our new Sony F55 soon, which shoots at 240fps and should be enough for most applications.