iPhone and iPad cameras capture guitar oscillations

One of our readers, Mike, sent in this video he filmed of oscillations on a 12-string guitar. He used and iPad 2 and iPhone 4 to record it, and it's definitely worth a watch.

His trick to capturing the oscillations was simple - playing his guitar outside and in direct sunlight. The reason this works is because the camera must adjust to the extreme light by filming with fast shutter speeds the iPhone and iPad use a rolling shutter that scans the frame vertically. It follows that the camera must be used vertically in order for the effect to be seen.

I keep coming back to this video and find it so intriguing. It helps that Mike is an excellent guitar player! I teach a College Trigonometry class, and I'll likely show this video to them as an example of sine waves in action!

Thanks, Mike!

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Leanna Lofte

Former app and photography editor at iMore, Leanna has since moved on to other endeavors. Mother, wife, mathamagician, even though she no longer writes for iMore you can still follow her on Twitter @llofte.

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Reader comments

iPhone and iPad cameras capture guitar oscillations


I'd have expected an iPhone blog to know about the rolling shutter effect and not post it as something it is not. While a cool video, this is not how the strings actually look in motion. I only hope they update this post to avoid propagating this incorrect information.

Misleading video, and this has been done before. The last time we figured out the iDevices used a rolling shutter

I don't think an iPhone or iPad has been used to capture external guitar oscillations in the sun. I posted a video of using strong lights indoors. If you know of youtube video that does this with an Apple product, please let me know. I believe this is the first. Cheers.

This is def a doctored video, a guitar string does not oscillate in this manner, the sound waves coming from the vibrating string might resemble what we saw but not the string itself

Definitely a doctored video, strings on a guitar do not oscillate, they vibrate. And they most certainly do not look like the video when they do, cool video, but definitely misleading.

It does look unreal, but it is real. Please try it yourself. Find an iPhone or iPad and go out in the sun and play the guitar, remember the camera needs to be vertical (or sideways if the guitar is vertical). What is happening is a mystery to me. Some people say it is a digital artifact of the camera's rolling shutter. I think it may also involve a strobe effect from the fast shutter.