Are megapixel/panoramic-view cameras an effective substitute for PTZs?
Megapixel and panoramic camera manufacturers have been predicting the demise of pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ cameras) for several years now. They contend that PTZs can be replaced by the higher resolutions of newer cameras, coupled with their ability to “zoom” in digitally on a specific area of an image and show sufficient detail. New panoramic cameras also capture everything in a wider field of view, while a PTZ camera runs a risk of missing important action because it is pointed in the wrong direction. We ask our Expert Panel to weigh in on the future of PTZ cameras.
We feel that higher resolution megapixel and panoramic view cameras are an excellent choice for coverage over a traditional pan-tilt-zoom camera. There is currently a manufacturer in the market that offers four different lens options that can provide a different view based on which lens is selected. While these cameras are fixed, they offer the ability to manually select a lens that will provide the best view from a panoramic camera. With a pan-tilt-zoom camera, you need an operator to see what is going on in front of you to get the camera placed in the appropriate position. Also, with IP cameras, even though they come with four lenses, it only requires one camera licence. Panoramic cameras are always viewing the most important area without an operator present. This newer generation of cameras is a great investment and provides a better return on investment than the traditional pan-tilt-zoom camera.
Generally, yes, they are an effective substitute. Panoramic-view cameras can cover a large area and may also provide enough zoom to eliminate the use of static and pan-tilt-zoom cameras altogether. With a panoramic camera, one can have a wide-angle panoramic view plus the ability to zoom in on a specific area, all with one camera. With a panoramic-view camera, you can zoom in at resolutions up to 4K, or even higher. Using one camera instead of two reduces the camera count and that translates into cost savings. It also eliminates the mechanical wear and tear that comes with a traditional PTZ camera and reduces maintenance and service costs, which means there are fewer points of failure to consider. Over the life of a camera, there is also less energy consumed, which is a benefit. PTZ cameras, however, are still required when a zoom rate of 35-40x is needed.
Higher resolution cameras and panoramic-view cameras can be an effective substitute largely because they eliminate the risk of missing details within a scene. PTZ models do run the risk of losing the full picture when zooming in, which isn’t ideal. There’s also the physical product build to consider: Unlike pan-tilt-zoom cameras, panoramic models have no moving parts, minimising the risk of product failure.
Panoramic view cameras are certainly taking a bite out of the demand for PTZ cameras, and there are advantages to having a wide, panoramic view that doesn’t miss any of the action. Especially to capture forensic video, panoramic cameras have the edge because they don’t have to be positioned by an operator to capture an event. They view the whole scene all the time. For real-time operation, however, PTZ cameras will still find uses. Magnifying a section of a larger image almost replaces – but doesn’t quite – the benefits (especially image quality) of being able to zoom in optically.
It depends what constitutes a satisfactory image. What size of fine detail must be resolved? Panoramic cameras are usually static, so zooming into a scene’s details is done in software and limited by pixels in the sensor, lens quality and software such as de-warping, so clarity at the boundaries might disappoint. PTZ cameras zoom optically, magnifying long-range details significantly better. A [single-sensor] panoramic’s lens only has one global iris, risking lost details in high contrast scenes, despite claiming “wide dynamic range.” Nonetheless, the PTZ risks not seeing an unpredictable incident, whereas wide panoramic views capture much more for reviewing in hindsight, but this greatly increases data demands and maybe reduces frame rate and light sensitivity. All these factors are very difficult to quantify, realistic tests are needed before buying – never believe suppliers’ promises.
There may be many fewer applications for PTZ cameras in the future. However, for now at least, it appears they will remain an important component of surveillance systems. Despite manufacturer claims to the contrary, it’s prudent to avoid viewing any particular solution as a cure-all. Rather, we should leverage our industry’s diversity of products to ensure a more precise application of technology to specific needs. Long live PTZs (at least as long as they are serving an important need in the market!)
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