When and How to Use Pan-Tilt-Zoom Cameras in a Live Environment

The advent of the ptz camera means an end to the old order. As against the old practice of having someone to handle and move the cameras around in order to cover an event, the ptz cameras have come to help.  They are, without a doubt, sophisticated pieces of equipment.

Despite their rich features and value, you must be able to use them like a pro to get the best out of them. Do you plan on setting up your ptz camera? Don’t get too worried. You will soon understand how to be able to carry out some basic tasks in order to use the cameras in a live production environment.

ptz cameras

Ptz camera

You may have asked, what is a ptz camera? Pan-tilt-zoom (ptz, for short) cameras are the types of cameras that are made with moving parts to allow for easy movement to the left, right, up, down, and also zoom in and out. This is to ensure that they cover up to 180° and even 360° in some cases, and can make the objects as visible as possible by zooming closer. Much of the reason they are called pan-tilt-zoom cameras. 

They can be controlled with a remote and made to follow movements or carry out other types of activities they are programmed to.

Live Production

The operation of a camera in a video production environment involves two very important aspects: managing the camera and switching between videos.

Managing the camera

In many cases, PTZ cameras act in much the same way as robots. However, they are not always self-controlled; they cannot (yet) follow an object of interest independently. You will need a controller as well as a way to monitor the video from each camera. Different camera systems use different ptz camera control protocols, although VISCA is one of the most common.

It is a serial-based protocol that is usually transmitted over an RS-232 or RS-422 interface. Many camera systems allow for chaining so that only a single cable connection back to the controller is required. On the other hand, you can implement the “star pattern,” where all cameras are independently connected to the controller.

The ptz control itself is equipped with a zoom switch, a joystick for panning and tilting, and other controls. Other camera settings, like exposure and focus, can also be changed instantly and remotely where supported. Some systems even offer CCU-style (camera control unit) set up controls to make it easier to properly calibrate all cameras.



You may watch all video sources on a single display by using live video switchers, which often provide a multi-view split-screen output. One possibility for monitoring is that the PTZ operator can tap this source. As non-PTZ sources may be included, this may not be optimal for larger productions.

Dedicated multiple views for combining PTZ images may be preferred. In addition to multiple views, you may also want a full-screen preview of a single camera. An inexpensive “hard” switch may be sufficient for this purpose. However, a momentary loss of signal occurs with such a switch, so it should not be used where fast on-the-fly switching is required. This is especially true for HDMI signals.

As a best practice, ensure that the signal to this switch is downstream from any device, such as a live switch that may be streaming live video. With SDI being the best signal option for live streaming, the video signal is easy to split or route, so the best plan is to split the video streams.

Switching between videos

You can call them switchers or video mixers. When you get feeds from different camera sources, you can always switch between videos of interest. You can use hardware or software programs to switch between videos or perform other types of commands. With the switchers, you can review the video signals from various camera sources. You may also decide to add some special effects before the content is allowed to go live.

The process of setting up and wiring

Whether you are using a wired or wireless ptz camera, knowing how to set them up is key.

In a case where you have to use pan-tilt-zoom cameras that use wires, each camera uses a different kind of wire for video, control, and power. Achieving this could be a daunting task. This also means that you have to take charge of the power station, control and take into perspective the video signal length. What if you have several cameras? This means you’ll have so much to worry about. 

Flexible recording is one of PTZ cameras’ greatest advantages.  A flat wall mount is necessary for basic installation. Many types may be put directly on the junction box in the ceiling since they are reversible. (When installing the camera, make sure it is set to the correct mode, as later access to “flip” the image can be a challenge.) Some mounts even screw into standard 1.5″ NPT tubing, allowing you to mount your AV and projector simultaneously. Weatherproof housings or even weatherproof cameras are available for outdoor use.

In addition to installation, you also need to think about wiring. There will usually be separate connections for video, control, and power. 

Due to the distance, more than one cable may be needed to carry the video and/or control signal from A to B. The cables act as antennas; the more radio interference is detected, the more noise is added to the signal. With analog signals, the quality simply deteriorates, but with digital, there are far fewer tolerable interruptions and eventually a complete loss of signal. The most popular remedy is balun.

Baluns are basically cable adapters that convert an unbalanced cable (e.g. RG-6) to a balanced cable, typically Ethernet/CAT5 (some systems require CAT6 or CAT7). Virtually all visual signal types, as well as serial control signals like RS-232 and RS-422, are supported by baluns. Because digital video, especially HD and high-definition digital video, requires high bandwidth, fiber optics can be used as an alternative when baluns do not provide sufficient length.

Direction of view

If you want to get good coverage, you must ensure that you pick a good angle or direction to place your camera. Ptz cameras usually come with fixed lenses. When choosing a camera, an important aspect to note is the characteristics of the lens. Just as the projection ratio of video projectors is different, the viewing angle of PTZ lenses also varies.

Most PTZ cameras are fixed-lens, which means you must use the lens that came with the camera. Some are short-range or long-range. The long range ptz camera is able to cover 2000M, for example. Depending on your camera placement, make sure the lens is wide enough to provide enough coverage when zoomed out, while the telephoto lens is long enough to get the close-ups you want when zoomed all the way in. There are several lens calculator apps available that can help you decide this.

Concluding remarks

Ptz cameras are perfect for concerts, conferences, religious gatherings, and a host of other live events. The process of setting them up and how to use them could be a challenge if you don’t acquire the right knowledge. If it proves impossible to manage, you can as well request the service of a professional. 

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