PTZ cameras with an ATEM Switcher - BirdDog P120 overview

Using PTZ cameras in the Blackmagic ATEM world is - mostly - easy enough. Let's go through the steps involved by using some BirdDog P120s.

By John Barker • 10 Nov 2022

Using PTZ cameras in the Blackmagic ATEM world is - mostly - easy enough. Let’s go through the steps involved by using some BirdDog P120s.

Paid promotion: As disclosed in the video, BirdDog sent 3 review units to the channel, and let us keep 1 to continue making videos. That said, they are not reviewing this content before publishing it.


BirdDog were kind enough to send over three of their P120 PTZ cameras, so I can see how they integrate with the studio here and play with them a little. Let’s launch into using them with my ATEM switcher workflow, as well as a few things I’d need to change around here to get the most out of them. And in the interest of full disclosure, while BirdDog did send over three review units, they did let me hang onto one and I’ve sent two back again. But they’re not watching this video before I post it or anything like that. So let’s launch in and take a look around the P120 to see how we might use it. On the back we have a HDMI and SDI output, which will make it slot nicely into my SDI workflow, but we will take a look at it with a HDMI ATEM later too.

We also have this network connection for control, NDI and POE powering the camera. I don’t have POE here in this studio, so we’ll be using the power connector instead. Then we have an RS-232 422 port, not something that we’ll explore in this video. And we have a USB A for this provided audio breakout cable and a USB B port. There’s also this really nice spot for tally at the top of the camera and you can add an identification insert here on the back. It comes with these three little number plates just to push into the camera. Overall, I’m quite impressed by how much they’ve packed into such a small little package here with all of those connection points. And it does feel pretty sturdy as well. It has a heavy base, but still plastic housing.

Connecting it up. Number one, power. I need to power up these cameras without POE because I don’t have that here, so I’ll use the good old fashioned power cord instead. I will say the whole setup could be a lot cleaner here if it ran POE and used NDI, then I could just run that one cable to the camera. But I need to connect a few, for my case. And if you’re thinking of heading down that direction, I would recommend looking into the POE and NDI side of this camera. Number two, video signal. Let’s stick with a HDMI setup for now. I can connect one cable from each of the cameras into my ATEM mini pro.

Number three, network. I also need to get these cameras on my network, so I’ve added a network cable to each of them and connected that to my switch. I do like the small display here on the P120, which when it boots up it shows the camera name and the IP address of that camera. Super handy for troubleshooting during setup.

It all makes sense so far and now we come to control. I wasn’t able to get my hands on a dedicated PTZ controller for this video unfortunately, so I will preface the rest of this video by saying, get yourself a controller, it’ll come in really handy. When it comes to controlling these cameras in an ATEM switcher world, things aren’t so easy, but here are a few ways to do it. Number one, cam control. BirdDog does make its own control software. It’s currently only available in Windows, which is a shame, but it does give you most of the controls of the camera. If you have a few of these cameras, you can add them here side by side, and it’s a really nice way to see what’s up across the entire production. I will say though, it does need some improvement here and there. For example, if I restart this camera and then re-add it to cam control, it won’t pull all the settings from the camera into the app. Instead, I need to play around and re-trigger a few of the settings. It’s a little frustrating.Number two, the web control. You can visit the IP address of this camera and take full control of it. You do lose the video preview here, but you can see I have full control of the camera itself. I can’t really imagine myself opening this full control window up during a show. Maybe I’ll stick to that during setup and then use cam control during an actual production, or even better, a dedicated PTZ controller right here on my desk. Number three, companion. Just like almost everything else in our video production world, there is a companion module that works with this camera. I’ve added it here to my companion setup and I’ve pulled in some preset buttons. Interestingly enough, this is the only way that I’ve found so far to do one touch auto focus on the camera, which is really necessary when you’re running it. In the cam control app, I was never able to do that. And I’m not a fan of the hunting auto focus of the camera. I’d much rather set one touch and then leave it.Back over on companion, you can see there’s lots of things I can do here like save and recall presets, and all of my P, T and Z-ing with the camera. Now there’s no smooth control here. If I wanted to follow a presenter walking along stage, I would not want to do that here in companion, nor in the cam control app. I’d really want a joystick to do that. Number four, a dedicated controller. All right, I know I’ve said it a few times already, but a dedicated desktop controller is the way to go for full control of the camera. I have used lots of them over the last few years from all sorts of manufacturers, and while I did play with the BirdDog one for about five minutes at IBC, I wasn’t really a fan of it. I’d much rather something from Skaarhoj or something along those lines. I’m quite happy with what Panasonic have done with their PTZ controller, but even then I get a bit frustrated and I’d much rather a customizable option like Skaarhoj.

SDI workflow. Now, rather nicely, if you have an SDI workflow already or if you’re on HDMI today and you’re thinking about changing to SDI some other day, you don’t have to do much to move into the SDI world with these cameras. I do personally like when cameras give me both options, like this one, HDMI and SDI out, so I can use it for ATEM Mini Pro setups, just HDMI, and then some days I can use it with my Constellation 2 M/E, which is all SDI. So if I bought a couple of these BirdDog cameras for example, I’d be pretty happy either way, depending on the size of the job and what other equipment I’m bringing.Image quality. In terms of image quality, I think these are pretty much on par with other PTZs I’ve seen in the same price range. Now they don’t perform wonderfully in low light and I’m not getting a super sharp image out of them. I have done some playing in the settings, but I can’t quite get that sharpness that I want. So in a dark room like this, it’s not really going to look great. Maybe in a stage show or a well lit environment, it’ll look a lot better, but for me here, the image quality is not quite what I want for these YouTube videos and live streams. With all that said, though, it doesn’t hugely surprise me having looked at more expensive PTZs in the past, I’ve seen similar results in dark rooms like this.

But I will say you will almost always be trading image quality for ease of use whenever you opt for a PTZ in your kit. And often the only way around this is to spend a bunch of money on cameras. And in general, you want to buy at least three of these for a kit. You don’t often just buy one PTZ, you want to buy two or three, and that number can really add up with more expensive, low light performant cameras. Pros and cons. Pro, the size of these is really nice. They just sort of blend into my studio here. I barely notice them. They’re quite small for PTZs, which is nice. And it’s working really well for a controllable wide shot in my live streams. I like to start with it out of focus, get it in focus during the show, and then back out of focus later, so really nice for that.

A con, the dip switches on the bottom are just madness. These are used for setting the video output resolution and some camera settings as well. I have found it almost impossible to change these things. And during a stressful show, if I had to make a change to one of these cameras, I would not want to do it with these dip switches. Another con that I already mentioned is the image is quite soft for my liking. I have yet to bring them out of the studio here and bring them to a more well lit environment, so there’s more testing to be done on that side of things. And a final pro is that nice little screen on the front of these P120s, it makes a huge difference during setup. As soon as I got the cameras, I added them to my network, powered them up, and the IP address just popped up and I could use it right away. It was really nice.

Like I said, I’ve only had these cameras in the studio for a few weeks now, and I’ll continue testing them with my livestream and with other videos that pop up. And in the future, maybe I’ll have more content on using them with NDI and POE when things change here. But what do you think? Are you using PTZs in your video productions? Do you run a mixture of PTZs and other cameras? Or would you never use PTZs on a job? I’m quite keen to hear what you think in the comments below. Otherwise, I’ll see you in the next video. Bye-bye.