Last Updated on May 9, 2023 by Photography PX
Found yourself asking how did they film that crisp slow-motion effect in that one video? Well, good news, you can create that same effect quite easily.
Slow-motion enables you to capture delicate aspects of the emotions or movements within a scene, details we often overlook. And of the interesting videography tricks available, there are few as iconic. Not only does it make a moment look epic, dramatic, and builds suspense. But it also creates a unique mood that regular speed can’t match. Plus, it transforms once simple events into something spectacular and beyond our everyday reality. As such, it’s a powerful tool to the videographer’s arsenal and one guaranteed to add impact to your video.
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It used to be slow-motion was the preserve of professionals who could afford the industry’s best offerings. Say, a camera with 10,000 FPS. But, thankfully, these days, there’s plenty of budget-friendly options that don’t cost as much as a typical four-bedroom house. So that’s excellent news. And you can find plenty of powerful cameras, so long as you know what to consider and where to look. And even smaller point-and-shoot cameras have evolved to the next level. Now, many of them even shoot 120 FPS in full HD resolution. And the latest flagship, 4K at 120 FPS, outdoing many professional cinema cameras from a few years prior.
However, there are many slow-motion cameras on the market right now. And not all slow-motion cameras are made equally, and the features each offers do vary. As such, we’ve created a detailed guide outlining some of the considerations to think about when shopping around. And we’ve also compiled a list of the best slow motion cameras on the present market.
5 – Panasonic S5
Released in 2020, the S5 is Panasonic’s latest full-frame mirrorless camera. It has a 24.2MP CMOS sensor, and it shoots 1080p FHD 180 FPS and 4K UHD 60 FPS video. It also features wireless connectivity, log profiles, zebras, 5-axis stabilization, weather sealing, time-lapse, dual card slots, microphone and headphone jacks, and a 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen.
The S5 uses a 225-point contrast AF system with Panasonic’s DFD technology. And it also offers Face, Eye, and Body detection with support to -6EV. But, crucially, the S5 is one of few cameras with 10-bit 4:2:2 video bundled into the H.265 HEVC format, providing an exciting balance between file size and processing flexibility. And it’s even one of less so to also record with unlimited recording time.
Overall, the S5 marks Panasonic’s best hybrid to date. And while it’s technically an “entry-level” model in the LUMIX S lineup, it builds heavily on the successful S1H and classic GH5. But, now with a far more attractive price tag.
4 – Fujifilm X-T4
Released in 2020, the X-T4 is Fujifilm’s latest high-end release to flush out the single-digit X-T line. It has a 26.1MP X-Trans CMOS sensor, and it shoots 1080p FHD 240 FPS and DCI 4K 60 FPS video. It also features wireless connectivity, 5-axis stabilization, weather sealing, a tally lamp, dual card slots, HDR, time-lapse, zebras, log profiles, a microphone input, and a 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen.
The X-T4 uses a 425-point phase-detect AF system, which currently holds the fastest acquisition time in the APS-C segment at 0.02 seconds. But, this camera also focuses down to -6EV to boast. Plus, it debuts the 4th generation sensor and processor configuration, which delivers the best image quality Fuji offers outside of the medium format GFX line. And it marks one of a few cameras offering 240 FPS video, along with the new H.265 compression and 10-bit internal recording.
Overall, the X-T4 holds the reign as the top APS-C camera money can buy and Fuji’s best release to date. It makes enormous leaps and bounds in the X-T line and sets a new benchmark for the entire industry.
3 – Panasonic GH5
Released in 2017, the GH5 is Panasonic’s flagship Micro-Four-Thirds video camera. It has a 20.3MP MOS sensor without an aliasing filter, and it shoots 1080p FHD 180 FPS and 4K UHD 60 FPS video. It also features wireless connectivity, dual card slots, time-lapse, weather sealing, zebras, HDR, a full-sized HDMI, image stabilization, headphone and microphone jacks, and a 3.2-inch fully articulating touchscreen.
The GH5 uses the first-generation version of the 225-point contrast AF system found in the newer S5. But, it brings a motion detection algorithm that produces the best focusing of all their micro-four-thirds sized cameras. And unlike rivals, it’s one of the few in its class offering 10-bit 4:2:2 color internally with broadcast-quality data rates of 400 Mb/s in 4K. Plus, it does so with unlimited recording time to boast.
Overall, the GH5 leapfrogs the acclaimed GH4 and continues the groundbreaking traditions of this line. But, it also sets a new standard for the class, with tactful innovation that rivals professional-grade broadcast cameras.
2 – Sony ZV-1
Released in 2020, the ZV-1 departs a new lineup in the long-standing CyberShot series. It has a 1-inch 20.1-megapixel CMOS sensor, 1080p FHD 120 FPS, and 4K 30 FPS video. It also features wireless connectivity, log profiles, USB charging, a tally lamp, optical stabilization, time-lapse, neutral density filters, vertical video, a microphone input, and a 3.0-inch fully articulating touchscreen.
The ZV-1 uses a 425-point hybrid AF system with real-time AF, a machine learning algorithm for subject recognition. And this combination boasts a class-leading focus acquisition speed of 0.03 seconds. It also debuts the new product showcase mode to smoothly transition from subject tracking to products or inanimate objects. As such, it’s a great tool to capture both a subject in the frame and highlight a vital object too. But, crucially, it obtains the Slow & Quick Mode from the RX100 lineup, which shoots up to 960 FPS rendered in the camera, for unrivaled slow-motion.
Overall, the ZV-1 sets new standards amongst compact cameras and marks the best option around. It provides essentially perfect autofocus, unlimited video, and a larger-than-average sensor. So, comparatively, it’s quite a slam dunk on Sony’s part given its features and price point.
1 – GoPro Hero 9 Black
Released in 2020, the Hero9 Black ups the standard in the lineup, now with more power and versatility. It has a 23.6MP sensor that supplies 20MP still photos, and it captures 1080p 240 FPS, 4K 60 FPS, and 5K 30 FPS video. It also features live streaming support, time-lapse, HDR, webcam support, stabilization, and built-in Wi-Fi.
The Hero9 sports a new design with a larger rear display and a front display with a live view for convenient framing or to check camera information. But it also debuts the new HindSight Mode, capturing 30 seconds of video before pressing record. This ensures you never miss a critical moment. But even so, with its 5K resolution, you can pull 14.7MP images from videos, too, using the Save Frame feature. Plus, the device still maintains an excellent waterproof rating of 10m without a housing. And it has three built-in lens options to create an interesting perspective.
Overall, the Hero9 sports more features, resolution, and versatility. And it catapults the lineup to an unseen level. But a level that shows action cameras are a formidable force, indeed.
What is a slow motion camera? And how do slow motion cameras work?
Slow-motion cameras are high-speed cameras that film faster than usual. This particular technique is known as over cranking, which creates a slow-motion effect when played at normal speed. And it’s an exciting way to capture the intricate movements of a subject or highlight emotion within a scene. Typically, you shoot twice as fast, then slow down the footage. Doing so halves the perceived motion’s speed, giving the illusion of time moving slowly. Cinematographers use this effect in action films, documentaries, commercials, and even sports regularly. But, these days it’s becoming more mainstream. And it’s the perfect tool to grab the viewer’s attention.
Why get a slow motion camera?
Indeed, an interesting question considering many of today’s latest flagship smartphones already have 120 FPS as standard. But of course, none rival ultra-high-speed cameras like the Phantom v2640, which shoots at 6,600 FPS in 2K resolution. Even so, at over $100,000 for such a camera, it’s unbearably out of reach for most.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be a commercial agency and professional to capture slow-motion video. And you can indeed start with your smartphone. But, getting a dedicated camera will dramatically improve your videos and workflow. These cameras have plenty of video-centric features that will take your footage to a professional level. Namely, you can find features such as log profiles, superior autofocusing, and better dynamic range. And combined, you’ll have superior flexibility to work the footage in video editing software without it costing the small fortune of a professional slow-motion camera.
Types of slow motion cameras
We divide slow-motion cameras into one of two categories, consumer/prosumer, and professional cameras.
Consumers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. But these cameras typically offer 240 FPS recordings at best, with a small subsection offering 120 FPS in 4K. Instead, most models provide 30 FPS in 4K and 120 FPS in 1080p. Professional cameras, however, record at upwards of 10,000 FPS. And many do so in higher resolutions than 1080p. So they’re fiercely powerful. But, these cameras are often priced in the 6-figures. So, it’s unlikely that most creators would find them necessary.
How to choose the best slow-motion camera
Below you’ll find a host of factors to consider while shopping between models. And these are the considerations to keep in mind to help decide which is ultimately best.
But first off, how do you plan on sharing these videos? If you want to share them with others, know most video platforms only support 1080p resolution. So consider checking the desired platform’s requirements beforehand since not all support uploading in 4K. And there’s no need to get a high-end 4K slow-motion camera if you only want to post on, say, Instagram. As such, for most users, a 1080p equipped camera will be the best choice and the most cost-effective too. And it’s also the right choice for casual users looking to experiment. But, if you want to future-proof your camera setup or you’re an aspiring professional, opt for 4K nonetheless. In due time, it will become the true norm and the standard online.
Arguably the most important factor outside of the video capabilities is the camera’s sensor size. The sensor size is what ultimately determines its image quality. This is primarily due to the light collection differences and pixel dimensions between the various sensor sizes. And all things equal, the camera with the largest sensor will consistently outperform that with a smaller one. As such, full-frame cameras, be they DSLR or mirrorless, are the best consumer-grade slow-motion cameras, especially in low light. And they provide the highest image quality, despite having similar capabilities as a point-and-shoot or smartphone.
With that said, if you want professional-level video, consider getting a full-frame slow-motion camera. Otherwise, even a 1-inch sensor point-and-shoot, a smartphone, or bridge camera is sufficient. And you don’t need a large sensor camera to create award-winning videos.
Resolution describes the frame size the camera uses to record video. And generally, most cameras offer slow-motion in 1080p full HD, typically 120 FPS as standard. But, you can find several higher-end models with 4K 60 FPS and even 120 FPS video.
Even so, for most, 1080p remains sufficient. And the only real need to opt for 4K in this regard is if your entire video project will be exported, delivered, and viewed in 4K resolution. Or if your goal is to shoot slow-motion video professionally. Then, surely, 4K would help you produce better quality videos. So, in that case, it’s a must. Otherwise, downscaling to 1080p is usually the final result for most and the standard for most media platforms. So there’s little need for a 4K slow-motion camera. Save the money, and invest in other accessories instead.
The frame rate, notated as frames per second or FPS, describes how fast the camera records video over time. You can find cameras with frame rates from 24-960 FPS, where the higher the number, the slower the resulting footage. Most cameras shoot normal speed video at 24-30 FPS. But stepping up to 60 FPS is where slow-motion occurs, as it provides a 50% reduction in speed. Jumping to 120 FPS quadruples the effect, resulting in 25% reduction or 1/4 speed. In general, 60 FPS is sufficient to create a distinguishable slow-motion effect. But if you want to create super-slow-motion effects that are even more pronounced, 120 to 240 FPS is best. Granted, this factor becomes largely personal preference and depends on the type of action you plan on shooting. In most circumstances, 60 FPS is best for normal movement, while 120 FPS is best for slower sports, and 240 FPS for fast action.
Bit rate describes how much information the camera encodes or writes every second. And, generally, the higher the bit rate, the better the resulting video. So all things being equal, if one camera records at a higher bit rate than another, it will have slightly better video quality too.
We notate a camera’s bit rate in Mb/s, megabits per second, where 100 Mb/s is typically the industry standard. But if you want the utmost best quality for your videos, consider looking for cameras with 200-500 Mb/s. Here, you’ll receive higher-quality footage with less compression. Otherwise, cameras with 100 Mb/s are sufficient, and they strike a happy medium between quality, file size, and flexibility.
You’ll find slow-motion cameras with one of two options, 8-bit or 10-bit, where 8-bit is the most common. Bit Depth describes a video’s color range and the number of colors possible in a single image. And the higher the bit depth, the greater the color gamut and the more nuanced the colors. For this reason, 10-bit captures better shades of colors with more subtle hues than 8-bit. So if color is essential to your videos, consider getting a camera with a 10-bit recording. Here, you’ll capture the most latitude available in a consumer camera and have the most flexibility in post-processing. Otherwise, 8-bit is sufficient and the de facto standard amongst most cameras.
Low Light Performance
In some cases, you’ll want to shoot at higher frame rates than 120 FPS. But to match your shutter speed to create the proper blur, you’ll end up having to increase your shutter speed. The problem is, doing so reduces the incoming ambient light to the camera. As such, you may also find yourself widening the aperture or increasing your ISO. This subsequently results in noisy and grainy-looking videos when shooting indoors or in dimly lit areas. So you’ll also want to research the camera’s low light performance, especially if you’re going to shoot indoors without artificial lighting. If the camera has good ISO performance, you can use it as a crutch in these situations.
You should consider researching if switching between 1080p and 4K incurs a crop. And you should also consider researching if the camera’s higher frame rates decrease the resolution. You can find this information in detailed reviews of the cameras.
But, know, not all cameras record slow-motion video at full resolution. Some do so by cropping slightly into the frame, resulting in an unwanted magnification of the attached lens. And this subsequently changes your field of view and effective focal length. This crop factor isn’t usually substantial, but it does make filming in tight areas more difficult. And it usually decreases the video quality slightly.
Many cameras lack autofocusing support when recording slow-motion video. And you typically only find full AF and tracking support in higher-end models. So investigate whether the particular camera in question offers autofocus at higher frame rates. If not, be prepared to focus manually or pre-focus before starting the clip.
The camera you use for slow-motion should offer a versatile screen that tilts in some fashion, be it fully articulating or a flip screen. This added versatility helps you frame your video while recording. And it’s a must if you plan on filming from high and low angles.
Flat Picture Profile
Flat color profiles, referred to as Log profiles, capture more information from the sensor than normal. These profiles deliver more dynamic range and maintain precious color information, giving you more freedom in editing. And they also remove some of the internal limitations of the camera. As such, consider looking for a camera with dedicated log profiles if you plan on color grading and editing the footage in post-processing.
How to shoot slow-motion videos & tips
Here are some tips and best practices to shoot enticing slow-motion videos every time.
1 – If your camera doesn’t have a built-in slow-motion function or mode, shoot at the highest frame rate available. The footage will playback at normal speed in-camera. But what you’ll do is take the footage over into a video editor, such as Final Cut, and adjust its speed. First, import the footage, then select it and open the timewarp setting. To do this, press Command/Control + R on your keyboard. Then here select Slow – 50%. Now, you’ll have appropriately slowed footage.
2 – When deciding what to shoot in slow-motion, keep in mind these two things: you want to either capture emotion or stress visual movement. Slowing down a video is an ideal way to convey emotion to your audience. And it gives them time to absorb and understand the subject on screen. And it also dramatizes the movement, making it more impactful. So it’s a great way to add aesthetic value and also give viewers time to analyze otherwise missed motions. But don’t overuse it. And only use the effect at points where it genuinely helps.
3 – Does your scene have enough light? If not, you’ll want to supplement, as most slow-motion clips require high shutter speeds, reducing much of the ambient light hitting the sensor. For this very reason, most are shot during bright daylight or studios with ample artificial lighting. But if you do choose to record indoors, ensure that the artificial lighting doesn’t flicker. Most lights do at higher speeds. But a light flickering ruins this effect because it causes a noticeable change in brightness. As such, an anti-flicker LED lighting kit is best when recording indoors.
4 – Considering mounting your camera on a tripod. This will stabilize your shots and keep the motions smooth. Tripods also help when doing tracking shots, where you track a moving subject across the frame. As even a minor handshake in these situations can quickly disorient viewers or result in out-of-focus videos. So add a tripod if you’re filming longer clips to reduce vibrations and disturbances throughout the clip.
5 – Focus manually. Many cameras don’t offer full autofocus tracking support at higher frame rates. And without tracking support, the camera will struggle to maintain a consistent lock on a moving subject. As such, it will pulse throughout the clip and cause out-of-focus sections. In such cases, focus manually instead.
6 – Choose the right shutter speed. If your shutter speed is too slow, it will cause unwanted motion blur in your videos. But, if it’s too high, it will make the video look stuttery. Ideally, you want the video to have a slight amount of blur but also be smooth. So, in general, set your shutter speed to double your frame rate. For example, if you’re recording at 60 FPS, set your shutter to 1/125 or 1/250 if you’re recording at 120 FPS.
7 – Don’t overuse the effect. Overusing slow-motion in your video lessens its charm. So, only use it when it’s necessary and adds production value or a cinematic feel.