Robotic vs. manual cameras
Recently I noticed an advertisement for a robotic vacuum cleaner. The headline read: “It will change the way you clean forever!”
I must admit, the concept of setting the small circular device on the floor and simply touching a button, sending it throughout the room to search and destroy dust bunnies, was intriguing. Of course, all this was mine for only $199.95. As I began to study it further, I wondered whether the sensors that move it around the room would really cover the entire floor? Would the small compact motor have the power to suck up the debris? How could it possibly address the scuff marks made by shoes that need a little extra elbow grease and attention? As much as I liked the idea of touching a button and walking away, would it really make my house cleaner?
Automation can sometimes make our lives easier and more efficient. However, consider this in a broadcasting scenario. Some television media producers believe that there is something to be said about involving the human touch -especially in the production of worship.
Robotic camera systems have many wonderful advantages that need to be considered. First, think of the real estate – floor space. Tripods in manual operations take up room. Multiply the average 6×6 foot riser (with tripod spreader) by 3 cameras. It’s giving up a lot of prime seats in your sanctuary. A robotic camera can simply be fixed to walls to accommodate any angle you care to shoot- over the head of the congregation and eye level with the pulpit. Today’s quiet servos within the pan/tilt systems move the multi-directional cameras and remove the distraction that a camera operator might create. Body movements right next to someone deep in prayer or concentration can be eliminated.
Maybe we are just used to security cameras and don’t feel as self-conscious with a robotic camera pointed at us as compared to a human directly on the opposite end of the lens. But please remember, when mounting cameras on second floor balconies, consider the stability of the flooring structure. Foot traffic or a congregation’s movement during the service can cause a camera to bounce!
Also consider consistency and continuity. Automation provides the option to “preset” and store desired shots and settings. According to Les Black, District Sales Manager for Panasonic Broadcast and Television Systems, “With one-touch, the camera will automatically adjust the color, hue, brightness and contrast to pre-selected levels, keeping the picture’s integrity from service to service. A big time-saver, especially when using less experienced volunteers to set up cameras.”
In addition, the preset shots allow the controller to repeat specific camera patterns and functions, in any length or variation. For example, a pan and zoom from a wide shot of the choir, then landing on the podium, may be standard shots during a service. Imagine the ease of operation with a key-stroke as compared to verbally directing a cameraman over a headset.
Again, these functions are extremely helpful when dealing with volunteer media staff. No intercom or long distances, direction can be given side-by-side. The speed and movement of the robotic preset shots are typically faster and/or smoother than a human response. Most pan/tilt systems are operated with a single joystick, however extended studio configurations allow for dual pan-bar sets within the production studio, giving the operator more control.
Some control systems can handle up to five cameras. That’s a lot for one operator, so additional joysticks can be added for multiple users.
A third consideration is cabling. Some pan/tilt systems are powered and controlled by using a variety of cables. First, a Cat 5 cable is used for the pan/tilt system . A second coax cable is used for video, a third twisted pair is run for power, a fourth coax for camera control, and a fifth coax possibly for blackburst and genlock. These cables are typically cost effective when running long distances, and durable through difficult cable paths. The alternative is a single multi-core or triax cable. Multi-core can break if stepped on or stressed, and is expensive to replace. Triax of course delivers the highest quality signal but can become costly when purchasing camera adaptors (or backs). Each pan/tilt system is different and should be carefully considered. Additional remote pan/tilt manufacturers such as Vinten and Telemetrics are available. Camera manufacturers such as Fujinon, Sony, JVC and Hitachi provide systems as well.
Automated features can be a life-saver for the busy and under pressure producer. However, there are some media directors who refuse to use the technology. Jaffa Breedlove, Television Director of the internationally acclaimed NewBirth Ministries suggests machines can never replace the touch and the feel of a human operator. “Especially during intense times of worship, a camera operator must be able to sense and respond to the congregation. When you are live in a room and the Holy Spirit moves the congregation, (and/or the pastor) a director who is closed up in a production suite away from the electricity and excitement can’t feel it and respond.” he says.
A live camera operator can often be more aware of body language that will allow him to anticipate and follow a subject or situation. A second set of eyes on the floor can watch for off-camera activities to develop, then exploit when the activity comes within camera range.
As with most things in life, a compromise (between man and machine) may not be a bad solution. Yes, many shots within a service are traditional – the opener, the pulpit, the choir, etc. However the front of the room is intimate. Roving cameras can be mixed in with robotics to capture the best of both worlds. Mixed live or in post, the manual feed can provide camera shots and angles that come from only the imagination of the operator. Through the legs or over the shoulder; shooters are artists, let them paint!
A push of a button and relax, or manage the pressure and camaraderie of a team production. It’s a matter of time and money, stress and creativity. It’s one of the many choices we have in celebrating our service to the Father.