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Tutorial: How to Set Up a Single-Operator Live-Switched Stream with PTZ Cameras

Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera systems are now hitting a sort of renaissance for event videography, especially in live concert, government, and worship settings. This tutorial looks at how to use a PTZ-based workflow to pull off a multicam live-switched stream with a single operator at the controls.

Setting Up and Running the PTZ System

There’s no denying that it takes some time to set up this system. From installing cameras, to connecting network cable for control and SDI for signal, to establishing connections to the cameras and shading all the images to match, there’s a significant a PTZ solution has significant time costs compared to a traditional camcorder workflow, especially if it’s a one-person operation.

After laying all the physical infrastructure of power (I wasn’t able to take advantage of the PoE+ due to the lack of a compatible router), SDI, and network cable, I had to get the RP120 controller to see the cameras on the network. Using a specialized PC application from Panasonic, I was able to ping all Panasonic gear on the network to access their IP addresses. Alternatively, the RP120 controller has a “search” feature that can automatically find and connect to available Panasonic cameras.

When setting up this PTZ system, it’s best to think of the cabling in two categories: control and signal. The control is going to run through a network switch that ultimately terminates in the controller interface. The signal will run independent of the control via SDI straight to the switcher. The signal does not flow through the controller at all. A multiview signal from the switcher will display all cameras, plus preview and program, enabling precise control of any camera at any time.

Once the setup was over, controlling the cameras was simply a matter of practice. I opted to have the controller on my left and the switcher on my right, as shown in Figure 2. Both controller and switcher can sometimes require two hands for certain operations, so it might be ideal to have two operators. But by limiting the complexity of moves, a single operator can certainly handle everything.

I found the ability to record and save preset positions and even entire motion macros with trace memory priceless. In a permanent setup, there are going to be certain key positions that can be preprogrammed to limit the amount of manual control required during broadcast.

An all-PTZ application can be used in a huge variety of shooting situations, in addition to the house of worship application shown here. Weddings and other formal events can be shot discreetly with “invisible” cameras and virtually silent motors. At one point, while setting up these cameras, a colleague was operating the HE130 through the browser interface from another room. I was sitting about 2 feet from the camera which was at head height, and I didn’t see or hear the camera turn all the way around to point at my face. With a head-snapping 60-degrees-per-second top speed, these cameras can be put into the most intense sports situations and keep up with the speed of a human operator. The HE130 even features optical image stabilization to reduce shake from abrupt movements.

The HEA10 control assist can be used to include an additional camera operator for particularly complex multicamera shoots. It can also speed up the process of finding and zooming in on an of individual in a crowd of people. Think fan reactions in a stadium, following the ball on a crowded court, or getting an enraged head coach onto the highlight reel.

Finally, while you probably aren’t going to be operating 100 cameras for a live production, the RP120 can handle that degree of complexity; it’s a full-featured remote controller for the most demanding broadcasts. If you don’t need the RP120’s extensive array of customization, there’s always their much smaller AW-RP50 that controls cameras in 20 groups of five cameras each, compared to the RP120s 10 groups of 10 each. Plus you can add multiple controllers over IP if you have multiple operators who can handle many different angles.

The Power of PTZ

To sum things up, PTZ camera systems make low- or no-crew productions possible that would otherwise not be. The ability to remotely operate broadcast-quality cameras from a single location opens up a wide range of creative possibilities, centralizes the crew, lowers equipment needs, and potentially puts all of the decision-making into the hands of a single producer. The one-time setup can be a big time investment, but the simplicity that it provides in other areas can make all that work on the front end pay off big time.

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At $5,399, the Canon N500 is a bargain compared to other 1" sensor PTZ video cameras. Featuring 4K/30P and NDI|HX2 support, it has a long 15x optical zoom lens and dual XLR audio inputs, and supports the low-power POE+ standard.