The Multiple Angles of Multi-Camera Productions

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

The Leap
Ok, so your media ministry has left the 80’s far behind with it’s “cutting edge” overhead projectors, scratched transparencies and audio cassette tapes. Please tell me you’ve left the 80’s behind! You’ve progressed passed the Hi8 and SVHS video formats, linear video editing & 250 lumen video projectors of the early 90’s. You’ve even got your gree- (er) generous little hands on the latest DVD recorder, miniDV camcorder, computer-editing system and worship software complete with animated motion backgrounds in the – uh – background.

Your digital feet are planted firmly in the 21st century. But you NEED more. You and your media team are ready for the next challenge of using today’s media technology to multiply and magnify the unique ministry to which God has (hopefully) called you and your congregation. Your “inner Spielberg” is becoming restless once again. (insert drum roll approaching from the distance here) Enter the Multiple-Camera Setup for your worship space.

A Quality Qualifier
In this article we are going to travel together into the multi-camera domain and look at the major components you will need for taking such a step with your ministry. We’ll also be looking at the major considerations when looking at acquiring those components. This is an article for those of you who may not know where to begin in your pursuit of multi-camera recording/production in/for your primary worship space. This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition, but more like a few-sizes-fit-most processes; to use technical terms. But just before we get to the technology portion of this article, let’s address the foundation for even taking this “leap” in media ministry- the “V” word.

V is for Vision, not Video
Us church folk of all flavors (aka, denominations) LOVE to talk about our vision for doing almost anything- from building a new worship center to having greeters by the doors to welcome folks on Sunday morning. It should be obvious (but it’s not) that we need a definite, well articulated vision for moving into multi-camera media ministry. (Believe me, you’ll NEED a definite, well-articulated vision if you’re going to get church leadership approval to invest the money needed to purchase a multi-camera system).

Here’s some visionary ideas to rectify adding multi-camera capabilities to your worship facility:

1) To capture (record) and distribute Sunday morning ministry for the following congregational members: Shut-ins, retirement homes, hospital patients, home-bound folks and absentees.

2) To broadcast your ministry and message to surrounding communities through cable television.

3) To provide high-quality recordings of any and/or all special events/programs such as weddings, musicals, dramas, concerts, special speakers, conferences and more. This option could enhance the fee used for renting your sanctuary if they use your video technology.

4) To involve young people and others in your congregation (camera operators, set up and tear down volunteers, video recording techs, audio-for-video techs, etc.)

5) To provide a tool for evaluation and review of ministry elements (worship team, preaching, etc.)

6) To communicate to visitors your commitment to being “technologically relevant” in your ministry.

7) (for mega-churches) To make every seat in the sanctuary a good seat through image magnification.

That should get your “vision juices” flowing, not to mention make a good list for communicating to others who just don’t see how it would make any difference.

Now, let’s move on to the technology.

The Major Components
First, a look at the major components you’ll need for a standard 3-camera video system. For our purposes in this article we’ll leave out the image magnification (IMAG) aspect, since there is no lack of valid reasons for multiple-camera recording in a worship space even without video projectors (see 1-6 above in case you forgot or skipped that segment).

There are different classes of equipment for almost every component (consumer grade, prosumer grade, industrial grade and broadcast grade). Making informed decisions about the production value provided and budget required for each “grade” is a primary step in your journey. Invest in the absolute highest class of video equipment you can afford that matches or exceeds your vision.

Unfortunately many churches are guilty of wasting untold thousands of dollars by buying the same equipment 3 times: First, they buy the cheapest. Second, after suffering through months of poor quality and performance, they buy the gear from a guy at church who “knows” audio/video because he does it as a serious hobby or works at an a/v store. And, finally, they buy the gear again from a professional who knows what they needed all along and who specializes in ministry-based media applications. What kind of steward will your church be?

Here’s our list of essential primary components:

A) 3 video cameras with external viewfinders

B) 3 tripods (or 2 if you will have one “roving” camera”)

C) Video Switcher and/or video scaler

D) 4 colored TV monitors (minimum)

E) 5-station headset communication system (minimum)

F) VCR for Master Recording

G) Audio mixer

H) Cables and related Accessories

Here’s our optional but recommended list of additional components:

I) Rear camera lens controls (focus and zoom)

J) CCU’s (camera control units)

K) DA (video distribution amplifier)

Let’s take a brief look at the primary considerations for each component.

Video Cameras & External Viewfinders
3 chip cameras are a must-have, non-negotiable, it’s-God’s-will-for-sure. Although you may be tempted to invest in those hot industrial class camcorders, try to “yield not to temptation”. This is especially difficult when you discover that 3rd part; companies are making external viewfinders and rear lens controls for that class of cameras. Invest in a good new or nearly-new 3 chip camera that has “studio configuration” options (rear lens controls, external viewfinder and CCU) There is a huge market of very good used “studio” cameras such as Sony DXC-327’s and DXC-537’s which may be just what you are looking for and will serve you well for years to come. Very often companies and dealers are looking to sell a complete package of cameras, tripods, studio configurations, CCU’s and CCU cables making it a one-stop shop for you.

Make sure there is an external viewfinder available for the model camera you purchase. A standard external viewfinder is 5″ and black and white although there are more and more third party viewfinders being marketed for this purpose.

The best route is to find an external viewfinder that plugs in and is powered by the same jack that the camera’s viewfinder is plugged into thus eliminating the need for an additional power source/cable/battery.

The temptation to “save $’s by buying cheap” is very strong when it comes to camera tripods. Don’t. The $150 tripod at your local electronics store is not the plan. Spend $500-$1,000 on each (including the legs and the head which are often sold separately). Vinton , Miller , Sachtler & Manfrotto are my “fab four”.

Video Switcher/Scaler
Big topic here. If you are not sending your 3-camera mix to a video projector then you may skip the scaler issue and go directly to the switcher isle (do pass go and do collect the $1-4K which you just saved). If you do want to output your 3-camera mix and computer graphics to a video projector then you’ll want to go through a scaler, which will sync your computer-generated graphics, lyrics, video cameras, etc. and allow you to send the master output to a video projector via a stable, high-quality RBG signal. This gives you much better results than “down converting” your computer and video signals to a composite output via a scan converter or similar down converter.

If you do not have any graphics/lyrics/text to project and simply want to project your “live” camera images you won’t need a scaler but I’m guessing that 96.44% of you reading these words want to incorporate some kind of computer graphics in your feed to the projector. If that is the case in your setup then you’ll want to invest in a seamless switcher/scaler, which has the ability to provide smooth transitions (dissolves or fade to/from black) between multiple video and computer sources. The new breed of video scalers from FSR , TVOne and Kramer are worth checking out if you need a switching/scaling solution in one box. (Do we smell another future article?)

Ok, back to video switchers.

Make sure your switcher has enough inputs to handle your present and near-future needs. For most 3-camera systems you’ll need a minimum of 5 inputs if you’re also using video projection-3 for the camera feeds, One for DVD playback and one for computer graphics. If you want the ability to playback to the screen from VHS and miniDV you just maxed out a 7-input switcher. Add a second computer or DVD player and you’re at 8 inputs.

The list of video switcher features and options is long, but here are a few essential switcher features to look for: preview bus, glitch-free cuts, S-video or firewire master out, down-stream keying and/or luminance keying, freeze frame, manual or programmed dissolve, intuitive controls and indicators, service and repair support, and some special effects. Be very careful with your use of special effects, since they quickly cease to be “special” when overused.

One final note on video switchers, if your video switcher is not an internal frame sync unit it will require an external sync signal from a black burst generator in order to allow for glitch-free switching.

TV Monitors
You’ll want to invest in a 9″ or 13″ high resolution color monitor for your preview and program monitors. The big boys (Sony, Panasonic , & JVC ) each have several models available in both sizes. And don’t be afraid of eBay. Some great deals can be had by the savvy eBayer.

5″ color or black and white monitors will work well for your 3 camera preview screens. Several companies are making those hot little color LCD monitors for such a task as this. If your video switcher doesn’t have preview outputs for each input (most don’t) then you can route your camera feeds into their preview monitors then on to the switcher inputs, but only if your preview monitors have video pass through (ins and outs). Many of the higher end monitors do, but not most of the el cheapos.

Headset Communication System
Once again don’t skimp. In other words whatever headset system Radio Shack is selling- don’t buy it, at least not for this purpose. The professional wired headset systems by Telex , Clearcom and a few others will give you the most reliable and clear sound.

There are some high-end wireless headset communication systems if budget is not a factor but the low end wireless headset systems aren’t worth considering. A good, wired single-muff (one ear muff as opposed to two) will serve you well for years to come.

If you need a two-channel system (so you can have two separate groups of people on their own communication network such as the video crew and the production team) make sure you consider this and invest in a two-channel power supply and two-channel belt packs.

One more thing, buy a headset system that uses standard XLR (mic) cables. Very nice when you’re in a pinch to replace a bad cable since XLR cables are usually plentiful in most churches.

VCR for Master Recording
Don’t even think of the letters V-H-S. And probably not the letters S-V-H-S. Think DV, miniDV, DVCam, BetaSP or DVCPro. XLR audio input connectors are a plus and audio meters (VU or LCD) are a must for monitoring audio recording levels. A long format (more that 63 min.) DV/miniDV recorder by JVC, Panasonic or Sony is probably your best bet.

Audio Mixer
This is not the audio mixer used to mix your house sound or a mixer used to mix anything else. It’s sole purpose is to take the feeds it’s getting (either a master mix or multi-channel sends) from your master house audio board/mixer and mix the levels specifically and only for the video being recorded on your VCR for master recording (above).

Cables and Related Accessories
A good pair of stereo headphones are at the top of this list. ($100 minimum). Good quality video cables with BNC connectors. I like video cables by Canare . You’ll need several different types of audio and video adaptors/connectors. Buy a good variety to begin with, and add to them every month as you discover what you need. Get your hands on several rolls of black gaffers tape. Don’t ever let your cables and equipment come in contact with duct tape. That’s the equivalent of being unequally yoked for sure.

Sharpie markers, tape labels, storage rack for archiving your video masters, flash lights, tool kits, rubber bands, cable ties, lens cleaners, swabs and equipment dust covers top the list of accessories you’ll want to purchase.

Rear Camera Lens Controls
These controls mount on the tripod handles and allow the camera operator to adjust the zoom and focus controls without removing their hands from the tripod handles. Very nice. A must-have for any long-term multi-camera situation. They are certainly not available for all or even most cameras so if you want them (and you will) avoid purchasing cameras which don’t even have the option of adding these types of lens controls.

Camera Control Units
Another great tool which allows your director to control the iris, white balance, power, gain, and many other of the cameras features from his or her central control location relieving the camera operators of such worries. Once again, CCU’s are often sold as part of a total camera package or at least as a package of CCU, lens controls and CCU cable. Very often the higher end CCU’s can be found on the used market at reasonable prices.

Distribution Amplifier
Quite often a video switcher or scalers single or dual master output is not sufficient to feed the multiple destinations you need (master record VCR, video projectors, multiple TV monitors, etc.) Enter the DA. The DA simply multiplies a single video signal into multiple outputs. Anywhere from 3 to 6 outputs is usually sufficient. You may find yourself needing several 1 x 3 or 1 x 4 DA’s to solve your video signal routing needs. Kramer and Ocean Matrix got my vote.

Standby Camera 2 – On Camera 2
We are so out of space, but not out of issues related to this powerful topic. Don’t shrink from the tremendous rewards and challenges awaiting you in this “leap”. If you feel that the time is fast approaching for your ministry to take that leap, then continue doing your homework, use the power of the internet and web to communicate, research and even shop. Contact me any time with any questions and most importantly, don’t lose sight of your unique vision for ministry through media!