Vela One: The fastest flash in the world

The Vela One is the fastest flash you can buy. Take pin-sharp photos of supersonic bullets and explosions using a normal SLR. The pulse width is adjustable between 500ns (1/2,000,000 sec) and 5µs (1/200,000 sec), which is fast enough to freeze a high velocity rifle bullet in flight. 

Your flash is too slow

High speed photography relies on a fast flash. Just like shutter speed with action photography, it's the duration of the flash that is important when capturing bullets and explosions. A typical speedlight has a duration of around 1/20,000 second (50 microseconds) on its fastest setting. This may sound fast, but a bullet will travel over 5cm or two inches in that time and will be so blurred it's almost invisible. Studio flashes are even slower. For pin-sharp shots you need a much faster flash, and the Vela One is 100 times faster. With a flash speed starting at 1/2,000,000 second, or 500 nanoseconds, the Vela One will stop a supersonic, high velocity rifle bullet in its tracks.

What's wrong with high-speed photography

We've all seen the beautiful high speed shots of bullets passing through playing cards and apples. If you want to take these sort of photos today, you will either need a high speed camera costing tens of thousands of dollars, or a dangerous and expensive air gap flash. These use a high voltage spark to generate the short, bright flash needed. As they run at over 25,000 volts and need regular and dangerous electrode replacement, it's not surprising you can't buy them commercially. If you want one you either need to buy a vintage one for thousands of dollars, or you must build one yourself. Many super talented people have done this, but it's not an option for most of us. We wanted to solve this.

The Vela solution: a million lumens

To solve the problem we turned to LEDs. Until now this has been impossible, as high speed flashes need to be extremely bright in order to get enough light onto your sensor in such a short period. We worked out we'd need to aim for up to one million lumens. If we used regular ultra-bright (500lm) LEDs we would need around 2000 to achieve this. This is obviously far too expensive and impractical. Instead we turned to the latest "chip-on-board" LEDs. These are designed for for applications such as exterior lighting of large buildings. Even at ten times the brightness of the regular LEDs we'd need 200 of them, which is still far too expensive and impractical. This is where we had to get clever. After months of experimenting with different circuits and LEDs, we have built a circuit that drives nine LEDs up to 20 times brighter than rated, without damaging them or overheating, pumping out up to one million lumens. We've flashed our test units hundreds of thousands of times, and they power on through. That's years of normal use, and far longer than a speedlight will last.

Specs

Material Powder-coated aluminium, steel plate, PE, PC
Dimensions 26 x 26 x 10 cm
Lighting elements 9 x COB LEDs with individual PC reflectors
Power supply 4 x AA batteries (Alkaline or NiMH rechargeable). 5V DC external power.
Pulse length (t.1 = t.5) 500ns, 1μs, 2μs, 3μs, 4μs, 5μs
Max continuous strobe frequency 50 Hz
Recycle time 20 ms
Burst strobe count 1 – 6 flashes
Burst strobe interval 10μs – 250μs (4-100kHz)
Luminous flux 500,000 - 1,000,000 lumens
Guide number Approx 5 feet at ISO 100.
Flash latency ~5μs from trigger to flash
Trigger input/slave output 1 x 3.5mm and 1 x 2.5mm audio jack
Supported triggers Vela Pop, TTv1, Camera Axe, Mumford Time Machine, DIY triggers and more

FAQ

Most of the photos show a BB. Does this work for real bullets too?
Yes! We are in the UK, so it's a lot harder for us to do testing with real firearms. However we do have some shots taken at a range it it works well. A 500ns (1/2,000,000 sec) pulse is easily fast enough to freeze a high velocity round.
How far should the flash be from the subject?
As close as possible. While the flash is extremely powerful, the short pulse lengths mean it delivers less exposure than a speedlight on lowest power. I try to keep it under a meter / 3 feet away.
How does the Vela One compare to an airgap flash?
It is faster than most airgap flashes, which normally max out at 1 microsecond, though some homemade ones can also achieve a 500ns pulse. It has less power than a typical airgap flash. It is much safer, with voltages below 200V and no need to open the case to change electrodes etc. It runs from AA batteries, rather than from AC power. The pulse of light is much more even, with no afterglow and a very short rise time.
How does the Vela One compare to a speedlight
It is around 100 times faster than a typical speedlight, with a much more even pulse. A xenon flash has a very long afterglow, which leads to streaking of high speed objects. 
How fast can the Vela One be strobed?
The Vela One has a built-in burst mode, which flashes between 2 and 6 times when triggered. The interval is adjustable between 10µs and 250µs (4-100 kHz). The Vela One can be strobed continuously at up to 50 Hz (a 20ms interval), though the pulse length is limited to a maximum of 1µs at these speeds. You will need to use an external source to trigger the strobing. 
How can I trigger the Vela One?
The Vela One has two trigger sockets, which are 2.5mm and 3.5mm mono audio sockets. It is triggered in the same way as a simple speedlight, by connecting the two poles together like a switch. This is compatible with most commercial camera triggers. If you wish to build your own trigger circuit, use a transistor/FET or optocoupler to isolate it. The trigger runs at 3.3V.
How can I sync more than one Vela One flash?
The two trigger sockets can be used to daisy-chain several flashes. The sockets are electrically connected, so if you plug a trigger into one it will trigger all connected flashes simultaneously.
Can the Vela One flash be mounted on a tripod?
The Vela One has four standard 1/4"-20 tripod mounting holes, one on each side.
Can I use the Vela One in daylight?
Probably not. The short pulse of a Vela One is unlikely to be bright enough to kill ambient light except in a darkened room. We have not tested this is any depth though. It would probably require more than one Vela One flash.
Where can I get one?
Currently the Vela One is only available direct from the Vela shop

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Vela Pop: the world's fastest sound trigger

The perfect companion to your Vela One flash, the Vela Pop matches it for speed with a latency under 10µs. Ideal for capturing bullets and explosions, it's also happy to connect to a regular speedlight and shoot balloons and droplets. It will fit in your pocket, and battery lasts for weeks.