The BirdDog Eyes P200 is a state-of-the-art NDI-enabled PTZ camera that’s perfect for live stream and other PTZ work.
I recently rented a three-camera Birddog Eyes P200 PTZ camera system, so I thought it would be worthwhile to notate my impressions and observations of the system in actual use. If you aren’t in the live streaming world, you may or may not have heard of PTZ cameras. What is a PTZ camera? Simple, PTZ (which stands for Pan, Tilt, Zoom) cameras are becoming commonplace in all forms of live streaming production and are also becoming common in sports coverage.
As a DP and camera operator myself, I have mixed feelings about PTZ cameras. On the pro side, PTZ cameras allow small and low budget production to gain a more professional look and feel by deploying multiple cameras that can all be controlled by a single remote operator, giving low-budget production a more visually sophisticated and complete type of coverage than would typically be possible on a low budget. Each camera can be programmed for dozens of pre-set camera positions and triggered by the operator to instantaneously jump from shot to shot, faster and more repeatably than a live camera operator could ever accomplish.
On the con side, for certain productions, PTZ cameras can put camera operators out of work. It’s that simple. I prefer working with real camera operators over the robotic look and feel of PTZ cameras. A PTZ camera, for the most part, relies on the input of a single operator. A single camera operator can only look in one place and in one direction at a time and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by trying to do too many things at once when operating multiple PTZ cameras solo. From a practical standpoint, most PTZ cameras lack a very high-end, polished look. PTZ cameras typically have small sensors, which results in noisy performance in low light situations, and it’s nearly impossible to obtain any sort of selective shallow DOF with such a small sensor. On most PTZ cameras I’ve used, it’s also difficult or impossible to obtain really granular control of exposure, white balance and focus remotely, and the controls are typically coarse when compared to the finesse that a human operator can select adjusting the camera controls locally.
All that aside, PTZ cameras can be very handy for certain types of production. For me, it was live multi-camera coverage of a series of high school graduations. With Covid restrictions, each school was only allowed to graduate a few hundred students at a time, so we had to shoot three graduation ceremonies per day for a week. In this case, live camera ops would have blocked too many views of the stage for the students and the bleachers with parents on either side of the field. The Birddog Eyes P200 system was available from my rental source. We already own three PTZ Optics cameras, which I’ve used many times, so I was curious to see what the competition could do better.
BirdDog Eyes P200 PTZ Camera
This isn’t an in-depth review of the P200, it’s just my impressions using them under fire on a live shoot this week. The BirdDog Eyes P200 features a custom NDI silicon chip, 30x optical zoom and Sony backlit sensor and image module. The BirdDog Eyes P200 is a full NDI 1080p60 PTZ camera designed for live streaming and other PTZ applications. The P200 has fast autofocus and zoom ensured by a Sony image module, so it’s highly suitable for catching all the fast action. The P200 features the visually lossless full NDI variable bit-rate iFrame codec that reaches up to 140 Mb/s at 1080p60.
Simultaneous, live SDI, HDMI and full NDI outputs complete the camera. Between these connections, you can control the P200 live via your full NDI workflow or integrate RS-422, RS-485 and RS-232 serial control. Also, the optional BirdDog PTZ Keyboard, which I also rented, can be used over NDI or over RS-422/RS-232 in SDI mode. The P200 can be powered by Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) or via the included power adapter. POE is extremely convenient for the long 200- to 300-foot cable runs we used for the graduation shoots.
BirdDog PTZ Keyboard
Our VMix Live Streaming system utilizes the NDI protocol, which if you’ve never used it, NDI allows two-way communication of audio, video, camera control and POE, all using a simple Internet Switch and Ethernet cables. This is much more economical and efficient than having to buy and lay out hundreds of feet of SDI cable, power cables and audio cables. We utilized an outboard audio mixer for running our microphone inputs and inputs to and from the house PA from the audio team for this project. But, the BirdDog P200s feature 3.5mm audio input and output jacks, so for certain applications, you can run your audio sources into the cameras and through NDI back to your switcher.
Here’s my major caveat in using IP-based camera systems like the BirdDog. Remember, if you want to or need to utilize NDI, it’s an IP protocol. This means that if your background lies more in video technology and not IT and live streaming, make sure you allocate plenty of time to set your BirdDog system up and configure it.
Luckily, in my company, my producing partner is a webcast engineer and understands the finer points of DHCP versus static IP and how to configure the cameras and keyboard, which switch to use that supports POE, etc. If you don’t understand all of this, make sure you order, buy or rent your system well in advance of your need to use it. It took my partner about four hours to set up and configure the three cameras with the controller and he really knows and understands what he’s doing with this stuff. I suspect it would have taken me alone, without his help, a couple of days to get up and running because it takes a lot of experimentation and programming certain parameters into the controller to get the whole thing to work. There are YouTube videos and ways to learn this easily, but it takes time. So don’t think you can unpack any NDI PTZ camera system and instantly be up and running right before a shoot or you’ll be frustrated and disappointed. Unlike mere video gear where you just turn it on and hook up a few cables and it all works, IP-based protocol systems like this one take some strategic knowledge about how you want to set it up and make it all work.
That said, once the BirdDog P200s were configured, we found them to be rather nice to use. The controller is fairly logical—once you understand its protocols (when you select a camera, you have to press the number one key, THEN the CAM button, not CAM, then one, for instance). Our PTZ Optics controller we own has several features that I like better than the BirdDog controller, but conversely, the BirdDog has several features that are nicer and more convenient than the PTZ Optics controller.
BirdDog Eyes P200 and Keyboard Pros
- Images from the backlit Sony sensor and electronics is good.
- 30X zoom is very handy for live events.
- BirdDog PTZ Keyboard looks sexy and has nice design/lights/buttons plus a separate zoom rocker that most PTZ controllers lack.
- P200 Camera has a good amount of I/O as well as RS422/RS232 protocol if you aren’t using NDI.
- Full NDI (140Mbps at 1080 60p versus NDI/HX, a compressed H.264 version that many other PTZ cameras use that’s only about 12Mbps for the same signal).
- Cameras proved to be reliable in outdoor conditions.
- Cool name and logo.
- Competitively priced for feature set ($2,799 for P200 and $1,500 for controller).
- Built-in image stabilization at the cost of cropping (helped in windy conditions when cameras were being buffeted by wind).
- Simultaneous, live SDI, HDMI, full NDI and CVBS outputs.
BirdDog Eyes P200 And Keyboard Cons
- No internal ND filters and no threaded lens ring to attach external ND filters.
- The camera menu system seems fairly archaic and clunky to navigate quickly.
- Autofocus was just adequate as far as accuracy; it was sometimes fooled by busy backgrounds and you have no OSD focus indicator since the NDI output is what’s input to switcher.
- Some factory default settings were maddening to try to turn off while under the pressure of a live shoot. Items like a zoom amount indicator overlay weren’t easy to find in the menu system. The system should default to this setting being off, not on, and you need to find out where to turn it off.
- The buttons on the controller were spongy and inconsistent about how hard you had to push them to activate. This resulted in some of my camera moves being applied to the camera I had previously selected and not the new camera I wanted to move. Our PTZ Optics controller uses old-school mechanical buttons; when you click it to select a camera, you know it’s selected. This aspect was frustrating while in use. If you buy this controller, be prepared to work with it a LOT to get down how hard you have to press the buttons. Not sure if button sensitivity could be adjusted in a utility; we never had the time to research this with BirdDog support.
- NDI protocol seems to have some stutter in moving subjects at random times. We’re experiencing this with our own PTZ Optics cameras and we experienced it with the BirdDog P200s. We thought it could be an issue with our VMix system, but we saw it also in each company’s utilities when not using VMix too. Could be an internet switcher issue too. It’s too early in our troubleshooting to have a definitive answer, but it’s disheartening that we’re seeing stutter in moving horizontal subjects whether the camera is stationary or moving, and when we try to perform slow and smooth pans while on air, we’re seeing the same stuttering, but it’s not consistent—it comes and goes. This isn’t a problem with the BirdDogs only, it seems to be an NDI issue? Stay tuned, we’re testing the cameras using SDI also to see if we see it there.
As PTZ cameras go, the BirdDog Eyes P200 seems to be a nice camera with an interesting and versatile feature set. I really liked the PTZ Keyboard as well, but the button sensitivity issue was frustrating, I was stung several times by carefully and deliberately pushing a button set to select a camera, only to find out that the controller hadn’t taken the button input and I moved the wrong camera several times. If you watch the LED display on the controller, you’ll see if you’ve actually selected the desired camera, but it’s difficult to also be watching your program and switcher AND have to look at the controller each and every time to see if it took your button input. Not good.
The aforementioned NDI and stuttering horizontal movement issues are troubling as well, but I can’t make a final judgment until we have troubleshot and investigated it in further detail with more testing. This leaves me in the position to say that until these two issues are resolved, I have a hard time recommending the BirdDog Eyes P200 system. I’ll state that IF both the button sensitivity and NDI horizontal movement stuttering issue ARE resolved, I’d wholeheartedly endorse considering the system for your live streaming and PTZ needs. It’s possible that we have an incompatibility issue with our switcher or Ethernet cables that are causing the stutter, but further investigation is needed.