When we ran into the Phantom Miro at NAB this year, we knew we had to come up with the perfect subject to put its capabilities to the test. Enter Gallagher: 80's icon and nemesis to watermelons the world over. He's a master smasher, word-smith, and complete science geek extraordinaire with a work ethic that brought him to us early and had him staying late... It's hard to actually put into words what 10 days with Gallagher is like. In reality, it isn't much different than the video shows. Sometimes it feels like everything is 3,200 fps and sometimes it's ramped faster than reality. No matter what, it's a smashing good time.
The point being an equipment test, we might as well get a little bit nerdy and review-y with this post:
Phantom Miro M320S High-Speed Digital Camera Speed Test Breakdown
One of the things about shooting high-speed is you need lots of light and not just any kind of light. You need either LED Lights or Large Bulb lights so the element doesn't flicker between alternating currents. We ended up lighting the set with two 5K lights in the back corners and two 2K lights in the front corners. This way, we created enough light to have Gallagher either smash facing us or from the side. We set everything up and still could only get a 2.8 on lens, so our DP made the call and brought in two 10k's to add to the package. We switched the 10k's with the 5k's and moved the 5k's around to the front with the 2k's. That got us up to a 5.6, which was the minimum we wanted to get up to in order to get the particles in focus as they were flying at the camera. Renting large format lights like that requires a generator or a studio that is production ready. A good gaffer is key here.
Out Of The Box
We're not Phantom techs, so a lot of problems may or may not have easy solutions. Regardless, we liked the Miro. From receiving it, to the actual shoot the next morning Matt, our DP, had nearly the whole camera figured out. He really likes reading manuals, so if that's not your cup of tea, find a nerd to do it for you. It helps.
PL mount is the lens system we chose, but it is also Available in PL F-,C-,PL- or EOS. PL EOS mounts allow the use of Canon EF and EF-S automated lenses. That's pretty much all the lens mount options you need, so not much to say here, except great job by Vision Research team making all options available.
The package we rented from AbelCine had two ways to power the Miro: using the on-board battery (which lasted for approximately 2 hours, impressive) or an AC adapter using house power. I'm sure there are endless options to power it, but this is the system that comes with the base package. We ended up using house power most of the time due to the fact that we were in a studio. I recommend if you're on location, get more than 3 batteries, or get another system where you can use Anton Bauer bricks or something similar.
Abelcine Control Unit or PC Tether PCC Software
Since the camera itself has no controls on it, you either have to use the system Abel rents or the PC Tether with the Phantom PCC software. Abel does not rent the Phantom RCU unit, which I think would make the camera much more user friendly. We ended up shooting tethered, which was easier for saving clips and reviewing, but made the camera less mobile. Additionally, the software is PC based making it nearly impossible for a mac user. I honestly felt like Zoolander in the scene where they're just banging on the computer making monkey sounds. All in all, it wasn't too bad of a system. You can basically set all the camera options in the software, like FPS and trigger options. I would like them to make the shutter a little more film like, as it's an internal capping shutter that doesn't read as an angle or even a time frame like a still camera. I'm still trying to figure out how to compare it to shutter angle weeks after the shoot. This would have been nice to mess around with more if I had more time. We also had some motion blur problems with the particles flying throughout the air.
This camera, for the money, has more options in HD than anything out there. Its Max HD is 1920x1080@1540fps, and the camera tops out at 8490@ 640x480. Anything over 1000fps is getting really slow. If you're trying to film a bullet, this is not the camera for you. However, if you're filming action sports or music video-type work, this camera is perfect! We started the day at 300fps, jumped up to 700fps, lived in the 1000Fps area for awhile, then messed around with 1500fps, 3200fps, and up to 7200fps@768x480. Setting your frame rate with the Phantom PCC software is very easy, but setting it with the on-board control unit was a bit more time consuming.
Triggering and Saving the Clips
Using the PCC software triggering is simple; you can actually see how the the clip record time is when you set the FPS, then set your trigger accordingly. A lot of times, I would set the trigger in the middle because we were filming a swinging hammer and then an explosion. I would hit the trigger when the hammer would hit the table. So, the clip would have pre-roll and post-roll. Keep in mind, that's just me. I also liked the trigger at the end of the clip, that way when the shot is done, you hit it and you know you got the end. Again, with the PCC software (even on a PC), this was the most simple and effective way to do it. Saving the clip is also very simple with the PCC software, you just set an in-point and out-point and select where you want to save the clip. You can either save to the cinemag or to an HD, whichever you prefer.
This camera comes equipped with HDSDI, which is a must, and an ethernet tether connection to the PC, which can work at the same time. This is a nice option because the person running the PC can sit off set a bit and not be crowded by people wanting to look at the monitor. In our case, I actually encourage being crowded so I feel important, and can demand people get me chips to eat as Gallagher points out in the behind-the-scenes footage.
Post on this was kind of weird again because you have to use a PC and we edit on Mac using Premiere. I ended up having to keep the rental PC with software a few extra days after the shoot in order to get the footage transferred. I tried using Parallels and downloading the Phantom software for my Mac, but it was problematic and not worth the hassle. I ended up simply formatting an HD to fat32, transcoding the clips to uncompressed Qtime, and then transferring them over to the Mac that way. Each clip was in the 20-30 GB range, so make sure you have huge storage capabilities.
For what the Miro is, in its field, against its competitors, it is by far and away the best small form factor high speed camera on the market. That said, this is by no means a "portable" camera, meaning you wouldn't walk around with it and capture footage like you would with a 5D or another prosumer handheld. Having the ability to shoot full HD is amazing, and as you can see from the footage, it really captures some great images, given the right lighting circumstances. There is still some work to be done in the way of saving files and getting them to an editable format. There are also some very cumbersome ways of working with the camera on set, but all in all, it was a good experience. When faced with the choice of buying one of these or renting, for our company, it doesn't make sense to purchase the camera in its current state. If the price point was a little lower, and it became more of a field camera, I would jump on it in a second. But, as it stands, a $60k purchase, for something so niche, just doesn't make sense for us unless we plan on making it a major part of our service list.