Should You Use PTZ Cameras?

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jun 14, 2009

Though popular, PTZ cameras often create a false sense of security. They make for great demonstrations but are often underutilized or misused.

The use of PTZ cameras varies significantly. Offices and fast food restaurants rarely use PTZ cameras. However, the majority of cameras at shopping malls and public surveillance are PTZs. In general, PTZs are the standard choice for monitoring large public areas.

Here's a short video demonstrating the use of a PTZ:

Advantages of PTZs

  • Monitoring large areas: the PTZ camera can be panned, tilted and zoomed to cover hundreds of acres (a few square kilometers). This is not possible with fixed cameras which normally only cover a small area (few hundred square meters).
  • PTZs can be placed on tours (patterns) that move the camera in a predetermined way to capture areas of interest. For instance, over a 1 minute period, the camera can capture the front door, the gate to the parking lot and the fenceline. The tour can repeat indefinitely.
  • Operators can control PTZ cameras to track a suspect or respond to a security incident. The operator can zoom in to view and capture fine details like facial features or license plate. The operator can also follow a suspect across a large area.
  • Because PTZs can cover a wide area, this reduces the cost of coverage per given area.
  • People love PTZ demos. They are the closest thing the surveillance industry has to movie special effects (see the demo above). It makes people feel excited about the potential.

Disadvantages of PTZs
  • PTZs can see and record only where they are currently looking. While the PTZ has a potential to view enormous areas, at any given time, it only covers the area of a fixed camera. If a PTZ on a tour is looking at the front door and an event happens at the vehicle gate, that event is missed (and vice versa).
  • Service issues: Since PTZs are complex mechanical devices, they tend to have much more frequent service calls and shorter life spans (compared to fixed cameras).
  • High storage costs: Because PTZs move so frequently, their storage utilization tends to be 2 - 4x higher than a fixed camera with equivalent frame rate and resolution. Motion based recording often cannot be used, and if used offers little savings since the camera continues to move. Plus, encoding motion requires higher bit rates to maintain image quality.
  • Poorer image quality: PTZ image quality is often poorer than fixed cameras, especially when zoomed in. This is likely a result of smaller chip sizes (1/4" for PTZs vs 1/3" inch in fixed cameras) and the much larger focal lengths in PTZs (over 50mm focal length is common for professional PTZs).
  • Mispositioning of PTZs is common. Operators routinely place (or leave) the PTZ in different positions. While this can be solved by using a 'home' functionality, many systems are not configured to use this properly.
  • Works Poorly over IP Networks: Controlling mechanical PTZs are very sensitive to latency. If the latency is more than a fraction of a second, controlling PTZs become very difficult. This is not an issue for traditional analog systems but a growing problem for IP video. Furthermore, network viewing often requires on screen PTZ controls which are much harder for an operator to use. These issues can be somewhat rectified by using USB joysticks and manufacturer optimizations to reduce latency. However, this is a frequent problem with IP networks.
  • Higher Per-Camera Cost: Whereas a fixed camera may cost $200 - $500, a PTZ camera with a 15x or greater zoom can cost $1,500 to $3,000. The cost increase is significant.
  • The demos are unreflective of most real applications. While it's impressive to see a building a mile away, that ability rarely solves real security problems for users.

In general, PTZs suffer from a host of logistical problems that detract from the potential appeal in demos.

Alternatives to PTZs

Megapixel IP cameras are emerging as an alternative to PTZs but issues remain.

The primary potential of Megapixel cameras is to eliminate the problem that PTZs can only view/record where they are currently looking. By contrast, since megapixel cameras use a digital zoom, viewing does not impact the area recorded. Also, since megapixel cameras eliminate the mechanical complexity of PTZs, their cost is lower (even for multi-megapixel) and the service issues should be less.

However, megapixel cameras cannot come close to matching the potential coverage area of a PTZ camera. Even with the far higher pixel count of a megapixel camera, it's unlikely to provide anything more than the equivalent of a 2x or 3x optical zoom. Furthermore, while megapixel vendors contend that megapixel cameras provide the resolution of 20 to 60 standard definition cameras, the effective image detail is nowhere close to this (especially at lower light conditions).

While megapixel certainly offers enhanced resolution and coverage area over fixed cameras, there's little reason to believe that megapixel is or can eliminate the use of PTZs.

Best Fits for PTZs

With these considerations in mind, PTZs work best when:

  • An organization has operators dedicate to monitoring security systems. If you are a big box retailer or a sports stadium and have operators dedicated to monitoring, PTZs make sense. The PTZ cameras allow operators to monitor greater areas. However, if you rarely monitor the security system and primarily use it for investigations, megapixel cameras are a worthwhile alternative to consider.
  • An organization has a really large area that needs to be covered. Such large areas may still be impractical even with megapixel cameras. Only a PTZ provides you the range needed (so long as you have active monitors). However, if you have a moderate size area (like a parking lot with a few dozen spaces), one or two megapixel cameras are likely to be less expensive and more effective.

2 reports cite this report:

Dealing with Gaps in Surveillance Coverage on Feb 14, 2011
Gaps, or holes, in one's surveillance coverage is a fact of life for most organizations. Unfortunately, it can become a painful fact when incidents...
Training: Basics for Using Video Surveillance on May 14, 2010
This report, including a 2 hour podcast inside, is designed to help those new to video surveillance learn the basics of using, selecting and...

Related Reports

Amazon Ring Alarm System Tested on Jul 16, 2018
Amazon Ring is going to hurt traditional dealers, and especially ADT, new IPVM test results of Ring's Alarm system underscore. IPVM found that...
Amazon Ring Partners With Rapid Response For $10 Monitoring on Jul 10, 2018
Amazon's Ring alarm system is using Rapid Response for monitoring, IPVM has confirmed in our testing. Amazon is arguably the most feared new...
Simplisafe Acquired At $1 Billion Valuation on Jun 29, 2018
Simplisafe, the competitor alarm monitoring companies historically most love to hate, has been acquired by a mega private equity firm for a $1...
OpenEye Apex VMS Tested on Jun 26, 2018
OpenEye is a US company, founded nearly 20 years ago. In the past few years, OpenEye has been one of a few VMS providers that have pivoted to being...
Axis Guardian - Cloud VMS And Alarm Monitoring - Released on Jun 19, 2018
Axis has struggled to deliver a cloud-based managed service video platform. Video service providers have utilized AVHS for over a decade, and have...
Amazon Ring Launches $10 Monthly Professional Alarm Monitoring on Jun 15, 2018
Amazon's Ring has announced an alarm system with 24/7 professional alarm monitoring for $10 per month, a fraction of the $30+ per month traditional...
China Public Video Surveillance Guide: From Skynet to Sharp Eyes on Jun 14, 2018
China is expanding its video surveillance network to achieve “100%” nationwide coverage by 2020, including facial recognition capabilities and a...
Stealth / UCIT - Remote Video Monitoring Provider Profile on May 18, 2018
Can 2 remote video monitoring companies, Stealth Monitoring from the US and UCIT from Canada combine to impact the market and compete in a changing...
Last Chance - May 2018 Camera Course on May 03, 2018
This is the last chance to register as the course starts next week. This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth...
IP Network Hardware for Surveillance Guide on May 02, 2018
Video surveillance systems depend on IP networking equipment. In this guide, we explain the key pieces of equipment and features, explaining where...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Amazon Ring Alarm System Tested on Jul 16, 2018
Amazon Ring is going to hurt traditional dealers, and especially ADT, new IPVM test results of Ring's Alarm system underscore. IPVM found that...
Hikvision Wins Chinese Government Forced Facial Recognition Project Across 967 Mosques on Jul 16, 2018
Hikvision has won a Chinese government tender which requires that facial recognition cameras be set up at the entrance of every single mosque...
Installing Dome Cameras Indoors Guide on Jul 16, 2018
IPVM is producing the definitive series on installing surveillance cameras. This entry covers one of the most common scenarios - installing dome...
Security Sales Course Summer 2018 on Jul 13, 2018
Based on member's interest, IPVM is offering a security sales course this summer. Register Now - IPVM Security Sales Course Summer 2018 This...
US Tariffs Hit China Video Surveillance on Jul 13, 2018
Chinese video surveillance products avoided tariffs for the first two rounds. Now, in the third round, many video surveillance products will be...
Last Chance - July 2018 IP Networking Course on Jul 12, 2018
Registration ends today, Thursday. Register now. This is the only networking course designed specifically for video surveillance...
4 Most Difficult Camera Installs (Statistics) on Jul 12, 2018
Heavy housings, cumbersome brackets, heavy ladders required, and tricky field of view requirements will cause difficulties no matter the camera...
Axis Perimeter Defender Video Analytics Tested on Jul 12, 2018
Axis 'high security' video analytics offering is Perimeter Defender, OEMed / developed with Digital Barriers. But how good is Perimeter Defender?...
Hikvision Fights Ban - Claims 'Red Scare', Hires 14 Term Ex-Congressman on Jul 11, 2018
Hikvision is fighting back against the House Bill Ban of their products. Hikvision has hired one of the biggest lobbying firms, led by a 14 term...
Arecont Acquisition By Costar on Jul 11, 2018
Arecont Vision acquisition by Costar Technologies has been approved by the court, concluding the bankruptcy process triggered by Arecont's...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact