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Review: Canon CR-N500 PTZ Camera

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.

Testing the Canon CR-N500

Featuring a 1 sensor and a 15x f/2.8-4.5 optical zoom lens, the N500 has very similar specs to the Canon XF605 camcorder. The biggest difference is that the N500 has a DIGIC DV6 processor, whereas the XF605 has a newer DIGIC DV7 processor. When I have tested both cameras side by side, the XF605 has better low-light sensitivity so this leaves me wanting the newer DV7 processor on the N500, along with its ability to shoot in 4K/60P, instead of 4K/30P. I honestly don’t need 4K/60P in a PTZ and 4K/30P is just fine but it would still be nice to have. I should also note that the HDMI and NDI output is capable of 4K/30P but the HD-SDI uses the 3G standard, which is limited to 1080/60P.

On the N500 I typically find I’m using 12-24dB of gain for typical indoor conference shoots but the gain is very clean, thanks to the large 1" sensor. I didn’t like the default auto noise reduction setting as I found it resulted in soft images, so I manually set my noise reduction lower.

Connecting and Powering the N500

I connect my N500s (Figure 3) to a Netgear M4250 AV line switch. This is a professional AV switch that is designed for professional audio and video applications, like use with NDI and Power Over Ethernet (POE) devices. The advantage of using an M4250 is that it simplifies my setup. Instead of running a separate SDI and power cable to each PTZ, I can run a single ethernet cable for both power and NDI video to my switch. This also eliminates the need to have a multiple-input video capture device, like my Sonnet Thunderbolt3 enclosures that houses a 4x HD-SDI input Blackmagic Design video capture card.

Figure 3. Canon N500 connectors

Reducing the number of video and power cables I need to run saves me setup time and reduces the number of cases of equipment I need to transport. This isn’t a big deal for a one-camera production, but when you run multiple PTZ cameras and they are a few hundred feet away from the technical director position and available power, you really begin to appreciate the convenience of POE and NDI over a single cable.

For those new to the world of PTZ and NDI, POE is Power Over Ethernet and it allows you to power the connected devices through the ethernet cable. NDI is the protocol developed by NewTek to transmit video over ethernet. You simply connect multiple NDI devices and your computer to a POE switch, launch your favorite NDI-compatible software (I use vMix.,but OBS and TriCasters also support NDI), and operate almost the same as if you had connected a video camera via SDI or HDMI to a video capture card (Figure 4).

Figure 4. The Canon N500 in the field

PTZ stands for Pan, Tilt, Zoom, which are three of the settings you can remotely operate on PTZ cameras. In terms of controllers, Canon has a RC-IP100 PTZ controller, that features a joystick and touchscreen. SKAARHOJ has a line of controllers including the PTZ Fly, PTZ Pro, and PTZ Extreme that use the new Canon XC protocol. I control my N500s through vMix using the Sony Visca Protocol and an Xbox video game controller or the free Canon Remote Camera Control Application (Figure 5). I find I mostly record a bunch of preset shots in each camera and recall one on a preview camera before switching to them live as the program camera. I also use this same preset feature to pan one camera between different presets, with the ability to set the duration of the movement. Finally, I can also make live framing adjustments on the Xbox controller smoother than a camera operator could.

Figure 5. The Canon Remote Camera Control Application

The trade-off when using NDI|HX and POE on a PTZ vs SDI or HDMI and an AC power adapter is the simplicity of a single cable connection and working with a more compressed video signal. Once on a production, I connected both NDI and SDI from the same PTZ camera at the same time to see if my staff and I could see the difference in the video quality. They weren’t but I was able to see the slightest shift in the black levels, but otherwise to my eyes, the video was too similar to discern any other differences in this application.

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