(Note: this is the fourth post of a series on how to do iMag without a megachurch budget.)
As I mentioned, we started this project with older prosumer-grade cameras that did support HD, but lacked SDI connectors. The one camera just directly plugged into our switcher via HDMI, and the other camera used an Analog-to-SDI converter. We used this method both to get the necessary distance over cable, and to remedy the fact that this camera didn’t have HDMI out.
Tip: We only use two cameras primarily due to the advice of North Coast Church. They’re very, very big, with many venues and lots of experience, and they still only use one camera for their preaching feed. They found that for people watching a preacher in a church setting, it’s jarring to be switching angles, so it’s best not to. We basically have one straight-on shot for the whole sermon, with a backup camera cued up that we also use for staging of live-streaming and web video.
Tip: You want a straight-on, eye-level shot if you can get it. We try for a torso shot, which covers from about the preacher’s waist to maybe 4-6 inches above his head. Since our preachers remain within a pretty tight box, we can catch almost all gestures and good facial expressions and rarely have to move the camera.
Tip: for people viewing on the web, it’s nice to get a sense that you’re “there” during the sermon. This is typically done by inserting one or more wide-angle shots that capture the building and atmosphere of the church. We’re set to use a live backup switcher to also stream web video, so on that switcher we can start with a wide shot of the worship center and stage at the beginning of the sermon to help establish the scene (without affecting our local/recorded feed). This is obviously optional, but a nice side-effect of having a redundant system. We don’t want to establish that scene for our venues, because it would just serve to highlight the fact that they’re not at a “main” location.
With our original cameras, the system worked tolerably well. We had HD video that looked good. We had about 3 frames of delay (maybe slightly less) on our iMag video, which is tolerable when live and easily fixed when exporting our recordings.
Why, then, did we replace our cameras at a cost of $8,700, more or less doubling the cost of our project?
- Our main camera was failing. Audio already didn’t work. This wasn’t a big problem, (we were taking our sound from the soundboard, not the camera) but an indicator of failing hardware. More problematic was the way the camera did not hold white balance. You never knew what you were going to get color-wise on your video. The four screen shots below were from the same 40-minute sermon! We knew we were going to have to replace them eventually, and this pushed us over the edge to do it now, before it was too late.
- Our cameras didn’t match. No matter how hard we tried to adjust white balances, sharpness, and saturation, we could not get the two video feeds to look the same. This is a big problem when cutting between cameras. (This is ultimately why we bought two identical cameras together, for consistency)
- Our cameras did not have SDI output. This means we were relying on a sometimes-questionable HDMI connection and a powered video converter for our feeds. By upgrading to cameras with SDI, we were able to eliminate those two potential failure points.
- Our cameras did not have Genlock. In order to provide smooth fades and cuts, the TVS has a built-in frame sync devices that ensures the video in your system is synchronized. However, this feature adds some delay in the video, which is bad if you’re doing iMag. (Too much delay and you hear the preacher before his lips move, and it’s really jarring) You can avoid this by using Genlock, where a sync generator tells all your video equipment when to sync their frames. Our keying device and our switcher supported Genlock, but our cameras didn’t.
- Our cameras were tape-based. When recording our sermons, we would occasionally have screw-ups with our lower-thirds overlays or slides, which would force us to rely on our second (or third) service recordings. On one isolated occasion (on older firmware) our TVS froze up. This can be easily remedied if you have a direct on-camera recording to cut in during post-production, but tapes are a terrible hassle. Our new cameras allow us to record forever, eventually just looping back and overwriting old recordings. If we need a recording we can quickly pop the card out and use it (the micro P2 cards fit a standard SDHC reader), and if we don’t need it, there’s no need to go back and rewind or switch tapes.
These were all taken from the same sermon, on the same camera!
Which cameras to buy? Well, I did a lot of research. I’ve heard many churches recommend Sony EX-3’s, because they have nice 1/2” sensors that perform decently in low light. Unfortunately, their successors (PMW-300K) are $8,000 each, and the lens they come with maxes out at 14x zoom, which would be barely enough for our church, and using a lens at its max zoom is usually to be avoided due to optics issues. I looked into getting creative with DSLR-style cameras, but the larger sensors on that type of camera makes it tough to keep things in focus, and we’ve got volunteers running our cameras. I finally settled on Panasonic AG-HPX250PJ cameras, which have 1/3” sensors that are very competitive with the Sony’s 1/2” sensors, and a 22x zoom that would be more than enough for our sanctuary. At $4,700 each, they weren’t cheap, especially when you add in the (ridiculous) price of the Micro P2 media and adapters they use. Compared to anything else though? An absolute steal when you consider the price of the competition. Because I also got in on a couple of Panasonic rebates totaling $1,500, the two of them (with media) ended up costing us a total of around $8,700.
Note: If you buy the MicroP2 Adapters (about $195), rumor has it that you can use them with regular high-speed (Think UHS-I) SDHC cards and record to some of the lower-bitrate formats the camera supports. You lose some of the features of the P2 cards, but can save a couple hundred bucks. I haven’t tried, because the rebates I got on the media made the micro P2 cards a better bet.
Want to research and buy your own? Here’s the criteria I looked for:
- Sensors no smaller than 1/3” and no bigger than 2/3”. Bigger typically does better with low light situations, but I found some convincing video samples to help me decide to go with the Panny’s 1/3” sensors. Anything bigger and you might have issues keeping your subjects in focus.
- Genlock. Cuts down on sync issues.
- SDI-out. I didn’t want converters that could fail (or that depended on power supplies that could fail)
- Zoom. If your sanctuary is big enough to merit iMag, you may have to get a camera with interchangeable lenses in order to get a long enough ‘reach’. (Problem is, many long-zoom lenses are really expensive.) The 22x on the Panny’s is about as long as they get when it comes to built-in lenses.
- Remote ‘paint.’ The (one-step-up) Panasonic HPX255 supports a CCU unit that allows for remotely adjusting various video settings and controlling the camera. This would have been nice, but at the extra cost (for the camera, plus the controller) I couldn’t justify it. For multi-camera setups, it’s very helpful in matching video color balance, etc.
Next up: Recording