The difference between the Phantom FLEX 4K and Phantom VEO 4K

This is an article illustrating the differences between the Phantom FLEX 4K and Phantom VEO 4K and including essential Information about the Vision Research Phantom VEO 4K that you really need to know before your first production.

The Phantom FLEX 4K is undoubtedly the best slow motion camera in the world and is the standard by which all others are compared with but the latest Vision Research Phantom camera, the VEO 4K comes a really close second but its reduced size and weight combined with its frugal power requirements makes this a very hard camera to beat in the field.

1. Image Quality and Slow Motion Performance

Just like its big brother, The Phantom VEO 4K is capable of recording 1000 fps in 4K, since it has the same image sensor and codec and will record in the same CineRAW format as the Phantom FLEX 4K camera.  Using the same free Phantom PCC software, media recorded with both cameras can be easily rendered into H264 or other easily editable format.

Whilst 1000fps is the maximum frame rate available in 4K, in fact you can record in upto 1,775 fps in 2K format as well.

2. Size and Weight

The Phantom FLEX 4K without the viewfinder, lens and battery weighs in a hefty 6.3kg, whereas the Phantom VEO 4K body only is a much lighter 2.5kg.  Also, the VEO 4K can work with much smaller batteries, making a working camera weigh significantly less as well.

In fact, the VEO 4Kis half the length too than the FLEX 4K, since the FLEX body is 29.2cm long and the VEO is 12.7 cm long.

A working VEO4K camera with lens and batteries compares in size and weight to a RED EPIC, whereas the Phantom FLEX 4K is a much larger camera, comparable with an ARRI SXT in operation with similar power demands too.

The reduced size and weight of the Phantom VEO 4K means that it can be packed down into a single Pelicase for easy transport.  The image on the right is a VEO returning from a shoot in Indonesia which included batteries (these were actually carried in the cabin) but the combined weight of the entire package with power was just 24kg.  The large 24V batteries which are often used with the FLEX 5K can exceed this weight for the power demands alone.

3. Power Consumption

The VEO is much more frugal on power than the FLEX 4K and draws just 80W (body only) compared with an average of 120W for the FLEX 4K (body only).  The higher power demands of the FLEX means that the weight of batteries required are also heavier which has to be considered for both operational and transportational considerations.

The Phantom VEO 4K however can operate with regular 98WH flight-safe batteries.  A pair of Hawkwoods Mini-VLok batteries can power a Phantom VEO4K for more than 3 hours and the hot-swap capabilties mean that changing a battery does not require the camera to be restarted.

A point of interest her for the uninitiated:  The Phantom VEO 4K camera does not have a power button for on/off operation.  Plug in a power source to switch on and disconnect to switch off.

4. What Lenses are compatible?

Though the Phantom FLEX 4K is usually used with a PL mount to use film lenses, Vision Reseach do make other mounts which are compatible with it, though these are rarely available to hire.

VMI supplies the Phantom VEO 4K with a choice of either PL or EF mounts, so that lower-cost EF lenses can be used.  These offer not only a cost saving but their size and weight can also be helpful when mounting the camera onto jibs or drones.

Since Canon L USM EOS lenses do not include a manual iris ring, the front of the VEO 4K incorporates buttons to operate the iris control on the front of the camera.

5. Dynamic Range and Global Shutter.

The Global shutter capability is designed to reduce the ‘jello’ effect which causes straight lines to look wobbly when the camera has a lot of motion.  Whilst this is a problem with low end cameras, like DSLR cameras, it is not a problem with super high-speed cameras.

The original Flex 4K only has a rolling shutter, whereas the Flex 4K GS and VEO 4K have both rolling and global shutter and you can decide to activate it or not.

Without the global shutter, the system achieves a dynamic range of 14 stops and if you engage the global shutter, then this is reduced to 13 stops but sensitivity is unchanged.

6.Workflow and on-board super high-speed RAM

Vision Research Phantom series cameras all work the same way – they are equipped with super-fast RAM which captures images at lightning-fast frame rates and data rates too fast for conventional storage systems.  Afterwards, data is transferred to a separate storage device to permit archiving.

There are 2 x memory options for the Phantom Flex – 64GB and 128GB.  The Phantom VEO 4K is equipped with 72GB of on board RAM memory.

The type and speed of the memory across both cameras are the same but the offload medium is different and this is the major difference between these cameras.

Phantom FLEX 4K workflow uses CineMag storage and data requires 2 stages in the field

The Phantom Flex 4K offloads to a very fast type of storage called CineMag, whereas the Phantom VEO 4K offloads to removable CFAST 2 cards. The Flex’s CineMag IV media saves at a rate of approximately 1GB per second, where as the VEO S-models (including VEO4K-PL) use CFast media, which save Cine raw files at a rate of approximately 90 MB/second.

Phantom VEO 4K uses a CFast 2 workflow, which is works well for location productions, as it requires just one transfer stage in the field

Presently, the largest CFAST cards available are 256GB (sufficient for over 13 mins of real time playback at 25p).

7. How much time can the memory store?

The amount of media which 72GB of internal memory can record depends on both the frame size and the frame rate.  At 1000 fps, the memory can store 5.6 seconds of 4K material but at 500 fps, this would allow over 11 seconds of storage.

8. How long does it take to transfer the media off the camera

It would take approximately 14 minutes to transfer the entire 72GB memory of the camera, but Phantom is not designed to work this way – after all, the memory will store 5.6 seconds at 1000 frame per second in 4K, which, if played out at 25p, would create a sequence lasting 3.7 minutes.

Clearly this is too long to be practical, so working with the Phantom requires a different approach.

  1. Shoot clip.
  2. Check playback of recorded clip on the camera.  Output is to an external monitor/viewfinder.
  3. Scrub through using a high speed shuttle tool – there are forward and backwards buttons on the camera body.
  4. Define start and end stops of the clip.  This is also a camera function
  5. Transfer the clip to the off-board storage

The camera interface allows easy immediate playback and editing of clips, so that only the useful clips are off-loaded and this can be completely done using the remote control unit (optional extra) if required.

Offload time to onboard CFAST2 at 4K is half real-time at 500p and 1/3 of real time at 1000p.  To put this into perspective, a clip shot at 500 frames per second which runs for 10 seconds in 25p took just 21 seconds to transfer.  A similar clip shot at 1000 frames per second which ran for 10 seconds in 25p took just 32 seconds to transfer. 

If you are using a DIT with an optimised DIT workstation and 10Gb/second workstation to pull off data from the camera directly, then the full 72GB memory can be uploaded in 2-3 minutes (transfer speed 400-500MB/second).

9. How do I transfer the data from the camera?

A Codex C-Fast reader is provided which allow the media to be mounted and copied to PCs or Macs.   The special Phantom PCC software is available for free download from PHANTOM and permits playback from the RAW files or alternatively rendering to MP.4, prores or other codecs.

10. Can I record at the same time as I am offloading?

Yes and No, so it depends how you configure the camera.

As the recording function uses all of the camera’s memory, it is not possible to simultaneously offload clips to a CFAST cart whilst also recording, so Vision Research allows a useful function to partition the memory into multiple partitions and then you are able to both record and also playback whilst at the same time offloading cards to the CFAST data store – see below.

11. Strategies for efficient workflow – 3 bites of the cherry (or more!)

Phantom cameras allow the internal memory to be partitioned into between 2 and 64 equal partitions.  This has the benefit of allowing multiple takes by pressing one trigger button whilst simultaneously offloading clips to the CFAST card storage and then being able to review each clip independently and deleting each one in turn and thus keeping and transferring only the best ones.

Clearly, since 72GB permits 11 just seconds of 500fps to be captured, then partitioning the memory into 3 sections will mean that each partition would allow just under 4 seconds of storage each.  Less but very useable.  More partitions necessarily means that less memory is available for each take but this is a very useful function and you need to carefully calculate the number and size of partitions to be appropriate for the image size and frame rate being recorded.

12. Ethernet connectivity with a DIT

VMI’s Phantom VEO 4K cameras have been built with a 10GB ethernet capability, which is not available on the Phantom FLEX 4K, to permit extremely fast data download speeds, thus avoiding the slower save times of the CFAST cards.  A DIT with a suitably optimised workstation on location can pull off data directly from the camera RAM at a rate of 400-500MB/second.

This configuration of transfer will enable the full 72GB memory to be uploaded in 2-3 minutes.

Read How to Improve Phantom VEO 4K workflow by using 10Gbit network port

Note that laptops presently are not capable at working at this data speed (yet).

13.Triggering the camera

There are two manual modes for operating the camera.  You can programme the camera to begin recording when you hit the record button as with a conventional camera, however the most useful mode is a pre-record function, whereby the camera is always recording UNTIL the record button is triggered to halt the recording.  Thus by putting the camera into this mode, you can wait for an event to happen and once it has happened, press the record button to halt the recording.

Alternatively, the Flex 4K allows for remote triggering whereby you can set traps whereby animals trigger a control pulse to start the camera recording and then another pulse can stop the recording etc.  These are military-grade cameras designed to work with this degree of versatility and the VEO has a similar featureset, though I am advised by Vision Research that this would need to be preprogrammed prior to the hire for it to work.

14. Camera Configuration

In order to bring the VEO 4K to have the same specifications of output, VMI supply the VEO 4K in a hire package complete with the Cameo VEObob – an accessory that mounts to the side of the camera which brings the accessory outputs to be the same as the Flex4K.  VMI also include a cine bridge plate with 15mm bars, cheese plate, handle and modified ARRI viewfinder bracket.  Viewfinders are option and very useful if used in shoulder-mount mode, though under controlled conditions, an external LCD monitor or large monitor is more useful.

Note that the Flex4K support dual mode 4K video output (up to 2160 P30), whereas the VEO 4K only supports HD video outputs up to 1080 P60.

5 x Mini V-Lok batteries will power the camera for over 7 hours and the hot-swap capability means that you don’t lose any down time when the batteries are low.

The Phantom VEO 4K camera is small and lightweight enough that it can be mounted on a gimble or on a lightweight jib.

The image on the right is of a VEO4K being used with a Sigma 50-100 film zoom, Tilta dual axis wireless lens control system and wireless Terardek video sender.  The entire rig was lightweight enough to be mounted on a regular Ronin (not even a Ronin 2) and this was suspended from a 14ft lightweight Intel-A-Jib, which can be mounted on a land rover.

This is even more surprising considering the entire camera rig was powered from a regular Ronin battery which also powered the gimbal.

This would absolutely not be possible with a regular Phantom Flex 4K camera, which is substantially heavier and larger than the VEO 4K.

15. Remotely controlling the camera

VMI also can supply an optional wireless device called a Cameo PCT2+ This allows all functions to be replicated wirelessly (including choosing memory partition, putting the camera into record mode, changing the image size and frame rate, triggering start, stop and going to next partition, scrubbing through played media, choosing start and end stops, transferring media, deleting clips etc).

This necessarily means that you can place the camera in a hide, crane or gimbal and totally control the camera from a distance of 100m using bluetooth, or using the cabled option, whereby both a 10m and 100m cable are provided.

16. How much does it cost?

The basic Phantom VEO 4K camera with 72GB of internal memory, 5 x Hawkwoods Mini V-Lok batteries with hot swap plate and 2 x 128GB CFast 2 cards costs just £950 per day, or £2,850 per week.

Contact VMI now for a fully configured production quote.

Barry Bassett
VMI. May 2018

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