Watching yourself on TV is fun. Watching yourself on surveillance footage is NOT.

Watching yourself on TV is fun

TV broadcast is the gold standard. The closer you can make your videos to TV matches, the more engaging they are. But of course, most of us have to make do without round-the-clock professional crew, floodlights, and ultra-expensive broadcast equipment.

The good news is that you can still produce excellent videos by dealing strategically with bitrate, bandwidth, and storage limitations, and by paying careful attention to these points:

1. Lighting and framing

First, get the fundamentals right. And that means ensuring your image is well-lit. Get a camera that has a large enough sensor, especially if you’re filming indoors. As a last resort, edit the video to correct for bad lighting.

Bad lighting example
Bad lighting
Good lighting example
Good lighting

In terms of framing, your goal is to give the viewers images that look natural and balanced.

Make sure the court is perfectly centered and that the image is perfectly level. If your camera is slightly rotated, correct for it in post-production. Rotation correction is a standard service that we provide to our partner clubs. That way, no one at the club has to climb up the ladder to physically adjust the camera every time it gets hit by a ball.

Cover the entire court—do not let the doubles alleys get cut off. Get at least the near corners and at least 20 feet of the height of the backdrop on the far side of the court. You may have to utilize a wide angle lens, which brings us to point #2 below.

Bad framing example
Uncentered, rotated, and cut-off doubles alleys
Good framing example
Centered, level, covering the entire court

2. No distortion

On many tennis courts, the distance between the baseline and the backdrop is so short that you could cover the entire court only by using a wide angle lens. The unfortunate effect of using a wide angle lens is barrel distortion, which makes the baseline appear curved (see left image below).

This is distracting to viewers—it’s not how tennis is supposed to look. Don’t forget, everyone’s reference—imprinted in the mind—is TV matches. Even worse, it reminds viewers of surveillance footage!

Since barrel distortion immediately diminishes watching enjoyment, you must correct for it. It is not always possible to remove it completely without compromising framing, but it’s always worth your best shot. Barrel distortion correction is another standard service that we provide to our partner clubs.

Uncorrected barrel distortion
Uncorrected barrel distortion
Corrected barrel distortion
Corrected barrel distortion

3. FPS (frames per second)

Players love high FPS for its ability to deliver a super slo-mo watching experience, which is especially useful for analyzing technique. They can step through the video frame by frame and see what is happening with the ball and the racquet at a given moment.

Nowadays, high quality, economical IP cameras that record at 120 FPS are readily available. A detail that many people miss, however, is that when manufacturers say that their cameras record at 120 FPS, you’re not actually guaranteed to get 120 unique frames per second. Instead, some frames may be duplicated to economize on video processing resources and storage. You may end up with only, say, 40 unique frames per second. This is obviously suboptimal as it makes the motion seem jagged when you watch the video (see Series A below). Depending on your setup, there may be ways to avoid this issue. Write to us if you want to learn more about this issue or get complimentary troubleshooting assistance.

Series A: Some duplicated frames (#3, #4, #5) = jagged motion
Jagged motion series
Series B: All Unique frames = Smooth motion
Smooth motion series

4. No motion blur

When you watch your video frame by frame, do the ball and the racquet stay sharp or do they appear blurry? If it’s the latter, you most likely haven’t set your shutter speed correctly.

Even if you record at very high FPS, the full potential of your video is not realized if the ball and the racquet are not clear in most frames. After all, the purpose of recording at high FPS is to study the exact positions of the ball and the racquet. Hard to do that if you can’t see much.

Avoid motion blur by carefully calibrating your shutter speed. A fast shutter speed means the camera shutter opens and shuts many times per second. This means when it’s open, it’s open for a very small window of time, which in turn means the camera sensor receives very little light each time the shutter is open.

If you’re filming outdoors during the day, a fast shutter speed won’t compromise the brightness of your image much. The sun is such a strong light source that your camera sensor is likely to receive enough light even though the shutter is open only very briefly each time. Under indoor lighting conditions, however, you would need a large enough camera sensor to be able to record at a fast shutter speed without getting too dark an image.

Each series below was taken from a 60 FPS video. Notice the blurry racquet on the left vs. the sharp racquet on the right.
Blurry series
Sharp series

5. Resolution

High-resolution cameras are affordable and easy to find nowadays. Keep in mind, however, that more and more club players watch video primarily on mobile. On small screens, 4K is unnecessary. Full HD (1080p) or even Standard HD (720p) is more than enough to deliver an excellent video watching experience.

In most cases, it’s wiser to allocate your processing and storage capacities not on resolution but elsewhere. For example, compression is what often really matters in terms of delivering crisp images, so it may be a good idea to record at a lower resolution and minimize compression as much as possible.