PTZ cameras are becoming more common in church production setups. However, it is critical to understand their limitations and how to best use them.
First off, let me define what a PTZ camera is. “P” stands for PAN, “T” stands for Tilt and “Z” stands for ZOOM. It is a single camera unit that can pan, tilt and zoom via a remote control – usually via some kind of joy stick – eliminating the need for an operator.
PTZ is NOT the same as a “remote head”. This is is a device that you fit a normal broadcast camera onto that will do most of what a PTZ camera can do regarding the movement – panning and tilting and also allow you remote control of things like focus, zoom etc. These types of devices are very useful if you have a broadcast camera set up already BUT want to introduce some kind of remote control into your production. The disadvantage is that you will spend more money than if you go the “all in one” type system.
There are many different brands and qualities of PTZ cameras and you will be able to find something to fit whatever budget you have. Also worth knowing, this is an area a lot of tech development is happening in too – so things are evolving and improvements happening all the time. Of course, one truth remains – the more money you pay, as a general rule of thumb, the better quality of unit you will get. Or, as a friend of mine says, “You get what you don’t pay for”.
I would, however, always err on the side of purchasing a PTZ camera from a company with a reputation for making cameras rather than a company specialising in robotics. The reason for this is that you get higher technology in the areas that matter most in terms of quality – chips, lenses, and so on – because these manufacturers take technology from other camera systems and use it in their PTZ systems.
There are 3 main reasons to consider going the PTZ route:
Budget - As mentioned above, there are cameras to match most budgets and they will likely work out cheaper than a manned camera system. If though you want high quality images, you will need to pay a higher price. With PTZ cameras you are paying a considerable amount of money for the “mechanism,” so a similar costing camera that isn’t PTZ will produce higher quality images as ALL the budget is going into the sensor, lens etc and NOT to the “robotics” side of things.
Team – If you do not have enough people to run manned cameras (often a big issue for churches – particularly smaller churches) then a PTZ camera system could be worth looking at. You can have one person running several PTZ cameras so it can be a great way to have a multi camera set up without lots of volunteers – for me this would be the main reason I would favour them.
Placement – Where space is at a premium and you don’t have “space” for the footprint of a manned camera (tripod, cameraman etc) then a PTZ camera can give you a good solution. You can also “attach” them to things like columns etc. and can hide them away where the aesthetics of your church are important.
A PTZ camera is particularly good for a “static” set up where you don’t have much movement. For instance, your preacher doesn’t move, your band are pretty static etc. You can then programme different shots and framings on the cameras that you can cut to via pre-sets enabling you to swap shots with speed and make the production look good.
You can also use them for angles where you can’t get a camera operator to get the shot. On stage around your drum kit can be useful and, again, you can pre-set a variety of shots too.
I also am a fan of integrating them with manned cameras. You don’t have to do an either/or. I would use them for wider static shots and then still have a manned camera as your close follow. The key is to think through what you are trying to do and then utilise the best option (camera choice) for each camera position.
If you go the PTZ route, one thing to consider carefully is your lighting. PTZ cameras, in general, require much better lighting (they are less forgiving) than other cameras. I've seen countless comments about how people who purchased these were disappointed with the image quality – almost all of them due to a poor lighting setup.
Look at this blog "Beautiful lighting makes everything look better" to learn more about why lighting is so important.
We touched on placement earlier. Often churches will put them “out of the way” and whilst that may work from a space perspective, I still believe that PTZ cameras are best placed in the same locations as manned cameras. That’s where you will get the best shots. If you want to know where to put them then take a look at this blog on "Camera Placement" to find out more.
One final thought on placement though is, don’t be afraid to move them. You may find that you need to make changes for different types of production and so you should. Do you pre-record elements rather than stream live? Well if so, move the cameras to where works best for the pre-recording and then back for the LIVE stream. When you are installing the cameras, I would recommend thinking through all the places you may want them for different shoots and run cable to each location.
I mentioned the idea of integrating PTZ cameras with other “manned” cameras can give you some great options. BUT you need to consider matching issues. I said earlier that you are not only paying for the camera BUT for the robotics so the quality of the camera “elements” will be less than a similar priced camera that doesn’t have the PTZ elements. It is best to match all your cameras to whichever is the lowest spec camera and get everything looking as good as you can from that basepoint. Again, getting your lighting right will be critical here.
Also, watch out for camera shake. Placing them in or attached to balconies etc can be problematic. You can find ways to eliminate some of these problems but avoiding putting them where shake could be an issue. Often when an installation is being done, you don’t have the same production conditions, so you can’t know what the impact of people in a balcony will be on possible camera shake, but I propose you plan for the worst case scenario.
One final thought, a lot of these cameras now work via NDI and IP etc which makes cabling simple BUT can also introduce latency issues into your programme. Make sure you think this through as you don’t want out of synch video and audio on your live stream OR on you IMAG – again, something to consider.
I hope this is a helpful article for you.
Do you have a PTZ camera in your set up? How do you find it – love it or hate it? I’d be interested in any comments you have.
The main reason I would use a PTZ camera is a lack of camera people, but keep in mind that camera people can be great assets for any team and often go on to be great directors or lighting people, etc. – I always recommend having some camera people on your team so you can be training them up for the future. PTZ cameras should be used as part of a strategy, not as the sole strategy.
I understand that for those of you who are just starting out in the production world, this can be overwhelming. Finance is often limited, and you don't want to make a mistake. That is why we offer these resources to assist you. However, if you require additional assistance, please schedule an exploratory call to discuss how we can assist you in growing, developing, or starting your media ministry. It's a free 30-minute call, so click here and let's chat.