Monday, September 28, 2015

Vela 1 - ripoff, scam or genuine?

Over the past year or so I've been following with interest the progress of something called the Vela 1. It is apparently a microflash that uses LED lighting to produce a flash way shorter than is possible with air gap flashes. The writeup is impressive. Flash duration of 1/2,000,000th of a second.

I wrote about the possibility of an LED microflash in my books on high speed photography, some years ago. For several years we've had led flashes on cellphones. Indeed, way before that, my 35mm compact had an LED anti redeye feature. My suggestion at the time was very much poo-poohed by people on Flickr groups whose imagination seemed severely limited. Indeed, two or three decided to harass me after that and one at least keeps writing negative reviews on my books out of sheer spite and malice. I gave up on the reviews - they don't hurt sales any because nobody reads reviews.

It certainly looks impressive. Running off 4 AA batteries and using by the look of it, 9 cree LEDs. Apparently the flash has lots of different modes - talk about going overboard on complexity with a debut product! I'll be amazed if half of the features actually work. Personally, I'd have produced a simpler product cheaper and probably produced a DIY kit form also.

Looking at it, what would make sense is for the batteries to charge a mylar capacitor then discharge through the LEDs. Now, there was mention that they'd figured out they could put 20 times the voltage through the capacitor since it was powered solely for 1\2,000,000th of a second each time. That would definitely work. Given a strobe session from the flash, the LEDs would burn out quickly. Given normal usage of one flash every few minutes as in a normal high speed photography session and it should work. The over voltage will burn the LEDs out over time. I don't envisage this unit lasting more than a few hundred flashes.

The sample photo is plausible. It looks to be a grape shot with a BB. Given that the BB was fired under UK law where airguns have a maximum power of 300fps, its not impressive. The BB probably fell to the ground a few inches later. As an example, the pellet in the photo below was fired at 500fps and went through the first crayon but the second stopped it. The third remained unbroken. I just got lucky with the timing on the photo.

The point is that the BB in the grape photo, by the time it was photographed would have been slow enough that a pretty slow flash could have taken it. Indeed for those that understand high speed photography, it's not impressive.

Looking at the specifications, I wasn't far off when I mentioned Cree LEDs. The specifications say Cob LEDs.

Looking at the information given there really hasn't been much development put into this unit. It has the air of something cobbled together after browsing a parts catalogue and put together on a kitchen worktop while somebody else is cooking.

In terms of cost, the 9 Cob LEDs cost about $5 each on eBay. That's $45. Then the rest of the circuitry can't bring the cost to more than $90. The plastic bits probably come from china and cost maybe $1. Assembly is probably also in china. Grand total $100. Yet look at the price they're charging!

That's right - over $800 for a flash unit of extremely limited appeal. There's no R&D cost to recoup as they had that upfront with their crowdfunding. I really cannot believe there's no scam involved here.

Everything looks plausible. It's so similar to the solar roadway project. It all looks sound and plausible and prototypes exist. It's one of those things that you really want to believe in buyt which while half of you screams I believe, the other half is screaming this is bullshit!

What I expect is happening is this... The guy behind it came up with the idea and had a friend who reckoned could sell the idea as crowdfunding. This was probably dreamed up over a pint in the pub. A prototype was cobbled together on the kitchen countertop over a couple of hours. The crowdfunding campaign was started. People bit and threw money in.

Then they had a problem - they had to produce a product. So, they arranged to do a brief production run of 500 units. They already had their pocket money from crowdfunding. Being smart they retail priced the product at a stupid price. Some will pay it.

After the product goes on sale, the design is sold to a Chinese company that makes it at a fraction of the price. As soon as the final production units are sold or people start to return units due to burned out LEDs the company mysteriously goes bust because of Chinese undercutting. The best drinking duo go their way with a couple of million apiece. Not bad for a quick scam and 100% legal though rather immoral.

Now I think this Vela 1 Flash is a bit of a scam. I could be wrong though. Only time will tell. I really want to see a working, budget model. If i could be bothered, I'd look up how to build a single pulse led flash and build one. Truth is, my passion for high speed photography was quenched a while back.

No comments:

Post a Comment