Looking for the best PTZ camera for streaming, web conferencing or video production? This guide will help you choose the best Pan/Tilt/Zoom camera for your needs - and help you get the best price available right now.
PTZ cameras with motorized stands which allow for remote control, or even automated operation, have boomed in recent years because they solve a number of issues elegantly. If you’re setting up a conference room, lecture theater or church for remote connection or big-screen display, you probably don’t want to pay a camera operator full time. Nevertheless you will want better video than you get from a standard webcam. Similarly the huge boom in small or one person crews that has followed the growth of YouTube provides a whole additional market looking for high quality video without necessarily keeping the operator behind the camera.
While some PTZ systems can take advantage of automated features like subject tracking, mounting the camera on a powered pan/tilt head has another huge advantage – it takes up very little space, and cameras can be snuck into the top corners or rooms or other locations that not only afford a much better view but are a lot more discrete. Reality TV producers can set their operators in another location altogether, with joystick controls and other remote switches and monitors. This is useful in any small room where there isn’t the space to stand behind a camera, but for some productions it is an essential part of providing the illusion of privacy to the subjects (who often feel far less ashamed of their actions in front of a camera and mic than they would a professional camera operator.
Given the choice of applications, there is also a variety of features you might need to look for; from traditional camera settings like resolution. Connectivity is critical, since PTZ cameras are associated with live productions, so you need to know what quality video signals you can get out via what sockets, and whether it’s possible to attach a microphone for pro quality sound (especially important if you’re using the PTZ camera to create a live stream over IP). In terms of control, a RS232 port allows for industry standard analogue remote controls, possibly even daisy-chained between cameras, though digital IR remotes are common too.
The best PTZ cameras in 2020
There are some thoughtful aspects to the Sony’s design here, which sits more discretely in a corporate environment (or reality TV set) than some, and the truly style conscious can opt for black or white, but underneath it all is an excellent camera with one of Sony’s EXMOR sensors, operable in light down to 1.4 LUX (f/1.6). This offers a wide dynamic range and, paired with Sony’s XDNR digital noise reduction produce great streaming-friendly video.
Despite the generous optical zoom, Sony’s mechanism maintains autofocus as you zoom, resulting in much more professional looking footage than many PTZ systems which need to hunt again after zooming. Indeed a broadcaster-friendly version with lockable SDI connectors is available (the Sony SRG-300S).
Ceiling, desktop or tripod mount are no problem, and some may find the physical switch for image mirroring handy. This is a top notch system which doesn’t disgrace a brand much loved by broadcasters, and this tells in build quality and operation (even the IR remote feels robust).
If you want an option with the full range of connectivity options and remote control options, including iOS and Android apps, then the PTZ Optics SDI series (also available with 20x and 30x lenses) is the ideal choice. The cameras have all the socketry you could want, and these work simultaneously. That means you can send HDMI to a nearby monitor for your talent while using 3G SDI or LAN streaming. You can also set the resolution & frame rate with a physical switch on the device as you set up your broadcast.
The firm, who’s name gives away their devotion to PTZ tech, are also known for their devotion to creative software development. As well as their Mac/PC app for camera control, they have a dedicated OBS plugin, and make their system open source in order to help users create their ideal system. This, in turn, yields useful features that traditional broadcast brands might not have thought of, like compatibility with Xbox controllers in lieu of expensive broadcast joysticks.
If you don’t choose one of the near limitless controller connections, there is an IR remote in the box which has a very thorough range of options – including slow and fast zoom rockers, auto and manual focus, camera select, and the keypad you need to choose one of the 255 preset positions.
With on-board streaming encoder which can encode two data streams to the cloud at once (though you need to drop down to 30fps). In addition you have SDI and HDMI out, so you can operate in pretty much any creative environment, taking audio via the 3.5mm stereo line input if needed for convenient encoding. H.264 and H.265 with AAC, MP3 or PCM audio are all on offer, from 16KHz to 48KHz.
The low noise 1 / 2.8” CMOS sensor has 20x optical zoom makes for great images as with 2 megapixels there are no superfluous pixels (though the 10x digital zoom extension is best avoided). Control is via industry standard systems and there is a good movement range (120˚ tilt, 340˚ pan). If you don’t opt for one of Datavideo – or compatible – control systems, there is also an IR remote in the box as well as the ceiling mounts and UV filter.
This is a great choice for using with either RTSP (broadly better for localized streams) or RTMP (widely compatible and flexible), and you’ll find the frame rate you need. Additionally the styling is nicely subtle and, at under 55db, so is the motor noise.
Somewhere between a high-end webcam and a low end PTZ camera, the AW-UE4 is not motorized but instead offers you the ability to crop and move into the full image sensor’s 4K image. You can also physically tilt the lens mount, so your starting point is always to set the wide view in a way that covers all the potential shots you want.
The lack of motors makes operation silent, and Panasonic have not skimped on features from the operator’s perspective, so you still pan/tilt/zoom the image using the company’s remote-control software. In exchange for that silence, and the reduced cost, cropped picture is digitally zoomed, so works better at 1080P, while at full wide angle the shot cannot be panned remotely. You can set 100 presets.
With the ability to draw power over USB or PoE (Power over Ethernet), this camera can be easily added to a simple computer-driven setup. For live video situations, Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) compatibility is included too, so it can be used in sophisticated broadcasts.
Perfect for a conference room of about 20 people, or perhaps a classroom, the Logitech PTZ Pro 2 Video Conference camera plugs into your computer’s USB (Mac or Windows) via the generous 10-foot (3m) cable and provides a more flexible and (probably) better quality alternative than the system camera you’re used to.
A simple remote control is included in the box, and the camera can be set with presets to move between (something it does more smoothly than Logitech’s original PTZ Pro, though could still be better). Mac or PC users can also control PTZ & image settings via a downloadable app, and this give the option of controlling from near or far.
It’s worth noting that Logitech do have a pricier option, the 4K Rally which they would likely prefer you buy (it’s nearly twice the price), but the PTZ Pro 2 is certified for Skype, Zoom and many other popular systems – Logitech’s devotion to certification is greatly appreciated, though of course it stills works where any USB webcam will. With a Kensington lock fitting, this is also a good choice in less-than-secure locations.
With a dedicated, and very friendly, phone app, the Mevo is controlled via a WiFi network, or your phone’s hotspot, designed for livestreaming on the go. It’s actually a follow up to the 2018 Mevo Plus, meaning the manufacturer's had a couple of years to listen to customer feedback and the result is a really polished product.
In terms of hardware, the tiny camera shoots either at the full 84˚ width or cropping in and tracking your face. At the same time, it records to its MicroSD card, so you’ve got a backup to edit with. You can take sound via your phone, a 3.5mm mic, or the in-built 3-microphone array which uses Fraunhofer upHear Spatial Processing.
In terms of operation, the app is not only easy to use and connect to standard streaming platforms (Facebook, Youtube, any RTMP), but offers extensive picture adjustments – either preset or manual. A paid subscription will allow you to stream to multiple platforms at once, and add live graphics.
If you’re looking to take your streaming channels on the road, this device gives you the power to broadcast anywhere, wirelessly, with impressive sound quality. You can keep going for up to 6 hours on a single charge, too.