Pedagogy in Action > Library > Using Direct Measurement Videos to Teach Physics > Making Direct Measurement Videos

Making Direct Measurement Videos

Looking at the camera display while filming the Dry Ice on a Hoop video

By Peter Bohacek, Henry Sibley High School

Note: This page is under construction. But since I have had requests for information on making videos, I am posting this preliminary version.

Making videos for direct measurement is within the grasp of anyone with a digital camera and basic video editing software. Here are some of the techniques I use.

The overriding quality that I seek in these videos is clarity. I work to compose shots so that the motion we're analyzing is is vividly captured in a way that evokes curiosity. Ideally, these videos should make the viewer want to reach for a paper and pencil and begin working out a solution. Lighting, lens choice and background color are key components to making a compelling video.

The second attribute I seek is the ability for the viewer to make unambiguous measurements. For example, during a collision, students must be able to clearly measure the velocities of the objects before and after the collision. Frame rate and lens focal length determine the time and distances the viewer can see. I aim for about 1-2% measurement uncertainty, but settle for as much as 5%.


Sony NEX FS700 video camera with Zeiss 100F2 lens -- the most common configuration for recording direct measurement videos]
I use three cameras: A Sony NEX FS700, a Canon T2i and a Sony NEX6. The Sony NEX FS700 video camera is my choice for most shots. It records 240 frames per second at 720p resolution, and up to 960 frames per second at lower resolution.

Although there are less expensive cameras that can record high frame rates (such as the Nikon 1, and some Casio Exelim models), the Sony is the least expensive camera I have found that records high-resolution, high frame-rate video. I have not been able to get sharp clear images at high frame rates using less expensive cameras. However, less expensive cameras, like the Sony NEX6, will record beautiful 60 frames per second video, which is a sufficiently high frame rate for many interesting events.


I use older Zeiss 35mm lenses. These are completely manual lenses, with wide apertures (f1.4 to f2.8) and superb image quality, particularly when compared to most zoom lenses. Wide apertures make the most of available light, which is allows shorter exposures minimizing motion induced blur. In addition, wide aperture reduces depth of field, pleasantly blurring the background. This has the effect of focusing the viewers attention on the moving objects in the video, rather than being distracted by the background. I use a 100 F2 most often. The longer focal length reduces angular distortion.


I use a pair of Octacool-9 softboxes. These provide pleasing light with soft shadows. They run cool and have daylight balance. The downside is that they flicker at 60 Hz, which is clearly visible when recording at high frame rates. I also use halogen spot lights. These produce intense light, and do not flicker noticeably, but they also cause harsh bright spots and shadows. I often use reflectors to soften the light from these.


One wall of our lab is painted with several coats of low-gloss, super white paint. For many shots, this white backdrop provides ideal contrast for clear measurements. Black cloth provides a high contrast backdrop for lighter color objects.


Video is imported into Apple Final Cut Pro 7. Grids, rulers, and other overlays are drawn in Adobe Illustrator. These images are imported into Final Cut Pro as .png images. I have found that using Adobe Photoshop to convert the drawings into .png files works better than exporting directly from Illustrator.

Here is some specific information on shooting the Dry Ice on a Hoop video

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