Digital vs Optical Zoom

Zistos has recently introduced a line of high-definition pole camera systems that have many new features and benefits. Our new systems feature securely encrypted wireless video, they support full HD resolution (1080P) and include a large battery to extend use time in the field (approx. 6hrs minimum). We have designed a full array of interchangeable options and accessories that further expand the system’s capabilities. Suitable applications for our new ZistosHD system include: Tactical Surveillance, Technical Rescue, Industrial Inspection and Vehicle/Cargo Search.

One of the options that is available for these new systems is a camera that features optical zoom capabilities. Optical zoom utilizes lenses to magnify the visual image. This method has significant advantages over cameras that are limited to digital zoom capabilities.

Cameras that utilize optical zoom have the ability to magnify an image without any loss of resolution. Digital zoom expands the image by using software to double up the existing pixel content in the image. This magnifies the image by increasing the size of the pixels in the image and thus reducing the number of pixels that make up the image. This makes the image appear larger, but at the expense of resolution. Images that use digital zoom will often look reasonable after a 2X, or sometimes even a 4X magnification, (depending on the size of the image sensor). Often the images will become too coarse, or pixelated to see any meaningful detail. The more digital magnification that is applied to the image, the worse the image quality gets. Optical zoom allows the user to zoom in without any loss of resolution. When you view an image with a camera that utilizes optical zoom, the picture maintains resolution and image quality regardless of zoom magnification. The ZistosHD line has zoom cameras that feature optical zoom capabilities that range up to 30X.  

When looking for victims in a rubble pile, searching attics for a subject, inspecting large storage vessels from a distance or searching the back of cargo truck for hidden contraband, having a quality image that maintains good visual detail is the most important aspect of a video pole camera system. The ZistosHD pole camera systems that are configured with the Optical Zoom camera options allow the operator to assess the smallest of image details and enable them to make critical decisions based on their visual assessment of the video.

For more information or a no obligation product demonstration, Virtual or In-Person, please don’t hesitate to reach out by phone: (631) 434-1370, email: info@zistos.com or website: www.zistos.com.  We look forward to hearing from you.

The Novelty of New Technology

Technology is always marching forward and there is a constant flow of new high-tech products that hit the market with claims of improved performance and reliability. Some of these product innovations do indeed make a big difference, others utilize new technology in their design implementation and offer no real improvement. The merits of every new design must be carefully considered in the context of the application and its typical application environment. It must be determined whether the new technology actually lives up to its expectation, or if its increased technology and complexity is little more than a novelty.

One of the newer entries into the Technical Rescue Camera System market to be considered is a camera that provides a full 360-degree view without mechanical (neither motorized nor manual) articulation. The belief is that a 360-degree view lets you rapidly determine whether a victim is present or not and with no moving parts, the camera system will be less prone to damage or malfunction.

This seems like a good application for a new technology and the benefits seem legitimate. There are however, some caveats with regard to this approach that need to be considered along with these benefits. This paper will highlight some of the issues that need to be considered when applying this new approach for looking for trapped victims in a building collapse, and how products manufactured by Zistos compare with them.

No Moving Parts and Increased Reliability:

This might be accurate when the 360-degree cameras are compared to some of the systems that utilize mechanical articulation to remotely position their camera head.  The issue in many of these designs is that mechanical articulation requires a motor and gear assembly that could be prone to damage when forcibly back driven. This was a problem for many early entries into the search camera marketplace. The camera assembly would break when the camera head was forcibly positioned. This potential source of failure is easily remedied by a well-thought-out mechanical design that includes a simple component in the drive mechanism. A slip clutch assembly that couples the camera to the drive train can prevent damage to the mechanism if back-driven. The rescue systems from Zistos are designed and built to be rugged and able to withstand the demands of a typical rescue environment. Specifically, Zistos poles have slip clutches to insulate the gear trains from shock, virtually eliminating articulation failure. The advantages of the “no moving parts” claim is not really an advantage over a properly designed mechanical mechanism for articulation. Missing from the claim of improved reliability is that the increase in system complexity to accomplish a 360-degree image involves both additional electronic hardware and system software. The increased electronic complexity and software processing requirements of any system will generally have a negative impact on its overall reliability and the systems MTBF estimates, (Mean Time Between Failure).

The Advantage of Rapid 360-Degree Image Assessment:

Another claim regarding 360-degree cameras is that they provide an instant, 360-degree view without the operator having to pan an area of interest. This supposedly saves time and allows for faster response time.  The quick, overall view may save a few seconds of search time; but what is more important in a technical rescue search is image quality. With a 360-degree image, subtle signs of the presence of victims can easily be missed. Much like the popular children’s game, “Where’s Waldo”, there can be too much visual information in a 360-degree image. This could prevent an operator from properly analyzing the image and keep them from making a fast and accurate determination of the presence of a victim. The methodical, close up panning available with Zistos rescue systems will reveal subtleties that cannot be seen with a quick, distant overview. In addition, Zistos offers a zoom camera that provides 10X optical zoom, not the limited digital zoom with poor resolution available from 360-degree cameras.

Many of the 360-degree camera systems do offer a pan and digital zoom function that is software dependent. This method degrades the image quality by reducing the resolution of the image when you need to zoom in and pan the area. Some manufacturers of 360-degree camera systems even suggest that to achieve meaningful zoom resolution, their camera must be physically moved closer to the target area. This task is not always easily achievable in many collapse scenarios.

Illumination Concerns and Thermal Imaging Options:

Illumination is another problem with 360-degree camera systems. It is very difficult to create well balanced, even illumination about the 360-degree field of view of a camera. This creates light and dark areas in the video image. This is more of a problem the further away you need to look into the void space and away from the camera head. It would be very easy to miss a subtle tell-tale indicator of a trapped victim if the area happens to be in a dark spot in the field of view. The Zistos systems produce a powerful beam of light that moves coincident with the camera. This eliminates dark areas in the video image and allows the operator to see the important visual clues that may be present indicating the presence of a trapped victim. In addition, Zistos systems have a thermal imager option. This option can show a victim’s heat signature even when covered in concrete dust or mud. These victim images may not be visible on standard video cameras and most 360-degree camera systems do not offer a thermal option.

Wireless Transmission Issues:

A 360-degree system design disadvantage that can be particularly serious is the location of the system transmitter. With most 360-degree systems, the transmitter is in the camera itself. The camera is attached to a pole and then inserted into the unknown environment. This will work without issue in a lab setting, or even in a collapse with debris that is mostly wood. If the environment that is being searched has a lot of metallic debris such as you would find in the collapse of a structure that contained metallic debris from building construction materials, heavy machinery, and even banks of file cabinets, the video transmission can be compromised or even lost as the camera passes into a void space in a rubble pile. The Zistos systems are designed with the transmitter located in the handle which resides outside of the unknown environment that is being inspected. This eliminates the chance of radio frequency interference from metal debris that can block radio signals and minimize, or negate the usefulness of the search tool.

Multi-Person Viewing and Operation:

Other advantages to a Zistos system include the ability for our images to be viewed simultaneously on multiple tablets; many 360-degree camera images can be viewed on only one tablet at a time. In addition, 360-degree systems offer only a nearly 10” tablet. This can make some operations difficult for one person to handle alone. Some companies suggest that two persons may be needed – one to operate the pole or camera, and one to view the images and operate the controls.  Zistos offers not only a 10” tablet, but also a 5” tablet, making it easier for a single individual to conduct a meaningful and effective search.

Summary:

While the concept of a 360-degree camera can be intriguing, some of the claims of operational advantages need to be scrutinized. Their actual application in real-world conditions can be problematic and the novel nature of their design may not actually yield a more reliable and improved search tool. The increased complexity involving electronics that requires special software, illumination issues, wireless transmission issues, confusing 360-degree images and poor resolution zoomed images could be a detriment. The latest generation search tools from Zistos can offer a more usable and field reliable victim location solution. The principal function of a video-based victim location tool is to provide a technical search team with a meaningful and reliable image of conditions in locations that are inaccessible, or dangerous to enter. A camera’s usability, reliability and image quality can be the key to the success or failure of a rescue mission.  Up close, high resolution images – with the availability of 10X optical zoom, thermal imaging capabilities and reliable operation in any environment – are what are needed. These are what Zistos offers.

For more information or a no obligation product demonstration, Virtual or In-Person, please don’t hesitate to reach out by phone: (631) 434-1370, email: info@zistos.com or website: www.zistos.com.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Selecting the Proper Telescoping Pole Camera Design

An integral part of all ZistosHD portable video systems is the telescoping pole on which our cameras are fastened.  Our poles are offered in two styles  – manual positioning and motorized positioning:

Manual Positioning:

Our “Friction Hinge” design provides for the end of the pole to be positioned manually at an angle of +/- 120 degrees. While easily bent, the hinge maintains the desired angle with a holding force that is strong enough to maintain the camera position, but it still allows the position of the camera to be adjusted by “nudging” the assembly against a stationary object or structure. The entire pole can be rotated to allow the camera to pan 360 degrees around an area. The friction hinge is protected with a rubber boot that prevents dirt and debris from entering the assembly. This design is best suited for an open environment, or when the access / entry point of the area to be inspected is large enough to accommodate the size of the camera assembly. It is also best used where the camera tilt position does not need to be continually adjusted. The advantages of this pole design are that it is usually lower in cost, uses less battery power, and is lighter in weight than the motorized poles.

Motorized Positioning:

The camera angle of our motorized pole is controlled remotely using the keypad on the pole handle or using the touchscreen display on the included tablet. The camera can be positioned at an angle of +/- 120 degrees at a speed of articulation controlled by the user.  The gearhead motor is designed with a special slip-clutch that protects the motor against mechanical shock, if the motor is back driven by a camera head being pushed back when mounted to the motorized assembly. Like the above friction hinge pole, the motorized pole can be rotated to allow the camera to pan 360 degrees. The advantages of this design are that it allows inspection of areas with narrow openings that only allow the camera to be inserted in its smallest footprint orientation (usually 0 degrees, positioned straight); or when the application requires inspection of a broad area and constant adjustments to the camera position are required.

Problems with 360 Degree Video Pole Cameras:

There are some systems that are available from other manufacturers, which use poles that offer no articulation. The reason for this is that they use cameras that provide 360-degree imaging and claim that no panning of the camera is required. This in practice is problematic because of several issues that impact image quality to a significant extent. One of the main problems is that generating even illumination in a dark area is not easily achieved. This creates dark areas in the inspection location and limits the image details that can be observed by the inspector. The ZistosHD product line uses traditional camera optics on their cameras. The traditional video cameras used in the ZistosHD system produce a bright beam of light that is bore-sighted with the field of view of the camera and will always produce a usable image regardless of orientation. The other issue has to do with image resolution and zoom capabilities. The 360-degree cameras are limited to using only digital zoom using software processing. Digital zoom reduces the resolution of an image when you zoom in. This means that the bigger the image gets on your screen; the less detail is observable. The ZistosHD systems have optical zoom cameras available that allow the user to zoom into image details without losing any image resolution. In addition, ZistosHD offers thermal imaging options, which are not available with 360 degree systems.

ZistosHD poles are lightweight, carbon fiber and are available in lengths from 2’ to 30’. The sections that telescope in and out can be locked into position with collars that are turned by hand. All ZistosHD camera heads and pole are interchangeable, so a system can be equipped with different add-ons and attachments to address varied application needs.

Whatever your application – tactical surveillance, urban search and rescue, vehicle/cargo search, or industrial inspection – please call us for more information or to set up a no-obligation in-person or virtual product demonstration.