Churches make the switch to high-end cameras for outreach

Video systems in today’s worship centers rely on advanced capture technology.

By Dwight Crumm

The Crystal Cathedral includes a full production suite.
The intended distribution method and target audience for content determine how worship services are captured on camera and how those images are combined into a broadcast production. Churches that use television as their primary means of outreach tend to invest more heavily in their production systems to ensure that their message has a professional, polished feel that compares well with other broadcast programming.

As churches grow and expand beyond a single worship area or building, establishing remote or satellite campuses, they often use simulcasting to provide all members with the same teaching message, though praise and worship at each site may be tailored specifically to the audience or a particular demographic. The choice of camera and production switcher can help churches provide compelling productions for either broadcast model.

A number of good HD camera systems for broadcast production have come within range of churches with smaller budgets. On the lower end of the spectrum, these cameras start around as little as $3,000 to $4,000 per camera package. Though they lack the genlock (generator lock: a technique that synchronizes output sources) and remote control capabilities necessary for matching different camera sources, they can be an effective solution when combined with highly integrated switching packages.

Delay becomes an issue

A mid-sized church running several services each week can opt for this type of production solution because the three or four frames of delay introduced by the camera, frame sync and converter will create no real problems for productions on DVD or those being edited and delivered for later broadcast by a cable company. However, if the church plans to use its cameras and switcher to feed an IMAG (image magnification) system, this delay becomes a significant issue, creating an extremely disconcerting affect for church attendees.

Multicamera production with minimal delay requires a higher caliber of camera, starting at about $15,000 to $20,000 per camera package. These cameras integrate functions that are performed externally with lower-quality cameras. Genlock will save up to a frame of delay.

Multichannel intercom capability, along with a conveniently located mic on/off button, can help camera operators maintain clear communications in complex productions without being drowned out, even during the excitement of a lively praise and worship period. Return feeds allow operators to make sure they aren’t duplicating a shot being captured on another camera.

Remote camera control ensures consistency of image color across multiple cameras, enabling adjustment of the camera iris, black level and painting, and integrated gain control helps to enhance image quality, particularly when recording in naturally lit areas with a variety of light levels. Higher-end cameras allow the operator to go into the picture and change colors in the background or even turn down detail on skin tones to soften HD-resolution close-ups.

Quality ensures integrated control

Less-expensive cameras support some of these functions externally, but often with an awkward jumble of unsightly cables coming off the back of the camera. The better the camera, the more integrated control it offers in syncing sources, providing a consistent picture tone and quality, and delivering just the right type of shot — if the operator is skilled enough to take advantage of these capabilities.

Multicamera production typically ranges from three to six cameras, and in extreme cases even seven or eight. With so many sources for the director to monitor, churches often will plan in advance the types of shots each camera will capture. With cameras located on either side of the worship area and one or two centrally, the production crew can capture the speaker or performer head-on as they address different parts of the congregation. Multiple cameras located in the center of the church allow for a combination of close-up and wider shots, and increasingly popular jib shots provide a nice shot of the audience for variety.

Cost-effective switchers today, available in HD or in HD-upgradable SD versions, allow for switching of four to eight sources, increasingly with the benefit of an integrated multiviewer, character generator (CG) and clip store, all of which can be operated by one person. In addition to being easy to install, this type of system simplifies and reduces the cost of monitoring. One or two channels of clip playout support inclusion of multimedia content, and two or three keyers are sufficient for operators to add graphics and to cut announcements and other text into video.

While wipes and wild moves are available in switchers of all sizes, most churches will use simple cuts 60 percent of the time and dissolves the other 40 percent of the time.

Switches offer complex mixing

The more cuts included in a broadcast, the more switching power the production team will need. Use of 2- or 3-M/E systems allows for more complex mixing of multiple sources — including using Bible passages or other text in a lower third, incorporating video of a sign language interpreter, or adding a point-of-view window that captures a unique shot of the pianist, organist, or other performer.

Another benefit of working with larger switchers is that they support greater automation in building moves and transitions for regular elements of the service. A snapshot feature allows operators to store moves and switcher configuration ahead of time, saving time for the production team and making it easier for less-skilled operators to produce smooth transitions and effects. Regardless of its power and functionality, the switcher selected by a church must operate simply enough that the least-experienced operators can use it effectively and grow into the system’s more sophisticated capabilities.

As churches go about designing and installing their own production systems, the aid of an experienced systems integrator can be critical in identifying products that offer the best combination of cost and functionality for both short and long-term production goals.

Dwight Crumb is a design engineer for TV Magic Inc., San Diego, CA, a full-service broadcast and AV company. []


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