High-speed camera rig could snap something passing at 7,500 mph

Shotgun pellets traveling at 354 meters per second (about 792 MPH) are captured on camera.

The striking photographs of bullets flying through the air that we've all seen can be done with a good flash setup, but what if you need to capture something going thousands of miles per hour? A new twist on an old method could empower common digital cameras to do just that.

Researchers from a Californian company called MetroLaser have put together a high-speed camera rig based on the principle of "streak photography" — similar to what scientists used to effectively capture a burst of light at a trillion frames per second.

It works like this: the light from the subject passes through a super-narrow slit, and as it moves by, a precisely controlled mirror and lens setup shifts to match the object's motion, sending a changing "slice" of the image to the sensor. The full image is assembled from all this data, and the result is what you see above: sharp as a tack, with the motion of the air captured as well.

laser setup
The lens and sensor setup for the streak camera.

The system was commissioned by the Air Force, which needs such cameras for testing rockets and projectiles on high-speed tracks. In fact, capturing a bullet in flight is a piece of cake for the digital streak camera; it was built to be able to snap a picture of something going 10 times as fast — up to 3,350 meters per second, nearly 7,500 miles per hour.

And the best part is it doesn't require some exotic high-powered sensor. It can be set up to work with an off-the-shelf camera and an ordinary computer — there would be some customization involved, of course, but it's better than paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a special single-purpose device.

More information and images of the setup can be found in the paper itself, which appeared last week in the journal of the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.

— via PetaPixel

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is