Capturing Light Itself: Photography at 1,000,000,000,000 FPS

Light moves fast — like really fast. 299,792,458 meters per second in a vacuum, to be exact. Capturing it might seem like a pipe dream, but one MIT professor has done it by doing something remarkable: creating a camera that shoots at 1 trillion frames per second.

You thought your 1D X Mark II or D5 was fast? You ain't seen nothing yet. Ramesh Raskar has created an incredible camera and technique he calls "Femto Photography," in which a laser fires pulses that last less than a trillionth of a second every 13 nanoseconds. Each pulse lights the scene, and through catching many narrow horizontal exposures and some mathematical reconstruction, a 2D movie of about 480 frames is created, each frame having an exposure of less than 2 picoseconds (trillionths of a second). Even light itself only travels 0.6mm in that time.

The result is something remarkable: you can watch a pulse of light as it moves. It's so fast that something bizarre sometimes happens: it appears that events happen in reverse order. This is because the camera sees events so quickly that the varying distances the light must travel from different spots in the frame to the sensor is no longer negligible, requiring corrections to be made in the final image. It turns out that this technique has some very interesting possibilities, including anything from seeing around corners to less invasive medical imaging. Check out the video above to see the results.

[via MIT]

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9 Comments

So this is fast stop motion photography. Basically.

Alex Cooke's picture

No, stop motion video involves moving the subjects themselves between frames to create the illusion of motion.

Terry Hernlund's picture

But this isn't video of a single event. It's individual images of separate laser firings put together to create a video of a single laser firing.

Alex Cooke's picture

It's more akin to a scanning back or loosely to compositing, but there's no connection to stop motion. Stop motion involves a method of creating motion through manipulation of what is captured, this method is concerned with how it's captured; there is no subject manipulation.

Terry Hernlund's picture

Yeah I get it. I'm just pointing out that it's not a video on a single event. And as you point out it's not technically stop motion. The truth is someplace in the middle.

I think the OP understood what he was saying. He just phrased it poorly.

Bert McLendon's picture

Patrick Hall already wrote an article about this back in December 2011. Man I've been on Fstoppers for waaay too long to even remember this. =)

Travis Zielinski's picture

I am pretty sure this was written about several years ago.

Todd Vorenkamp's picture

Quick! We need a plastic bottle, stat! The light isn't going to wait for anything! Someone run to the vending machine!

Justin Myers's picture

Whats with the old already fstoppers posted video? Someone forgot to reasearch their own website lol.