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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.

ISO Recording with the N500

If I need a higher-quality signal and—more importantly—ISO recordings from each PTZ camera, I will often ISO record on an ATEM Mini Extreme ISO or Atomos Ninja V. Coming from using exclusively digital cine cameras and camcorders that always have internal recording capabilities, adding a recorder to a PTZ camera was a workflow adjustment.

Most of the time I will simply use the MultiCorder in vMix to ISO record the NDI signals. There is a checkbox for “Record NDI in original MOV format,” which lets you record the native H.264 or H.265 NDI signal from NDI|HX or NDI|HX2 sources, in an MOV wrapper. This workflow saves your computer the step of reincoding an uncompressed signal, so the CPU load is very minimal. My only workflow challenge with this method is that although the N500 has for audio connections both 3.5mm and dual XLR (that even have 48v phantom power), it lacks a basic internal microphone. So unless you connect a microphone or sound board audio source to each camera, the ISO records lack an audio track that makes it so much easier to synchronize with your master audio recording.

Setting Up a VLAN

Connecting the Canon N500s to a network switch like the Netgear M4250 requires a bit of networking know-how that admittedly isn’t my forte. Fortunately, Netgear has produced a few YouTube videos on the M4250 for use in AV applications that are helpful, including this one that made a big difference in my understanding and setup of VLANs.

The key learning was to set up two Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs). The first VLAN is for NDI devices, including your computer. This VLAN isn’t connected to a venue network or the public internet and is used solely for your NDI traffic. The M4250 has AV presets, including one for NDI5, that simplify the setup of the VLAN. The second VLAN is for the venue network, including the public internet, and is what you use to send and receive streams. The same computer that you use for NDI can be connected to this VLAN, but it requires a second ethernet connection on your computer.

I have long been in the habit of buying my desktop workstations with two ethernet ports on the motherboard as this is part of my Blackmagic ATEM workflows, but on a laptop, it requires an external ethernet adapter. Normally I connect a CalDigit TS3 dock via Thunderbolt 3 for its additional ethernet port.

Even if you haven’t set up separate VLANs for NDI and network traffic, or set-up your PTZ cameras with static IP addresses, Canon has a Camera Search Tool that makes quick work of finding your PTZ cameras over the network (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Locating the N500 with the Canon Camera Search Tool

Once you know the IP address of your PTZ camera, you can use a web browser to preview and control all the camera settings (Figure 7). You can also use the Remote Camera Control Application to easily toggle between multiple connected cameras, including seeing a preview of the camera feed. The preview video is not full resolution so I make critical adjustments while viewing the NDI or SDI output.

Figure 7. Browser control via IP address

Adjusting Focus and Color Matching

I have always been very firm with my camera operators that in my business, my operators don’t use automatic controls for exposure and focus. This all changed with recent autofocus improvements, including face tracking and dual pixel autofocus. I like that there are intelligent functions like Face Only that will hold the focus if the subject leaves the scene, instead of hunting around and settling in on the background or Face Priority that prioritizes faces but in the absence of one, will continue to focus within a predefined area.

Wide dynamic range and C-LOG3 support have made a big difference in my productions. When I was a Sony shooter, because of the challenges of color-matching between different camera models and even different lenses on the same models, I tended to use Rec. 709 profiles more than I should have and they do not protect highlights really well. It made for some very active camera operator changes and more highlight blowouts. Canon’s Wide DR Gamma has an 800% dynamic range (13 stops) and this goes a long way when you can’t control the lighting and conditions change. Wide DR doesn’t require grading, unlike a LOG gamma, and is well suited for live productions.

Before I wrap up and give my final thoughts on the Canon CR-N500 PTZ cameras and the benefits of PTZ cameras in general, I did want to note that the N500s do not come with a lens cap. I ordered a set of LensCoat Hoodie lens hood covers, which are made out of neoprene and cost under $15.

On the recommendation of another N500 user on a Facebook Canon PTZ user group, I bought a size large but because they are stretchy and the large has a bit of a loose fit, I think the medium is probably the better size.

Benefits of the N500 and Other PTZs

Another thought I had is that I no longer need to use my expensive Vinten Blue3 carbon fiber tripods (I’m sure they were priced in the mid-$2,000s before, and with inflation cost over $3,000). PTZs also eliminate the need for fluid heads. I have looked into heavy-duty light stand tripods with the correct attachment for a camera but at this point I haven’t found something that I love and is worth getting, as I presently have more tripods that cameras.

I feel it is worth emphasizing again the benefits of operating a remote video camera during a pandemic. As an operator I feel much more comfortable when I can distance myself from audience members or talent. I have used the Canon N500s to satisfy several clients’ strict COVID protocols by setting up my control room in a separate room. While producing a recent lecture series in a theatre that didn’t have any good camera positions, instead of “killing” blocks of seats for my camera and operators, or operating cameras from the wheelchair row off in a corner, I set up a pair of PTZ cameras in the middle row centerstage and operated them remotely from the unused wheelchair row. If the wheelchair row was needed, we were ready to move backstage. The point is that we had more flexibility for operator and camera placement, independent of each other.

What else can I say about my camera journey, 20 years into my career as a video producer? A year ago I was a frustrated Sony shooter who wouldn’t touch a PTZ because I considered the image quallity unacceptable, and who owned way too many different video cameras because the ones I had had too many workflow limitations. Now I’m a Canon shooter and my business is built around Canon XF605 camcorders and CR-N500 PTZ video cameras.

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