How Canon PTZ camera apps helped streamline an important video shoot

DoP Max Elgar explains how he used a Canon CR-N700 PTZ camera with Auto Tracking to capture a vital message about climate change.
A Canon CR-N700 PTZ camera sits on a table while a man in the background operates a Canon XF605.

The Canon CR-N700 was the first Canon PTZ camera with Auto Tracking, but this function can now be added as a paid app to the CR-N500 and CR-N300 via a firmware update.

When filmmakers at London-based livestreaming specialist Kinura were charged with shooting a series of talking-head videos for the UK's Climate Change Committee, they needed a camera solution that would match the clarity of the message being delivered.

The Climate Change Committee advises the UK and devolved governments on emissions targets and had to film a video presentation to support its 2023 Progress Report to Parliament. The pre-recorded event, which would be streamed at a later date, would outline the UK Government's progress towards emissions goals.

The client brief included some specific requirements, as Kinura's Director of Photography Max Elgar explains. "There would be three different people doing addresses that were at least 10 minutes long, and we had to record each of them in one continuous take without any cuts," he says. "The client wanted to make it look like a midway point between professional and somewhat cinematic, so we opted for a three-point lighting setup. They also wanted a studio-like feel to the shoot and to have the backlight visible in shot."

Max is no stranger to Canon cameras, having used a Canon EOS 750D early in his career. His workhorse camera at Kinura is the Canon XF605. "I really like the way that Canon captures colour," he says. "It has a beautiful richness to it. And it's something that I find tracks across, particularly to the XF605. It's one of the nicest colour systems in any camcorder that I've used."

While Max would be operating the XF605 as the main camera, recording the speakers from the front, he needed a B-cam for cutaways. A Canon CR-N700 broadcast PTZ camera equipped with Auto Tracking and Auto Loop applications provided both the image quality and effortless control he was looking for. "The CR-N700 works well as a camera that you can set up and leave and not have to do to much with," he says. "It essentially allowed me to operate the XF605 while the PTZ camera was doing its own thing."

A hand plugs in a cable into the LAN port of a Canon CR-N700 PTZ camera.

Up to 20 Canon PTZ cameras can be operated from a PC via the Canon Remote Camera Control app. Here, though, DoP Max Elgar opted for browser control, with the feed being sent to vMix.

 A laptop screen shows the Auto Loop app in use while a man operates a Canon XF605 in the background.

Max was operating a Canon XF605 as the main camera and a Canon CR-N700 loaded with Auto Tracking and Auto Loop apps as the B-camera. He positioned his laptop in such a way that he could glance over and see what shot the CR-N700 was getting, but says he could trust it to get the shots he wanted.

Add-on apps for Canon PTZ cameras

The Auto Tracking and Auto Loop apps are available via Canon's Add-On Applications System for remote cameras. These enhanced apps are designed to make workflows easier, introducing intelligent automation that improves productivity and enables operators to focus on shots with other cameras in a multi-cam production.

The new RA-AT001 Auto Tracking app enables a PTZ camera to automatically follow people as they move around a scene. It has outstanding tracking capabilities, from full body through to tighter shoulders-up shots, and features a comprehensive range of adjustment settings to customise the camera's responsiveness. The Auto Tracking app brings a new level of freedom to streaming lectures, live events and commercial presentations, while the high-performance pan, zoom and tilt mechanisms allow for smooth tracking of slow and subtle movements during high-end video production too.

The RA-AL001 Auto Loop app allows the camera operator to pre-program automated pan, tilt and zoom movements without having to manually change the shot during a recording. The PTZ camera can be set up to move between specified locations using back-and-forth or looping motions, making the Auto Loop app a versatile addition for live music events, sports competitions and interviews.

These enhanced functions don't require additional hardware; the Auto Tracking and Auto Loop apps can be added directly to a PTZ camera via a simple firmware update. Although the paid apps were initially released for the CR-N700, both the Canon CR-N500 and CR-N300 now also support the Auto Tracking app via a firmware update, while the Auto Loop app is available for the CR-N500 and CR-X300.

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A laptop screen shows the Auto Tracking app's Tracking Target Select tool being used on a woman.

The performance of the Canon Auto Tracking and Auto Loop apps can be customised using an intuitive interface. You're able to set areas that you don't want the camera to track the subject into, for example, and refine the speed of movement to simulate a manually operated camera.

 A man with a laptop sits on a couch while a Canon CR-N700 and Canon XF605 record a woman standing in front of a brick wall in the background.

"Even with Auto Tracking enabled, preparation is going to make that aspect that little bit easier," Max explains. "Test everything in advance, make sure everything works the day before, know as much as you can beforehand and rehearse, so that if something goes wrong on the day, you'll be in a better position to fix it."

PTZ camera with Auto Tracking

Once installed in the camera, the Auto Tracking app can be pre-programmed and controlled live via a simple interface on a computer. The Composition function allows camera operators to accurately frame up the person in-shot with the aid of a silhouette graphic that can be toggled on and off. The size and position of the display can be manually adjusted to account for any subject movement. "I gave the subjects a bit of extra headroom so there was space for them to bob up and down in the frame," Max explains. "It also meant that I had the opportunity to crop later when I needed to."

An Auto Zoom control is available, ensuring the size of the person remains constant in the frame while Auto Tracking is running. It's also possible to configure parts of the scene to be excluded from the camera's auto tracking area, as well as set the Tracking Sensitivity to 10 different strengths to match the speed of the subject. "Intuitive" is how Max describes the Auto Tracking app's composition and tracking setup. "It basically involves dragging and dropping and resizing [the silhouette] so that it more or less fits the person you're tracking.

"Once you've done that, you can set what you don't want to track and areas where you don't want the camera to go. So if the person walks off stage and you don't want the camera following them through the audience or tracking back to the side of the studio that you don't want people to see, you can isolate that area and prevent the camera from going too far."

As this shoot required a fairly straightforward angle, Max didn't have to worry about the camera following the subject into unwanted areas, but he says that the Auto Tracking app's ability to keep the subject framed centrally is invaluable. "One of our talent was swaying slightly while speaking, so it was really handy to be able to rely on a B-cam that could automatically adjust the framing to keep the person centred at all times."

Being able to leave the PTZ camera to do its thing was a real highlight. "Once you create a good environment for the camera's sensor, it can just get on with things," Max adds. "So provided that everything's lit nicely and there's some kind of separation there, then it's very easy for the camera to automatically track the person."

A laptop screen shows the Auto Tracking app's Silhouette Manipulation tool being used on a woman.

"The main challenges with these sorts of videos are often last-minute changes," says Max. "Client needs can change on the fly, so it's important to be flexible." The Auto Tracking app offers several options for refining and adapting its performance to suit the requirements of the job.

Exploring Auto Loop with Canon PTZ cameras

Like Auto Tracking, Auto Loop brings a new level of automated freedom to productions covering live events with PTZ cameras. The app enables the camera to follow a pre-programmed sequence of movement, either back-and-forth or looping continuously across a scene. The user interface provides access to all the controls on a single screen, where it allows pre-registration of up to five motion patterns across a maximum of four camera positions.

The movement parameters can be fine-tuned to ensure the footage blends in easily when the PTZ camera is integrated in a multi-cam setup. Both the stopping time between pre-registered positions and the speed of acceleration and deceleration as the camera movement starts and stops can be adjusted to give a natural look.

Despite the level of sophisticated control on offer, Max says that the Auto Loop app was incredibly simple to use. "Anyone who's ever played even a mildly complex video game will find it easy to work out how to use it."

Max looks forward to using the Auto Loop function in less static future jobs. "For a more complicated shoot or any kind of production in a live environment, it will be very handy to have a shot that's continuously moving that you can cut to," he says. "You could set up a PTZ camera as a reverse cam at a conference or corporate event, for example, and set it to pan backwards and forwards in a loop across the audience. So, rather than having to tell a camera operator to turn and grab a quick panning shot, you always have one available."

A Canon CR-N700 PTZ camera fixed on a metal bar.

Future-proofing workflows with PTZ cameras

From pan-tilt-zoom cameras to controllers, firmware and apps, Canon is adding even more diversity to its integrated imaging system.
An unmanned Canon CR-N700 and a manned Canon XF605 both point at a woman standing on a set.

"Ordinarily, you'd maybe worry that an unmanned B-cam wouldn't catch exactly what you needed, so you'd have to frame a bit wider," says Max. "But the Auto Tracking app meant that I was able to have the CR-N700 closer than I normally would, because it was able to track whatever movement occurred and centre the subject."

Max's suggestion raises an interesting point: what impact will the availability of intelligent PTZ automation have on the size of production teams?

"I think it can be integrated in a way that doesn't wipe camera operators off the face of the earth!" Max says. "It is always handy to have a PTZ camera as a B-cam that you can have as part of your kit without operating it directly yourself. It streamlines individual camera people's workflows and expands their capability without necessarily pushing away the more cinematic camera operating side of video production."

Canon PTZ apps unlock new ways of remote camera operation that reduce workload, save time and enable directors and operators to concentrate on the creative aspects of a shoot. To find out more about what the apps offer directors and camera operators, watch this introduction to the PTZ Auto Tracking and Auto Loop apps, and go behind-the-scenes on a PTZ shoot with DoP Mark Moreve.

Marcus Hawkins

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