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OLYMPICS | Eye on the Action

The Olympics...

are known for innovative production, and one of the facets we have come to expect is the creative use of specialty cameras. The 2008 Beijing Olympics will be no exception.

This dual head railcam was used during the Athens Olympics at the aquatics venue.
Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, the host broadcaster of the 2008 Summer Games, will be using around 110 different specialty cameras, which is more than were used in any other Olympics in the past... in fact, 25 percent more specialty cameras than any prior Games. John Pearce, BOB“s specialty equipment manager, defines a specialty camera as any camera that does not come on the remote production truck.

These are cameras that fly, swim, are robotic, small or move... each one is a specialty camera. It has been impossible to broadcast an entire Olympics in hi def in the past due to a lack of HD specialty cameras. However, HD specialty cameras have finally caught up. They are now available in almost every variety as the SD cameras.


Cameras will be flying all over Beijing. These include cable cameras, overhead tracking cameras and helicopters. They tentatively will be used for canoeing, BMX, cycling, mountain biking, triathlon, rowing and opening ceremonies. BOB has arranged for nine helicopters to be used with gyro-mounted cameras over many of the venues.


A variety of cameras will be used in aquatics, including the MobyCam (camera runs along the floor of the swimming pool), the dive cam (camera moves with a diver from the top of the diving board into the water) and some seven-pole cameras that can be moved under or above the water for great POV shots.

Periscope cameras will be used for sports such as synchronized swimming; overhead-tracking cameras will be attached to the ceiling and there will be a tracking camera mounted on the deck of the swimming pool. One of the cameras on the deck will be equipped with a gyro for a Super Slo-mo camera with a 22x lens for capturing the expressions and emotions of the athletes.


BOB will be utilizing very small HD cameras in the bull“s eye of the archery target. They will be mounting small wireless cameras to a bike to cover cycling. Small cameras will be built into the baseball bases, as well as mounted to the bars on the pole vault and high jump.

This dual head railcam was used during the Athens Olympics at the aquatics venue. Small cameras will also be used to show “foot faults” on throws and jumps on the athletic field. BBC“s Special Resources division is building a number of small cameras specifically for BOB“s coverage of the Games. One is a small robotic camera designed to be attached to competitor“s boats in sailing. These wireless cameras will transmit signals back to centralized receivers. The BBC has also created a buoy camera. These cameras have been built into the floating lane-marker buoys used in canoeing. The buoy cameras are also equipped with the ability to pan and zoom.


Some of the cameras already mentioned are robotic, such as the periscope camera used in aquatics and the tracking cameras used on the ceiling and the deck at swimming. Seven robotic cameras will also be utilized for shooting events, and weightlifting will have a camera mounted in the floor, covered by Plexiglas, in order to shoot up from low angles at the weightlifters. Boxing will utilize a 20- meter overhead camera tracking system.


Thirty-three jibs and cranes will be used at venues during the 2008 Summer Olympics. Two telescopic cranes will be used for opening and closing ceremonies. Another two cranes will be 20-meter Strata cranes.


The Mini B system is based on a Sony camera with an integrated lens and 1080i/50 HD output. Besides the gyro-equipped cameras already mentioned, gyros will be used in quite a few additional situations. Railtracking cameras will be used in track and field to follow the sprinters, boats will be following rowing and sailing, cars or trucks will also be used in rowing and gyro cameras will be used on a motorcycle for the marathon, to name a few.
BOB“s engineering and production staff are refining the production plans to provide the best coverage possible. All these cameras have been designed to give television viewers the best seat at the Olympics.

Jim Owens is the chair of the Communication Arts Department at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., has worked on the broadcast of 10 Olympics and is the author of Television Sports Production and co-author of the upcoming Video Production Handbook. He can
be reached at