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Robo-Cams at the Olympic Games ?

Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS.
Mark Reblias knew as a photographer going to the Olympics that he would have to bring his A-game. Trying to get the best shot against some of the other top sports shooters in the world is one thing, but competing against robots, well, that’s just unsportsmanlike conduct.
At this year’s Olympic games, Reuters, in addition to its army of traditional photographers, will have 11 robots set up in places no shooter would otherwise be able to get. Photographers like Reblias are used to fixed remote-operated camera systems grabbing otherwise difficult shots. However, what Reuters will do is a whole new ball game: Their robotic camera system, armed with Cannon’s newest body, the 1-DX, will have three-axis control and have a photographer at a computer operating its every movement with a joystick.

Developed by Fabrizio Bensch and Pawel Kopczynski, the 11 robo-cams at various venues will use a wide range of lenses: a 24-105mm, a 70-200mm and telephotos up to 400mm. In addition to three axes of movement, the cameras’ pilots control shutter speed, sensitivity and image size. Photos instantly stream into Reuters’ remote editing system, Paneikon, and are moved to clients just minutes after being captured.
Looking for a way to get dramatic shots at new angles, the Berlin-based photographers dreamed up the idea in 2009 and tested a two-axis prototype last year in the World Athletic Championships in Daegu, South Korea. The London Olympics will be the first showing of the three-axis control, and the first time using more than just one robotic camera.
“We are essentially able to put cameras and photographers where they’ve never been before, capturing images in ways they’ve never been captured,” Bensch said. “For example, I’ve installed a robotic camera unit on a truss, 30 meters high — in a position where no photographer has been in a previous Olympics.”
For Reblias, those are positions you just can’t compete against. With the traditional remote-control cameras, if the subject showed untethered joy five feet out of frame, you were out of luck. Now if Reuters is able to get that shot, “well, there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have to upgrade my gear and make a robotic system. It’d be expensive, it might be a cost I have to take on.”
For now, the team will only be using the new 18.1 megapixel Cannon for still photos, despite the 1DX’s ability to shoot high-definition video. Cameras will be set up in venues that Reuters thought would produce the most dramatic shots: table tennis, boxing, taekwondo, judo/wrestling, fencing and weightlifting. The robotic camera system will also be installed in the main Olympic Park for swimming, basketball, gymnastics and athletics.


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