When churches shut down due to Covid-19 we looked at the 4 best camera styles for streaming church services. It’s almost a year later and time to update that for 2021.
In a previous post about streaming church services live, we looked at the best way to stream with an iPhone or Android phone. To offer a professional live stream of your church’s worship service, you’ll want a dedicated camera instead of a phone. In this post, we’ll look at picking the right camera for your needs. Again, a phone might fit your budget, but this time we’re assuming you want something that creates better quality for streaming church services.
Here are the other posts in this series:
- Streaming Church Services Live from a Phone Made Simple
- Streaming Church Services Live Using Facebook or YouTube Apps or Pages
- 7 Best Tools for Streaming Church Services
What Kind of Camera Should You Use for Streaming Church Services?
People can pick from a few different kinds of cameras aside from their phone camera. Most people think of a webcam when they think of live streaming. However, webcams only work if you’re streaming yourself sitting at a desk or in a room close to the camera. The quality of the image that a webcam produces usually won’t compare to a dedicated camera. The camera, if it zooms, usually uses digital zoom, which looks bad. You’ll have to put the camera very close to the pulpit and it will distract the people from attending the stream. Don’t use a webcam for streaming church services live.
The best options include the following styles of cameras:
- A video camera or camcorder with at least 720p resolution that also has an HDMI output that shows the live view of the camera video.
- A DSLR or mirrorless camera that also offers a live output of the video of the camera.
- A PTZ IP Streaming Camera that you can connect over an Ethernet cable and offers remote control of the panning and zooming of the camera lens.
Let’s take a look at some options for each kind of camera.
Video Camera or Camcorder
Before cameras on smartphones got so good, most people owned a camcorder or video camera. Basic consumer-grade camcorders made in the last few years will offer a 1080p or even a 4K video option. You can spend as little as $250 for a very good Canon camcorder that offers HDMI output and a live view of the image. B&H Photo has a few ranging in price from $250 to $2000 depending on your church’s budget. The cheapest option, the Canon VIXIA HF R800 Camcorder offers the following features needed for a good streaming camcorder.
- Optical Image Stabilization – less wiggle as the camera operator movies it from side to side.
- HD Video – 1080p is the sweet spot, but lower quality 720p usually looks good enough and high-quality 4K video may offer too much making it harder to stream on a slower network. This camera offers 1080p which gives your viewers good image quality.
- 32X Optical Zoom – avoid using digital zoom because it gets closer to the subject, but looks horrible. The optical zoom looks much better. If your camera has a digital zoom, turn it off in settings.
- Powered via Power Adapter – you want to plug it into the wall so you don’t have to worry about your battery running out. If you do this remove the battery so you don’t ruin it by keeping it plugged in. That way you can still use the camera for recording video outside of the sanctuary.
- Mic Input – the camera comes with a mic input if you need to use it in other situations outside of streaming your worship service. While streaming church services, you’ll get sound from the soundboard going into the computer.
Consider a Higher-quality 4K Camcorder
The above Canon camera gives users an adequate option, but if you want 4K streaming you’ll have to find another camera. The Canon VIXIA HF G50 4K Camcorder (seen below) gives a higher resolution but costs 4 times as much. But you’ll get a much better image. It will also require higher bandwidth, so make sure your Internet connection is fast upstream as well as downstream and can handle streaming church services in 4K.
Despite the higher price, the HF G50 cuts the optical zoom by a third. That means you won’t get as close to the people on stage while recording from the same spot. If you can place the camera person closer to the stage, then this will work fine.
You can go nuts with high-end professional cameras that cost thousands of dollars, but people who need those cameras probably already know more about cameras used for streaming church services live than I do.
Mevo Camera for Streaming Church Services Live
The Mevo Camera gives churches a specialized camera for streaming church services live, but you’ll have to place it close to the platform like a camera phone.
The Mevo Start ($399) streams or record locally in 1080p. Use the Mevo App to control the camera on a smart phone or tablet. Set things up so it looks like you have multiple cameras all using the one camera and the app.
The Mevo Start is small and has a battery that should last long enough for most worship services, but you can also plug it in. The built-in mic will pick up audio or there’s a built-in 3.5mm mic input to connect a higher quality external mic. Most churches will connect their soundboard to the smartphone or tablet instead. You’ll need to connect some specialized cables to make that work. I’d suggest going to the Mevo Facebook group to get further support from other experienced users.
An Example of Using Mevo in Church
You can view an example of the Mevo in action at my church’s Facebook page. Look for our Sunday School on Wednesday night videos. We use a regular camcorder for our Sunday morning, but we use the older Mevo Plus camera for Wednesday night streams. Here’s the company’s ad for the Mevo Start.
The camera will connect either to your phone or your tablet. I’d recommend using an iPad since that’s larger and you can see more on the screen at one time.
The app runs on iOS and Android. Find out more about that from Mevo.
The Mevo camera works best in smaller sanctuaries or for churches who want to stream things like interviews or events in a small room. If your room requires you to be further than about 10-20 feet, this option won’t work well for you and the image quality is lower than even a camera phone.
DSLR or Mirrorless Camera
Churches can use the above cameras for streaming church services live online, but they may want better quality images and a camera that they can take off the tripod and use for take photos of church events. A good DSLR or Mirrorless camera will fit that situation better.
What are DSLR or Mirrorless cameras? The video below explains it better than I can. If you don’t care and just want recommendations, then skip to the next paragraph.
Mirrorless camera give the user a smaller camera while still offering beautiful photos and video. The DSLR is the style of camera that’s been around forever, but now they’re digital. Mirrorless is the future.
Canon M6 Mark ii
I used to recommend the Canon EOS M50, but a friend had a lot of trouble using one for his church. So I now recommend the Canon EOS M6 Mark ii. That’s the camera I own and occasionally use for live streaming.
Canon released a brand new utility called the EOS Webcam Utility that lets users turn their DSLR or mirrorless camera into a webcam. You can hook your camera up to your computer with USB-C. The new utility will make it available in your software as a camera for streaming. It works fine for Facebook or YouTube live streams.
The camera might run out of battery power before your service ends, so get the power adapter that lets you plug the camera in AC power. It costs $24 as of this writing.
Get a zoom lens with at least 200 mm of zoom. You’ll still have to place the camera little closer than you may like because 200 mm zoom is like 6.5X zoom on a camcorder.
Canon EOS Digital Rebel T7i
I prefer Canon because they offer better color than Nikon or Sony camera. But you can find comparable cameras from those manufacturers that will work for you. Other companies like Panasonic, Fujifilm and Olympus make great camera. Here’s a list of options at Amazon.
- 4K resolution for shooting
- Live video output for streaming
- A lens from 200mm zoom or higher
- Stays on and offers live video for a long enough time to stream your entire service since some cameras shut off after 20 or 30 minutes.
- An adapter for powering the camera while using it because most batteries won’t last for the full length of a worship service.
You may not be able to find the above things mentioned in the camera’s description at your store of choice. Ask the seller or post a question in a place like Amazon.
The last item on the list is a must. Get the power adapter for your camera like this one for the T7i mentioned above. or the one we linked to above for the Mark 6 Mii.
PTZ Streaming Video Cameras
A friend of mine chose to buy another kind of camera that I’ve not used. It’s called the Avipas AV-1081G 10x HDMI PTZ Camera ($620) with IP Live Streaming. PTZ stands for Pan Tilt Zoom, which describes the way it can move (panning left-right, tilting up-down and zooming in and out).
It only offers 1080p video, which is fine for now. It says it’s a 10x zoom camera, but only the digital zoom is only 5x, which is not going to be good enough for medium to larger sanctuaries.
These IP cameras are usually smaller, so you can put them in your sanctuary and they’ll seem less noticeable. You won’t need a big tripod because you can install it permanently.
The camera connects via a network cable. You can control it from a computer or with a special remote control box. The box or the software will control the panning (left right) and the tilting (up and down) while zooming in to the subject.
For those who worship in a large sanctuary, get a camcorder with a 32X zoom or higher. They are usually the cheapest option and you can get a good 1080p or 4K camera for hundreds instead of thousands of dollars. Then invest in good software to make it work, although Facebook alone does the trick for most people. If you plan to stream to another service, ask them what they recommend. The best free software for streaming is OBS Studio. The open-source software comes with a large community of users who can help you get it set up.
Here’s what you’ll need to get it all working if you’re streaming from your church sanctuary:
- Canon VIXIA HF R800 Camcorder – $250 at B&H Photo
- A mini-HDMI to HDMI out cable with an adapter for your computer like to convert the HDMI signal to format that streaming software can use – $100 for both.
- A good streaming computer like the new M1 Macs – $900+.
- A cable to connect your soundboard to your streaming computer. You’ll have to determine what kind of sound output your board has – $10-$50.
- Open your web browser and use Facebook Live Streaming from your church’s Facebook page or if you want more features get OBS Studio which lets you set up multiple camera inputs, an input for your worship presentation (lyrics and sermon slides), and other interesting graphics – Free.
For people who are streaming from a smaller room, consider going with the Mevo Camera and a good phone or tablet. Here’s what I use to make it all work:
- Mevo Start Camera – $399 or $384 on Amazon.
- A mini table-top tripod like the Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod – $18 on Amazon.
- iPad to control the Mevo Camera app – $319 for a 32GB base iPad from Amazon or $329 from Apple.
- Zoom Podtrack P4 mobile mixer with 2 Zoom mics – $390 from Amazon
The last item on the list is a new addition to my setup. We had a lot of trouble getting audio right with the Mevo over my iPad. However, this mixer fixed it all. If you already have a headset, two XLR mics, and cables, then you can buy the Podtrack P4 for only $200. Check back here for a full review of the Zoom Podtrack P4 at a later date.