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Robotic Nikon cameras capture Wimbledon 2013

By dpreview staff on Jul 10, 2013 at 12:26 GMT
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In the aftermath of Andy Murray's historic victory at Wimbledon 2013, Nikon UK has been explaining how its cameras were used in a robotics setup to capture images from unique angles during the championship. The system was developed in partnership with Mark Roberts Motion Control, and operated by photographer Bob Martin. It used a Nikon D4 mounted on the roof above Centre Court, with 200-400mm and 80-400mm lenses.

© Bob Martin

In its occasionally-hyperbolic press release, Nikon explains how the system's quick reactions make it suited to capturing fast-paced action, allowing the capture of overhead shots from an angle not previously attempted at the event. It also talks about an interesting-sounding 'Polycam' setup that allows the same subject to be tracked by multiple cameras, so key moments can be captured from multiple angles simultaneously. Some more images from the roof-mounted camera can be seen below.

© Bob Martin © Bob Martin
© Bob Martin © Bob Martin 
 Robotic D4 mounted on Centre Court roof  View from the roof-mounted camera

Press release:

Nikon makes history with a revolutionary new solution for photographers

Nikon UK, 8th July: Nikon takes a giant leap forward in photographic development, with the introduction of a revolutionary new robotics solution that allows professional photographers to achieve shots that were never before possible.

Bob Martin, legendary sports photographer, made history at Wimbledon 2013 as the first photographer to trial a new fast action robotics system; the product of a collaboration between Nikon and Mark Roberts Motion Control (MRMC), a leading designer and manufacturer of quality motion control products.

Using Nikon’s award-winning D4 digital SLR camera; one of MRMC’s SFH-30 robotic heads quickly moves and rotates the camera from a position that would not normally be physically possible, allowing photographers to shoot difficult angles and in impossible locations. The camera is then controlled and used to shoot images by a photographer from a remote location. The impressive latency of this system of less than 0.1 seconds makes this robotics system an ideal solution for shooting fast action sporting events. 

By attaching a camera to the roof above Centre Court, Bob was able to capture images from a location that had never before been attempted at the event. 

James Banfield Professional Services and Business Solutions Manager at Nikon UK says: “Our robotics project has been in the making for some time; since the London Olympics we’ve been working with Bob Martin and leading photo agencies who needed more from existing robotics systems, listening to their feedback and requirements to refine and develop this system.

He adds: “Initially the robotics set up has been designed to support sports photographers, maximising the qualities of the D4 camera and allowing them to track fast moving subjects, however there is great scope to use it for other areas of photography - our customers will dictate where this solution is used next.”

Bob also made history during the first week of the oldest major tennis championship, shooting with a new MRMC Polycam configuration, with three separate robotic heads being used in synchronisation. As the master head was controlled by Bob, two other robotic heads overlooking Centre Court moved at the same time to track the same subject, allowing Bob to capture the action from three separate angles, using a remote, with every release of the shutter.

Bob Martin, sports photographer, says: “The demand for new images at big sporting events is what encourages me to push the limits of photography. Using this set up, it’s proved that capturing the impossible is now possible, which is very exciting for the future of photography.

I had some images in mind at Wimbledon before we set everything up; I was constantly hoping for sun so that I could capture the players on the grass with stunning shadows. Eventually the sun came out, so I’ve now got new, different images to add to add to my portfolio and offer my clients.”

Nikon is working with Bob Martin to trial the setup. He used a Nikon D4 camera, 200-400mm and 80-400mm lenses with the robotic system and MRMC Polycam configuration set up. Three Nikon D4’s were also set up in various locations to record time-lapse images, with each taking one picture every minute and feeding it directly to the Wimbledon Ipad App giving viewers a unique Wimbledon experience in superior full-frame resolution.

Assaff Rawner, Managing Director at MRMC, says: “We’re pleased to be working with Nikon, to explore this new area for us creating solutions for photographers who are keen to take photography to a new level, with the help of our robotic and Polycam systems. Whilst the partnership has only been going since the start of the London Olympics, we’ve learnt so much and look forward to taking the systems further to support creative ideas and other specialist projects.”

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Total comments: 24
Rick Knepper
By Rick Knepper (8 months ago)

So, what does the professional phoographer actually do during the event while the robot is doing his job taking time-lapse pics, call his bookie?

By riknash (9 months ago)

Its hard to understand all the negativity of the exploration attempts to present new and different perspectives, made possible with robotic cameras. Although the photos do seem rather boring with all those ultra long shadows, I do think the attempt has merit. Possibly they can take the images from all the robotic cameras and turn it into a very high resolution 3 dimensional space at the moment all shutters were actuated simultaneously? If so, that would make for some very interesting analysis and presentation of game play.

By Canadianguy (9 months ago)

Old news - these were already used in the London Olympics - they just recycled the same gear.

comet suisei
By comet suisei (9 months ago)

This was not a press release from Nikon Japan, they were even not informed about it.

By d3xmeister (9 months ago)

What breaktrough ?

By Pitonosaure (9 months ago)

Are we supposed to be impressed? Any photographer sitting high in the stands could have take that kind of shots. Those pictures are boring. If the technique is "revolutionary", the results are not. If Nikon needs some publicity, you'de better choose something else because this one won't help. What a waste!

By Reactive (9 months ago)

What a waste of time! A hopeless set of pictures, all fighting impossible exposure conditions, and with zero depth. They mostly look like a load of accidentally vignetted test shots taken during setup for an event. Better luck next time.

By CameraLabTester (9 months ago)

It is quite refreshing to see GRASS as the background instead of commercial ads and posters.

Marketing companies would start painting the grass now.

Wait... it's already being done!


Anfernee Cheang
By Anfernee Cheang (9 months ago)

Any new technology should serve the purpose of providing better results. Obviously this set of images did not convince. We are here for photography. Please don't distract the argument to brand name wars or making moneys. To me, these images present a boring view angle and not as so nice as expectation. That's the immediate feeling at the first and then also the second look.

By marike6 (9 months ago)

The image of Djokovic with the long shadow shows one of the benefits of this unusually high vantage point.

What's also interesting is they've set the camera at - 1 EV I assume to keep the highlights on the white shirts in check.

By PB271579 (9 months ago)

-1 EV is probably because of the deep green of the court. Expose for the court and everything else will come in nicely.

By JackM (9 months ago)

All that to produce boring images. What a waste of resources.

By marike6 (9 months ago)

Why, do you think they only took five images or have you've seen the whole set?

Have you seen any of the time-lapse sequences or so-called "Polycam" images?

Or are you just feeling grumpy or annoyed that Canon didn't implement this setup?

By TylerQ (9 months ago)

That's exactly what I thought looking at those images. So what? Just goes to show that it's the person behind the camera, not the camera.

Comment edited 16 seconds after posting
By marike6 (9 months ago)

The point is how do you know from looking at 5 web jpegs that developing a robotic camera system is a "waste of resources"?

Almost all major sporting events these days have implemented some form of remote cameras (NBA, NFL, etc). Do you think Nikon as one of the two top camera companies in the world should just sit back and watch while others push the envelope with regard to remote capture? Of course they shouldn't.

By NikonGeff (9 months ago)

Boring images they may be, but I bet the photographer made a lot more money than you did with those pictures.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
By BeanyPic (9 months ago)

Don't start the Canon V Nikon thing again. Some great shots buy good equipment. Both brands make great gear and both would have produced great results. Nikon were just in their first this time. Canon had all the glory at the Olympics.

By marike6 (9 months ago)

He's just annoyed because a robot is making publishable images.

There is nothing boring about Andy Murray hitting that huge serve of his or about any of these images.

Perhaps Jack was expecting to see actual robots play tennis or something.

By T3 (9 months ago)

Being there is half the battle. Putting a camera up there allows a photographer to "be there". Once you're there, then you have a chance to catch that one amazing moment that might appear, and to shoot it from a very unique angle. So when you consider that, it's definitely not a waste of resources.

Maybe it's you who is a waste of resources, since all you seem to be able to do is whine incessantly.

By kirbysdl (9 months ago)

The shots from the London Olympics could not have been taken easily by human photographers, and are novel for that reason. Not only was it a cool technique, that technique produced interesting-looking shots from a new perspective.

On the contrary, most of these shots don't show new perspectives on the sport of tennis. They generally just look like well-executed shots taken from high up in the stands, with the only exception being the first shot above. The synchronized movements of multiple cameras is a great technical demonstration, but I'd argue it didn't produce great photographs here.

This is nothing against Nikon: obviously a similar setup could have been made with nearly any SLR system. It's neat technology by MRMC, but could use more interesting applications. Embed some cameras into the ground, right at the net, and I bet you'd get more dynamic, interesting shots.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Nishi Drew
By Nishi Drew (9 months ago)

I've shot a basketball game from above and well... none of them were good, not interesting and little context, no matter what because it's from above you feel distant and it's harder to tell what's actually going on. So I went down and took shots at level and a huge improvement~
Also these images posted are shot too wide and far anyways, probably limitation of the system to capture images any close with accuracy.
A wide shot is totally fine, could be interesting when everyone else is close in, but only a couple of those. Otherwise even the good tennis photos are boring as they're all the same to me...

1 upvote
By NikonGeff (9 months ago)

Better late than never, where are the white lenses?

By thinkfat (9 months ago)

Um, haven't we seen that history making revolutionary invention once or twice already? Just recently at the Olympic Games in London, using 1DX cameras on robotic mounts? Like, there:

Hello, Nikon. Glad you made it to the party, late.

By Canadianguy (9 months ago)

You mean like these:

Just some PR person - recycling old news as new news. DPR should not have fallen for it.

Total comments: 24