Robotic Camera Systems Update

  • By David Kirk

Robotic Camera Systems Update

Contributing Editor David Kirk gives us an update on some of the developments over the last year within the world of robotic camera systems…

This article looks at developments in remotely controlled camera systems over the past 12 months. It is a product sector which has become more competitive than ever given the increasing willingness of broadcasters to use miniature pan/tilt/zoom cameras to capture content from remote locations or difficult angles. Remote control enables a small production team to monitor and adjust multiple cameras, or TV presenters to work in self-op mode. Automatic tracking continues to develop, exemplified by MRMC’s Polymotion Chat software which is designed to track multiple performers across multiple cameras.

Canon’s CR-S700R robotic camera system allows still images to be captured from unusual viewpoints. It is based on a remote pan head which can be used to control a compatible EOS camera. The system includes the CR-G100 IP camera controller. Optional CR-A100 software can be used to control multiple cameras from a PC, display live view images, remotely trigger a camera or simultaneously shoot with multiple cameras. Turning radius is approximately 26cm. The CR-G100 IP camera controller connects to a PC for remote operation using an Ethernet LAN cable. “The remote pan head allows operations such as zooming, panning, tilting and rolling,” details European Product Marketing Manager Ryan Kamata. “It can also be used to follow subjects that move at high speed.” 

Egripment’s ARC Compensation is a hardware and software tool designed for use with the company’s Xtreme T10 telescopic camera crane. It allows automated moves including vertical straight lines, horizontal plane and pan compensation by the activation of a single button. All axes of the crane arm, dolly and telescopic column can be encoded for augmented/virtual-reality applications. The arm weighs 275 kg can be extended from 2.1 to 7.5 metres length. Maximum telescoping speed is 2.1 metres per second

Fujifilm’s Fujinon S10 digital drive unit is designed to deliver precise zoom and focus, supporting robotic video production. Externally the same as the S6/8/9 drive unit, it features 16 bit iris, zoom and focus encoding, reduced mechanical backlash and faster processing of commands to reduce lag when used in robotic or AR/VR applications. Breathing compensation can be activated to keep the angle of view the same whilst making focus adjustments during shooting. Grass Valley’s PTZ 35X HD remote PTZ camera can be operated directly from any of Grass Valley’s Kula switchers or automated as a part of GV Pace preset scenes. Images from the PTZ 35X can be intermixed with images from Grass Valley’s LDX cameras. The camera uses a 1/1.7 inch 12.4 megapixel sensor with a 3840 x 2160p30 UHD video resolution. Zoom magnification is up to 35x optical starting from 60.5 degree horizontal wide-angle. Video-over-IP is supported along with H.264 and H.265 encoding as well as NDI v4.0 video transmission and control. White balance, exposure, focus, iris can be adjusted automatically or manually. 128 presets can be stored within the camera head. Up to 7 cameras can be connected using VISCA protocol. Additional features include image flip for upside-down installation and video format switching within 3 seconds.

Ikegami’s UHL-F4000 is a compact and lightweight 4K HDR camera designed for use in applications such as studio robotics. It is capable of capturing broadcast quality colour video across a very wide range of night or daytime conditions. An image sharpening function is incorporated and a vertical image reversal mode allows the camera to be mounted upside down. The operator can adjust the camera in real time for optimum noise reduction when shooting at night with high gain. The UHL-F4000 camera head measures 100 x 128 x 90mm WHD and weighs only 1.1 kg. Digital zoom from 1.01x to 10.0x magnification, including gradual acceleration, can be combined with a BTA S-1005B-mount optical zoom lens to achieve natural long-range wide-angle to close-up effects. Minimum illumination level in standard operating mode is 0.0015 lux at F12. A focus-assist function places the edge components of the 4K image on the high-definition monitor output feed. An integral motorised neutral density filter can be set to 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 or 1/256. Colour correction can also be adjusted. The camera head consumes very low power as all video processing is performed in a separate base station. A 40 Gbps duplex optical fibre connection communicates between the camera head and base station. These can be positioned up to 10km apart. The optical fibre can be integrated into one bidirectional core using an optical circulator and passed through a single-core optical rotary joint used for a small gimbal. The base station is also compact, measuring 145 x 145 x 173mm WHD and weighing 2.5 kg. It simultaneously outputs 4K and HD video compatible with HDR. 

The UHL-F4000 camera head can be mounted on a motor-driven pan/tilt unit for robotic operation in a studio. In this configuration, the genlock or remote control cable can be connected to the base station so that the cable does not obstruct camera movement.

Marshall Electronics offers a wide selection of robotic PTZ cameras including models with 4K, UHD and HD resolutions.  Price points range from just under a thousand dollars to several thousand. At the higher end is the CV730, capable of 4K at 60 fps with 12G SDI. The CV730 is offered in two versions: CV730-NDI with NDI/DHCP/HTTP/HTTPS/UDP and CV730-IP with HEVC/SRT/DHCP/HTTP/RTSP/UDP/MPEG-TS.  All Marshall PTZ cameras can be controlled through their broadcast style VS-PTC-IP controller, NDI 5 tools, video management software, OBS plugins, vMix software, as well as other customisable command sources.  Marshall’s robotic PTZ range will be upgraded to support Free-D protocols in the coming months which opens new creative possibilities for robotic camera control.  A high-bandwidth CV730-BHN will be introduced in early 2022.

Mo-Sys’  StarTracker Studio is specifically designed to provide a complete switched-camera system for users new to virtual production or without the skills to create a VP studio solution from scratch. It is a complete three-camera 4K virtual studio system which can be expanded to eight tracked cameras. Fully configured with pre-calibrated lenses, integral graphics processing and 4K recording, it transforms a compact studio space into a much larger virtual studio without need for physical set construction. The virtual production software used in StarTracker Studio is Mo-Sys’ VP Pro, which offers the same capabilities as traditional virtual studio software, but rather than being a layer on top of Unreal Engine, it’s embedded directly into the Unreal Engine’s editor interface. This architecture approach enables new versions of VP Pro to be released the same day as Epic releases new versions of Unreal Engine, meaning users have immediate access to new Unreal features. Using StarTracker Studio, virtual sets can be switched almost instantly and augmented to include remote guests or superimposed objects. StarTracker Studio as standard comes with three pieces of manual grip for each of the cameras included, but these can be complimented with (or exchanged for) any of Mo-Sys’s image robotics solutions. These include precision remote heads (B20, L40, U50), roboticized jibs and cranes (e-Crane, Robojib), or Mo-Sys’ robotic rail systems.

Mark Roberts Motion Control (MRMC) has revamped its Polymotion Chat automated camera control software to provide new tiered access points. Polymotion Chat Studio and Polymotion Chat Broadcast, plus the entry level Polymotion Chat Pro, now provide a range of options covering use cases from the live events sector up to broadcast, and up to six camera operation. Polymotion Chat can auto-track subjects using PTZ cameras or robotic pan/tilt heads. The system is always available and provides reliable and consistent shots, allowing a single operator to manage multiple cameras. Polymotion Chat Studio is aimed at studios, live production and large corporate productions. It provides support for MRMC and many third-party robotic heads, including PTZ cameras. Advanced tracking and framing capability allows it to track multiple people across multiple cameras. It can be used either as a fully autonomous system with no operator or ensuring a shot is ready for a single operator to make minor changes. Facial recognition allows automated presets to be used. Polymotion Chat Broadcast adds presenter profiles, tighter integration into studio automation, scene recognition, and advanced sequencing for executing pre-defined camera moves. “Broadcasters and professional users all over the world are facing the increasing challenges of producing more content with less, with the importance of maintaining schedules in the face of socially-distanced production protocols throwing workflows into stark relief,” MRMC Head of Broadcast Paddy Taylor summarises. “By providing advanced automation tools that faithfully replicate the naturalistic moves and skilled awareness of experienced camera operators, Polymotion Chat dramatically increases production efficiencies and allows a single operator to run multiple cameras in a Covid-secure manner.”

multiCAM’s SPIRIT offers a combinable range of robotic camera support equipment, managed using the PILOT control software which allows a sequence of preprogrammed camera movements to be created and stored. With SPIRIT Slide, an operator can perform motion control using a PTZ camera along a straight rail slide. SPIRIT Head can accommodate a heavy camera and apply motorised optics, transforming a camera block into a pan/tilt-zoom unit. SPIRIT Lift is a telescopic column which can be used to create a parallax effect and sublimate a fixed plane on the ground. SPIRIT Dolly is a motorised cart on curved rails which can support other devices to form a complete traveling camera dolly. multiCAM BACKDROP is an easy-to-use xR solution that projects 3D environments onto LED studio walls, allowing producers to offer an immersive shooting experience and quickly interact with the virtual scenes with a custom web remote. 

 Panasonic has announced five new remote PTZ cameras. The UHD AW-UE80W/K, AW-UE50W/K, AW-UE40W/K, AW-UE20W/K and the HD  AW-HE20W/K will be introduced from Q1 2022. The AW-UE40, AW-UE50 and AW-UE80 will have a 24x optical zoom and up to a 36x intelligent zoom, as well as a 74.1 degree viewing angle and optical image stabilisation. All five cameras will support PoE, NDI|HX version 2 and, in the case of the AW-UE80, full-bandwidth NDI. The SRT protocol will also be supported alongside RTMP and RTMPS. The AW-UE80 is compatible with the FreeD protocol to allow integration with AR and VR systems. “Panasonic PTZ cameras have been used at venues of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, including the Japan National Stadium and the Tokyo Aquatics Centre,” says Guilhem Krier, Head of New Business & Market Development for MEBD & DSC business units.

Shotoku’s robotic heads, elevators, pedestals and rails aim to cover any type of studio.  The smallest head is the TG-27, with a payload of 17 kg, intended for use in smaller studio setups or in conference rooms. The mid-range 62 kg payload TG-18i head suits studios where rapid changeover from robotic to manual is needed and 24/7 longevity is key.  For larger studios, the fully robotic SmartPed provides XY and height control, plus full integration with absolute tracking systems from companies such as MoSys or Stype. Shotoku’s SmartRail track-based camera system can be used for on-air tracking shots and is capable of floor or ceiling operation. Various elevator (or descender) column lengths are available.

Sony’s BRC-X1000 4K remote camera is designed to capture images in hard-to-reach or unobtrusive positions. Intended applications include TV newsrooms, remote studios and on-air suites, auditoriums, courtrooms and sports stadiums. Features include a 1 inch CMOS image sensor allowing tight depth-of-field effects, 12x optical zoom extendable with interpolation to 48x in 1920 x 1080 HD. PTZ Trace Memory allows a sequence of camera movements to be memorised and followed. PTZ Motion Sync blends separate pan, tilt and zoom movements for seamless transitions. Up to 100 pre set positions for PTZ operations can be stored. The BRC-X1000 can operate at light levels down to 1.7 lux, making it suitable for dimly lit interior venues. It is genlockable and can be controlled with Sony’s RCP-1500/1501/1530 and MSU-1000/1500 remote control panels. Dual tally lamps are included and options are avail-able to allow ceiling, tabletop or tripod mounting. Video connectivity includes IP and support for PoE+. Real-time PTZ/focus/iris data can be output from the camera in Free-D protocol. 

Telemetrics’ PT-RE-2 RoboEye is a fully integrated robotic camera system that includes a 4K digital camera with a 1 inch type Sony Exmore R back-illuminated CMOS sensor plus a zoom lens and a compact pan/tilt head. Features include smooth tracking, low-noise operation and up to 60p (HD) frame rate, allowing live on-air operation. With an MOD of 80-1000 mm, the system combines the sensor’s optical zoom and electronic zoom. This helps reduce image degradation. The sensor also trims the central part of the picture and enlarges it without image processing. When paired with Telemetrics’ RCCP-2A controller and optional STS Studio or LGS Legislative software, the RoboEye uses AI and facial recognition algorithms to lock onto the talent and automatically trim the shot. A RJ45 PoE network inter-face allows operation and power via a single cable. H.264 or H.265 streaming output can be selected for live streaming directly from the camera. A browser-based user interface allows simplified IP control.

OmniGlide RRP-1 provides continuous camera motion through direction changes and along curved paths. It allows an operator to create dynamic moves such as crabbing or spinning without losing camera orientation. In robotic mode, remote control can be used to move the platform using joystick control in horizontal and vertical planes. Point to point timed and synchronised preset positions, key frame motion through multiple points and autonomous reframe motion can also be controlled. Motion can be recorded and repeated. In manual-mode, the internal motor can assist an operator with any motion on any axis. XY-plane scanners sense floor obstructions within a 5 metre radius. These sensors are used for collision avoidance, pending obstruction warning, home positioning and calibration, and auto-orientation compensation.

Vinten offers a wide range of robotic camera heads, supports and controllers. A recent introduction is the FH-155, a robotic/manual pan and tilt head designed to support payloads of up to 70 kg. A 3 port Ethernet switch is included to simplify integration with robotic pedestals and IP-linked prompters. The FH-155 is designed to be near silent when moving. A VR variant delivers 22-bit data for VR applications. Where floor movement is required an optional StarTracker optical camera tracking system can also be built into the head. This will track both manual and FP-188/210 pedestals anywhere in the studio, providing an absolute reference that remains drift-free after the initial calibration.

XD Motion produces a complete robotic camera system based on the company’s Arcam six-axis arm and IO.BOT software. The system can be set on a pedestal, ceiling mounted or configured to work with a motion control dolly track. “The role of the camera operator is becoming increasingly specialised given the ever growing complexity of systems and increasing choice of management software,” says XD-Motion CEO Benoit Dentan. “Arcam is designed to ease the burden. Our software works alongside our robots and is also able to control third-party PTZ heads. ability to centralise multiple functions makes operation of a project much easier.”