Buying your (third) camera first
Approximate 17 minute read
Or… “Things you need to know before buying your first camera.”
I’ve heard it said that some churches purchase three PA systems before they get the right one for their needs and space.
The way the story goes… the first PA system is purchased when a congregation builds a new church building or launches a new venue. An architect tells the church he’ll take care of the of the sound system design. What really happens is the architect passes the work along to a contractor who he has a business relationship with. It’s a way “banking favors” sometimes occurs between architects and vendors; or even more questionable, the architect may receive a commission for bringing the vendor a job.
Another variant on the story is the church has a volunteer who takes on the responsibility of spec’ing the PA system. The volunteer asks for advice on social media which results in him/her being inundated with various opinions, makes and models of equipment that may be perfectly fine in one setting, like at the concert hall or church across town; but may be totally inappropriate for the volunteer’s church’s needs.
Eventually the sound contractor’s or the volunteer’s equipment list goes out to bid. Typically the lowest cost sales/integration company is awarded the job. The system purchased and installed is inappropriate, poorly designed, poorly installed, with little to no capacity for future growth, and will come with little to no training for staff or volunteer operators. Ultimately, the system is replaced within a short amount of time.
Recognizing their sound problems the church calls upon “an expert” who happens to be a friend of a friend of someone in the congregation. Often the expert has a background in a related field. He/she may be a musician, or a ham radio operator, or may sell iPods and headphones at a big box retail store. He/she suggests if the church just installs the right model digital audio console, or the right model line-array speaker, or Monster cable, etc., all their problems should be taken care of!
More money is approved and spent, yet the improvements are minimal or nonexistent. In some cases, things get much worse.
I am not sure just how often this really happens with PA systems, but I can tell you this story rings correct as it pertains to video cameras.
The following text is intended to give you (nearly) all the information, including what questions you should ask yourself before making a decision to purchase a video camera (or cameras) for your church. No matter what your application, or what make/model camera you are looking at or will wind up buying, the information below will at a minimum allow you to make an informed camera buying decision. The goal here is that you will not have to buy camera equipment two or three times before getting one that is appropriate for your current and future needs.
Cameras are not created for the same purpose, or equally
The first realization we must to come to terms with is that not all cameras are designed for all purposes, or for the same purpose. In fact, camera manufacturers design a camera’s features and ergonomics to fill the needs of very specific industry segments. These segments may be summarized as: (i) multi-camera live production, (ii) digital cinematography, (iii) news gathering or corporate single camera acquisition, (iv) distance learning, (v) still photography/video hybrid, (vi) Action/POV, (vii) medical and (viii) CCTV security systems.
Multi-camera Live Production
In brief, multi-camera live production, which includes multi-camera Imag (cameras projected within the same venue as the content origination), live broadcast or multi-camera streaming, are distinctive in so far as they offer end-users features which make the matching of iris, black levels, detail and colorimetry between various cameras as efficiently and effectively as possible and offer the ability to dynamically make changes to any/all of these variables on the fly in a live production environment. Live adjustment of the camera’s variables is typically accomplished through a device called a paint box or a remote control panel (RCP).
RMB style paint boxes are generally connected directly to the camera head via a multi-pin cable, whereas RCP style panels are (generally) connected first to a camera control unit (CCU) and then ultimately to the camera head via a multicore, triax, SMPTE or TAC fiber optic camera cable.
Other important features common to multi-camera live production cameras include gen-lock (the capability of locking and synchronizing the camera’s sync pulses to a switcher’s or video system’s master sync pulses) which minimizes video system latency. Multi-camera live production cameras also (usually) have the ability to accept removable & interchangeable lenses. Typical sensor sizes are 2/3” or 1/2” keeping the depth of field relatively deep (thereby making maintaining focus easier), but also allowing a shallower depth of field esthetic if shooting at wider lens apertures. Moderate or deep depth of field is important when shooting non-scripted, live content to insure important content within the frame remains in focus.
2/3” or 1/2” sensor cameras also have the advantage of a wide range of available, cost-effective, broadcast quality lens choices. These lenses tend to have three important qualities not readily found on cameras in other market segments:
Availability of very long focal lengths (so cameras can be placed in the back of your auditorium, therefore avoiding negatively impacting the congregation’s sight-lines to the altar/stage)
Availability of powerful zoom ratios (allowing just one lens to be used for both telephoto and wide angle shots)
Also, designed into (most) multi-camera live production cameras is a way of getting video out of the camera back to the control room, gen-lock from the control room to the camera, timecode, communications, return video, prompter, tally and the camera’s power all on one cable. This connectivity is accomplished via a CCU system offered by the camera manufacturer, or by utilizing a third party camera signal transport product like Telecast’s (now Grass Valley’s) Copperhead or Multidyne’s Silverback product (as well as others).
Lastly multi-camera live production cameras feature various viewfinder and lens control options appropriate for live-production operating environments. Many cameras in this class (but not all) are designed without built-in video recording capability. The assumption is that video recording (whether a line cut, or camera isos) would all be done back at the video control room, not at the camera head, or by the camera operator.
A (not exhaustive) short list of cameras (as of 3/2018) typically thought of serving the church multi-camera live production market include:
It should be noted that various news-gathering style cameras (discussed further down) which have a multi-pin paintbox spigot, as well as the ability to support third party Copperhead or Silverback type camera CCU systems are also sometimes considered viable alternatives to multi-camera live production cameras.
Cameras designed for use in digital cinematography tend to feature imaging sensors that are larger than 2/3” (> 11mm diagonal). Large sensor digital cinematography cameras may feature Micro4/3 (22.4mm diagonal), APS-C (hybrid) still photography / video (whose sensors are approximately 27.3mm diagonal), various makes and models of Super35mm cameras (which are generally about 28mm diagonal), Red’s Epic (31.3mm diagonal) and full frame 35mm sensor (hybrid) cameras (43.4mm diagonal) and beyond.
Large sensor sizes lend these cameras in achieving a shallow depth of field, which is one of many technical characteristics in achieving a “cinematic look” often found in the production of scripted content, like feature films, narrative, music videos or commercials. The larger sensors, particularly Super35mm sensors, may also allow the use of legacy feature film lenses, which Directors of Photography and cinematographers are already familiar with. These lenses when used on a Super35mm digital cinematography camera, have roughly equivalent fields of view and depth of field as when shooting 35mm 3 perf acetate motion picture film.
Cameras intended for digital cinematography applications tend to be quite modular in design, meaning accessories like viewfinders, monitors, electronic focus tape, lens motors, time code lock-it boxes, lens motors, controllers, etc., are not built into the camera body or lens but must rather be purchased separately and “hung” off the sides, top and behind the camera body. This modularity often results in digital cinema cameras having a “Rube Goldberg invention-like” physical appearance when fully outfitted for a normal shoot. Digital cinematography cameras, unlike multi-camera live production cameras, always feature a way to video record internally within the camera, or via an external video recorder usually located at the camera head. Camera internal record durations are relatively short (typically = or < 15-30 minutes) compared to durations offered by external recorders. The lens mount on these cameras tend not to adhere to broadcast 2/3″ B4 standards. Common large sensor lens mounts include “PL” (Positive Lock), Canon’s “EF”, “EF-S”, Nikon ‘s”FX”, “DX” and Sony’s “FZ.”
A (not exhaustive) list of cameras (as of 3/2018) currently thought of as serving the digital cinematography market include:
ENG News Gathering
Cameras designed and manufactured for news gathering and corporate single camera acquisition tend to value a small size, modest weight, shoulder or handheld operation ergonomics, internal recording and relatively small sensor sizes (to allow deep focus versus shallow depth of field). Some cameras in this class may offer a paint box spigot or the ability to connect to a third party camera signal transport product like Telecast’s Copperhead or Multidyne’s Silverback mentioned earlier. News gathering and corporate single camera acquisition cameras that have a paint box spigot or have the ability to connect to a third party camera transport product are sometimes used in church multi-camera live production applications if the given camera has a (permanent or detachable) lens with an appropriate long focal length to allow the camera to be positioned in the back of the room. Other churches use ENG cameras in multi-camera broadcast and Imag applications as a handheld camera. The ability to connect rear lens controls and viewfinders, often found on multi-camera live production type cameras is often possible. As such, news gathering and corporate single camera acquisition cameras sometimes “double-dip” in both news gathering and multi-camera production applications.
Examples of cameras (as of 3/2018) currently thought of serving the news gathering or corporate single camera acquisition market (which have paintbox or a 3rd party camera signal transport CCU capability) include:
These may include Panasonic’s AJ-PX800GF P2 & AJ-PX270PJ (paintbox is via iPad app) camcorders, JVC GY-HM890U & GY-HM850U camcorders or Sony’s PXWX320 camcorder cameras.
Examples of cameras (as of 3/2018) which do not have a paintbox spigot and therefore do not have 3rd party camera signal transport CCU capability; and/or are not gen-lockable (therefore increasing latency and/or impacting the ability to live-shade the cameras) include:
The distance learning market segment began when universities, medical schools and other learning institutions began recording classroom lectures so students who missed a class, or students who wanted to review the material could watch it back later. This then developed into the need to transmit – live – a professor’s lecture to other classrooms or to other institutions via standard broadcast transmission methods and then shortly thereafter via the internet. To keep classrooms looking like classrooms and not television studios and to insure that cameras were out of the way of teachers and students small pan-tilt-zoom cameras became popular. PTZ cameras also have the added benefit of reducing the number of technicians needed to record or stream a class.
Churches in many respects often have similar wants/needs as universities. They too want to make their teaching-content conveniently available to their congregation. They too often want to keep technology as invisible as possible. As a result, distance learning type PTZ cameras have been adopted by some churches. Where churches might be quite different than universities however is some churches also project their cameras (Imag) within the sanctuary. When cameras are projected in the same room as the presenter is speaking care must be taken to keep latency at a minimum or else the PA system audio will appear out of lip sync with the Imag images on the projection. One of the primary causes of latency is the need to frame sync asynchronous (non-genlockable) sources so they can be integrated into a production switcher. If a camera does not have a gen-lock spigot connected to the switcher (or house) black burst (sync), then either the switcher (or an external device called a frame synchronizer) needs to frame synchronize that signal. The frame synchronization process incurs latency (it takes milliseconds of time to processes the synchronization of the signal).
Unfortunately, many distance learning (PTZ) cameras are asynchronous (non-genlockable) and this may be fine in a university setting because latency is not as high a priority in small classrooms without Imag. Additionally, many distance learning (PTZ) cameras do not have paintbox or CCU capability, making them difficult to color match to each other and/or different makes & models of cameras which may be in use.
Lastly, many PTZ cameras are incapable of smooth “on-air” pans, tilts and zooms. Sometimes this limitation is due to the quality of the cameras’ motors. Other times this is due to the manufacturer using inexpensive parts in the PTZ operator controller panel. In a university setting this may not be a problem especially if the camera operator only moves and repositions a camera while off-air, in preview. Most churches however have musical performances, or worship sets where being able to smoothly pan, tilt or zoom while on air is often highly valued.
As most distance learning class PTZ cameras have equal to or smaller than 1/2″ imagers, depth of field tends to be deep, allowing an operator to easily keep the subject in focus, even when shooting at wide iris apertures.
An example of an excellent PTZ camera that is gen-lockable, looks good and has an (optional) paintbox system is Panasonic’s AW-HE130. The AW-HE130 is currently the standard bearer for high quality HD images in this class of camera.
Also manufactured are PTZ systems designed for larger cameras, whether many of the “multi-camera live production” models already discussed above, or their smaller bodied cousin “box cameras” like Sony’s HDC-P1 & HDC-P43; Hitatchi’s DK-H200, DK-H100 and DK-Z50, or Ross’ Acid camera. The PTZ arm motors, as well as the controllers for these heavier payload cameras tend to be much higher in quality allowing smooth on-air pans, tilts and zooms. They are also substantially more expensive if compared to their distance learning application little brothers.
Still Photography / Video Hybrid
Still photography/video hybrid cameras are essentially still photography cameras where the manufacturer included video capabilities. It is important to note however that the video capabilities offered in still photography/video hybrid camera systems compete not so much with models thought of as servicing the multi-camera live production market, as they do compete with lower price-point digital cinematography, news gathering and corporate single camera acquisition cameras.
In most cases the form-factor of still photography/video hybrid camera systems is that of a DSLR (or mirrorless equivalent). Internal record durations tend to be quite short. The recording codecs used tend to be quite compressed. In some cases there is no option to make the live video output spigot “clean” (meaning there is no way to turn off the camera’s iconography from this output). These cameras are nearly always asynchronous (they will need to be frame synchronized for integration into a switcher) which incurs delay, and in most cases have no capability for live shading via a RCP or RMB paint box. Because the sensor sizes are relatively large, depth of field is shallow, potentially making it difficult for camera operators (especially volunteer church operators) to track focus with a moving presenter/preacher. The lenses manufactured for these cameras tend to have small zoom power ratios, have no back focus adjustment (meaning the lens will go out of focus while zooming), breathe (subjects become larger/smaller while focusing) and are a challenge to add standard broadcast style rear zoom & focus controls to. All of the aforementioned challenges are not an issue when using the camera to take stills, but become quite apparent and problematic when shooting live video in a multi-camera church service environment.
A (not exhaustive) list of cameras (as of 3/2018) currently thought of serving the still photography/video hybrid market include:
Action / POV
Action/POV (“point of view”) cameras are generally the smallest and lightest weight cameras available to the video production professional. Need to strap a camera to a dog’s collar or to the helmet of a paraglider? An Action/POV may do the trick. Action/POV cameras tend to fall into the following sub-categories, (i) those that can be tethered to a production switcher, are gen-lockable and paintable (live) to allow adjustment of iris and colorimetry to match other cameras in use. (ii) Those that can be tethered to a production switcher but are not gen-lockable or live paintable. And (iii) those with internal record capability (some of these will also have a video-out spigot making them potentially usable as in sub-category (ii) as well.
Because these cameras are tiny (and some are quite inexpensive) many churches are now using these cameras as “drummer POV,” “keyboardist POV” and similar applications. As these cameras were intended by the manufacturer to either be placed very close to the subject they are shooting, and/or be used in applications where the camera is being shaken or mounted on surfaces that are vibrating; nearly all these cameras utilize very wide angle field of view prime lenses.
An example of a POV camera intended specifically for use in a multi-camera live environment which is gen-lockable and live paintable via an optional paint box is Lux Media Plan’s Cerberus HD1200. The HD1200 is one of the smallest form-factor 2/3” imager cameras made. It’s sensitivity is F 11 at 2000 lx (nominal gain) with a signal to noise ratio of 57 dB. It supports a wide range of frame rates. It’s C-mount allowing a wide range of prime or zoom lenses.
Another example of a POV camera which can be tethered to a production switcher for live multi-camera production, is live-paintable (via the optional CV-RCP-100 paintbox) but is not gen-lockable is the Marshall CV-502. The CV-502 is a 1/3” CMOS sensor HD POV camera that supports interchangeable (M12) lenses. It normally comes with a 3.7mm focal length prime lens however other focal lengths are available. The Marshall CV-565 is similar to the CV-502 but adds gen-lock capability.
An example of an Action Cam is the GoPro Hero4 and other GoPro mdoels. The Hero4 allows internal recording to a MicroSD card and also has a MicroHDMI port to get video out of the camera to your switcher. This usually means buying a third-party converter box to change the HDMI to SDI. The conversion processes from HDMI to SDI incurs latency. If you also need to change frame rates because the GoPro does not offer the same frame rate as your switcher, that process incurs more latency. The GoPro Hero4 is neither live-paintable or gen-lockable (meaning the camera is asynchronous requiring frame synchronization for integration into a switcher, which also incurs latency).
Medical & CCTV
As this article is quite long I will not spend a lot of time discussing medical & CCTV cameras. Camera’s intended for the medical market do not always conform to standard NTSC, PAL, 1080/720 High Definition, 3840×2160 UHD, etc. video production resolutions, aspect ratios or frame rates. They also tend to asynchronous.
Cameras intended for the CCTV often do not have “on-air” smooth PTZ pan-tilt-zoom and focus functions, the ability to attach viewfinders and lens controls and focal lengths that tend not to be appropriate for getting a very tight shot at very far distances. There are exceptions however.
In general, medical & CCTV cameras would not be appropriate for use in church multi-camera live productions.
When evaluating cameras for use in a church multi-camera live application, the following criteria should be considered:
What illumination level will I be using the camera in and how evenly is my alter/stage (and congregation?) lit?
At 2000 lux reading a 89.9% reflectance card most modern multi-camera broadcast cameras will be at about F10 aperture with no gain inserted. Ideally, churches should look for cameras which can shoot a properly exposed image at F4 – F8 at 40-80 foot candles of illumination.
Will the field of view which the camera will be shooting contain multiple color temperatures?
Efforts should be made to maintain one color temperature within the camera’s field of view. If daylight through windows or projectors or TV monitors are within the camera’s field of view, having stage front lighting approaching 4500-5500 degrees kelvin may be advisable. If there is no daylight, projection or monitors in the camera’s field of view a front lighting color temperature of about 3200 degrees kelvin is typical.
What is the camera’s imager size?
For live multi-camera production an imager size appropriate for the lens focal length field of view you would like achieve at a given camera-to-subject distance, as well as the depth of field you are trying to achieve is important.
In most church multi-camera live production the main cameras are placed at the back of the house as to avoid cameras obstructing the congregant’s view. As a result, the camera-to-subject distance may be quite far.
Larger (> 11mm diagonal, or > 2/3”) camera imagers can be challenging in a multi-camera live environment as the availability of very long focal length lenses is quite limited. Generally speaking, the longest lenses available appropriate for Super35mm imager cameras are about 300-400mm. And these can be quite expensive while still not allowing the camera to be far enough away from the subject. Additionally, larger camera imagers often achieve a depth of field that is so narrow a camera operator will have difficulty maintaining focus during a live unscripted church service.
Smaller (< 1/2”) camera imagers make maintaining focus quite easy, however many cameras with smaller imagers do not allow interchangeable lenses, or the availability of very long lenses is poor.
Here are some camera imager comparisons at a camera-to-subject distance of 70 feet assuming a bust shot (1’6” vertical, 16:9):
|Depth of field comparison, 70 foot camera to subject distance, bust (MCU) shot (1’6″ vertical), 16:9 aspect ratio|
|IMAGER||DISTANCE||FOCAL LENGTH for MCU||DoF @ F4 APERTURE|
|Full Frame 35mm||70′||944mm||0’ 4.4”|
|Depth of field comparison, 50 foot camera to subject distance, bust (MCU) shot (1’6″ vertical), 16:9 aspect ratio|
|IMAGER||DISTANCE||FOCAL LENGTH for MCU||DoF @ F4 APERTURE|
|Full Frame 35mm||50′||674mm||0’ 4.4”|
Advocates of large sensor cameras (for use in multi-camera live broadcast applications) may argue that it is possible to stop down the lens aperture (using a higher number F stop) therefore achieving a deeper depth of field. And this is correct. However in a church service multi-camera live broadcast application stopping down the aperture would also entail substantially increasing the amount of light needed to properly expose an image, or increasing the camera’s gain which would also increase video noise.
Imager size, availability of cost effective long focal length lenses, depth of field and exposure are always a balancing act. For many churches that ideal balance is found in a 2/3” or 1/2″ imager cameras.
Does the camera allow for interchangeable lenses? Are they of a type and mount appropriate for multi-camera live applications?
In general, it is advisable to look for zoom lenses with a zoom power ratio of 15x – 23x (or greater) which are capable of achieving a tighter (more telephoto) shot than that which you actually require. This is due to the fact that (nearly all) zoom lenses become less light efficient as you near the telephoto end or capability of the lens. Thus, if you really want a bust (MCU) shot at 50’, look for a lens capable of a head shot (CU) at that distance. If you really want a head (CU) shot at 50’, look for a lens capable of an extreme close up shot (ECU), etc.
Lenses should have external or (ideally) internal servo motors driving iris and zoom functions. Some lenses also have servo focus motors. The connection for these motors must be similar to that available on the camera body’s lens port and rear operator controls (if the camera is being used in a studio configuration).
Is the camera gen-lockable?
Non-gen-lockable (also known as asynchronous) cameras must be frame synchronized before being integrated into a video production switcher. Some video production switchers accomplish frame synchronization internally. Other production switchers require external frame synchronizers. Regardless, all frame synchronization results in some amount of latency. Latency in the video path when using cameras for Imag projection (in the same auditorium as the subject) will make the PA system audio appear out of lip sync when compared to the camera projection.
External frame synchronizers also increase video system costs.
Is the camera capable of outputting the same resolution, aspect ratio and frame rate my video system natively requires?
Conversions of resolution, aspect ratio and/or frame rate incurs latency. External standards converters, aspect ratio converters and frame rate converters also increase system costs.
Does the camera (or CCU) have a video out transport spigot compatible with the inputs on my video production switcher?
If for example the camera you are considering only has HDMI output and your production switcher has only HD-SDI inputs, and/or if you are cabling from the camera to the switcher beyond the distance HDMI can travel, conversion from one signal transport standard (e.g.: HDMI) to another (e.g.: HD-SDI) will need to be done. This conversion increases latency.
External signal transport standards converters also increase system costs.
Does the camera have a paintbox spigot?
If opting for a camera which does not support the use of a CCU, an alternative is to buy a camera that has a paintbox spigot. This spigot (and the the optional paintbox & cable) will allow remote iris, black and coloremity adjustments remotely in a live production environment. It also may allow remote adjustments of detail, shutter, filter selection and scene files, etc. The paintbox will typically connect to the camera head via a long multi-pin cable, or full CCU capability may be achieved with a third party fiber transport systems like Telecast’s (now Grass Valley’s) Copperhead or Multidyne’s Silverback product connected to the camera’s paintbox spigot.
Does the camera manufacturer offer accessories like handheld use viewfinders, studio use viewfinders, CCU’s, RCPs/RMBs, communications spigots and headsets specifically for the camera model you are considering? What is the total camera system cost when adding these accessories along with an appropriate lens and tripod?
The camera operators ability to produce high production value content is typically proportional not to the quality of the camera itself, but the availability, use and quality of the accessories mentioned above.
Summary and Conclusion
As with many things church-tech related, budgets are important! As it pertains to multi-camera live broadcast cameras, a budget developed prior to ascertaining your church’s current needs, forecasting your future needs and researching thoroughly which camera models may offer features which dovetail with your needs is putting the cart before the horse!
For many churches prudent stewardship suggests it may be better to buy a fewer fuller-featured cameras which meet your current and anticipated future needs and therefore may be in service longer, than to buy a higher quantity of cameras which are inappropriate for your current and future needs and which therefore then require they be replaced sooner. If buying higher quality more capable equipment, therefore at a higher per unit price-point, a plan to phase in additional cameras over time, as financial resources become available, is often a prudent course.
Whether you decide to buy cameras that have all the features you may need and want, or if you decide to make calculated compromises, it is important to understand what those compromises are and how they may affect your church’s ministry at a later date.
Whatever you decide to purchase, I recommend testing the camera in your environment first. Work with a trusted video sales / design / integration company. Do research but avoid depending on advice from social media or even other churches. That advice may only be applicable and helpful if the other ministry’s goals, artistic esthetic style, room dimensions, lighting, future plans and staff/volunteer technical knowledge and operating skill level are identical to yours.
Tom D’Angelo has worked in television production and AVL corporate theater for nearly four decades. He is Emmy Award nominated (Best Director category, Mid-Atlantic) and has been part of various teams nominated or winning national Emmys. As the Media Director at a megachurch in the 1980’s he developed a love for the Church and church performing and technical artists.