The decision to add an in-sanctuary, multi-camera system is one which more and more congregations have either recently made, are in the process of making or are preparing to make. Choosing to “bring cameras into the sanctuary” is obviously not a decision to be made lightly both financially and philosophically. Until recently (within the past 5-10 years) such an investment was considered only feasible for ministries commonly referred to as “mega-churches”. Thanks to the current proliferation of high-quality, highly-affordable video cameras and components (not to mention the large pool of yesteryears greatly-discounted, analog cameras and components) more churches than ever are, for the first time, in a position to seriously consider multiplying their ministry through the addition of a multi-camera system. The myriad of questions instantly arising from such a consideration include: What “class” (prosumer, industrial, broadcast) of cameras should be purchased? What components are currently available to accomplish what we want to accomplish? Can we afford “high quality” video? If we aren’t pursuing a “broadcast ministry (TV, cable, etc.) does it make sense to invest in a multi-camera system? This article will attempt to answer these and several other questions and hopefully provide the assistance you need in selecting the best components to match your budget, worship space and ministry vision. But first let’s take a brief look at why any ministry may want to make “now” the time they seriously pursue such an expansion to their media ministry.
A FEW GOOD REASONS
A generation ago the primary (only?) reason a ministry would bring video cameras into the sanctuary was for what is very commonly referred to as “television ministry”. Obviously this eliminated small and most medium sized congregations from even considering the idea of adding a multi-camera system to their ministry/sanctuary. Certainly “broadcasting” can be a very important part of a church’s ministry but thankfully today there are several additional, less expensive and, I believe, more compelling reasons for churches to invest in a multi-camera system— even if they never plan on going “on air”. Here are a few of my favorite reasons.
IMAG (Image Magnification)
Though not “required” with the addition of in-sanctuary video cameras, many churches choose to project “live” images in order to facilitate better visibility of on-platform ministries for all worshippers. But remember, many churches also do NOT choose to use IMAG despite their decision to invest in video cameras. And for good reason. Perhaps their sanctuary is simply not large enough to benefit from image magnification.
Or they may simply decide they do not want to use their cameras and screens for IMAG. There are still very good reasons for videotaping your ministry even if you do not project “live” in-sanctuary video images.
Recording: Multiplying Ministry through Media
This is perhaps the most common application of ministry-based camera systems. Not only do these recordings provide an important archival purpose, these DVDs, CD-Roms and the ever-increasing list of video formats truly serve to multiply ministry through media; shut-ins, absentee worshippers, visitors, outreach, critique and training… Each is a powerful reason for adding video cameras to a media ministry.
Simulcasting: A Need to Feed
Most houses of worship have the need to feed their “live” image to a variety of locations throughout their facility and/or campus. Nurseries, foyer entrances, overflow seating areas, office wings and all manner of other spaces are prime candidates for receiving such simulcast signals
Broadcasting (live or from prerecorded media) continues to be a valid application for mid-to-large sized ministries. Obviously this application requires high production value, components and the personnel able to deliver such high quality media ministry.
An increasingly attractive option for ministries is webcasting. Thanks to the continued growth of this market niche, several new highly affordable and easy-to-use webcasting solutions are within reach of congregations of almost any size. (Note: If webcasting is in the mix, you owe it to yourself to check out Newtek’s (newtek.com) innovative, powerful and (relatively) affordable Tricaster production system.)
PRIMARY CONSIDERATIONS OF PRIMARY COMPONENTS
Obviously the video cameras themselves are THE primary components in a multi-camera system. Budget (or lack thereof) may be the determining factor in what cameras your ministry can purchase. Approach this decision thoughtfully and thoroughly. The principle of “buy the absolute best you can afford” definitely applies here. The right camera investment can provide years of high-quality performance and production.
Your first choice would be “industrial” or broadcast quality cameras with a full-studio configuration (on-camera external viewfinder, rear lens and focus controls, & remote camera control unit for adjusting iris, white balance etc.). If such a camera system (new) is beyond your budget, consider buying pre-owned analog cameras such as the Sony DXC-537 series which provides outstanding picture quality and have been a work horse of professional video production houses and studios for years albeit “yesteryears”. And with the flood of digital (both HD and SD) cameras, the market for good used video cameras is ripe for picking if you know what you are looking for. I would seriously consider JVC’s (jvc.com) DV550 camera system for a good mid-range multi-camera system depending on your production needs and budget.
Although not my first choice, you may need to opt for a “prosumer” system such as Canon’s GL2 or XL2 line of cameras (canon.com). Sony’s equivalent is the PD170 or PD150 (sony.com). Note: these are all SD (standard definition) units. At this point in time I don’t believe it makes good sense for all but the largest of churches to invest in HD-only cameras and components (but that’s another article!) although investing in cameras and components which are switchable between SD and HD can make very good sense to aid in “future proofing” such an investment. Of course, your initial investment will be much higher if purchasing HD-capable components vs. SD-only components.
If there is any single piece of video equipment whose importance is regularly underestimated (and therefore “mispurchased”) it is the lowly camera tripod. Saving a few dollars (in the name of good stewardship, right!?) could mean the difference between shaky, jerky camera images or smooth, professional looking images for many years to come. Sachtler (sachtler.com), Vinten (vinten.com), and Miller (millertripods.com) are just a few of the industry standards when it comes to well-built, high-performance video camera tripods.
VIDEO SWITCHER OR VIDEO SCALER
To mix/switch your camera’s images you will need a video mixer or video scaler capable of seamless switching (read: glitch-free). Both technologies offer benefits and limitations (see Nov. 2006 issue of TFWM for an in-depth comparison). There are some important considerations to keep in mind, however, when it comes to investing in what will be the “engine room” of your video system— the video switcher or video scaler.
First, purchase a unit with as many inputs as you can afford. Although there are many 4-input switchers on the market most ministries will find such units either very limiting in the near future or simply too small out of the box. If you have 2 or 3 cameras, you’re left with only 1 or 2 additional inputs for DVD players, VHS VCR (if needed!), and computer-generated graphics. A 6-input switcher/scaler is a good minimum with 8-inputs meeting the needs of most ministries while still providing for future expansion. The Panasonic MX-70 (Panasonic.com) is a good 8-input analog/component SD video switcher while Edirol’s (edirol.com) V-440 HD is a superb SD/HD 8-input video switcher. FSR (fsrinc.com), Kramer (kramerelectronics.com) and Ocean Matrix (markertek.com is an Ocean Matrix dealer site) all manufacture a variety of high-performance seamless video scalers.
The ability of the video switcher, camera operators and service producer(s) to clearly and reliably communicate throughout 100% of the service and/or event is critical to a successful, seamless media-based worship experience. This means avoiding those super-cheap (both in price and quality) wireless “RadioShack-like” head set communication systems. They simply do not work despite rabid marketing hype. Avoid them like you would the plagues Moses called down on Egypt.
Purchase a full-duplex, over-the-ear single muff (or double muff) professional headset communication system from Telex (telex.com), Clearcom (clearcom.com) or Eartec (eartec.com). Your headsets need to be useable in concert level sound levels as well as when users communicate in whispers. If you need the ability to have two independent channels, such as 1 channel/network for camera operators and video director and a totally separate channel/network for producer, lighting operators, sound engineer, etc. be sure to obtain dual-channel belt packs and a dual channel power supply/controller. Even if you don’t currently have a need for dual-channel headset communication capabilities, chances are excellent you will have such a need in the future. Regardless of which system you choose be sure to test it within its money-back guarantee period and return it if it doesn’t perform as promised or as needed.
The video director will need a dedicated monitor for each camera in order to preview images and produce an effective “mix” and “call the shots”. Small 4” or 5” CRT or LCD monitors work fine for this purpose. Marshall (lcdracks.com) manufactures a dizzying array of excellent SD and HD LCD monitors. Their triple 5” or quad 4” rack-mountable LCD monitors are two of my favorite products for camera previewing. Check out eBay for good deals on used black and white and color triple rack-mountable 5” monitors.
For your primary program and preview monitors you’ll want to use 8-10” color pro monitors (as opposed to LCD monitors) by Sony, Panasonic or JVC. These broadcast quality monitors provide very accurate color, contrast and overall image quality.
If remote on-campus simulcast is one of your applications of a multi-camera system, you’ll be in the market for either LCD or Plasma flat screens ranging in size from 37” to 60” depending on your requirements and budget.
A stage monitor (aka: confidence monitor) is also very common to provide a way for those ministering on the platform to see what is being projected on the screens behind them. This monitor is usually between 20” and 42” depending on the size of your platform and distance from viewers.
DISTRIBUTION AMPLIFIERS (DA’s)
Chances are excellent you will need to add a DA (or 2 or 3) to your multi-camera system. The most common application for DA’s in such a system is to; 1) multiply each camera’s individual signal to be routed to preview monitor, isolated record deck and/or video switcher/scaler or; 2) multiply the master mix output from the switcher/scaler to be routed to multiple video projectors, program monitor, remote video feeds and recording decks. Fortunately there is a good selection of DA’s from Kramer, Ocean Matrix and several other manufacturers. Cables To Go (cablestogo.com) manufactures some interesting and cost-effective VGA DA’s among other accessories. TVOne (tvone.com) also has a wide assortment of video distribution and conversion solutions.
No doubt you will want to record the “master video mix”. I strongly suggest you record this master mix on at least two of the following three forms of media – 1) digital tape such as DV, miniDV, DVCam, etc. 2) DVD or 3) computer hard drive. If you need to rely on any single medium, go with digital tape for its high reliability and superior picture quality. When purchasing a DVD recorder look for a prosumer or industrial grade unit with an internal hard drive and a variety of input and output signal types/connections such as component, Y/C (S-video), composite and firewire. Obviously you’ll want to use the highest quality signal type possible to avoid unnecessary loss of image quality.
AUDIO-FOR-VIDEO SOUND BOARD
Although not always feasible, I strongly suggest you obtain a second audio mixing console (and second audio technician) in order to control your audio-for-video mix. This board can be significantly smaller than the FOH console since many channels can be premixed (for instance, if the drum kit has three mics, these three channels can be premixed and sent as a single channel to the audio-for-video mixer) before being fed to this second mixing console. Having the ability to create your own audio mix specifically for your video recordings will make a huge difference in the quality of your final product as well as eliminate the constant challenge (problem?) of attempting to have the FOH audio technician create an adequate “live” and simultaneous recording mix (which probably isn’t possible in most situations).
When it comes to building a multi-camera system for your unique ministry a little research goes a long way. Speak with surrounding ministries who have made a similar move and ask them why they invested in the components they have and what they would do differently. Find out if they are satisfied with the tech support from each manufacturer and what they learned from their experience. Google everything. Read product reviews and testimonies on the web. Compare features, prices and warranties every step of the way. Once you make the move to the effective use of a multi-camera system in your ministry you’ll have the opportunity to multiply ministry through media in ways which you may have never thought possible.
Stand by camera 2… take 2.