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Houses of Worship are delivering a better video experience to their congregations with HITACHI cameras. Our camera solutions range from small HD box cameras to our top-of-the-line UHD cameras. Church productions overwhelmingly understand the high value of HITACHI cameras in both venue and field production. Our cameras deliver quiet, high resolution pictures for image magnification, recording and streaming delivery to religious assemblies around the world.
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Image fidelity, low-light handling and volunteer-friendly ease of use deliver powerful benefits as SK-HD1800 cameras help church navigate pandemic-driven shifts
When Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas designed its new on-campus City Center for hosting community and local corporate activities, it purchased three SK-HD1800 cameras from Hitachi Kokusai to enable premium-caliber, in-house video production capabilities. The visual quality of the Hitachi cameras has shone even brighter during the COVID-19 pandemic, elevating the church’s live streaming and IMAG as it moved its services from its primary church building to the new City Center auditorium.
Founded in 1892, Immanuel Baptist’s vision is to be a gospel advancing church, for the gospel, for the city and for the world. Developed in a massively renovated former grocery supermarket on the same campus as Immanuel Baptist’s main church building, the City Center was created for use by community organizations and companies for conferences, training seminars, and special events.
The church has placed a high priority on video ever since it became one of the first to broadcast its worship services live on television in the mid-1970’s, and considered it similarly important for the new venue. “We wanted to have a high-quality production entity in the City Center so that anyone using the facility would feel comfortable that they’re getting top-notch IMAG and live streaming capabilities,” said , the church’s director of communications. “The cameras play a key role in making sure we achieve the level of quality we want, so even though we had a different vendor’s cameras already in our main worship center, we wanted to see if we could do even better here.”
Church staff evaluated cameras from multiple manufacturers at the NAB Show and decided the SK-HD1800 was their best option. “It had better overall image quality, and I was pleasantly surprised by its affordability,” said Ashworth. “I have always loved Hitachi cameras, but when we did our main worship center years ago, our tight budget didn’t allow that class of camera. I was thrilled to find out the SK-HD1800 fit our budget.”
The SK-HD1800’s advanced global shutter technology was also a key factor in the church’s selection. “We were evaluating various LED video walls and looking at different vendors’ cameras shooting with them in the frame, and saw artifact issues such as flickering,” explained Ashworth. “We put the Hitachi camera on the video walls, and it eliminated that problem for us.”
Supplied by systems integrator Edgemont AVL, the SK-HD1800s are deployed in fixed positions and on a recently-added track dolly in the City Center’s 850-seat (pre-COVID) auditorium. In addition to driving IMAG on the room’s 32-foot by 10-foot Primeview video wall and live streaming through a Teradek Trax encoder, the camera feeds can be called up in multiple rooms in the City Center and main building through a fiber network.
Ashworth lauds the image fidelity produced by the SK-HD1800s as noticeably better than the camera systems used in the church’s main sanctuary. “The thing that jumped out to me right off the bat was the clarity of the image,” he said. “It was a sharper, better-looking picture overall. The colors are also truer, and flesh tones look a lot more realistic to me.”
The SK-HD1800’s handling of low-light conditions also earned Ashworth’s admiration, as did its volunteer-friendly ease of use. “Being able to run the cameras in low light without having to bump the gain, yet the noise being basically non-existent, is a big difference from what we were used to,” he said. “Our volunteers also love the SK-HD1800s, as they find them smoother to operate and like the viewfinders better than our other cameras.”
The City Center opened in February 2020, but the quality improvement enabled by the SK-HD1800s came even further to the forefront when the pandemic led Immanuel Baptist to relocate its worship services from its main sanctuary to the City Center for easier social distancing. “Now that we were using the Hitachi cameras for our worship services, we had immediate feedback from people watching our screens and streams that they noticed the quality gain,” Ashworth explained. “That was a particularly huge deal when we needed to jump to 100% online for several weeks. People were always thankful for our online stream, but we never had comments about the quality before. Now, people were commenting that ‘I don’t know what you did, but it sure looks better.’”
That improvement has led the church to discuss raising the quality of video productions in its main worship center once it reopens, and when budget permits, Ashworth would like to replace its cameras with SK-HD1800s. In the meantime, the new Hitachi cameras continue to help the church better engage its followers through challenging times.
“I feel like having a strong video production element says a lot about the fact that we care about what we’re doing, and that we want it to be well-received,” concluded Ashworth. “The new Hitachi cameras have shown our membership and community that we are being good stewards of the money that we spend on production, and that we want to do it with excellence. They enabled us to up our game, and people noticed.”
42 years after being named for its neighborhood within the city of Edmonton, Alberta, the church originally known as Mill Woods Assembly changed its identity to Hope City Church last year to reflect its expansion into new communities. Wanting to maximize the quality of the live video being fed to its new satellite campus, Hope City purchased three Z-HD5500 cameras to capture its Sunday worship services for remote distribution and in-venue image magnification.
A total of roughly 3,400 congregants attend three Sunday morning services at the Mill Woods campus each week, while up to 300 more come to services at the newer Terwilligar location that opened in October 2018. While the Terwilligar site has its own pastor and live music, the centerpieces of its services are time-delayed, live feeds of Lead Pastor Phil Kniesel’s sermons from Mill Woods. Already displeased with the quality limitations of their existing cameras, the launch of the new campus provided the impetus for the church to upgrade.
“Our old cameras didn’t allow us to achieve the quality we wanted, with insufficient low-light capabilities and consumer-grade controls,” said Dan Mandryk, technical director at Hope City Church. “We needed to replace them, and our expansion gave us the big push to get new cameras on board. Video enables us to multiply our presence, allowing us to deliver the same message across campuses while still creating unique experiences at each location. We wanted to go to a broadcast-grade camera because the video feed would essentially stand in for a live pastor, so it must be high-quality.”
Taking note of the accolades that the Z-HD5500 was receiving in trade press, Hope City Church knew they needed to investigate it. “We narrowed our choice to two major brands, and Hitachi Kokusai worked closely with our dealer, Applied Electronics, to put together a package that met our needs at a price that worked for us,” explained Mandryk. “The Hitachi cameras’ ability to integrate with the Ross Dashboard control system was also important, as we are considering adding a Ross switcher in the future."
Hope City’s three Z-HD5500s are now stationed on pedestals in the Mill Woods campus’ 1,235-seat main sanctuary. Mandryk highlights the Z-HD5500s’ ease of use as one of his favorite attributes of the cameras. “The best part has been how volunteer-friendly they are, even though they’re high-end cameras,” he elaborated. “We have operators who have never touched a camera before, and focus is always one of the hardest things for new camera users to master. The Focus Assist feature on the Z-HD5500 has made it so much easier for them, giving them something to check their focus against.”
The exceptional video quality of the Hitachi cameras has also earned praise from the church and its attendees. “The Z-HD5500s deliver an obvious quality boost from our previous cameras,” said Mandryk. “The color reproduction is also fabulous, as we finally see on video exactly what we see in the room. The first day we put them in, our congregants could see the difference, and were excited to see more vibrant colors.”
Mandryk also commends the Hitachi cameras’ handling of lighting conditions at both ends of the spectrum – their sensitivity in low-light situations, as well as their ability to acquire flicker-free images against a mix of LED lighting. “We push the boundaries on lighting, so sometimes we have to get a shot where there’s not a whole lot of light, and the Z-HD5500’s low-light handling is far superior to our old cameras,” he explained. “Conversely, we use a lot of LED lighting of varying quality in our sets – from high-end professional lights all the way down to do-it-yourself LED tape lights in our set pieces – and we’ve never had a problem with these cameras capturing great video.”
Summing up Hope City Church’s satisfaction, Mandryk shares that the Z-HD5500s have fulfilled all their objectives. “The Hitachi cameras have elevated the quality of our visual experiences for our in-person and online congregants, while enabling an exceptional video link to our remote campus.”
80-year-old First Alliance Church (FAC) in Calgary, Alberta produces two distinct live video feeds of their services, each optimized for a particular purpose – image magnification (IMAG) to enrich the worship experience for on-site visitors, and online streaming to reach congregants unable to attend in person. FAC purchased four Z-HD5500 cameras to capture high-quality video for both applications while accurately reproducing the church’s rich LED lighting effects. Approximately 3000 people gather each weekend at FAC Calgary. As part of a major upgrade initiative, the church found the Z-HD5500s to be a perfect fit for their goals and environment.
“When I first saw the Z-HD5500 camera package at the NAB Show, I knew right away that it was exactly what we needed,” said FAC technical director Paul Nadeau-Bonilla. “The cameras are so versatile, we can use them for our current studio-style application in our main sanctuary, as well as for ENG-style video acquisition in the future. The price point was also compelling, but the biggest thing for me was that they work well with LED lighting in the church world. We have some less-expensive LED lights, so we wanted a camera that would provide flicker-free video despite the varying refresh rates of these different fixtures.”
Supplied by systems integrator Applied Electronics, the Hitachi cameras have exceeded Nadeau-Bonilla’s high expectations for their LED lighting reproduction. “I expected the Z-HD5500s would overcome the challenges of the LED lights, but I was even more impressed once we installed them and started using them,” he said. “With our previous system and LED lighting, it drove me nuts that the colors of what you saw in the house and what you saw on the screen didn’t match, particularly in the blue spectrum. Nice mauves or purples would show up as blue on the screen. The Z-HD5500s are so much better and are really great at picking up different tones of LED blue. Now, what you see on stage is what you see on screen as well.”
Under the guidance of video director Russell Moore, the church’s volunteer video team creates separate productions for online streaming and for IMAG. “IMAG is about helping those in the room see what’s happening on stage more clearly; streaming is about conveying the full experience for those not in the room,” Nadeau-Bonilla explained.
“During music and worship, what’s on IMAG is the same as the stream, but during preaching they are different: a close-up shot from the center camera on the side screens, and a combination of close-ups plus wider contextual shots in the stream,” he continued. “The Z-HD5500s and the Fujinon lenses allow us to get in nice and tight on the subject with a really sharp image. The video looks stunning on the side screens – absolutely gorgeous.”
FAC Calgary chose equipment from Ross Video including a Carbonite Black 2S switcher as part of their HD upgrade, and were pleased to discover the tight integration between the Hitachi cameras and the Ross Dashboard open control and monitoring platform. “It’s difficult to find volunteers who like shading, as it’s one of the less glamorous positions on the video crew,” said Nadeau-Bonilla. “The integration allows the director to shade the cameras using Ross Dashboard while also doing his other duties, which is a big asset.”
Most importantly, the new cameras have helped the church meet their goals of improving the visual experience for worshippers both on-site and online. “Our congregants and online viewers have been thrilled to bits with the quality,” summarized Nadeau-Bonilla. “The Z-HD5500s look good and perform really well, so we’re very happy with them.”
As San Jose, California-area WestGate Church expanded beyond its original Saratoga campus to multiple satellite locations, live video became a vital enabler of its ongoing growth. Looking to improve picture quality and production flexibility for its multi-site broadcasts, the church purchased Hitachi Z-HD5500 HDTV studio and field production cameras.
“When I joined the church, we had maxed out our capacity in Saratoga, and had dreams of going multi-site,” said Kevan Long, production director at WestGate Church. “We needed better image capture quality as we expanded to multiple sites,” explained Long.
Low-light handling was a key criterion as the church evaluated new cameras. “We don’t like to flood our stage with lights, preferring to run it a bit on the darker side to give it a warmer feel. “Our previous cameras weren’t great in low-light situations, so we needed ones with better sensors and sensitivity.”
“Hitachi Kokusai as a company has a great reputation, and the video from their cameras looks great,” said Long. “The Z-HD5500’s full frame rate 1080p capability was a factor in our decision, and its 62dB signal-to-noise ratio is pretty amazing. Its new sensor’s ability to handle the challenges of LED lighting at different refresh rates was also very appealing, as our stage and house lighting are almost entirely LED, and we plan to add LED video walls in the future.”
The Z-HD5500s have delivered all the benefits the church was looking for, improving the visual quality of their productions while enabling their on-stage communicators to move about freely. While the church’s video crew was new to broadcast-class cameras, they found the Hitachi cameras easy to learn. “We held a 30-minute group training session on the basic controls, then came early to practice during rehearsals for the first month,” recalled Long. “The transition was pretty seamless.”
Long is completely satisfied with the Z-HD5500s and would love to add more to WestGate Church’s productions. “We couldn’t be happier with the decision we made to go with the Hitachi cameras,” he summarized. “They are vital in our inter-campus content delivery and have made us better as a production team, which in turn has made us better as a ministry in reaching our community.”
Central Community Church in Wichita, Kansas has made video an integral aspect of their worship services for many years. Upgrading their production workflows to high definition in preparation for hosting a national convention, the church chose Z-HD5000 cameras from Hitachi to deliver the superior video quality, price-performance value and ease of use that they wanted.
Close to 2500 congregants attend one of two services at Central Community Church each Sunday morning. The classic worship service offers a choir, orchestra and practical teachings in a traditional style, while the contemporary service features a band and sermon in a more casual tone. Video plays a key role in both of these gatherings.
“Other churches I knew of were really happy with both the Z-HD5000’s price point and the quality that they bring,” said Ben Brandfas, Technical Ministries director at Central Community Church.
While already leaning towards the Z-HD5000, Brandfas did his due diligence and visited another camera vendor at the NAB Show. What he discovered reinforced the HITACHI cameras as the best choice. “My NAB experience was an eye-opener, as Hitachi Kokusai was far more willing to take time showing us the cameras than the other manufacturer,” he explained. “We realized that was indicative of which vendor would give us better customer service. With Hitachi Kokusai, we could talk to real people who truly valued our business.”
Four Z-HD5000s are now used in Central Community Church’s sanctuary, with one on each side of the stage, one in a center-rear position, and the fourth either on-stage or used as another center camera. In addition to the live stream and image magnification (IMAG) on two 16-foot by 9-foot projection screens, video from the HITACHI cameras is also distributed to large displays throughout the campus. Each camera feed is also iso-recorded, with footage incorporated into the church’s yearly Christmas television special.
The quality of the Z-HD5000s has lived up to their stellar reputation. “They’re just a great-looking camera, and they were really ‘plug and play’,” said Brandfas. “We just turned them on, and they looked good right away. A Hitachi technician came out to commission and adjust the cameras, but they looked great right out of the box. People in the congregation have been amazed at how good the screens can look,” Brandfas concluded.
Brandfas also highlighted the cameras’ ease of use as very beneficial for the church’s all-volunteer production crew. “The Z-HD5000s are very volunteer-friendly,” he lauded. “Using the joystick on the RU-1500JY remote control, they can quickly and easily shade the picture, and they needed very little training.
Hitachi Z-HD6000. Photo courtesy of Jacob Bain
First Baptist Church in Texarkana, Texas, has been leveraging the powerful visual engagement and broad reach of television to spread its message and touch followers’ lives for over half a century. When the church upgraded the video production capabilities in their sanctuary, they turned to Hitachi Kokusai to provide the exceptional quality and rich features they needed to further elevate their in-house video experiences and broadcasts.
FBC Texarkana’s television effort started over 55 years ago on the local NBC affiliate, and has grown from a regional broadcast to an international TV, radio and internet ministry. FBC Pastor Jeff Schreve, who joined the church in 2003, founded From His Heart Ministries to expand their television reach. FBC Texarkana’s broadcasts are now seen weekly on stations and networks around the world – including the NRB TV Network in the U.S. and the Hillsong Channel internationally – as well as streamed online.
“We view what we do through television and video as a mission opportunity,” said Jay Budzilowski, director of TV/media at FBC Texarkana. “We don’t want to just put ourselves out there for people to watch; we want to make a difference in people’s lives through this content, and enable more people to be impacted by the gospel.”
With a major overhaul of the church’s 2500-seat worship center scheduled to commence last summer, replacing everything from seating and carpet to speakers and sound boards, FBC Texarkana also planned to upgrade the sanctuary’s video capabilities at the same time, including a new television control room and new equipment.
The FBC Texarkana team researched HITACHI cameras at the recommendation of systems integrator The Field Shop in Little Rock, Arkansas, and found the Z-HD6000 studio camera and DK-H200 compact box camera to be ideal fits. “Our previous cameras were fine for a local church broadcast, but now that we are going international, we needed to make a step up,” explained Budzilowski. “As a church, we always need to find the right balance between quality and what we can spend. The quality of the Z-HD6000s and DK-H200s looked great, and the price point fit what we were trying to accomplish. It just all made sense, and when we fired the HITACHI cameras up the first day, we could immediately see the difference they made.”
Three Z-HD6000s and two DK-H200s in the sanctuary now capture video both for television broadcasts and for image magnification (IMAG), displaying live in-house productions on an 18-foot by 10-foot screen for an average of 1800 congregants attending Sunday morning services.
The visual quality that drew FBC Texarkana to the HITACHI cameras continues to impress their staff and congregation. “The image clarity is outstanding, and the color reproduction is very good,” lauded Budzilowski. “Our attendees definitely appreciate the difference. And unlike our previous cameras, we don’t have to keep adjusting the color balance – we set up the cameras just once, and they’ve looked great ever since.”
Budzilowski also applauds the cameras’ performance in handling lighting challenges. “There are some lower-lit areas of the sanctuary that we like to capture images from,” he explained. “The sensitivity of the HITACHI cameras in low-light conditions is dramatically better than our previous cameras, so we never need to crank the gain up.” Budzilowski concluded: “compared to the alternatives we investigated, our investment in the HITACHI units is paying off.”
As one of the largest churches in the United States, Willow Creek Community Church places a very high value on the power of video to connect with its congregants both within and beyond its campuses. Willow Creek was familiar with Hitachi cameras from the church’s work with mobile production specialist TNDV, who had provided equipment and services for Willow Creek projects. Pleased with the high-quality results of those productions, the church was very comfortable with Hitachi cameras for their HD upgrade.
Eight HITACHI SK-HD1200 portable HD studio and field production cameras plus two HITACHI DK-H100 compact box cameras are now used in Willow Creek’s 7,200-seat main auditorium. Two SK-HD1200s are stationed on tripods behind front-of-house with Fujinon 55x lenses, with an additional SK-HD1200 on a jib. Five more such cameras are deployed flexibly depending on each weekend or event’s particular needs.
“The cameras’ operational versatility is exceptional,” said Darren Niesley, Video Director at Willow Creek. “We can configure them in so many ways, from handheld to full studio kits or tripods on wheels rolling around the front row, and with lenses ranging from standard 22x up to 40x telephoto.”prompter/floor monitor power.
Darren Niesley, Video Director at Willow Creek
Niesley’s satisfaction with the HITACHI cameras spans both visual quality and operational benefits. “Right out of the box the cameras look really good, and are easy to automatically match,” he shared. “And while they offer deep, sophisticated control of all facets of the image, the programmability of the buttons on the RU-1500JY remote control units and the ease of switching between scene files let us make operation simple for our volunteers.”
“Our move to HD with the HITACHI cameras has enabled us to more seamlessly integrate video into our live worship experience,” Niesley summarized. “The image quality is so high, and the cameras are so reliable, that people can just enjoy the program with no distractions.”
When 75-year-old Grace Church of Wooster, Ohio launched its first video initiatives last year, it selected Z-HD5000 HDTV cameras from Hitachi to capture live services and events.
Video Producer Drew Boatner, said; “The dynamic nature of the church’s contemporary venue makes the simple setup and robust durability of the cameras important. Since the venue is used as a gym, we need to set the equipment up and then take it all down again each Sunday. The Z-HD5000’s are small and portable enough that they’re easy for our volunteers to quickly set up and tear down, and they have been incredibly reliable in withstanding our weekly transformations.”
The Z-HD5000’s exceptional ease of use immediately delivered valuable benefits. “I love the HITACHI cameras, as we were able to move quickly to multi-camera productions from having no video operations at all,” said Drew Boatner, video producer at Grace Church. “Our camera operators are volunteers, and none had used a professional camera before. The HITACHI cameras were easy for them to learn, and I can entrust new volunteers to pick them up very quickly.”
“Video is a powerful tool for enabling our ministry to grow both locally and online, and the HITACHI cameras have been crucial in letting us take advantage of the medium,” said Boatner. “Everything starts with the cameras. The Z-HD5000s make Sunday mornings easy for our video crew and create great experiences for all the people who are watching, whether on the web or in the building.”
As the Water of Life Community Church grew, the Church opted for a significant renovation of the main campus, which included construction of a new worship center, children's building, parking structure, and an outdoor gathering area. This project won an Integration Award 2016 award from Commercial Integrator for the Best House of Worship project. Water of Life draws over 8000 worshipers each weekend to its main campus in Fontana, California. Three Z-HD5000 cameras are installed in fixed positions within Water of Life’s main auditorium, which opened in November 2015. A fourth Z-HD5000 is used for both stationary and on-the-shoulder acquisition, regularly moving outside the building to the church’s baptismal space.
“First and foremost, we wanted the video to look good,” said Water of Life Production Manager Joe Chappell, who led the new auditorium project. “The proliferation of video everywhere has increased people’s expectations of quality both on-site and online. All of our fiber infrastructure, our giant screen and our HD streaming – it would all mean nothing if it didn’t start with great quality coming off great cameras.”
“We knew we wanted cameras with 2/3” sensors,” Chappell recounted. “I believe we looked at, touched and demoed every camera in its class on the market, and Hitachi stood out. We then had a chance to compare them hands-on against other cameras when we rented them for an Easter event, and the Z-HD5000 really rose above the rest in quality, flexibility and ease of operation.” As a non-profit organization, budget was also a factor, but the exceptional value of the Z-HD5000 cameras made their superior picture fidelity affordable for the church. “The image quality is amazing, and the price is incredible for what you get,” Chappell said.
The cameras have lived up to the church’s high quality expectations, including adapting easily to dynamically changing conditions. “Our senior pastor, Dan Carroll, often walks off the stage and into the aisles during his sermons, resulting in big lighting and color changes,” Chappell explained. “The Z-HD5000s give us a great image whether he is in the center of the stage, or walking freely around the auditorium. Their sensitivity is great, and their colors are really true.”
Church on the Move continues to redefine the worship environment. With an eye toward increasing appeal to younger generations, and more dynamic, engaging services that heavily rely on professional video production. That effort continues with a recent facility-wide upgrade that includes seven Hitachi Z-HD5000 HDTV cameras.
“Church on the Move is fairly typical of a large church in the Midwest, with a large congregation that fills a spacious sanctuary,” says Andrew Stone, the Production Manager for Church on the Move. Pastor George’s vision to reach out to younger generations has driven Church on the Move to deliver a concert-type experience with live cameras and video, big sound and immersive lighting that remains positive and family-oriented. Hitachi has been a significant part of that sea-change over the past 10 years.”
“I like to put equipment into the hands of my volunteers that gives them a win. Our church tries hard to keep people involved. HITACHI cameras are easy to use so our operators quickly learn to use them, have a positive experience, and then want to come back week after week. In addition, these cameras are rugged and durable, a big advantage with volunteers. Working with HITACHI, I can spend less time worrying about our cameras, and more time focusing on our message.”