Live From the U.S. Open: Fox Sports, Inertia Unlimited Shoot at 62,000 FPS

Coverage of the U.S. Open for Fox Sports featured not only an Inertia Unlimited-supplied camera that captured the ball being blasted off a tee at 62,000 frames per second but also, and more important, an automated workflow that made the clip immediately available for airing.

Jeff Silverman figured out a way to automate the recording of golf tee shots at 62,000 frames per second.

Jeff Silverman figured out a way to automate the recording of golf tee shots at 62,000 frames per second.

According to Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman, the Vision Research V2511 camera could shoot at an even higher frame rate, but more frames means compromised resolution.

“We could go to a million frames if we wanted to,” he says,“but we want to have near-HD resolution.” To acquire full 720p HD images, the frame rate would max out at 28,500 fps.

“The decision is finding the rate where the benefit from extra frames outweighs the loss in resolution,” explains Silverman.

The secret at the U.S. Open is that the sound of the club striking the ball automatically triggers the camera to create the clip.

“That was a critical factor: if a human operator triggering the camera was off by a second, the replay would be 17 minutes in length, and, even if they were only off by 0.1 of a second, you would wait a minute and a half to see the replay,” says Silverman. “So we wanted the replay recorded to be 1/60th of a second long, the equivalent of one frame on a normal camera which expands to 16 seconds in slow motion, so there were no extra frames at the beginning or end and the production team would have it at their disposal instantly.”

Playing back a tee shot at 62,000 frames makes the ball look like a water balloon as it is compressed and changes shape.

Playing back a tee shot at 62,000 fps makes the ball look like a water balloon as it is compressed and changes shape.

Accomplishing that involved the use of a Sennheiser M66 microphone whose voltage is amplified to the point where a relay is triggered.

The conditions at the course were ideal for the system, with ample sunshine. Attempting to shoot, say, a baseball game at night would be difficult, and Silverman says that 3,000 fps is great for baseball.

Inertia Unlimited was on hand with a total of 15 cameras, including three RF X-Mos, two 4K X0Mos (one on the eight tee and the other in a hard configuration with a new Canon 4K box lens). Also provided were baby robotic cameras and drop-down robotic cameras, Talon Mini camera mounts with Sony HDC-P1 cameras, and smaller robotic units from Bradley Engineering.