What is a PTZ Camera?
Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras are built with mechanical parts that allow them to swivel left to right, tilt up and down, and zoom in and out of a scene. They’re typically used to monitor wide open areas requiring a 180- or 360-degree view, and deployed in guard stations where active personnel can operate them through a remote camera controller. Depending on the camera or software, they can also be set to automatically follow motion-triggered activity or adhere to a pre-set schedule. PTZ cameras are generally implemented in tandem with a larger surveillance system, in which the PTZ tracks movement while a fixed camera takes detailed shots.
Jump to each section to learn more:
• What are the Pros and Cons of PTZ Security Cameras?
• What are the Disadvantages of PTZ Cameras?
• What are the Features and Advantages of PTZ Cameras?
• Where are PTZ Cameras Commonly Used?
• Where are PTZ Cameras Commonly Used?
• What are the Types of PTZ Cameras?
• What are Considerations When Buying a PTZ Camera?
Pros and Cons of PTZ Security Cameras
Although the concept of a PTZ camera has been glamorized in Hollywood movies, its adjustability comes with its own set of pros and cons. To make an informed investment decision, here are some points to consider when it comes to functionality, use case, cost, and more.
Disadvantages of PTZ Cameras:
- Limited View: PTZ cameras are unable to record areas that the camera isn’t specifically looking at, which is a major con leading to gaps in coverage. Cameras can pan, tilt and zoom to cover potentially huge areas, but not simultaneously. It is possible for incidents to occur and intruders to slip undetected from under the camera’s field of view (FOV).
- Shorter Lifespan: Because PTZ cameras contain many moving parts (including motors to pan, tilt, zoom) prone to fail eventually, they are less durable than fixed solutions. Due to their high failure rate, the total cost of ownership tends to be higher than the initial camera price.
- Surveillance Blind-Spots: PTZ cameras have a reputation to point the wrong direction, especially when set on “auto” or “home”. A camera may pan continuously to the next preset, regardless of what is happening in its field of view. The ideal way to use a PTZ camera is to have a guard manning the camera at all times, but blindspots are still a risk of human error if the controller is left in the wrong position.
- High Cost: In many cases, a single or multiple fixed cameras (such as fisheye cameras) can give more coverage at a lower cost compared to one PTZ camera. A 4K fisheye camera, for example, may be configured to cover the same area as a PTZ camera and permit digital zoom on high-resolution footage, without running the risk of being repositioned incorrectly.
- Latency Sensitivity: A common issue that many PTZ cameras face is high command latency. The command latency is the lag time between which an operator issues a command to adjust the camera FOV, to when the FOV changes on the monitor. It’s important to be aware that high latency can sometimes cause PTZ controls to malfunction and shift out of gear.
- High Risk of Malfunction: PTZ cameras that are not properly installed can lead to trouble from both a mechanical and legal perspective. On the mechanical side, camera hardware that is not installed correctly could malfunction under changing weather conditions. On the legal side, PTZ cameras that accidentally include even an inch of private property in their field of view could land the installer and owner in deep trouble.
Features and Advantages of PTZ Cameras:
- Large Field of View: PTZ cameras are used to monitor a large area, and often recommended to use in conjunction with a fixed camera to avoid gaps in coverage. Depending on the model, cameras can move anywhere between zero pan/tilt and the full 360 degree pan/180 degree tilt. Some solutions also have digital pan and tilt, which allows for video to be adjusted after recording - though the resulting video would be grainer and lower res.
- Motion-Based Auto Tracking: Auto tracking is a function that enables PTZ cameras to adjust their field of view to follow moving objects automatically. The use case for this function is typically best applied in quiet areas with minimal movement (for example, a museum after closing).
- Time-Based Auto Scan: PTZ cameras can be configured with auto-pilot to scan pre-defined areas and move in patterns (tours). Preset positions can be programmed to change positions based on time. For example, a PTZ camera can be configured to pan, tilt, or zoom every 30 seconds to capture different areas of interest within the camera’s overall surveillance area.
- Remote Camera Control: Conventional PTZ cameras can be manually and remotely adjusted to track suspicious activity. This allows users to change the camera’s field of view without having to go onsite.
- Zoom Capabilities: Most PTZ cameras support optical zoom, which is used to view and capture faraway objects like license plates or faces. Optical zoom (ie: 20x, 30x, 40x) refers to the maximum focal length divided by the minimum focal length - the larger the number, the further the zoom.
Where PTZ cameras are commonly used:
The placement of the camera is crucial to eliminating blind spots, which is a common issue with the PTZ.
- Guard stations
- Construction Sites
- Large outdoor areas
Types of PTZ Cameras:
- PTZ IP Camera: PTZ internet protocol (IP) cameras can be deployed via WiFi or Power over Ethernet (PoE). Compared to traditional analog PTZ cameras
WiFi PTZ Camera: WiFi PTZ cameras connect wirelessly to a router without a hardwired connection. (However, they still require a power source.) A strong WiFi connection is also recommended to prevent issues with lag and video quality.
- PTZ PoE Camera: A PoE camera uses an Ethernet cable that plugs into a PoE switch to receive power and an internet connection. It generally has a connection distance much more powerful than WiFi.
- PTZ Analog Camera: Analog (CCTV) PTZ cameras use an analog video signal to capture surveillance footage, and are wired to digital video recorders (DVRs) via coaxial cables. Analog PTZ security cameras typically cannot transmit video data on their own and require a DVR to support converting, compressing, and saving footage.
- Outdoor PTZ Camera: PTZ cameras that are deployed outdoors must be able to withstand more extreme temperatures and weather conditions. They’re typically encased in a weatherproof exterior with an IP rating that indicates adequate protection against natural elements.
- Wireless PTZ Camera: In cases where the installer is unable to run video cables, wireless PTZ cameras are able to transmit video wirelessly. Typically this is done through WiFi, although transmitter sets can be used to convert analog signals. Wireless PTZ cameras are typically deployed for long-distance outdoor monitoring where it’s difficult or expensive to run cabling.
What to Consider When Buying a PTZ Camera:
- Will you have someone manning the camera at all times?
- Do you have sufficient storage? (Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, DVR, or NVR?)
- What visibility do you need? (3MP vs. 4K resolution? Field of view? Low-light IR illuminators?)
- What type of environmental hazards do you face? (Operating temperatures? Waterproof?)
- What does the installation require? (Cabling? Supporting equipment? Professional system integrators?)
- How much pan and tilt functionality do you require? (Though a 360 pan may remove all blind spots, the corner camera wouldn’t need to record the wall behind it.)