Photron SA-2, Phantom, Shimadzu & friends: The fastest cameras in the world

I was playing around with the new high speed Photron SA2 camera (left) at the weekend (the Photron SA-1 was used on Life in Cold Blood to film Chameleon tongues, and Planet Earth to film Great Whites hunting).

The image looked even brighter and sharper than the images I have seen from the Phantom camera (the BBC's high speed flavour of the month) but I could have just been dazzled by the pomp surrounding it.

One thing to note is that there is a 2-stop difference between this and the Phantom HD - so its much more light sensitive (but then I haven't mentioned the Phantom v640 yet). I have been informed that the SA2 has a viewfinder at last and can be run off V-lok batteries but you still need a laptop and a seperate recorder - so it' s still not really as practical for field use as the Phantoms or the smaller Memrecams.

Set-up of the SA-2 as used by cameraman Gavin Thurston to film bears last year.
Image Copyright: Gavin Thurston.

The Photron SA-2 can film at 2,000 fps at Full HD resolution (1,920 x 1080 pixels) while the equivalent camera from Phantom the Phantom v640 records over 2700fps at1920x1080 HD-resolution (The Phantom HD 'only' does 1000fps at 1920 × 1080 or 2K resolution).

You might also want to check out the really compact MotionPro Y5 and the MotionScope N5 9 by Lake image systems both capable of up to 1500 frames per second at a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, Memrecam GX-1 records 2000fps at 1280x1024.

The Fastest camera in the world

Now if you don't care whether its HD or not but you want to film really, really, fast then the fastest camera in the world is the Shimadzu. At a resolution of 312 x 260 it is capable at a pant-wettingly high speed of 1,000,000 fps.

Unfortunately the Shimadzu only records in black and white and so for the very best full colour and high speed/resolution combination you have to drop right down to 300,000 fps for the Photron Fastcam SA5 (256 x 54 pixels) the Phantom V640, mentioned earlier, also records at up to 300,000fps but at a tiny resolution of 128x8.

The Red Cam ups its game

Oh yes, and while I'm on one... if your a fan of the current 'RED One' camera which goes upto120fps at 2k then the first Red EPIC camera (actually Epic is a module which is the brain of the camera) will be released in the Autumn (the S35) and is capable of up to 250fps at 2k. But the big whopper - the Full Format 'Monstro EPIC' comes out this winter which will record at 350fps at 2k - not quite a million frames a second but quite a high speed for such a mega resolution.

If you have has any experience filming with high speed cameras we would love to hear about your experiences. Thanks Matt.


  1. Phil Trevil11:24 AM

    Thanks very much. I'm a cameraman in Chicago - really enojoy your tips and tricks! (I just wish we could see all your films over here). Phil

  2. The equivalent camera from Phantom is the v640 which can do 1920x1080 at 2700 fps and has higher sensitivity.

  3. Dave C9:47 AM

    Thanks so much for this. High speed camera specs are all soooooo confusing - my head hurts! You are a little dose of aspiriin helping to aliviate the pain of deciding which darn camera to use. I think its the Phantom V640 for me. Cheers. Dave.

  4. I would also recommend to look at new camera from Cooke Corporation model pco.dimax. This camera based on field tests, has better sensitivity and color quality compared to other high speed HD cameras. The speed is 1306 at 2k x 2k and 2525 fps at 1980 x 1020

  5. Anonymous10:50 PM

    The pantom Flex can shoot 2800 fps at 1980 x 1020 is a very good option from vision research

  6. Anonymous5:16 AM

    The Flex can't shoot 2800 fps at 1920 x 1080, this is now only 2570 !!!
    The Image quality is from Dimax superior and Photron good, the Flex is the last one with good quality.
    In HQ mode is the Flex also put under the Dimax and Photron, in HQ mode the framerate is only the half and the record time is only the half too. This have to be observed.
    The dimax can shoot nearly 2500 fps in HD resolution, the Photron only 2000 fps.
    Best solution for High Speed applications is the PCO.Dimax.
    High framerates by best stable image quality, without the need of a black reference, such as Photron and Phantom Flex need.

  7. Would welcome any updated advice on Hi Speed cameras as have a big wildlife series coming up over the next year. I have recently used a Photron SA2 and struggled with its low res viewfinder following fast birds and generally the cabling is an issue. But the price is very reasonable so pluses and minuses. Is there any other very reasonable but very high quality solution that people are being drawn towards now. We have to do HD at up to 1000fps. Don't hear of many people using the Dimax but would welcome any views. And also any views on picture quality comparison between the Photron, Phantom, Dimax and other competitors in a wildlife 500-1000 fps HD scenario. Thanks