Current Trends: Video Cameras

by Michael Hoddy | Jan 09, 2013


Probably the fastest-growing emerging technology in houses of worship is the use of live video cameras as part of the worship experience.

Video cameras have two basic uses in houses of worship: studio and field production use for creating original content such as original short films, advertisements, announcements, and bumpers; and live use for image magnification (IMAG), which is the live projection of a presenter and event in the same room (or other venues) to enhance communication and connectedness.

Like any system, the components can be basic or comprehensive and complex, but a basic studio or production video setup might be as simple as a camera, DV or HDV cable and connection, and a computer with suitable video editing software. A live IMAG setup is necessarily more complex, consisting of one or more cameras, monitors, a video mixer or switcher/scaler, a projector and screen (or multiple projectors and screens), and all the cabling and interfacing needed to make it all work together. So where do you begin? Video is newer and more complex than other ministry production areas, but let’s dive in by addressing some common issues and topics:

Consumer Versus Professional

One of the most sticky issues for churches considering video systems is the subject of cameras, quite simply because consumer-grade “HD” video cameras can be had quite cheaply, while good-quality professional or commercial-grade cameras tend to be very expensive- thousands of dollars, if not more. We are often asked why a church shouldn’t just go down to their local big-box electronics retailer and purchase a camcorder for a few hundred dollars instead of a better commercial-grade solution. There are at least 4 major reasons:

  1. Reliability: consumer-grade cameras are not designed for the constant usage and operation encountered in a church production environment. Our experience has been that they quickly develop mechanical problems and calibration issues over months and years of hard use- constant zooming, movement, a variety of operators and environments. Commercial-grade cameras are made for heavy usage in a variety of challenging environments, and weather these conditions far better.
  2. Optics: Most consumer-grade cameras have relatively cheap optics, and are not capable of the long zoom ratios and precise focus and image capture required in a production environment. What may be fine for home movies and YouTube videos is not adequate when that same image is scaled up to a large video projection screen, which is a common destination in most house of worship environments. Good optics and lensing are one of the most costly parts of a good camera, but represent a good investment. In better cameras, the lenses are standardized and may be interchanged, and a good lens may in fact outlive the rest of the camera and be used with a new one down the line.

  3. Low Light Capability and Resolution: Consumer-grade cameras are famously poor in environments with low ambient light levels and low can changing contrast. These conditions perfectly describe many if not most church production environments. When lighting levels are less than optimal, lower-end cameras get grainy and blurry. This is where the multiple, larger CCD’s (“chips”) of better cameras really come into their own. We have found that it’s generally less expensive to buy a better camera for use in a less-than-optimally-lit house of worship than it is to invest in enough stage lighting to allow a cheaper camera to perform adequately.
  4. Video Output: Very few, if any consumer-grade cameras have appropriate video output terminals for commercial use, and even when these are present, often they do not operate at the full resolution of the camera. Most consumer cameras have the familiar yellow “video” RCA connector as a video output, and often a mini-FireWire “DV” output for clip capture to a computer and editing software. Neither of these is really appropriate for serious video production in a live environment, for various reasons. The “gold standard” of commercial video output is SDI, which is present on a locking BNC connector on better cameras. SDI is available in standard and high-definition forms (HD-SDI and 3G-SDI), is rugged, can be transmitted long distances, and is widely used in all better commercial video equipment. Other interfaces on better-quality cameras may include HDMI or component (YUV) video, both of which are familiar to home theater aficionados. Both can be made to work acceptably, but HDMI can unreliable over even moderate cable lengths, and component is cumbersome to work with and may be limited in resolution depending on the devices being used. Either represents a compromise, and neither is as common as a primary interface in serious commercial-grade equipment.

Manned Cameras Versus Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ)

One of the emerging popular camera technologies for houses of worship are robotic pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras. PTZ cameras are controlled remotely by an operator using a joystick and watching a monitor. They are increasingly popular for house of worship use because a PTZ system requires fewer staff or volunteers to operate the system, and because there is less space required for (and distraction created) by manned camera operators. It can be a great solution, but PTZ has upsides and downsides just like manned cameras. PTZ cameras are great for fixed (non-moving) shots, or shots that are set up when the camera isn’t switched live. PTZ cameras are also great for getting shot angles and perspectives that would be impossible or very distracting if attempted by a live operator. But PTZ cameras are not as capable for moving shots, where the attention, finesse, and precision of a live camera operator is unbeatable. Even the best PTZ cameras move somewhat stiffly and robotically, because, well, they are! Also, the cost of a commercial-quality PTZ camera system is often similar or even a bit higher than a comparable manned system. And PTZ systems still take considerable skill and attention for an operator to operate well- panning, zooming, and switching smoothly and without distraction.

One potential balanced approach is the hybrid system: multiple-camera video systems which use PTZ cameras AND one or more manned cameras along with a switcher. In many ways, this allows the best of both worlds, allowing the flexibility and lower manpower requirements of a PTZ system to be combined with the precision and finesse of a manned camera, provided that the different cameras are well-matched to each other.

Cost: It may be eye-watering, but you can expect the entry level price point for even a basic, acceptable commercial-grade video camcorder or pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera to be at least $3,000.00, and even this level may not include certain features like SDI video outputs. Typically, the price range of fully-capable production-grade cameras starts at $5000.00, and goes up very easily from there. A studio-grade TV camera may easily break six figures. Good-quality video equipment is easily the most expensive production equipment your ministry will buy, so it’s critical to invest carefully, wisely, and well.

So which solution is right for you? Navigating the field of production video camera options and selecting the right solution for your ministry organization’s needs might be mind-boggling, but we’re here to help. Contact us for a free consultation. We’d love to hear from you!


Submit Your Comment




Please enter in the word you see below:

Sign up for our email newsletter to stay in touch with us.