About Capturing Video
You may already know why you want to bring a video camera into the mix of your technical product arsenal. Perhaps because you have already gone the route of trying to incorporate footage caught from someone’s iPhone or other hand-held device into your programs, and you want to take things to the next level of professionalism.
Whatever the reason, be confident that it is actually far easier today than it was ten years ago to pull off professional-looking video with the availability of affordable (no, seriously) and accessible tools. But, just as in anything else, it pays to know what the goals are before buying any product. For example, if your plan is simply to capture video to shoot out on the web, then you’ll be looking for a much different solution than if you were planning to make semi-professionally edited DVDs to hand out to your congregation.
Because there is a lot of ground to cover in regards to the products needed to reflect your vision, this article is going to focus specifically on some basic principles, so that you can better zero-in on what may be the best starting point for you.
Video Camera Classifications
Video cameras are essentially broken up into three grades: Consumer, Prosumer and Professional. These grades are pretty much self-explanatory as far as the price point and quality that goes with them. For the purposes of simplification, we are going to discuss two classifications of camera that exist within these grades: ENG and Studio configuration.
You may have heard of the term ENG. It stands for “Electronic News Gathering”. This basically classifies video cameras that are intended to be portable- ie: filming news reporters on location. These types of cameras (camcorders) are used for filming “person-on-the-street” interviews, outdoor events and any other activity or subject which requires a mobile video camera.
You also have video cameras that are intended to capture footage either at a fixed stage position or in a studio environment. These are often referred to as “studio-config” in the industry lingo.
One way to differentiate between the functionality of ENG versus studio config cameras would be remote operation capabilities. ENG cameras are designed to be mobile, so the camera person operates and accesses the camera controls built right into the camera itself (zoom, focus, iris, etc.) Many ENG cameras account for the fact that you will be filming in various conditions and scenarios and so they have many of the necessary control functions automated. These automated functions vary in quality based on the cost of the camera.
On a studio configuration camera, camera functions such as zoom, focus, color correction, iris etc. are able to be adjusted without the operator having to actually touch the camera via controls mounted on the tripod handles or via a remote CCU (Camera Control Unit). These controls are often not available for consumer or lower-end prosumer grade models, although there are a few third-party companies who develop solutions that tie into some of these products to simulate these types of studio configuration controls.
Features to Look For
Regardless what camera you purchase, the first general rule of thumb is to buy the best product that you can possibly afford.
If your house of worship can afford to jump right into the prosumer level, that will end up being a good thing. You’ll want to look at getting a 3-chip camera as opposed to a 1-chip camera. The computer chips handle all of the camera’s color reproduction, clarity, light sensitivity, etc. As such, 3-chip cameras provide a noticeably better image over single-chip cameras through higher resolution, increased light sensitivity and more accurate color reproduction.
You’ll definitely want to consider the format in which the camera captures video in order to know whether or not your video editing software (and your computer) is capable of editing the format in which the footage has been shot. For example, if the camera you are looking at is designed to capture footage on a video cameras built-in hard drive, then you’ll want to make sure you will be able to access that file format later, for playback, editing, compressing or burning to DVD.
For your lens, look for at least 12X optical zoom; 20X is even better. Sometimes you’ll want to get close ups but it may not be possible to position your camera close to the platform. You’ll want to at least have access to this versatility.
Variable speed zoom is a nice feature, allowing you to make subtle or abrupt changes in focal range depending on your needs and the desired mood of the performance.
Light sensitivity is ultra-important, especially as your church probably doesn’t have broadcast quality lighting.
You should look for a camera with standard mic inputs (XLR). This way you have the option of getting a quality master mix audio signal from the front of house (FOH) audio console or an external mic connected directly to the camera.
You’ll also want to invest in a decent tripod, especially for a studio config camera setup, such as a high-quality fluid head tripod which will allow you to make smooth adjustments. These can make all the difference when you want to get sleek looking zooms and pans into your video. For ENG camcorders, purchase a lightweight fluid head tripod which cost a couple to a few hundred bucks and do a great job with 5 – 10 pound camcorders.
This is probably not what you want to read, but a one-camera solution for videotaping your worship services and other long programs should be avoided. There are so many compromises that are made when only one camera is used to capture an entire worship service or performance. For example, every single camera move and mistake has to be shown on your finished product or on screen (for live IMAG). Additionally, the one camera operator gets no rest. Even the addition of an “unmanned” second camera is a lot better than having a single camera.
Having two cameras also gives you the option of pulling off some sleek looking switches like hiding zooms for close-ups. You can cover up all the moves of the close-up camera by switching back to a wide angle camera catching the whole scene or stage. A situation like switching video for live IMAG will require a few more components, though. You’ll need to run video feeds (cables) from your cameras to your switcher, and then from your video switcher to your projection system. At the switcher, you would need to have another operator to monitor and switch the feeds.
If live switching is what you want to accomplish, you will want to invest in some type of headset communication. Any live-switching scenario would require communication between the two camera operators and the video switcher operator so they all know whose shot is “live” and who is going to zoom in, change shots, etc.
If there are two independent camera operators recording one full wide angle shot and one roving for close ups, and you intend to take both of those recordings and splice them together in post-production on an editing system, then that headset communication may not be necessary.
As with anything else, the best case scenario is to identify your goal first, and then start your product research. The good news is that prices are going to continue coming down and quality is going to continue going up. A safe bet would be to get in at ground level with a system that will allow you to make realistic transitions to the next phase of your video ministry. The cost may seem higher up front, but the long-term savings by not having to replace components down the line will make your investment worth it.