First high speed and time-lapse photography

High speed photography

In 1902 the chronophotographer Lucien Bull (1876–1972) succeeded in capturing film of insect flight taken at approximately 500 frames per second (52 images in 1/10th of a second), using illumination by stroboscopic sparks in lieu of shutter action. Some of Bull's high speed photography was stereoscopic, using two strips of film on a rotating drum. Stereo footage from 1904, of a dragonfly in slow motion, may be viewed on the Origins of Scientific Cinematography DVD. Bull was later to achieve a frequency of 1,000,000 fps. His first high speed films have been conserved at the Institut de Cinématographie Scientifique in Paris. [Tosi]

In December 2014 it was announced that a team of biomedical engineers at Washington University in St Louis, led by Lihong Wang, had produced a 2D camera which could successfully capture events at up to 100 billion frames per second. The camera actually consists of a series of devices intended to work with high-powered microscopes and telescopes to capture dynamic natural and physical phenomena. Once the raw data are acquired, the actual images are formed on a personal computer, in a technique known as computational imaging. Extraordinarily, this is so fast that it has successfully captured pulses of laser light in mid flight. [Fitzpatrick] Even this has now been exceeded, with the announcement in April 2015 of the development of a camera that can record at a rate of more than a trillion frames per second. []


Time-lapse photography

The French astronomer Pierre-Jules-César Janssen (1824–1907) developed what he called a 'photographic revolver' in 1873 (designed by himself, but constructed by the Redier technicians). On 8 December 1874 he and his colleagues, on an expedition to Nagasaki, used it to record images of the transit of Venus across the solar disc. Using a disc-shaped daguerreotype plate, Janssen's colleague, the Brazilian astronomer Francisco Antônio de Almeida, obtained 47 small photographs of the solar edge, taken at intervals of approximately a second. The photographic revolver, and what some thought was the plate concerned, are exhibited at the Museum of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (CNAM) in Paris. However, Françoise Launay and Peter D. Hingley maintain that this is a practice plate, and that not one of the revolver plates exposed during the transit can now be traced. [Launay and Hingley, Tosi, Canales, , Mourão; according to Rossell there were 48 images on each of four discs exposed that day.]

Both Canales and include images of Janssen's disc, but, although the images could surely be animated, it doesn't appear that anyone has done so. (Although the Origins of Scientific Cinematography DVD includes an animation of a Janssen disc of the 1874 transit recorded by British astronomers, and a QuickTime animation has been made from glass-plate negatives taken by David P. Todd and his team of the 1882 transit. An animation also appears here but, despite the filename, it's not clear that this is Janssen's disc.)



Full references for printed works

Virgilio Tosi (2005) Cinema before Cinema. The Origins of Scientific Cinematography, 2nd edn. London: British Universities Film and Video Council.


© 2010–2023 Benjamin S. Beck

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This page was last revised on 2015-06-06.