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PTZ Cameras Expand to Digital Cinema Production

Sony FR7 in Production

For years, PTZ cameras — for pan-tilt-zoom — have been used in applications such as surveillance, video conferencing, live production, internet broadcasts, college lectures and distance learning. Now, in a new generation of the technology, PTZ cameras are advancing to the very highest end of the video production market.

Remote-controlled cameras are not new in professional television production. They are found on news sets, in sports stadiums, radio studios and anywhere a high-resolution video camera is needed to remotely pan and zoom on images.

Sony FR7

Recently, however, both Sony and Canon have upped the PTZ camera game with new high-end cameras, both starting in cost at about $10,000. These models go far beyond existing PTZ cameras that have long been in the $3,000 price range.

Most radical in new capability is Sony’s FR7 Cinema Line PTZ camera. It has a full-frame sensor and the ability to shoot Internal XAVC/External RAW. This model was designed as one of Sony’s digital cinema cameras along with the FX3, FX6, FX9 and VENICE models.

Sony FR7

What’s new is the FR7 is a high-end digital cinema camera in a PTZ form factor. It has all the standard PTZ features such as smooth pan/tilt/zoom functions; up to 100 presets; PoE++ and IP remote control.

This camera then goes further, adding 15-plus stops of dynamic range to that full-frame sensor and a RAW/high-bit codec. It also has dual media storage slots; genlock; timecode; and — a first for any PTZ camera — a Sony E lens mount for a whole body of interchangeable lenses.

This moves PTZ cameras for the first time into high-end broadcast and cinema applications where the camera and lens can be supported by standard production gear, like gib arms and dollies.

The Sony FR7 captures up to UHD 4K120 video and supports common looks such as S-Cinetone, Cine EI and MLUT for matching other cameras. It has professional color spaces such as Log3 and HLG deep color and resolution options for post-production workflows.

The camera adds variable 1/4 to 1/128 electronic neutral density filters; fast hybrid auto focus; real-time Eye auto focus; and Tracking auto focus. Remote operators can track any subject accurately as they move around the frame.

In another difference, a single PTZ camera can be interconnected with other cameras and control devices in a range of ways. It’s an entire system that can be remotely controlled with a tablet, laptop computer or an RM-IP500 remote control with joystick.

The camera connects to a LAN via Ethernet, and it supports PoE++. It also outputs to HDMI; supports SDI raw output; and allows users to input audio via an XLR connector. It has a tally light; timecode input; and a genlock connector for integration into multiple cameras.

The FR7 has dual media slots that accept CFexpress Type-A/SDXC cards for internal recording, something that has never before been available on a PTZ camera.

Canon CR-N700

At about the same time, Canon announced the CR-N700 4K PTZ Camera. It’s a high-end broadcast, studio and live event camera that supports up to UHD 4K60p 4:2:2 10-bit HDR video. It shares several features with high-resolution, cine-style Canon cameras like a 1-inch type CMOS sensor; a Canon DIG!C DV7 image processor; and Dual Pixel CMOS AF with EOS iTR AF X (autofocus).

The CR-N700 PTZ camera also features “deep learning” auto focus; 12G-SDI connectivity; and compatibility with multiple streaming and control protocols. Region of interest (ROI) crop capabilities enables users to highlight picture areas within the 4K image.

Unlike the Sony camera, which uses multiple lenses, Canon’s CR-N700 features a 15x optical/20x digital zoom with a 30x Advanced Zoom in high definition.

Once a target subject exits the field of view of the lens, these cameras can smoothly return to a pre-programmed position until further movement is detected. Electronic and virtual pan, tilt and zoom allows users to work hands-free with webcams.

With remote control, compact size, multiple lens capability and the ability to network dozens of cameras, television production is clearly getting a new option for the future.

Sony FR7

These new cameras are proof that the PTZ camera market is in flux as the technology improves. Whether PTZ cameras will reach the mainstream in digital cinema is still an open question. There will be a lot of experimentation by directors of photography and there will clearly be refinements as this new category is developed.

For now, there is a new category of PTZ camera in the production arsenal and how it plays out, only time will tell.

Writer at Broadcast Beat
Frank Beacham is a New York-based writer, director and producer who works in print, radio, television, film and theatre.

Beacham has served as a staff reporter and editor for United Press International, the Miami Herald, Gannett Newspapers and Post-Newsweek. His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, the Village Voice and The Oxford American.

Beacham’s books, Whitewash: A Southern Journey through Music, Mayhem & Murder and The Whole World Was Watching; My Life Under the Media
Microscope are currently in publication. Two of his stories are currently being developed for television.

In 1985, Beacham teamed with Orson Welles over a six month period to develop a one-man television special. Orson Welles Solo was canceled after Mr. Welles died on the day principal photography was to begin.

In 1999, Frank Beacham was executive producer of Tim Robbins’ Touchstone feature film, Cradle Will Rock. His play, Maverick, about video with Orson Welles, was staged off-Broadway in New York City in 2019.
Frank Beacham
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