Cameras for IMAG: Define Goals, Needs of System Through Research

Cameras for IMAG: Define Goals, Needs of System Through Research

If you intend to use the live output of a camera for IMAG, you need to make sure that you can properly and efficiently get the signal to the video switcher.

Image Magnification, or IMAG, in its simplest form is the art of shooting and mixing an event for the live audience to view onscreen as it happens.

There are many levels of cameras for IMAG. Some facilities will have cameras with full studio-kits and remote CCUs…

The focus when using IMAG is getting "tight" shots of the worship team, pastors and events that make up your service. From a producer's standpoint, IMAG is approached differently than a video that would be produced for film, cinema or television. The aim of IMAG is to bring the live audience closer to the stage by magnifying the presenters/performers with tight shots. By doing this, it will reveal minute facial expressions and mannerisms that are not typically perceived in a large room.

Resolutions, Sensors, Lenses: Optics Are the Heart of the Camera

Resolution is a hot topic when it comes to camera marketing. This is probably because it is the easiest factor to understand. More pixels typically means clearer image. Most people have heard the terms 1080p or 4K. The price for 4K cameras has certainly come down in recent years to a more affordable price point, but is 4K or even 8K necessary for your application?

What is the resolution of your projectors? Is your system capable of distributing or transmitting the higher bitrates? Are you planning to record or stream the IMAG feed? What platform will it be distributed on?  With the price of digital storage these days, many churches are shooting the service in high resolution for archival purposes, but still distributing in 1080p; sometimes projecting in 720p or lower.

It is important to decide what your intended purpose is, and make sure you have the infrastructure to distribute and upgrade when necessary.

Then there is zoom range, which is a big factor for me when considering cameras for IMAG. The lens gives you optical zoom ranges and can be one of the biggest determining factors when selecting a camera.  The sensor is only as good as the light that will hit it, so make sure your lens is up to the task.

Consider the following questions when specifying a lens: How far away are the camera positions? Are they near the back of the room, to the sides? Will you need risers to get the lens above the audience? Will they block natural sight lines?

You may be able to use a camera with a "factory" lens with a zoom range, or you might need to purchase a more professional camera with interchangeable lenses to fit your needs. Remember the farther you are away from the stage, the better your tripod needs to be. Small movements when zoomed in can produce shake and rapidly moving images. Figure out how far away your camera will be, and how "tight" you will need it to zoom. Then make sure your tripod and fluid heads will meet your needs.

Consider the specifications of the sensor. If you have a stage that is dimly lit or have dark spots, your camera's sensor may not be able to adjust properly to the minimal lighting. If the camera's sensor does not perform well in low light, the resolution of the camera will not matter much. I have seen cameras boasting great resolutions outperformed by standard definition cameras simply because they cannot get enough light to the sensor resulting in grainy video.

Remote Controlling the Cameras

There are many levels of cameras for IMAG. Some facilities will have cameras with full studio-kits and remote CCUs (Camera Control Units) to allow an engineer to control aspects of the camera like color, saturation, white balance and iris from a remote location. While this is typically the preferred method of matching cameras for IMAG, it is not always cost effective. Some churches may not have the budget or the volunteer staff to do it this way. When looking at cameras for IMAG, consider whether or not you want the ability to have a CCU (sometimes called a "Paint Box") with the camera.

Whether your cameras can be CCU controlled or not, they need the ability to have some external control. At minimum, your operators need to be able to control the zoom from the handle of the tripod. Not all cameras have this feature. Make sure it has LANC or other remote control capability, so your operators can easily zoom from the handle of the tripod. These remotes come in various sizes and capabilities. Some will give the user focus, iris, zoom, power and even a record button at their fingertips.

Will you be using the camera in a "handheld" position? Some directors like to use a combination of cameras on sticks (tripods) and roaming (sometimes called rove or handheld.) When choosing cameras, it is ideal to use cameras of the same model, so make sure that the camera is versatile enough to be mounted to a tripod and/or a handheld device.

When selecting tripods, make sure they are rated for the weight of the camera and accessories that may need to be attached to it (shotgun microphones, intercom, monitors, lenses, camera controls, tally lights, etc.)

Camera Peripherals and Ports

If you intend to use the live output of a camera for IMAG, you need to make sure that you can properly and efficiently get the signal to the video switcher. Professional cameras do this pretty well, but I have seen a lot of churches using "Pro-Sumer" and even some Consumer (Handy Cam) style cameras recently.  This can be a cost effective way to get started into video production, but you will need to consider how to get the signal from the camera to the switcher. Professional cameras with CCUs may run the signal over triax or fiber, while others transmit over Serial Digital Interface, or SDI, and HDMI. There are many converters available to get a signal into/out of SDI, but remember that converters add delay. Delay is a big deal when shooting for IMAG. I would recommend finding a camera that has a SDI output directly on the camera if possible.

HDMI ports on the cameras can be handy if you want to add a larger "studio kit" style monitor to your camera. Monitors are made in all shapes and sizes and you can find them with HDMI and SDI Inputs. Beware that some cameras may have both SDI and HDMI outputs that may not work simultaneously. This can be an issue if you want to use the HDMI for the monitor and the SDI to transmit to your switcher. Check with the manufacturer to verify that both outputs can be used at the same time.

Do you plan on using your cameras for video production outside of your services? This can be a big advantage of using a "Run and Gun" style camera for IMAG. There are many camcorders that could be used in both environments and can be used to help justify the purchasing of the cameras. These cameras are not typically the best camera in either space, but can be very good at doing both jobs. They typically have all of the interconnect options to feed a video switcher, but also have features like XLR jacks as well as built-in microphones, recording capabilities, audio/video outputs, etc., for video production. I like using this style camera in a church IMAG environment since they are more versatile. I will often use the camera's internal recording system to do an isolated recording of each camera's shots, in case I need to do any post-production editing of a recorded IMAG.

Overall, there are many things to research when choosing a camera for the task of doing IMAG. You will need to define the specific needs for your situation and the goals for your IMAG system. Do your research to make sure that the camera will properly capture the light and send it to the switching system. There are many extra peripherals that can go along with a camera purchase (monitors, convertors, tripods, lenses & remote controls to name a few) so make sure to account for those in your budget. Finally, make sure you have all the outputs you will need to accomplish your goals.

IMAG can be a daunting task, but when done well, it can really increase the interaction of your audience with your service.

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