Sports fans want to see every little detail, and TV cameras have to be up to the task: whether it's the goalkeeper gritting his teeth before the penalty kick or the impact of the ball in a tennis match, every detail is recorded. To obtain such images, the camera has to be very close, but without interfering with the action. Many major tournaments, including the Olympic Games, use miniature devices, even fitting into a corner post, from Wiesbaden (Germany)-based specialist LMP Lux Media Plan. Shutter and focus are adjusted using Faulhaber drive units.
A 39-kilometre drop
On October 14, 2012, Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner jumped from a capsule that had previously reached an altitude of almost 39 kilometers by means of a helium balloon. During the free-fall jump from the stratosphere to Earth, he reached a speed of 1,357.6 km/h, making him the first man to break the sound barrier without the aid of an aircraft. He opened his parachute 1,585 metres above the ground and landed safely.
TV stations around the world broadcast the preparations and the jump. The main sponsor's broadcasting service covered the event live for over 10 hours. Nine cameras provided spectacular footage: five inside the capsule, two outside and two attached to the jumper's body. The shutter and sharpness of the cameras were adjusted from the ground by remote control.
"The biggest challenge for the equipment was the heat, explains Friedel Lux, pointing out an unexpected obstacle, given the freezing temperatures in the stratosphere. The unfiltered solar radiation was heating up the case enormously. At this altitude, there is no air to evacuate the excessive heat. So the cameras had to withstand a great deal of stress.
An industrial camera at the top of the ski jump
LMP's founder and technical director originally developed the company for "traditional" professional sports. With his unique designs for image recording and transmission equipment, he had previously distinguished himself as a service provider for television productions. In 2002, on the occasion of the Winter Olympics, he received a request from an Italian TV channel asking whether it would be possible to install an HDTV camera at the ski jumpers' starting position, at the top of the ski jump. There's very little space there, and the camera had to be out of the way, of course," he says. So we took a seldom-used camcorder and removed everything that wasn't essential for video recording."
The tiny camera thus obtained enabled the TV channel to offer a view literally over the jumpers' shoulders. It wasn't long before other types of sport also discovered the value of close-up footage. In 2004, LMP, in cooperation with TV-Skyline, for the first time mounted a camera on the net brace of a soccer goal. The camera showed the goalkeeper's every move from behind, and gave his perspective on the match situation. The camera could not protrude more than 3 cm into the net area.
The second generation came out in 2008: fully perfected in-house under the trade name "Cerberus", it's still in use today. You'll find it in handball goals, on pole-vault crossbars and in many other places where fans want a close-up view. The head of the Cerberus camera system is no bigger than three full-size matchboxes stacked on top of each other.
Terrific training for Cerberus
An even smaller version has been developed for installation in the corner post on the soccer pitch. It is currently used in two top-level matches on each Bundesliga championship day. Cameras mounted on the mobile cranes that are part of everyday team sports in the top leagues are also mostly supplied by LMP. In this case, weight is more decisive than size," explains Friedel Lux. The lighter the camera, the faster and more precisely the crane can perform the required movements."
The camera-mounted drive unit plays an essential role in the operation of the Cerberus system. It performs the mechanical work of shutter and focus adjustment via a gear train. For this purpose, LMP uses DC motors from the 0816 ... S and gearboxes 08/1 with an eight-millimeter diameter from Faulhaber. The diameter of the corner post camera is slightly larger, but the motors are shorter.
"For this type of application, we need the highest possible torque at the lowest possible mass and volume, stresses the camera specialist. The gearbox is an almost more important component. It has to withstand a great deal and be extremely robust. At the same time, it must ensure that the drive unit operates with the utmost precision. Our top priority is that there should be no jerky movements and that everything should run very smoothly, with no clutches, hang-ups or start-up delays. These conditions must be met to be able to really see if the goalkeeper is tense and how many centimeters the pole vaulter has passed the bar."
But LMP training units are not just used for sporting events. Lens controls for the aerospace industry, from Space-X to Airbus to Boeing, are also part of the product range. Here too, precision and robustness are paramount.