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Fast-tracking camera could soon make its way into sports broadcasting


No matter how quickly you can pan a camera to follow the action, fast-moving objects are always one of the more difficult things to capture. If you watch sports on TV, you’ve probably noticed the cameramen trying their best to follow a ball as it’s being passed from player to player when the camera is zoomed up close for a tight shot. But a new high-speed tracking camera currently under development at the Ishikawa Oku Lab at the University of Tokyo that’s able to track a moving object while always keeping it in the center of frame, could someday improve how a camera captures action.

To track an object, normally the entire camera – lens and sensor – is moved to face the object. This is fine if the object you’re shooting is slow moving and you can predict its path. To achieve its high-speed tracking, the prototype camera uses two mirrors that rotate quickly for pan and tilt while the camera remains still, sending the image to the lens and sensor. The system also uses a fast image processor that records and processes the image every 1/1000th of a second, which allows the camera to continuously track and stabilize the object in the frame. Incorporating optics called a pupil shift system, the camera can capture wide-angle shots with a small mirror.

“This makes it possible to change where you’re looking really quickly,” said researcher Hiromasa Oku. In a video demonstration, “We’re tracking a table tennis ball. The ball moves extremely fast, but this system can keep compensating for the ball’s motion, so the ball stays in the middle of the image.”

Oku added: “For example, this system can record, in great detail, the instant a player hits a home run, including how the bat bends and the ball reacts, and the ball’s subsequent path. Or in soccer, it can record things like penalty kicks in amazing detail. We think this will make it possible to shoot sports in a really compelling way.”

The researchers are now testing the camera outdoors at sporting events to check the system’s accuracy. If the camera, which records in Full HD resolution, is successful, Oku said it could be used for actual broadcasting in two years. 

Watch the video below to see the camera in action.

(Image and video via DigInfo TV)

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