Every great IMAG system starts with the right camera. Here's how church AVL designers and integrators can make better camera choices.
One of the most visually striking elements of any modern worship experience is the IMAG, or Image Magnification, system. These in-house broadcast systems can allow a gathering of hundreds or thousands feel more visceral and dynamic, helping to build a connection to the individuals leading the experience and sharing the gospel. Getting these systems right is usually a crucial part of designing great worship spaces.
"Today, the big discussion in houses of worship is whether they want the defocused, cinematic look, or the deep, everything-in-focus look of news-style cameras."
—Larry Thorpe, Senior Fellow, ENG and Solutions, Canon, Melville, NY
For many church AVL designers and integrators, selecting the best camera to function as the heart of a great IMAG system can be a daunting task. With so many different options on the market it can be hard to know which features and design specs will make an impact, and which potentially problematic issues to steer clear of. Having a solid grasp on some of the basics can make a big difference in finding the perfect camera for your system.
For your Consideration
Hitachi Z-HD5500 1080P CMOS HDTV Studio and Field Production Camera
The first step in selecting the right IMAG camera is usually making some decisions about what will matter most for the congregation and environment you’re designing for. One of the fundamental choices most AVL designers will need to consider is the question of image resolution.
“Resolution is becoming a factor for churches running larger screens and displays, especially as we move more towards 4K,” says Bob Caniglia, director of sales operations at Blackmagic Design. “Sometimes we don't pay enough attention to resolution. You’re usually better off doing 4K, vs. HD, when you’re using larger displays.”
One popular camera Caniglia recommends churches carefully consider is the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro. The URSA Mini Pro features a dynamic 4K image sensor, as well as some unique abilities to control the camera remotely. “We’ve just released a new software upgrade which enables the Bluetooth capability for the camera. This upgrade allows you to remotely control the camera, especially if it’s located in a place that’s harder to get to during the service.”
Canon EOS C700 Digital Cinema Camera
Another important factor to consider is what overall look best fits the ministry style of a particular congregation. “Today, the big discussion in houses of worship is whether they want the defocused, cinematic look, or the deep, everything-in-focus look of news-style cameras,” asserts Larry Thorpe, Senior Fellow for ENG and Solutions at Canon. “Color reproduction is very important, how good skin color and texture looks will make a big difference. Look at the camera specifications where color imagery is specified. On broadcast cameras you’ll have something called Rec.709, which will ensure colors are well represented.”
“The top option from Canon is the C700, which has a massive sensor for low light work, and the color science on the camera is very, very good,” continues Thorpe. “You may be looking at a wide variety of lighting situations on stage, so having external control of the parameters that can be manipulated in the control room will be important.”Production System Pitfalls
In the process of selecting the right camera there are also some common mistakes AVL designers can often run into. Many of these errors can be easily avoided if designers know what to watch out for. One common mistake is trying to use cameras that haven’t been designed for the rigors of IMAG in order to save money.
“Often AVL designers will go to the most mainstream product available without considering all of the other pieces of the puzzle to make it work,” shares Delix Alex, product manager for PTZ cameras and networking systems at Panasonic.
JVC GY-HM890U ProHD Compact Shoulder Mount Camera
“For example, they’ll buy a video-capable DSLR camera without realizing that the video signal from those cameras needs to be translated and transferred to the control room. On top of that you need remote control and intercom systems, which those cameras don’t have. The costs can add up quickly.”
Another problem created by using cheaper consumer cameras is called latency, an issue that can lead to a lag between what is seen and what is heard. Alex continues, “What distinguishes a professional camera is the degree of delay you have across your signal chain. An acceptable latency range for a professional broadcast camera would be between 1-4 frames, or between 50-100 milliseconds. Obviously, the lower the better.”
For churches looking for a cost-effective 4K solution that meets these kinds of broadcast standards without breaking the bank, Alex suggests churches consider the Panasonic
AK-UC3000. In addition to the camera’s considerable features and abilities, “it also has a new sensor that allows you to use more traditional broadcast lenses, which can give you a longer distance throw on your zoom lenses, while saving money upfront.”
Conflicts with IMAG and LED
Another consideration AVL designers will want to keep at the front of their minds is the difficulty many IMAG cameras can have with low-to-mid-range LED display panels and lighting instruments. “Large-screen LED panels and LED projectors for displays can turn on and off at nano-second speed. If the LED is not controlled well, it may create a flicker or a darkened bar in the image,” explains John Humphrey, vice president of business development at Hitachi. “When a camera looks at a picture of that LED screen it may see that flicker. This is an industry-wide issue with typical MOS and CMOS sensors. Church designers will want to carefully consider how an IMAG camera adjusts for that.”
He continues, “What’s also happened, especially in houses of worship where budget is a big concern, is that cheap LED display lights have been incorporated. These lights create more flicker that IMAG cameras can pick up on. It’s a real issue for some IMAG cameras, and it’s something people will want to look at when they test out any IMAG cameras.”
The good news is that some manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware of these potential issues, and are taking steps to address the conflict. “The Hitachi Z-HD5500 was specifically designed for houses of worship to address these kinds of issues,” asserts Humphrey. “The newly developed CMOS sensor is designed to work directly with budget LED lighting fixtures. The Z-HD5500 is particularly optimized to greatly reduce or eliminate those problems.”Making the call
“When we’re talking to churches it’s always about trying to get the right fit, not just for the budget, but also for what a specific church really needs,” says Craig Harper, national manager of faith for Sony Electronics. Harper agrees that being proactive about those possible conflicts between LED and IMAG cameras is crucial for success. “CMOS sensor cameras have a hard time with LED lighting and LED walls, especially if the engineering is not the best. We’ve been able to use the HXC-FB75 camera to get rid of some of the problems created by those LED solutions.”
Ultimately, finding the right camera for your specific IMAG system will boil down to making sure you ask the right questions and communicate clearly what the priorities are and how to meet those needs. “4K is interesting, because it’s all about the best resolution and the right tools,” continues Harper. “Shooting and archiving really positions churches well for the future. If you’re going to take your program somewhere where they require 4K in the future, it’s good to be ready.”