Smartphones VS DSLRs for bullet-time photography

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Smartphones are getting better than ever and we are now using those on some of our bullet-time events. However, it still comes with a lot of limitations. Here’s a list of the advantages and disadvantages of going with Android smartphones instead of DSLR cameras.

Smartphones

Pros

  • Higher density (when shooting vertical)

  • Light-weight, easy to carry around, ship and install

  • Less electronic components needed: one single usb cable for data & power plus one usb-hub

  • Possibility to synchronize Zoom and focus

  • Easier to pre-calibrate thanks to the larger screen

  • Visual and audio indications

  • Countdown feature

  • Faster to get the right settings as you can see the exposure right from the live view

  • Can be configured 100% programmatically without the need to change settings manually from the devices

Cons

  • Harder to calibrate digitally (we’re currently having issues with super tall images)

  • Harder to synchronize the shutter across devices (so far we’ve been able to freeze the subject only under highly-controlled environment)

  • Nearly impossible to predict which model/brands are going to perform better. Each has its own standards and we’ve notice major differences while switching back and forth with various models

DSLRs

Pros

  • Much more reliable with triggering

  • Bigger sensor, higher quality in low light

  • Interchangeable lenses

  • Solid solution that has been proven right for over 8 years

Cons

  • Bulky and heavy

  • Harder to power up (requires somewhat harder-to -get power adapters)

  • Harder to focus

Additional notes

When considering the price between one of the other, take note that a top high-end Android phone is going to cost much more than an entry level DSLR. However, I can say without a doubt today that the most affordable way to build a bullet-time rig as of today is by using cheap/reliable Android phones, starting (and fully tested) at 153$ / unit on Amazon. This is hard to beat ;)

Conclusion

I’m writing this post in May 2019 and our journey with smartphones is quite young. I’m adding a reminder to myself in one year to come back to this and talk about the experience we will have gain during that year ;)

We’ve been doing bullet-time with DSLRs since 2011 and we know clearly that they are a better option. But that didn’t prevent me from using my smartphone rig for a gig recently for the simple reason that it was so much more light weight. There is a clear future for these installations, but time will tell where this is going.

Eric Pare