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How to Use Non-PTZ Cameras for Remote-Controlled Live Production

In this article we'll take a look at some non-traditional robotic camera systems and explain how you can use them to get greater freedom of movement and imaging choice in your live-streamed productions.
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Remotely operated cameras aren’t a new tool for the trade, but the variety in which they come to the market is constantly growing. Most producers looking for robotic camera solutions are going to think of Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) systems first. While these PTZ models are industry stalwarts and often meet the requirements for shoots, they also have some limitations. In this article we’ll take a look at some non-traditional systems and explain how you can use them to get greater freedom of movement and imaging choice.

eMotimo Spectrum

I’ve written about and reviewed the multi-axis robotic camera platform from eMotimo in the past , but the California-based company just released an auxiliary motor that should put old-school PTZ systems on notice. The Spectrum out-of-the-box is a very capable, programmable Pan-Tilt system capable of multi-axis control (Figure 1, below). With an optional slider and additional motors, the Spectrum can add slider (third axis) control to shots for video or time-lapse using either of the two auxiliary motor ports.

Figure 1. The eMotimo Spectrum ST4

Near the end of 2016, eMotimo released the first accessory for the Spectrum: the Fz (Figure 2, below). The Fz adds a fourth motor to the Spectrum camera control system, which allows lens control.

Figure 2. The eMotimo Fz

The Fz ships with an oversized L-bracket and 15mm rail, enabling maximum flexibility when mounting the Fz to a rig. Since the system is designed around a standard 15mm rail, users can substitute their own hardware if extra length is needed. A longer rail might be required for larger lenses utilizing multiple Fz units. If a lens doesn’t have a toothed ring for the Fz to align with, then toothed plastic bands can easily be zip-tied around the lens, allowing it to be smoothly controlled by the Fz.

With lenses capable of manual control of focus, iris, and zoom, one or two Fz units can be paired with the Spectrum to enable image control that is otherwise unheard of outside of PTZ cameras. Adding to the convenience and appeal of this system is that it doesn’t require a super-expensive control interface to be purchased separately. All of the controls of the Spectrum are operated using a simple Sony PS4 wireless controller. That means every function of the camera and motion control system is controlled by a single operator.

Using a Spectrum with an Fz or two along with a slider will allow a camera operator or producer to get dynamic footage with the small- to medium-sized camera of his or her choice, be it a DSLR, mid-sized camcorder, or large-format camera like those from RED or Blackmagic. And buying a Spectrum is a purchase that will continue to add value as eMotimo continues to release firmware updates for the device, adding new features. Just last year, the manufacturer released updates that allow for ultra-smooth, real-time video moves and gigapan features, as well as continuous experimental features for both timelapse and pre-recorded moves. Starting at around $2,300, the Spectrum is one of the most affordable and high-value robotic camera systems on the market today.

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