Don Jones, who's also an anchor for NBC 17 Today, happened to take a shot of his rear wheel hot in action on one of his rides. He did it using his cell phone.
He loves his wheels, don't get me wrong, but this article of perfect shape, pattern and symmetry appeared ridiculously warped in the resulting image. Given that Don is an award winning news anchor who has traveled all around the world in the name of journalism, we all thought this might be some strange manifestation of 'spokely' attraction towards celebrity star power.
Okay. Maybe not.
Infact, this is not really new to me. It brings to mind some of the finish line pictures from my collegiate racing days. I dug this one up for you :
The spokes look like giant spidery infestations on the wheels (Courtesy : Velocityresults)Before you mouth obscenities at your camera manufacturer, know the situation. The wheel is turning really fast. If there was a way to follow or track the motion of the spokes with the camera, you may have reproduced the image much better. Think of your camera as your own eye. Focus on a rotating wheel, keeping your eyes stationary. The spinning spokes appear like a blur that makes no sense to you apart from the fact that the motion is fast. But now spin the wheel much slower and try to track the spoke as it rotates around the hub. Much better?
The characteristic warped spokes in the images above, I think, is a result of slow shutter speed. The camera has no way to track motion this fast in the perpendicular direction. Any camera with a shutter speed of lesser than 1/500th of a second will most probably produce this effect since they are incapable of freezing fast movement. A bicycle company definitely wouldn't prefer something like this to go into their product brochure.
So I believe you can avoid this by using higher shutter speeds. In digital cameras, you can do this by increasing the ISO settings. However, you'll have to play around and experiment with the amount of noise you're getting in your images as a result.
Faster shutter speeds freezes the spinning wheel better. Courtesy : Megapixel
Additional Resources : The effect of the shutter speed on image
UPDATE/CORRECTION (11/25/08) : When I talked about shutter speeds above, I was pertaining to proper digital cameras. It must be mentioned that cellphones have no physical shutter at all. Instead, they use software to tell the camera how long to record light coming through the lens (mostly plastic). But because the internal processor and software are often slow, the lag between when you press the button and when the picture is captured can be a second or more. It will be interesting to see whether a digital camera with a good sensor and ISO range, when substituted instead of a cellphone, will eliminate the warping. Nevertheless, it is still a pretty cool effect.