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The Pastor's Guide to Video Cameras

No matter the size of your church or the type of worship service you lead, your stewardship will be magnified as the leaders of your church make proper use of video technology. 

Of prime importance in this endeavor is your choice of video camera.  The number and types of cameras that are ideal for houses of worship have changed dramatically over the past few years.  Budget is always a consideration, but thankfully there are many options available at the lower end of the price spectrum that can offer excellent performance.  We made the rounds of the top-performing cameras and are glad to showcase a select few, based on overall ease-of-use and value for your church's investment.

Consider your outcomes
Different models and camera options will help your ministry achieve different outcomes.  Before you consider any camera, here are a few questions to keep in mind:

How do you intend to use the video feed?  Are you magnifying images so congregants can enjoy the service in a large worship venue?  Will the video of the service be shown on a public access channel?  Will it be part of an over-the-air-broadcast?  Is the service going to be live-streamed on the internet, or available later on a website?  Is the video going to be distributed physically as part of a DVD recording?

How much of the service will you shoot?  Just the sermon, or will you include musical performancesor perhaps you just need one long recording of the entire service?

What sort of production crew will you have?  Is your video production crew made up of regulars, and what level of training do they have?  With untrained personnel, an auto-focus camera may be a prudent choice.

Faithful to true colors

Sony's studio cameras have typically reproduced colors faithfully in low-light situations, and the HSC cameras meet the bar set by their predecessors, relying on optical filters rather than digital color correction by an on-board processor.  The adaptive color matrix allows for extremely tight control over color range, so you can adapt this camera to match the color quality of other cameras used in your ministry, whether they are older or from another manufacturer.

Another practical touch is the focus assist indicator, present in each camera in the series.  Reminiscent of a volume indicator on an audio console, the focus assist "peaks" to let the operator know when the primary image is in maximum possible focus.  This provides a strong advantage to an operator, particularly when shooting a wide viewing angle.

Full-studio power
In large church installations, the GY-HM790 series cameras, from JVC, are widely used because they offer full studio connectivity and remote control.  Single cables from the camera (either fiber or multicore) carry power, transmit intercom signals, and return video to the cameras as well as provide HD-SDI video to the control room.

A more cost effective solution for many houses of worship may include JVC's GY-HM650 and GY-HM600 cameras.  The 650 provides the ability to record and output both full HD and a lower resolution, web-friendly format, simultaneously.   If a single camera is used to record weekly services, the 650 is a strong choice.  A recorded web-friendly file can be posted to the internet immediately after the service without the time-consuming process of uploading a large HD file.   The 650 can also handle live streaming directly from the camera.  In the simplest of set-ups, a volunteer could arrive at the sanctuary, flip on the camera and begin streaming the service.  Immediately following the service, the volunteer could shut down the camera and hand the pastor a full HD file of the entire service on a memory card.

The newest and least-expensive option from JVC is the GY-HM70.   It provides beginners with easy autofocus and produces high-quality HD video via an HDMI cable.   A nearby switcher would be necessary if multiple cameras are being used.  Various HD recording modes are available, so files can be later burned to a DVD recorder or uploaded to the internet.

Small package, compelling features

A house of worship seeking a small, unobtrusive HD camera would do well to consider the Canon BU-50H, a remote control pan-tilt-zoom camera.  Not only does the BU-50H benefit from Canon's well-known lens technology, it's easy to use, reliable, and shockingly quiet, with a a maximum noise level of NC30 and is well-suited for use in such indoor environments as houses of worship.

"My personal feeling about televising church services," says Tom Green, director of television ministries for Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church in Augusta, Georgia, "Is that the cameras should be invisible.  The BU-50H cameras, however, don't draw much attention and don't bother anybody because they're not obvious. They're just little box-like cameras."

Popular thanks to its broad, extremely smooth 300-degree pans and +/ - 40-degree tilts, the BU-50H also has necessary connectivity features, including genlock input for video synchronization in broadcast television systems. Most churches that use Canon BU-50Hs also employ a house genlock system and use a fiber extension to deliver the cameras' HD-SDI video back to the control room. The cameras connect to the Telemetrics control devices via ethernet.

The Swiss Army knife of video cameras
Houses of worship looking for a high-quality camera with a reasonable price point that can be operated with fiber cables and is also extremely portable would do well to consider the Z-HD6000, from Hitachi. Every camera in the Z-HD line has always been remarkable for providing good skin tone, fine detail, solid color correction, and budget-conscious high quality HD imaging.  With the Z-HD6000, Hitachi has pushed the tech envelope by incorporating a newly-developed camera processor and a simple, elegant path for internal signal processing.

Several new, common-sense features will simplify a house of worship's video production workflow.  The camera head includes built-in power points for running extra devices without the need for external power sources:  teleprompters and studio monitors can be powered by the camera itself.  Multiple communication channels for production staff are built in to the camera as well, including two IFB channels for listen only, two aux feeds that can send video to the operator, two video feeds that can go to talent and studio monitors, a second intercom channel for the floor manager or spotter, and a tally viewable in the talent prompter.

Future-proof and future-worthy
Churches looking to transition to live HD broadcasts would to well to consider Panasonic's AG-HPX600 P2 HD shoulder-mount camcorders as a keystone component of their production system.  Ideal for handheld operators, the lightweight (6.2-lb) cameras provide a full feature suite and the future freedom of broad upgrade options, including an interchangeable lens mount and the ability to output video over WiFi, ethernet, or even a USB drive.

The AAG-HPX600 functions solidly as a workhorse camera, capturing images with enhanced light sensitivity and respectable color fidelity.  Its most groundbreaking feature, however, is the list of available and future video codecs, which gives the camera unprecedented flexibility in terms of compression. This range of codecs allows the creation of small, portable files, or large, nearly uncompressed ones for high-end cinema quality production.  For example, when combined with the optional AG-YDX600G video encoder board, each unit is capable of creating low-rate QuickTime/H.264 files on the fly and streaming that video to a device with a screen and an internet connection.

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