What is a Fully Automatic Timing System?

Scholastic Track & Field Timing Package

FAT track timing system.

Fully Automatic Timing (FAT) is a popular kind of sports timing that captures digital race results accurate to at least 1/100th of a second  (0.01). Fully Automatic Timing systems require a start signal, running time, and capture device to be digitally synchronized to ensure accuracy. True FAT also requires the timing device be activated automatically by a start signal, rather than manually (e.g., like with a stopwatch). The finish time must also be captured digitally to remove any human error or delays from the equation. Most importantly, the finish line results must be accurate to at least 1/100th of a second—but preferably to 1/1000th of a second or more.


What are the Core Components of a Fully Automatic Timing System?

1. Start Sensor detects the start signal and instantly relays it to FinishLynx for accurate fully automatic timing and results.

Starter pistol

2. Line-Scan Camera aimed at the finish line captures 1,000 frames per second (or more) for accurate, time-stamped results images.

EtherLynx Fusion Photo-Finish Camera

3. Timing Software captures photo-finish results & integrates hardware like displays, wind gauges. and additional cameras.

FinishLynx photo-finish software screenshot

Are There Different Kinds of FAT Systems?

Tour de France photo finish Matteo Trentin and Peter Sagan

FinishLynx image from the ’14 Tour de France. Riders separated by 0.001 sec.

Fully automatic timing systems are used to produce results at every level of Athletics, Cycling, Horse Racing, Rowing Regattas, Motorsports, Speed Skating, and almost any other sport with a finish line. There are many variations of sports timing systems, all of which record finish times a little differently depending on the sport or configuration. Some of these variations include photo-cells, full-frame video cameras, touchpads (swimming), and digital line-scan cameras. Digital line-scan cameras—the same technology used by FinishLynx—are the most popular (and accurate) kind of sports FAT systems in the world today.

Which Sports Timing Systems are Most Accurate?

Full-frame video timing systems can only capture between 30–120 frames per second. That means very tight race results can potentially be lost between the missing video frames. On the other hand, line-scan photo finish cameras usually capture at around 1,000–2,000 frames per second, producing more clear and precise results images. And the EtherLynx PRO line-scan camera captures up to 10,000 frames per second—making it the most accurate sports timing camera in the world.

The speed and accuracy of line-scan photo-finish cameras simply cannot be matched by any type of RFID, photocells, or 2D video cameras found today. In fact, many sports governing bodies like the IAAF do not consider photocells or video timing systems to be valid FAT because they cannot perform zero-control gun tests to confirm their accuracy. That’s why line-scan FAT systems like FinishLynx are trusted by elite sporting events across the world.

How Does a Line-Scan Photo-Finish Camera Work?

FinishLynx Linescan Image Chart

Illustration of line-scan images.

A line-scan photo-finish image is comprised of a series of incredibly thin vertical image slices from the finish line (and any object that is crossing it). EtherLynx line-scan cameras capture these vertical images a thousand times per second (or more). Each image slice is timestamped and then combined to create a long, highly precise photo finish image. As more and more 1-pixel-wide vertical slices are captured and combined, the full time-stamped FinishLynx capture image begins to take shape. Click the image for a closer look.

For instance, if it takes an athlete one full second for their body to cross the finish line, then it will take 1,000 of these thin vertical images to create their entire body on the photo-finish image. More importantly, each of these tiny vertical slivers is time-stamped – so you can produce results accurate to within 1/1000th of a second.

Take a look at the animated gif below. It simulates how a line-scan camera captures and builds the photo finish results images:

line-scan camera animation demo

Is it Easy to Capture Photo-Finish Results with FinishLynx?

FAT race timing is very easy with FinishLynx. The EtherLynx camera captures the photo-finish results and the results image is immediately sent to the FinishLynx software for evaluation. The FinishLynx software displays the time-stamped photo-finish image right in the interface. The user can click anywhere on an image and see the time-stamp. Click on any competitor and you can see the exact moment their torso, tire, ski, or skate crossed the finish line – accurate to .001 or greater.

  1. Begin capturing by clicking the mouse or spacebar
  2. Locate each competitor and view finish times to .001
  3. Evaluate each athlete by clicking and adding a red line
  4. Save & print results – accurate to 1/1000th of a second

Watch the YouTube video for a real 90-second capture demo.


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Can I See Some Sample Photo Finish Results Images?

Where Can I Find Fully Automatic Timing Systems For My Sport?

Click the images below to the see the all-inclusive FinishLynx timing packages available for each sport. Packages can also be customized to meet the needs of your venue or budget-level. Find your perfect FAT system now.

Athletics Timing Systems

Athletics & Track

Thoroughbred and Greyhound Timing Systems

Horse/Dog Racing

Cycling Timing Systems


Rowing Timing Systems


High-Velocity and Motorsports Timing Systems

Motor Sports

Speed Skating Timing Systems

Speed Skating

Custom Sports Packages

Custom Solutions


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