Sunday Night Movie: My Directorial Debut


Here’s something new. Instead of trawling youtube to find the Sunday Night Movie, I’ve made my own. Click above to watch the compressed version, or if you have a speedy connection click here to see it in full HD glory.

I spent the afternoon experimenting with the video capabilities of the new Canon EOS 7d. The 7d is the newest camera in Canon’s SLR lineup, and unlike earlier models it can shoot high-definition video as well as stills.

I’ve been very curious to see how the video performs with my macro lenses. A lab colony of Odontomachus chelifer trap-jaw ants at the University proved patient and willing subjects for my first experiment. These ants have absolutely fascinating mandibles, they are held open like a bear trap and snap shut on a hair trigger.


  1. #1 Ainsley S
    January 25, 2010

    Oh man, Alex, that’s gorgeous! Can you get any footage of predation (or their ridiculous escape jumps), or would that be too fast to capture?

  2. #2 Pete Yeeles
    January 25, 2010

    Very nice Alex! Was this all at 100% speed, or was some of it slowed down?

    As a side note… how cool is Odontomachus! I showed some to me little boy the other day, and he loved triggering the jaws with a twig to watch them jump back.

  3. #3 Alehkhs
    January 25, 2010

    Beautiful footage!

    Alex, do you happen to keep any colonies of your own?

  4. #4 taroeldredge
    January 25, 2010

    I don’t know about you ant people, but the way it extrudes it’s mouthparts during grooming and ground tasting (?: I’m not quite sure what it was doing there) was really fascinating – not a very beetle move.

  5. #5 dreptungeek
    January 25, 2010

    Not bad at all 😀

  6. #6 Steve
    January 25, 2010

    Great stuff! looking forward to seeing more.

  7. #7 summerwino
    January 25, 2010

    That was great! Loved being able to see the mouth parts in detail like that, fantastic.

  8. #8 Morgan Jackson
    January 25, 2010

    Great job! Excellent detail and the focusing was right on, something that must have been very hard to do!

  9. #9 The Geek In Question
    January 25, 2010

    Great fun, gorgeous images! I agree with other posters, though, I’d LOVE to see some trap-jaw action!!!

  10. #10 myrmecos
    January 25, 2010

    Roberto Keller has a great explantion of ant mouthparts at his blog.

  11. #11 myrmecos
    January 25, 2010

    Thanks Pete! This is all at 100% speed. I chose this species for the first test of my new gear precisely because O. chelifer is large, slow, and deliberate in movement. Perfect for those of us at the wrong end of the learning curve…

  12. #12 myrmecos
    January 25, 2010

    Thanks Ainsley. A Nat Geo film crew shot this same colony here last year, and they needed a $200,000 high-speed camera that could shoot at several thousand frames per second to capture the snap and the jump. I’ve got up to 60 frames per second onthe 7d- better than some cameras but still orders of magnitude off…

  13. #13 myrmecos
    January 25, 2010

    I haven’t got any pet ants at the moment. These ones are research animals at the University of Illinois, used for this study.

  14. #14 Marc "Teleutotje" Van der Stappen
    January 25, 2010

    One of the best online I think and great choise of music…

    But yes, you know already a long time that I’m a fan of you…

  15. #15 James C. Trager
    January 25, 2010

    Some of us out here have been quietly waiting for you to make this move in videography, Alex. This first product seems a good portent.

    I know from watching them that ants are always antennating the air, but this movie really shows how attentive they are to the chemistry of their surroundings.

  16. #16 Joshua King
    January 25, 2010

    Hey Alex,

    I really like the video. Any idea how this would compare to a high-def set-up attached to a scope? I’m supposed to be getting a camera for my new Leica and I’m wondering if it would be possible to get results anywhere near this (obviously from a dorsal view, rather than a side view). Just curious if you’ve seen any high def microscope video cameras used for this type of application.

  17. #17 Warren
    January 25, 2010

    hells yeah. more!

  18. #18 jason
    January 25, 2010

    That’s quite impressive. I think you demonstrated that the camera performs well with the macro lenses. And I also think you showed you have some hidden talent with that neat little video function. Dashing off to Hollywood soon?

  19. #19 mark
    January 27, 2010

    More please. 🙂

    Only thing I’d suggest is add a zoom-out to see actual size.

  20. #20 Gordon Snelling
    January 27, 2010

    Alex, gorgeous footage.

  21. #21 Ant
    January 27, 2010


  22. #22 myrmecos
    January 27, 2010

    Hi Josh. So, that’s a complicated question, but the short answer is no. Scopes and SLR cameras are very different beasts, optimized for different things. Scopes usually give an extremely sharp image with a correspondingly narrow depth of field, so your images will be smooth and dreamy, with only a few bits of the insect rendered in sharp detail.

    Most scope cams give more of a square image, rather than the wide cinematic image you see here. Whether that’s a good thing depends on your tastes.

    Another difference is that scopes give you a fixed view from above and generally aren’t so easy to maneuver about to get lateral shots. This is to say, you’ll find it harder to be creative with the camera angles on the scope.

    Finally, there’s a logistical limitation of transfer rate to the computer. While many scope cams can take good HD video, they usually can’t feed it through the firewire or USB quick enough to have it recorded as an HD video on the computer side.

  23. #23 Roberta
    January 28, 2010

    Wow, gives me goosebumps!

  24. #24 Danielle Blake
    January 28, 2010

    I’m interested to know what the ants are standing on?

    Great video by the way. I’m new to your blog (via boingboing) but am enjoying it greatly!

    I went to grad school in Illinois and our fish facility was in the entomology building. It’s nice to have a little reminder of the old haunts 🙂

  25. #25 myrmecos
    January 28, 2010

    Thanks for your comment Danielle! There’s still a fish lab upstairs from us, doing stickleback behavior research.

    The green substrate is part of their lab nest. It’s an old research colony, in captivity for a couple years, and algae has been growing on the moist plaster substrate.

  26. #26 how to grow grapes
    March 3, 2010

    Really nice pics and I like your selection of music for the video. The music really makes it.

  27. #27 Marc "Teleutotje" Van der Stappen
    March 8, 2010

    Alex, I have a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic – gsm. Is it possible to make a format of your film for this gsm ….. I tried to do it but I didn’t succeed. Want to show it to a few friends of me ….. If it is possible : Thanks !!!!! Otherwise : Bad luck for me ….. The computers at my work don’t have speakers …..

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