Phantom cameras have been in the market for just about six years now and they have certainly opened up creative opportunities. If you are looking for all the stats and marketing jargon, link over to www.visionresearch.com. Vision has been a fantastic company to grow with over these last years being extremely responsive to the professional cinema requirements and workflows. In particular look over their FAQ's and the "PhantomZone" blogs. The improvements introduced with the Phantom FLEX are exceptional with reduced noise levels, the quality of the black levels and improved dynamic stability.
A Phantom experience is much more than a camera rental. You really need experience that can take you from capture to post. The camera itself is EXTREMELY easy to work with. Actually it is better to say, "It is deceivingly easy to work with." The software that controls the camera is simple to explain and is logically laid out. There are only a couple of physical connections that you would have to try hard to do incorrectly and when the camera is built up, it can have the look and feel of a film camera. If you are of any caliber of camera assistant or DIT, we can have you up and running in very short order. The trick to having an exciting and successful shoot is the workflow you devise, which is exactly where you introduce additional challenges and negative pressures. Even more important is how you turn over your files or tape to post production. If we have had any battles, it has been the learning curve with the postproduction side and with the RAW files. The deceiving part is handling the RAW files and knowing exactly what you are recording verses what you are seeing.
What the camera package looks like includes the camera body, a standard HD video viewfinder, a riser that accepts support rods, a cable package that has a power plug, an Ethernet cable used to communicate with a computer and a BNC cable for image view. The camera operates at 24VDC, which can be provided by several battery options. A PC based computer is required, connected through a 1Gig Ethernet. We supply a laptop with the current Phantom software, properly configured, with all camera rental packages. What I really like to bring, is a full PC work station with raid storage and a fantastic graphics card that super speeds up the downloads and is even capable of color correcting the RAW files. I'll rave about all that a little later. For the basic package, a laptop is completely capable of meeting most every production requirement, and can be very mobility efficient. Alternatively we do offer a Remote unit that can ride on the camera similar to an on-board, and there are also menu controls built onto the camera. Short story long, there are lots of ways of configuring the camera operation.
First the cameras themselves and how they work. There are several Phantom cameras that have very different capabilities. The two Phantom Cameras that are largely popular in the motion picture industry are the Phantom HD Gold and the Phantom FLEX. The HD Gold was the introductory camera, and while a new big brother is now on the market, this camera is still a very powerful creative tool and has some favorable conditions where it is the camera of choice. The Phantom FLEX is the latest, neatest newest, that has a couple of advantages. Namely a larger chip, faster maximum speed and requires less light with a faster ISO. These two cameras operate almost identically. The menus are similar, they use the exact same windows interface and use the same remote control units. Most of this lesson will not I will use the term “Phantom” when referring to both of their operations. I will state the specific camera where they are different.
Starting with the SENSOR: here they are different.
The Phantom HD GOLD has a sensor that is 2048 pixels by 2048 pixels. The Phantom FLEX sensor size is 2650 by 1600. You do not have to use all the pixels. How fast the camera can shoot is directly proportional to how many pixels you want to record. The Resolution Chart below lists the maximum speed capable. There is a pull down window in the software where we can select just how much of the sensor we want to use. We can record every pixel on the sensor, we can cut out a middle HD 16:9 (1920 X 1080), or we can go full 35mm, which is 2048 X 1108. We commonly refer to the camera being capable of 1000fps because we commonly record at 1920 x 1080.
The Phantom HD GOLD operates with a 14-bit sensor producing a 42-bit color space, the FLEX operates in 12-bit. In digital photography, how many colors you have between solid black and blown out whites is determined by "bit depth." Bit depth quantifies how many unique colors are available in an image's color palette in terms of the number of 0's and 1's, or "bits," which are used to specify each color. An image with a higher bit depth can display more gradations of colors. I love to get into dissertations about color but you would have to read it all. The more colors you can have, the more stunning the image in terms of photorealistic qualities. In the Phantom software, you can lower the color space to 10 or ever 8-bits. There maybe times and circumstances where this is utilized, but not very often.
The number of pixels you want to record combined with the bit-depth you want is the equation for determining how much memory space you need. If we are recording 1000 frames-per-second with the Phantom HD at 1920x1080 and 14-bits of memory depth, you will need 3.6GB of memory for each second of recording. Most all of the cameras have 16G of internal flash memory built into the camera body. That means you have just over 4 seconds of real time of available memory. Which means you have about 4400 frames recorded in those 4 seconds. If we are recording at 500fps, in HD we have 8 seconds of real time and at 250fps we have 16 seconds of real time.
The table below demonstrates the "Real Time" action time which the camera records at the various pixel/speed combinations