Saturday, May 25, 2019

Catching lightning bolts with 30 fps @ 8 MP bursts (RX10 IV)

It was the first thunderstorm over the Bued River this end of summer, and this signals the start of my lightning photography season.

It's quite easy to shoot lightning during a thunderstorm at night - I just have to point the camera at a photogenic scene, focus manually, adjust the aperture and ISO for proper exposure, then open the shutter for 30 seconds. Hopefully, a photogenic lightning bolt will materialize within the frame during that period. If nothing interesting happens during the 30 second window, I delete the file and start all over again. 

Without an auto trigger or an ND filter for long exposures, it's nearly impossible to shoot lightning during daytime, which was the case during yesterday's thunderstorm. Fortunately, I have a camera that shoots 4K video - this allowed me to film the scene at 30 fps (or 29.97 fps to be exact) for extended periods. The chances of catching a lightning bolt at that frame rate is quite good. The downside is each frame is essentially a heavily compressed 8.3 MP jpeg file, without the processing flexibility of RAW files.

Here are a few frames caught yesterday. I took shelter in our garage and used the wider end of the Sony RX10 IV's zoom lens. All frames were grabbed from 4K clips, processed and downsized to 1920 x 1080. It's interesting to note that most of the lightning flashes happen very quickly, in about 1-2 frames. Combing frame-by-frame through many minutes of footage is a laborious process.

1920 x 1080 version

1920 x 1080 version

1920 x 1080 version

1920 x 1080 version

A composite of three frames:

1920 x 1080 version



And a short 4K footage from which one of the frames above was grabbed:


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