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A Record-Breaking Summer Of Sport

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by Laurie Frost*
Camera Corps specialises in sports television with a difference. Where outside broadcasters traditionally rely on high-magnification zoom lenses, we design and build speciality cameras that can be placed at the centre of the action. Each is controlled remotely to ensure that the technology doesn't distract the talent or the spectators.
Our business dates back in spirit if not in name to the late 1980s when we developed the original Hot Head. This gave film-makers and television crews the freedom to operate a camera under full remote control, allowing dramatic long-reach crane shots to be achieved without having to lift and shift the cameraman as well. In 1996, the Hot-Head was honoured by the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an Academy Award for technical and engineering innovation.
Summer 2012 has proved the busiest in our history, starting in early June when 50 remotely controlled cameras, including 10 of our Q-Ball ultra-compact high-definition pan/tilt/zoom systems, were taken to Poland and the Ukraine. A 20-strong team of Camera Corps technicians installed the cameras at eight venues. These fed live video direct to international broadcast centres in Warsaw and Kiev. Q-Ball systems on a newly-designed magnetic breakaway mount were located at ground level behind the goal during the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final itself.
Later in the same month, Q-Ball heads were installed as commentator cameras at the 2012 Wimbledon tennis tournament. Each Q-Ball was equipped with Camera Corps optical-fibre transmitters and receivers linking the commentary studios to the master control room. We also positioned Hotshot and Minishot remotely controlled camera systems at various locations in and above the tennis courts.
This was followed in July by The Big One. We fielded a team of over 130 outside broadcast specialists including climbers, installation technicians and system operators for the major sports events taking place through to August at various locations in Britain. We have provided speciality support at many very large sports events over the years but the size and scope of the summer 2012 events have eclipsed them all. Our crews were grouped into 21 teams operating across some 30 venues in and around the metropolis as well as in Coventry, Cardiff, Manchester and Weymouth.
Some idea of the scale of our activities can be gained from the fact that we were commissioned to deliver speciality-television images from 20 distinct events including aquatics, athletics, archery, basketball, cycling, BMX, beach-volleyball, Lee Valley canoeing, mountain biking, equestrian events, fencing, football, gymnastics, handball, hockey, outside races, rowing, sailing and shooting.
We also positioned beauty cameras in a wide range of locations to provide cutaway and background options as part of available video feeds. The equipment we have assigned to the London events includes nearly 200 cameras and a huge inventory of lenses, robotic heads, jibs, Polecams, dolly mounts, tracks, wireless links and control systems.
Thirty-four Camera Corps Q-Ball compact robotic pan/tilt/zoom heads and 12 Minizoom cameras have been installed to provide high-definition video from a variety of locations. These and other cameras were controlled from 57 Camera Corps RCP panels and 64 PTZF panels coupled via 155 Camera Corps interface boxes and 72 fibre-optic links. We also installed an additional 70 robotic heads of various types, 35 commentator camera systems, 13 weatherproof point-of-view cameras, eight city-wide beauty cameras, six underwater systems and four triathlon bike cameras. 20 radio-frequency link systems were also installed for use in the equestrian and cycling events or coupled to camera jibs or other equipment.
The camera support systems are a story in themselves, including four SuperTechno cranes, two 8-metre cranes, 16 6-metre cranes, six 4-metre cranes, a 4-metre Tulip crane, nine 6-metre Polecam jibs and three Fishface underwater systems. We developed and installed 18 tracking systems to provide close-up follow-shots from various angles. These were used during the London sports events in coverage of boxing, the canoe slalom, gymnastics, shooting and table tennis.
We were asked by Canon to design and build a no-compromise remote control system for professional stills photographers. The result allows high-end Canon D-SLR cameras to be mounted practically anywhere and operated under full remote control. Pan, tilt, zoom, pre-shoot and trigger can all be performed using a compact panel with a responsive joystick and pushbutton controller allowing fast and easy. Images can be viewed at any time during the creative process via a standard Ethernet or USB link from the camera to a desktop or laptop computer. The new head has already delivered fantastic shots that would otherwise have been impractical or impossible to achieve. Fifteen of these heads are being used by Reuters, Getty Images and Associated Press.
The head is strongly built and weatherproof so can be mounted in practically any location, including overhead positions that might otherwise be impractical or dangerous. It offers huge advantage in terms of productivity by allowing a single photographer to capture images from two or more places at once by controlling Canon Heads in multiple locations. When the system is first powered, internal logic measures the centre position of the control joystick and sets this as the zero point. Two large pushbuttons positioned below the joystick trigger pre-shutter and the actual shot.
Covering events of this massive size would be a huge challenge for any company new to the business. Our operational experience was built up over many years, together with the specialist equipment we have designed where suitable products were not available from other suppliers, makes this another routine exercise. The key is to use good people, carry sufficient backup equipment and be ready for the unexpected.
Given the choice of watching major live events at an arena or via television, many people would opt for the real thing. When these events spill over to multiple locations, attending them all is no longer a practical option. It is then that live broadcasting really comes into its own.
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