Choosing the Right Video Camera for the Job

Churches today are doing more with video than ever before. Week in and week out ministries are harnessing the power of broadcast, live streaming, IMAG, filmmaking, video curriculum, news-style programming, digital motion signage and social-media-centric content creation in order to share the gospel and build stronger disciples. The growth in quantity and quality of work being created by churches has also grown exponentially over the past five or six years, which in turn is attracting new generations of video and film artists to ministry for the first time.

Good stewardship may require navigating a maze of different options to find the camera that’s right for the church you’re serving.

Fortunately, quality video camera options have never been better or more accessible than they are today. The sheer array of choices, however, can be confusing and overwhelming for producers in the early stages of their creative development. Good stewardship may require navigating a maze of different options to find the camera that’s right for the church you’re serving and at the stage of development your ministry is moving into.

One of the best ways to think about video cameras is to compare them to power tools. Each tool has a specific use, and while good carpenters can sometimes find a way to adapt one tool to cover a few different tasks, one is not inherently better than the other, any more than a drill is better than a nail gun. The most important thing is to find the right tool for the job you’re trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, when you’re first starting out it can be hard to tell which tool is right for the task at hand.

Knowing Your Priorities

When exploring and evaluating the different video cameras options available it’s important to first clearly understand the priorities of your specific ministry. For many churches the highest priority could be capturing long-form sermons for IMAG and broadcast. Another priority might be capturing event footage across a variety of situations and environments. A third option may be storytelling and narrative filmmaking. For communications teams, capturing high quality stills first and event footage as a secondary function may be the prioritization.

While it may be tempting to look at this list and reply with “we need all of the above,” if you’re going to select the right camera for your context it’s crucial to establish your top priorities first. Once you’ve ranked your needs from mission-critical to least important you’ll be much better equipped to evaluate which type of video camera best meets your needs.

While it may be tempting to look at this list and reply with “we need all of the above,” if you’re going to select the right camera for your context it’s crucial to establish your top priorities first.

Broadcast Video Cameras

One of the most ubiquitous style of video cameras churches have adopted over the past 40 years is the broadcast-style video camera. Engineered for thousands of hours of service, these cameras are built like tanks and are intended primarily for fixed installations like IMAG or studio setups. They are primarily designed to utilize complex, power-servo lenses that allow for precise control of zoom, focus and aperture. Broadcast cameras also include advanced connectivity to facilitate remote shading and control.

[Broadcast video cameras] are primarily designed to utilize complex, power-servo lenses that allow for precise control of zoom, focus and aperture.

While broadcast cameras are perfect for applications like IMAG, these kinds of cameras tend to be heavy and not as portable as other types of video cameras. They incorporate smaller sensor sizes that, while making critical focusing easier across long distances, don’t produce the same kinds of cinematic imagery as cameras developed for filmmaking. Most importantly, complete broadcast cameras, and the accompanying support systems, are usually the most expensive types of video cameras. Churches utilizing broadcast cameras will often purchase these kind of cameras as part of a larger system upgrade or installation.

Camcorders

Another common video camera type in use at many churches today is the camcorder. What distinguishes the camcorder from other types of cameras is its all-in-one design that incorporates the sensor, video recorder, audio recorder, lens and lens control into a single device. Camcorders are easy to use, extremely rugged, very portable and are a favorite with run-and-gun event videographers. Better still, modern camcorders have continued to shrink in size while adding powerful features unimaginable in camcorders even a few years ago. One standout feature is the ability to live-stream directly from a camera to a cellular hotspot.

One standout feature in many camcorders is the ability to live-stream directly from a camera to a cellular hotspot.

Like broadcast cameras, camcorders usually feature smaller sensors, which means that its imagery tends to be less cinematic and more identifiably “video” in quality. These smaller sensors also mean that camcorders aren’t as good in low-light situations. Finally, while the camcorder’s all-in-one design is one of its main strengths, it’s also a bit of a drawback in that there’s no way to upgrade or improve the camera’s core functionality. All in all, camcorders are a very solid value proposition for churches, and one beginning communications and film teams should seriously consider.

Digital Cinema Cameras

Whereas broadcast video cameras and camcorders have been around for several decades, digital cameras designed specifically for a cinematic style of production are currently revolutionizing the world of church media. What sets these digital cinema cameras apart is their complete focus on capturing the most filmic images possible. This style of imagery is possible thanks to the camera’s very large sensor, which allows filmmakers to capture footage with extremely shallow depth of field. These cameras also accommodate a wide variety of specialty lenses and utilize color profiles and capture codecs that accommodate for significant adjustments to the footage in post-production.

What sets these digital cinema cameras apart is their complete focus on capturing the most filmic images possible.

The inherent challenge of filming with digital cinema cameras is that they are modular by nature, usually requiring additional build-out components to get the most out of them. While some are smaller and more portable than others, they’re usually not as easy to run-and-gun with as camcorders. Those issues aside, if your team is looking for the best option for storytelling and film work the digital cinema cameras are almost always the right choice.

DSLR-Style Stills Cameras

While today’s DSLR-style cameras are designed primarily for capturing superb still images, most are also capable of capturing very good video, as well. Like digital cinema cameras, they incorporate very large image sensors that can produce beautiful footage. DSLR and mirrorless stills cameras are also the smallest and most portable option for shooting, usually by a wide margin. Their minimal profile means they can be used in situations where video cameras are impractical or unwelcome. Best of all, DSLRs can be very affordable and don’t require a dedicated capital campaign just to get started.

DSLR and mirrorless stills cameras are also the smallest and most portable option for shooting, usually by a wide margin.

On the flip side, DSLR-style cameras are intended by their designers to capture stills first and foremost. This means they have some serious built-in limitations on the video side, including shorter recording times and little-to-no support for capturing quality audio, both of which make them a poor choice for capturing sermons. Their smaller size also means additional stabilization will be needed when filming with them. Those handicaps aside, DSLR-styles cameras can be an absolute blast to film with and make a great option for communications teams needing both quality stills and footage on a limited budget.

Making Your Selection

To reiterate, there’s no such thing as the perfect all-in-one camera. The variety of possible requirements for ministry are just too broad for one camera to effectively cover all of them. If you’re having trouble prioritizing, ask yourself how many hours a month you’ll use the camera for each task, then select a camera based on the function that’s indispensable.

If you’re having trouble prioritizing, ask yourself how many hours a month you’ll use the camera for each task, then select a camera based on the function that’s indispensable.

If you’re still not sure where to start, your best move will probably be to start with a camcorder that has XLR audio inputs. This option can cover basic sermon recording, streaming, event work and basic storytelling. Most importantly, it’s the most user-friendly of the lot, and will help keep you from learning some videography lessons the hard way. In the meantime, be sure to stay engaged in the learning process as you discover the strengths and limitations of each camera style. Just be sure to not let those limitations define you or your ministry moving into the future.



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