Your flash is too slow
High speed photography relies on a fast flash. Just like shutter speed with action photography, it's the duration of the flash that is important when capturing bullets and explosions. A typical speedlight has a duration of around 1/20,000 second (50 microseconds) on its fastest setting. This may sound fast, but a bullet will travel over 5cm or two inches in that time and will be so blurred it's almost invisible. Studio flashes are even slower. For pin-sharp shots you need a much faster flash, and the Vela One is 100 times faster. With a flash speed starting at 1/2,000,000 second, or 500 nanoseconds, the Vela One will stop a supersonic, high velocity rifle bullet in its tracks.
High speed photography today
We've all seen the beautiful high speed shots of bullets passing through playing cards and apples. If you want to take these sort of photos today, you will either need a high speed camera costing tens of thousands of dollars, or a dangerous and expensive air gap flash. These use a high voltage spark to generate the short, bright flash needed. As they run at over 25,000 volts and need regular and dangerous electrode replacement, it's not surprising you can't buy them commercially. If you want one you either need to buy a vintage one for thousands of dollars, or you must build one yourself. Many super talented people have done this, but it's not an option for most of us. We wanted to solve this.
The Vela solution: a million lumens
To solve the problem we turned to LEDs. Until now this has been impossible, as high speed flashes need to be ridiculously bright in order to get enough light onto your sensor in such a short period. We worked out we'd need to aim for up to one million lumens. If we used regular ultra-bright (500lm) LEDs we would need around 2000 to achieve this. This is obviously far too expensive and impractical. Instead we turned to the latest "chip-on-board" LEDs. These are designed for for applications such as exterior lighting of large buildings. Even at ten times the brightness of the regular LEDs we'd need 200 of them, which is still far too expensive and impractical. This is where we had to get clever. After months of experimenting with different circuits and LEDs, we have built a circuit that drives nine LEDs up to 20 times brighter than rated, without damaging them or overheating, pumping out up to one million lumens.
About the Vela One
The Vela One packs a million lumens into one compact and sturdy box. Encased in laser cut, powder-coated aluminium with a rugged polycarbonate front panel, it can stand up to all the shrapnel you can throw at it. Don't worry about bulky AC power supplies: the Vela One runs off the same four AA batteries as your speedlight.
The main chassis is laser cut, powder-coated aluminium, with an ABS rear moulding. The luminaire (lighting assembly) is protected by a tough, replaceable polycarbonate panel. This laughs in the face of most flying debris.
On all four sides there are standard 1/4-20 tripod mounts. As well as tripod mounts, they allow you to mount the Vela One in a yoke (available separately) or bolt several together Jumbotron-style.
For power it takes four AA alkaline or NiMH batteries. One set is good for hundreds of shots, and will easily last all day.
For more details on the power, including GN values see this backer update.
We've hit our stretch goal!
- ✔️£40,000: AC power input. The batteries last for ages, but once this goal is unlocked you can go on forever. We'll add a micro USB socket to power the flash from a regular phone charger.
Using Vela One
To trigger the flash you need some kind of external trigger. We support most camera triggers, including Camera Axe, Triggertrap Ada, Triggertrap TTv1, as well as all kinds of DIY trigger. These can be as simple as my $2 laser trigger, or more complex Arduino-based systems. For input it has standard 2.5mm and 3.5mm audio sockets, which are standard across all triggers. You can also connect several Vela One flashes together for even more power and flexibility, or link up a regular flash for fill lighting. See the portrait below for an example of that, which used Vela to light the gun and bullet, with a synchronised speedlight to light Matt.
About Vela Labs
Vela Labs is me, Matt Kane. Until earlier this year I was CTO of Triggertrap, where I spent nearly three years developing and launching loads of great photography products. Vela Labs is based in the awesome city of Bristol, England. I have worked with several talented electronics and optical engineers on the development of the Vela One, many of whom have experience working on Kickstarter projects. The gorgeous industrial design is by James Lamb from Lamb Industries. James brings over 20 years industrial design experience to the project, having been one of the first designers at Dyson and is now Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor in Innovation at Brunel University in London. I first worked with him when he designed Triggertrap Ada.
Give the gift of Vela!
It hasn't escaped our attention that this is the season of gift-giving. As a special festive bonus, you can back the project in someone else's name and we'll send you a tasteful, printable e-card to give to them, featuring wanton destruction of a Christmas bauble. We'll send these out as soon as the project ends.
Our current status is that we have a prototype which has the final circuit which we will be using in the production model. The firmware is complete, save for a couple of outstanding bugfixes. We need to make a small number of changes to the PCB design (e.g. legs on the pot the wrong way around. Oops). The enclosure prototype is almost the same externally as the production version, but needs a few DFM (design for manufacture) changes inside. We're also likely to change from a magnetic to a screw-down battery cover. We kick back into gear after the Christmas break and should have those changes complete in a week or two. We will book in for EMC testing for CE and FCC marking in early January, and any extra changes will add around a week to the revision timetable.
After the final designs are approved in early February we send the samples to the factories in China and the UK and press the button on production. Lead time on these are between three and six weeks. That takes us to mid March. Add in a generous month for final testing, packaging and shipping to warehouses and we're in mid April. I've then added in another month to the estimate because hardware is hard!
If you have any questions, please do ask. We're very friendly!
Back Vela One today and be part of a revolution in high-speed photography.
Risks and challenges
There is truth in the mantra: hardware is hard. However, experience helps. I (Matt) have nearly three years experience as CTO of Triggertrap developing and launching photography hardware, including two successful Kickstarter projects. This means I am aware of the things that can go wrong, and the steps that must be taken to mitigate this. The first and most important one is that the Vela One is already at a late stage of development. After EMC certification it is ready to go to manufacture. This removes a lot of the risk involved in projects launched at earlier stages. There do however remain some potential risks:
• Manufacturing problems and quality control. These are always a risk with manufacturing. We have in place a full testing and QC program to help prevent any upsets. I am experienced in sourcing, and have relationships with manufacturers and have inspected factories in China and Europe.
• Component availability. This product depends on some very specific parts, particularly the LEDs and capacitors. We have multiple suppliers identified with confirmed stock, as well as alternative parts identified.
• Order fulfilment. This is the thing most new project creators forget. Making the product is only part of the journey: you still need to get it into the hands of your backers. I am using very experienced fulfilment partners, who I have a working relationship with going back several years. They have worked with some of the biggest crowd funded projects ever (including a certain watch you may recognise in the video) and are experts in getting rewards to backers with the minimum of fuss.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (23 days)