While this post is geared toward small churches new to live streaming, we hope there will be nuggets for everyone to learn from, or be reminded of. This is not a detailed introduction to camera options, just a brief introduction to give you a guide. I can’t stress enough, don’t break the bank to get started. Dip your toes in with what you have available. You may decide after a few weeks the streaming service you selected isn’t right for you, or you’ll gain a better idea what you want to achieve over the long term, which will help inform a more significant hardware investment.
It is likely that you are on a compressed timeline to start operating your live stream. With the technology that many of us take for granted, you could be more prepared than you think. Whether a camera you haven’t used in awhile, the gadget you gave your kids, or the phone in your pocket, there are a lot of ways to capture video.
Your phone is one of the quickest ways to get into streaming. You’ve probably already recorded videos with it. At the lowest level, you pick a suitable streaming platform for your needs, install their app, log in, and start streaming. There may be a few things to set up, like a broadcast date and time, but often you can just go live. Remember to put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ before recording.
Not unlike your phone, your laptop is ready to capture video. With a built in web cam and mic, it’s the same process as a phone, though you may be able to use a web interface instead of installing an app. Be sure to go through your system settings and turn off any notifications that might make sound, and close any applications you don’t need running.
Action cameras are another alternative that can work for you. They will perform better in low light situations, but the user experience may not be as straight-forward as your phone or computer. Newer models have made it easier, but the complexity will vary by manufacturer and how new the action camera is. If you want to explore using your action camera, read through this post from 2019.
Digital cameras and consumer video cameras are another viable option. You’ll have to look at your specific camera’s options to see what capabilities it offers, but if you can record while it’s attached to your computer, there’s a good chance it will work. You will be limited by having to remain connected to your computer though.
When you’re ready to do this for the long term, it’s time to get a professional camera. These cameras will offer advanced features like manual white balance, multi-point focus, and a variety of implementations for communication with the video switcher. Most importantly, they offer professional connections. XLR hookups for audio, tally lights so you know that camera is live, and BNC connectors for video over SDI. SDI is the most reliable video connection for video. Whereas HDMI has distance limitations and ethernet has bandwidth limitations, SDI will reliably carry your signal over long distances. You will need other gear to get the video and audio to the streaming service though, often via a video switcher and streaming encoder.
Use your phone to get started. It will offer good enough video to get you off the ground while you get used to a streaming service, or even try a few different ones. You’ll also get a better idea of what your current network is capable of. If you don’t have enough bandwidth, it won’t matter what camera you use.