Lighthouse Church, a non-denominational church in the beach community of Panama City, FL, suffered significant damage to its main building—and its auditorium was completely destroyed—when Hurricane Michael tore through Panama City Beach in 2018. A year-long renovation project broke ground in 2020 to convert a former AMC movie theater into the church’s new home: a 37,000-square-foot facility featuring an 850-seat auditorium, half-court basketball, and a child development center. Worshipers had met in the church’s much smaller children’s building until the new space could be developed.
The relocation provided the opportunity for the church to implement a long-awaited upgrade to its video production capabilities, including Hitachi Z-HD5500 broadcast cameras systems. Prior to the hurricane, the church had used mobile phones and consumer-level camcorders, but had not been satisfied with the results.
“Our video capabilities were fairly primitive,” explained Juili Bailey, worship leader and creative pastor at Lighthouse Church. “Upgrading them had already been part of our long-term vision, but it hadn’t been a financial priority for us. We were sort of stuck, as we didn’t want to make the investment in upgrading until we could do it the way we wanted to do it. Then the hurricane reset every plan that we had.”
Bailey wanted to ensure the cameras and other equipment they purchased would meet not only the church’s immediate needs, but also longer-term goals. “Video is a key medium for creating and reinforcing connection between the church and our members, so we wanted to move towards better quality,” she said. “We also wanted the option to broadcast our services on television in the future. We wanted to plan ahead now, as it’s often difficult to backfill and retrofit things later.”
Tennessee-based systems integration firm AVLX designed and installed the video, audio, and lighting systems for Lighthouse Church’s new venue. AVLX recommended Hitachi cameras because of their quality, price/performance value, durability, and volunteer-friendly ease of use. The church’s three Z-HD5500 cameras are stationed on Cartoni tripods in fixed positions within the auditorium.
Lighthouse Church’s new location, which opened in June 2021, hosts roughly 1,200 in-person attendees each Sunday. Video acquired by the Hitachi cameras feeds image magnification (I-MAG) through Digital Projection projectors to the auditorium’s Draper TecVision screens, and is streamed to online followers via multiple platforms. The Z-HD5500s’ global shutter sensors enable the capture of flawless video without visual artifacts such as moiré patterns or flickering in the sanctuary’s LED-rich environment, which features a 40-foot SquareV Zi3 LED wall as a digital backdrop.
In addition to significantly improving the video quality of the church’s productions, Bailey also noted how easy it was for the all-volunteer crew to learn to operate the cameras. “Honestly, we have been shocked at how well the volunteers have taken to them, and the increase in quality that we got overnight,” she said. “Our area is more tourism-oriented than high-tech, so we’re not in a place where most people are dealing with technology in their jobs every day. Our technology volunteers were still able to get up to speed very quickly. The cameras have also given our volunteers a morale boost, as they’re putting out a result that they can be proud of and that they feel is a great increase in quality. It makes them excited to come and be on the cameras every week.”
Lighthouse Church looks forward to growing its video operations even further, but is already more than satisfied with the Z-HD5500 cameras. “The Hitachi cameras have definitely met our expectations and exceeded them, and we know there’s plenty more that we can do with them,” Bailey added. “Our goal is to communicate fluidly and even beautifully. In 2021, video and other forms of technology are essentially the language that people speak. These cameras have allowed us to speak that language very well.”