Cameron Watters Software Engineer and Leader in Phoenix and Seattle

Dirt Cheap (< $250) Tower Camera for Rugby, Football, Soccer, etc…

Both my boys play rugby and I wanted to be able to capture footage of their matches. I’m particularly interested in high-angle views that shows most, if not all, of the players and are more useful for tactical analysis and post-match review of successes and mistakes.

I also started refereeing this season, so a setup that allows me to capture the entire pitch in a fire-and-forget fashion without someone having to attend the camera during the match is ideal.

I also didn’t want to spend a ton of money if I could avoid it. High-end systems easily run into the thousands of dollars, and sometimes that doesn’t even include the camera. And, they also usually require a camera operator.

I adapted my setup over the season, but the April matches are fairly representative of the results I get:

The Setup (So Far…)

My current configuration is just two inexpensive 4K Chinese action cameras mounted on an external flash bracket atop a 23-foot (or so) pole utility extension pole.

The Tower — $99 + tax/shipping

The tower setup would work for pretty much any pair of matching lightweight cameras with 170º wide angle views.

Camera(s) — $131 + tax/shipping

The cameras—even using cheap ones like I have—are the most expensive component. I will continue to experiment with “better” action cameras to see what image quality improvements, if any, they offer. More expensive cameras (e.g. GoPro) boast image stablization features and offer better software.

One of my cameras is the one listed below; the other one I’ve used is not available anymore.

Assembly

There’s a little bit of assembly required here, but it’s pretty straightforward. Using the PVC pipe and fittings, I created a stand for the extension pole. I drilled a small hole for a set screw in the front of the stand because wind can cause the pole to spin.

I then mount the cameras on the flash bracket and and attach the bracket to the pole adapter. You’ll want to test your own specific scenario, but for me, I mount the cameras as close to the middle of the bracket as possible and angle them away from one another a bit to make sure I get full coverage of the field. Then, I attach the pole adapter on the extended pole and angle the bracket down a bit. The specific angles will depend on the dimensions of your pitch and how far back from the sideline your camera is placed.

Using the velcro straps or zip ties, I mount the battery pack to the flash bracket behind the cameras and then connect the USB charging cables. With this external battery, the cameras will fill the entire SD card easily and be fully charged at the end (3+ hours).

Then, stand the pole up, lower it into the stand, align it with the field, and secure it with the set screw.

So far, the stand and pole have held up reasonably well, even in strong winds, as long as it’s on level ground. I also usually drop a 30 lb bag of kit on the back of the stand, which helps.

Additional Notes

Camera Setup

Depending on your camera, there are a few prep steps that are good to get out of the way before you head to the pitch. Here’s what I need to do for mine:

  1. Charge the cameras. Yes, there is an external battery, but it all works best if the cameras start fully charged.
  2. Format the SD cards from the camera. You want to start with blank cards and even two cameras running the same/similar firmware sometimes complain about SD cards formatted on other cameras. If you reformat them, you don’t have to match cards to cameras.
  3. Set the clocks on the cameras. When cameras lose battery power, the clock often resets to the factory default time.
  4. Make sure the camera’s auto-shutoff is disabled.

Video Editing

My cameras don’t come with any useful software for assembling the video, so I just use Apple’s iMovie. My workflow has evolved a bit since I started, but the basic ideas are this:

  1. Cut the clips together such that the ball is always in view. This works well for rugby, but might be tougher in gridiron football where you also want to see more action away from the ball.
  2. Isolate any boring parts and accellerate them to 4x or 20x, as appropriate. For rugby, this means after scoring a try, walking to a lineout or getting organized for a scrum.
  3. Add subtitles to call out important context—score, penalties, etc.
  4. Publish to YouTube—I export to a 1080p, Better Quality format locally and then upload that to YouTube.

More Light Is Better

Most rugby, at least around here in AZ, is played during the day. Night games played under lights (all of my boys’ home games) do have an impact on the quality. This is a camera issue, so more expensive cameras may help with this.