The Phantom shoots at up to high-definition (1920x1080) and 2K (2048x1536) resolutions at a maximum of 1,000 fps using PL-mount lenses. The camera measures 7.62"x5.47"x12.13" (19.4x13.9x30.8 cm) and weighs in at 12.125 pounds (5.5 kg). It features a 2048x2047 active-pixel, Bayer-pattern CMOS image sensor at 42-bit color. Shutter speeds are adjustable up to 1⁄500,000 of a second and the ISO is rated at 600 ASA.
In addition to the Phantom HD, Vision offers the Phantom 65, which shoots up to 4,096x2440 at 125 fps and offers image resolution comparable to 65mm film. The Phantom 65 also uses PL-mount lenses and is nearly identical in weight and size to the HD model. Both cameras are capable of 11 stops of latitude, according to Vision Research.
Images are recorded directly to an onboard hard drive with 32GB of storage and are made available for immediate review and transfer to external hard drives for postproduction. Phantom also plans to offer CineMag external memory magazines with up to 512GB of additional storage, enabling longer runtimes and less downtime for offloading material. Footage is captured uncompressed using Vision’s proprietary lossless Cine file format. The camera comes with Cine Viewer, a Windows utility that is used to transcode footage into image sequences for direct editing in nearly any NLE or finishing tool.
Galactica is normally shot with two Sony F900s recording at 1080/24p HDCam. “We haven’t been doing a lot of slow motion,” recalls McNutt. “Last season, we did a boxing episode where Lee (Jamie Bamber) and Adama (Edward James Olmos) were fighting at 120 fps. Razor has a lot of explosions and action sequences. We wanted to accent that at up to 250 fps and even 500 fps.”
McNutt previously employed film cameras and frame doubling of the F900 footage in post to capture high-speed action. “We’d shoot the F900 at 60i, double the frames in post and then de-interlace them,” he notes. “That brings the footage back to a progressive state, but you can get some artifacts. When I wanted to go above 120 fps, we’d bring in an Arri 435, shoot 35mm and transfer to D-5.”
“The upside with digital,” says 1st AC Chris Thompson, “is you can see the results right away. Traditionally, with film, you wait until the next day to get the negative reports. With HD you see it instantly, and you go again or you move on. We used Zeiss primes on the Phantom, up to 150mm and primarily 85mm. We didn’t use any zooms, which mainly had to do with getting our T1.4 stop.”
McNutt found his lighting approach to be nearly identical to his experience with high-speed 35mm photography. “It’s the same as film when you shoot on a Photo-Sonics,” he observes. “You pour more light in. The look of Galactica is very industrial and fluorescent, so I’m limited in how far I can go with additional lighting units. With interiors, I wouldn’t be going to 1,000 fps very often. With film, I normally turn off the shutter, which gets me into about the same exposure range I had with the Phantom.
“We were shooting first at 120 fps, and we felt the motion wasn’t quite slow enough,” continues McNutt. “Then we shot at 500 fps and that looked too slow. So we went back to a range of 250 to 300 fps. The Phantom was very effective, with beautiful images and quite remarkable latitude.”
The Phantom uses circular buffer memory recording to capture high-speed events. “The interesting part is the triggering mechanism,” McNutt remarks. “The hard drive is hooked into the camera, constantly sending information like a surveillance camera. All you have to do is push the trigger, and it saves from the moment you pushed it back to a predefined point in the past. At 1,000 fps at 32GB you have 4.5 seconds of running time. Then, when you’re viewing, you can play it back in real time and pick your handles for transferring. Otherwise I could be downloading a lot of stuff I don’t want.”
As production was completed for Razor, the high-speed digital footage went through Galactica’s post pipeline. Post supervisor Gregg Tilson at Universal Studios outlines the process: “They took the raw, uncompressed Cine files on hard drives to Northwest Imaging & FX in Vancouver [where the show is shot]. The Cine files were converted to 16-bit TIFF image stacks with Vision’s Cine Viewer and laid back to D-5 in a Smoke bay. It’s raw footage with no color correction applied other than a regulation 709 basic color matrix.”
Once on D-5, the Phantom material was treated identically to HDCam-originated material from the F900s. The D-5 was down-converted to Beta SP and offlined on an Avid at Universal. “We cut from the Beta SP tapes in standard definition,” notes Tilson. “When the offline edit is complete, we go to an Avid DS at Level 3 Post, our online house. They take the D-5 submasters in and we do an assembly master from our offline Avid bin.
“We have a day and half of color correction on a da Vinci 2K and output to HDCam at 1080/24p,” Tilson continues. “Finally, we deliver two masters: a downconverted DigiBeta to Sci-Fi for broadcast in standard definition and the HDCam that airs later in high definition on Universal HD. The Phantom material looked great and definitely held up to the high-speed film footage we’ve done. Ultimately, the Phantom was easy to integrate into our workflow, once I learned that Northwest was going to do the Cine file conversions and send me a D-5.”
“That was the big thing, the post workflow,” says McNutt. “The Phantom fits ours really well. I’d love to have the camera on the truck all the time. It’s a simple learning curve for production. Our digital-imaging technician, Mike Sankey, learned the operational basics in about 8 1/2 minutes.” Although the high-speed footage shot for Razor was ultimately sped up to normal speed for the broadcast edit for creative reasons, McNutt used the Phantom again for additional episodes during the season.
Though the Phantom HD is relatively new to the production world, Vision Research has been in the camera business since 1950. It was originally known as the Photographic Analysis Company, a developer of ultra high-speed film cameras for military, automotive and industrial image analysis. The company shifted emphasis toward digital imaging and spun off Vision Research in the 1990s.
“Production is a broad market,” observes Phil Jantzen, Vision Research’s Cinema Project manager. “Each camera has certain feature sets and applications. We wanted to create an open-platform camera with the ability to modify and improve. If you need new features, we are more than willing to enable them if we can. With our military and automotive background, there’s always some custom tooling. We tried to bring as much of the flexibility of our industrial cameras into the production world as possible.
“We’ve built CMOS cameras for almost 15 years now and never bought an off-the-shelf sensor,” Jantzen adds. “Algorithms designed for high-end digital still cameras help us compete with the three-chip cameras. The big, glaring difference is the ability to write at high speed, totally uncompressed, thanks to the Phantom’s internal buffer and flash magazine. Phantom isn’t limited by a recording format, other than the basic overhead inside the Cine file. You’re shooting uncompressed at a high frame rate, which interfaces very well in a totally digital workflow.”
Vision recently formed a distribution partnership with Abel Cine Tech to bring the Phantom HD and 65 into the professional broadcast and feature filmmaking market. “The world is going raw, uncompressed and IT-based, and we like to be on the cutting edge,” says Mitch Gross, Abel Cine Tech’s rental manager. “Phantom fits with our vision. It will initially be perceived as a niche, high-speed camera. As it evolves, it will come to be seen as a workhorse camera. That’s Abel’s history with products like the VariCam, MovieTube and Aaton.”
“The Phantom is a whole different animal,” says McNutt. “You get immediate playback at 500 fps and can judge everything — do we have to reset or can we move on? That’s what the digital world offers us: the ability to make absolute decisions absolutely.”
by Noah Kadner