Bullettime Seven Camera Rig

In the summer of 2016 I experimented with creating bullettime animated GIFs using multiple cameras. I wanted to animate a moment, frozen in time, from several angles.

You might be familiar with the “bullettime” technique made famous by the original Matrix movie.

Animated GIFs

For years I’ve been incorporating animated GIFs in my wedding, engagement and portrait work. My clients love the gifs. I create these animations from bursts of still shots from a single camera. Other photographers are making cinemagraphs from video clips. I personally prefer the stop-motion look of a group of stills.

The Cameras

Several years went by while I continued thinking of this project. In that time I considered many different cameras. Originally I was going to use Canon 1Dmk IIn bodies because I still owned three of them and they weren’t being used. With the portability of this setup a factor I talked myself out of that big/heavy option. I considered Canon’s digital Rebels with their kit lens but thought a prime-fixed-lens setup might be better to eliminate possible variances in focal length. The release of Fujifilm’s tiny X70 mirrorless aps-c camera made me finally pull the trigger.

The Rig

Built to be as small as possible while holding seven Fujifilm X70’s the rig still needed to fit in the back of my car. The backbone of the rig is just a wooden board, painted black, with L-Shape flash brackets bolted to it. 7 L-Shape flash brackets pointing up with quick release plates for the cameras and two brackets pointing down for connecting to a pair of sturdy 055 tripods finish out the design.

bullettime multi camera rig

Triggering

I tried two different triggering methods. The first was JJC JM-N(II) radio frequency wireless shutter remote controls. My later setup involved tearing apart and wiring together seven corded camera releases. Both methods worked and both failed…. More on that later.

Results

Self Portrait

My Kids

Hat
bullettime multi camera rig animated gif

Clients
bullettime multi camera rig animated gif
bullettime multi camera rig animated gif
bullettime multi camera rig animated gif
bullettime multi camera rig animated gif

Bullettime Head Shot for noted technology educator Michael Medvinsky
bullettime headshot multi camera rig animated gif

Long Exposure Bullettime
bullettime long exposure multi camera rig animated gif

No RIG: I placed the cameras on tiny tripods in a large circle around the subjects.
bullettime multi camera animated gif

Progressive focus across all seven cameras.
bullettime multi camera rig animated gif

Problems

Some of the GIFs contain unwanted subject movement which ruins the “Bullet Time” effect. I made sure all seven cameras were set to ALL the same settings, tried different shutter speeds. I tried different methods of turning the cameras on and made sure all cameras were in manual focus mode too. Nothing I tried could overcome the slight variances in when each camera would fire. Often 4-5 of the seven were on time and 2-3 were ahead or behind the rest. It wasn’t the same cameras out of sync in every shot either. Switching from RF to wired triggering didn’t help.

In addition another problem was just how long it took to set this up, focus seven cameras, and get the settings right on each body. At a wedding, time for creative shots with the couple is often limited.

Final Thoughts

It seems like the design of the X70 camera itself might be the cause of the timing errors. Therefore it’s possible that some other camera might be better suited. I’ve since sold all the X70’s. I had a ton of fun with this project and I’m glad I went after it even though it didn’t quite work as I had hoped. I still love animated GIFs and will continue to experiment with new ways to make them.

If you are really into photography and would like to know more about the other cameras I use: Fujifilm X-Series mirrorless cameras