A prototype is a preliminary model of something. Projects that offer physical products need to show backers documentation of a working prototype. This gallery features photos, videos, and other visual documentation that will give backers a sense of what’s been accomplished so far and what’s left to do. Though the development process can vary for each project, these are the stages we typically see:
Proof of Concept
Explorations that test ideas and functionality.
Demonstrates the functionality of the final product, but looks different.
Looks like the final product, but is not functional.
Appearance and function match the final product, but is made with different manufacturing methods.
Appearance, function, and manufacturing methods match the final product.
The Camera Axe 6 helps you take dynamic and creative photos. It is the next generation sentient photography triggering system. It triggers cameras and flashes with microsecond precision based on input from external sensors and supports a range of high-speed photography scenarios. Alternatively, the intervalometer capability can capture a time-lapse sequence over a period of hours. The flexible design allows the use of multiple sensors to generate a trigger signal. The system has a massive extensibility through a well-engineered sensor/actuator module interface and will be expanded even more through software updates.
The photographer’s interface with Camera Axe 6 is sophisticated but simple. You’ve probably noticed there is no screen on the Camera Axe 6. Instead the Camera Axe 6 uses wireless communications to connect to your smartphone as a website accessed through a web browser. You simply open the Camera Axe 6 webpage and start inputting the settings. For example, you could input that you want your camera to trigger with a slight delay when a loud noise is made.
Modules are the ears, eyes, and arms of the Camera Axe 6. To date, there are seven different modules that have been developed to solve almost any high-speed photography problem. Some of them are sensory, while others control the environment. To illustrate, if you need to detect a balloon popping, plug in the sound module, or if you need to detect lightning, plug in the light module.
The Camera Axe 6 interacts with the surrounding environment through a variety of modules. The four module ports on the Camera Axe 6 can accept sensor modules that are able to detect something in the physical world such as a speeding bullet. Alternatively, a module can be an actuator to control external devices. An actuator module controlling water droplets is likely to be one of the most popular modules for the Camera Axe 6.
Each module port connects through a RJ45 jack. Because this is the same type of jack as Ethernet uses, cables are available in a variety of lengths and compositions. Each module port supplies 3.3VDC and ground to any attached module. The remaining six wires in the cable provide an analog input pin and five more digital pins that provide slightly different functionality depending on which of the four ports is being used. This provides maximum flexibility for the diverse types of hardware with which it can interface. The different module ports support I2C, Serial, SPI, or more analog pins.
Below is a list of the different modules.
The Beam Module has an emitter and detector. To take the picture above the emitter and detector were just placed about three feet apart. When the bird flew between them a photo was taken. Here's a video with detailed information about the Beam Module.
The Light Module is the expert sensor at detecting lightning. The picture above shows how even when there is ambient light it can still capture the shots you want. The Light Module also comes with a laser pointer, so it can be used to create laser triggers. Here's an informational video about the Light Module.
The Projectile Module is used for photographing moving objects like bullets in flight. It records the speed of a bullet and then controls a camera shutter or flash to let you position the bullet exactly where you want in the photograph. For example, maybe you want to capture a bullet after it passes through a golden Christmas globe filled with yellow gelatin like in the photo above! Here's a video describing the Projectile Module.
The Sound Module detects noise such as the "pop" from the yellow balloon above. We just set the Sound Module a few feet away from the balloon and the Camera Axe 6 took care of the rest. It is also great for explosions and the crunch of a hammer on an egg. Here's a video detailing the Sound Module.
The Valve Module lets you photograph liquid droplets by controlling a solenoid to create water droplets at just the right time and size so sculptural looking collisions happen. An automatic mode helps you handle the initial timing. Here's a video describing the Valve Module.
The Vibration Module detects small vibrations. It can be placed on a table to detect taps on the table, which effectively turns the whole table into a giant trigger button. Another use case is detecting when a watermelon hits the wall. Here's a video for more information about the Vibration Module.
The Dev Module is short for "Development Module". It incorporates a button that can cause a trigger and exposes all the signal pins to make it easier for people to design their own modules using different sensors and circuitry. Here's a video detailing the Dev Module.
There are many definitions for high-speed photography, but for the Camera Axe 6 it generally means events that are too fast for human reflexes.
Incredibly fast events like photographing a bullet in flight are cases where you don't actually use the camera shutter to take a photo since cameras have too much shutter lag. Shutter lag is the duration of time from when the shutter is triggered to when the shutter is opened so the image can be captured. Flash lag is around a thousand times smaller than shutter lag, so you will use flashes for these types of high speed events. When you want to capture something too fast for the shutter, you must open your shutter for a long duration of time and use a flash to capture the action in a dark room. The Camera Axe 6 can do all of this for you! It begins by triggering the camera shutter and then separately triggering a flash at just the right time. With the right Dev Module circuity, the Camera Axe 6 could even turn off the room lights for you.
Other events that aren't that fast can trigger the camera directly. Examples of these might be photographing birds in flight or people crossing a finish line in a race. In many of these cases a human could anticipate the photo and take the picture themselves; however, having the Camera Axe 6 means you can automate these types of photos so you don't need to sit there for hours waiting to get the shot.
Here is a slide deck I made about high-speed photography that explains these concepts in more depth.
Camera Axe 6 Latency
Typical human reflexes are around 150-250 milliseconds. In some testing I found the Camera Axe 6 responds in about 3 microseconds. That is more than 50,000 times faster than a typical human reflex.
Another way to think about speed is how far the objects you are photographing move while the Camera Axe 6 is being triggered. One of the fastest things I photograph are shooting bullets that are traveling around the speed of sound. In the 3 microseconds of lag from the Camera Axe 6 a bullet will travel 0.04 inches (1 mm).
Shutter lag on cameras are around 70 milliseconds and even flash delays are in the 50 microsecond range. The delay from the Camera Axe 6 is very small compared to those latencies.
Add all this up and it's clear the Camera Axe 6 is incredibly fast.
Connecting to the Camera Axe 6
Connecting to the Camera Axe 6 is incredibly easy. It runs a web server so you just go to the web page for your Camera Axe 6 and you can start inputting your settings. Using the browser on your phone or laptop means you can change settings from across the room without disturbing your carefully setup scene. For instance, you might change the delays to your camera/flash, the module settings to control factors like how loud of a noise causes a trigger event, or intervalometer settings.
The Camera Axe 6 can operate in direct mode where it runs its own Wi-Fi network and your phone or laptop connects directly to it. This mode is nice if you aren't at a location where you have a Wi-Fi router like the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The other option is you can connect your Camera Axe 6 to your local Wi-Fi router and then any device on that Wi-Fi network can access the Camera Axe 6. This connection guide explains all the details on how to connect the Camera Axe 6.
A recommended camera for the Camera Axe 6 is one that will allow full manual control of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. It will also be in this list of cameras that are supported. If a camera you have isn't on the list and it does have a dedicated shutter release cable feel free to contact me to see if it can be adapted and added to the list. If your camera isn't supported, you can still use your camera in manual mode with a long exposure in a dark room. In this case the Camera Axe 6 will just be used to trigger a flash.
An ideal flash for the Camera Axe 6 is one that supports manual power levels and short duration (1/30,000th of a second). Many studio flashes aren't the best fit because they have longer flash durations in an attempt to get better light quality. The Canon and Nikon flashes with manual controls are very good but expensive. I recommend the Yongnuo 460 flashes because they are low cost and have worked perfectly with the Camera Axe 6. The Camera Axe 6 ships with either hotshoe flash cables or PC-Sync flash cables. Some flashes might use a 3.5mm jack which can be bought very inexpensively online (3.5mm male/male stereo cable).
Camera Axe 6 Hardware
The Camera Axe 6 is optimized for high-speed photography, so you never have to miss a
moment. You can be sure that Camera Axe 6 triggers super-fast every time. In fact, there’s a dedicated
processor ensuring that you get perfectly reproducible results.
The Camera Axe 6 has two main processing units. One is the ARM based ATSAM3X, which is the one that handles the critical timing of reading the module ports and then triggering the camera ports. The other processor is the ESP8266, which handles processing the incoming and outgoing Wi-Fi signals.
The external ports on the Camera Axe 6 are shown in the following image.
The Camera Axe 6 is powered either by the USB port or with 4 AA batteries, which will last about 12 hours. If you want longer life use a USB power bank. The Camera Axe 6 uses about 220 mA so if you get an economical 22,000 mAh battery pack which should last around 100 hours.
The Camera Axe 6 case and all the module cases will have 1/4"-20 threaded mounting holes so they can be attached to tripods or other standard photography brackets.
There is a detailed Camera Axe 6 Design Guide that goes into hardware and software in much more detail if you are interested.
Camera Axe 6 Software
All the code is currently in a private GitHub repository and it will be made public after shipping the Camera Axe 6 to backers. People who back the "Beta Program" reward level will get earlier access to this code. There is already a detailed guide written for how to update your firmware that gives more detail on all this, and I made a video about how to add a new menu here.
There are three major pieces of software for the Camera Axe 6.
First there is the low-level code that runs on the ATSAM3X. It can be extended in the Arduino IDE (this is a free and easy to use coding platform). This is the code that watches the module ports and then triggers the camera ports with very strict timing requirements.
Second there is code that run on the ESP8266. This layer mostly just passes information from the Wi-Fi network to the ATSAM3X. This code can also be extended through the Arduino IDE.
You will notice there are a lot of technical details about this project on this page. I am committed to making the Camera Axe 6 easy to use for beginners, but I do strongly believe providing the technical details for this type of product is important so that photographers who want to can grow their knowledge and become power users.
Dan Lenardon contributed all the lightning photos. He used a Camera Axe 5, the predecessor to the 6, with an early prototype Light Module.
I took all the rest of the photos and video. All the high-speed photos were taken with prototype Camera Axe 6s. Except for two photos of bullets going through water droplets which were shown as old coverage from YouTube and were captured using a Camera Axe 5.
The two songs in the video are Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart and Rabid by Ethan Meixsell. Both have free to use licensing terms.
The British voice in the video was done by from a voice actor. Oddly the service I used doesn't give his name or a way to contact him so I can't provide those details here. I do have rights to use the recordings he did for me. Here is his Voiver page.
Risks and challenges
I'm far along in the design. The version of the Camera Axe 6 I used to take the photos used on this page is fully functional and already much better than any other trigger I've used. That said, there are still some known software bugs I need to fix. However, I'm confident I can fix the issues I currently know about so these are minimal risk.
The current plan for manufacturing is the PCB boards will be assembled by a factory in China that I've used before and does high quality work. The main case for the Camera Axe 6 and for many of the modules will be injection molded. I'm currently using 3d printed cases and will need to get a mold made once I finalize the case design. Some of the modules will use laser cut plastic pieces for their cases.
I am leaving some extra time in the schedule to allow some minor changes based on input from Kickstarter backers. Depending on what ideas come from the community there is some risk that the final product could be delayed as I make it better. I will know more after I hear what innovative ideas you have.
There are always risks with manufacturing hardware. One type of risk is that if there are many more backers than I anticipate then I might need to adjust the manufacturing methods I plan to use. Another risk is there could be some delays in getting components needed to make the Camera Axe 6. If either of these becomes a problem I would certainly let you know as soon as possible.
I have done three Kickstarter projects, and all have been delivered either ahead of schedule or on time. I am very proud of that record and have a lot of experience planning for small to medium size manufacturing. I will do my very best to deliver this project on time and will always be open in my communications to backers.
This includes an early prototype of the Camera Axe 6 that ships much sooner. You'll then be able to test that version and provide feedback which may impact the final version. You'll also be granted early access to the source code.
Also you will be among the first to receive the final "Everything Kit" when it's completed.
If you have a special request like hands on training from Maurice or a new module this reward is for you. You must contact Maurice before selecting this reward so you both can agree on the specifics of this option.