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Fotoopa’s unbelievable Nikon custom rig for capturing insects in flight

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I have covered Flickr member Fotoopa and his custom made Nikon rig for capturing insects in flight in the past. He now has an improved monster machine. The main camera is a Nikon D300 + 105mm f/2.8D lens but there is an external shutter Uniblitz VS14 between the camera and the lens that reduces the shutter lag from 52 msec to 3.3 msec.

The rig has two SB-80 flashes and a SB-29 ring flash. Focusing is done with... IR lasers that are pointed at the virtual focus point of the camera. The second 60mm f/2.8 lens is for detecting the reflected IR laser signals. When an insect passes through the virtual point, the IR signal detects it and a controller triggers the external shutter. Because of the extremely short shutter lag, the "hit rate" of this system is almost 100% and the insect is always in the frame. The whole rig weights 7.2 kg (almost 16 pounds) and it took Fotoopa 4 months to build.

Here is a list of used equipment and settings:

  • Camera Nikon D300.
  • ISO 100.
  • Manual bulb mode limited at 60 sec to avoid noise.
  • Camera set at 14 bit resolution, RAW mode.
  • Macro lens, AF105/2.8D set at F16 or F22 manual on the lens (camera can't drive this due to the external shutter).
  • Burst mode set at 2.5 pictures/sec if detection stay active and I hold the start button down.
  • SB-29-S flash manual at 1/32 power, both sides active.
  • SB-80-DX flashes at 1/64 power, but level can change over 6 steps (1/3 EV steps) via knob on the frame.
  • Balance set neutral or +3B-3 to -2B+2 in 6 steps.
  • Max IR detection delay 120 usec (0.12 msec).
  • Detection lens: AF60/2.8D macro.
  • Photodiode BPW41N with integrated band filter.
  • Detection controller: AVR Attiny45.
  • 2 IR lasers pulsed 980nm 20 mW at 30 us ON,30us OFF.
  • Central controller: MAX II CPLD board Terasic, current 150 mA.
  • 2 Visible 10mW green lasers to align the D300 camera, pointed to the same virtual focus point.
  • External shutter pulse duration: 3.0 msec.
  • External shutter voltage start at 70V, end at 56 V (due to the capacity tank).
  • AVR Attiny26 controller to control this 70V shutter voltage and monitor the battery voltage.
  • External shutter lag 3.3 msec.
  • Flash delay set at 3.5 msec (200 usec later, to be sure the shutter is always full open).
  • When external shutter is open all lasers are disabled (not to be visible on the picture).

The results are stunning:

Do bugs get red eyes :)

More photographs can be found here. Most of the equipment pictures have detailed description in case you decide to build one by yourself.

All images © Fotoopa

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