A better camera for your video meetings

tl;dr using a DSLR as a webcam

Who doesn’t want to look better? Turns out that the front facing cameras on most devices… aren’t that great. Nicer webcams are backordered and/or jacked up in price.

Q uestion: Can you use your nice relatively newish digital camera?
Answer: Maybe.

I am super open if there’s better advice or I missed something obvious along the way. Comments are open.

Some Canon Cameras

If you have a Canon, see if their recent software release works with your camera:

This is the list of supported Canon cameras, which you can find at the link
This is the list of supported Canon cameras, which you can find at the link
My camera is too old. Sad!

Details are here: https://www.usa.canon.com/internet/portal/us/home/support/self-help-center/eos-webcam-utility/

Clean HDMI?

Does your camera do clean HDMI out? That is, HDMI output without the indicators for battery, memory, etc. all over the camera’s screen.

If it does (happy Googling to find the menu!), you have two options.

The Pay-for Option

Buy a device that connects your camera to your computer and makes the camera look like a webcam to FaceTime, Zoom, etc.

Amazon shows many options for an “HDMI Video Capture Device.” The cool kids seem to use https://www.elgato.com/en/gaming/cam-link-4k. Of course that’s backordered. The more expensive versions are available.

This path is by far the easier path. By buying something you are someone’s customer and they provide documentation, support, and care. (The easiest path is still just buying a nice webcam, or avoiding video meetings.)

The Let’s Download Some Stuff Option

This option is not for the masses.

Approach: using software, make a “virtual webcam” that FaceTime, Zoom etc. can use as a source. Set the feed to that virtual webcam to be the output of your camera.

What could go wrong? Here’s what we need to do:

  1. Use the camera maker’s software to get the camera video to your screen over USB, and then

For (1), go to your camera maker’s site. (Yes, there are some open source alternatives for some cameras; no, I don’t know if there’s any advantage to using one.) These programs typically enable a computer to control the camera remotely (well, over the USB cable), and as part of that, the program previews what is on the camera display to your computer screen.

For (2), most advice points to OBS Studio (https://obsproject.com). With OBS Studio, you can specify an area of a window as a video source. So, after you get the camera’s output to show up on your screen, you then point OBS to the part of the camera app’s window that is showing the feed from your camera. This solution does not seem elegant or robust to me.

What then? People who want to stream can set that up from within OBS. To make a webcam that FaceTime, Zoom, etc. can use, you have more work to do.

Windows

On Windows, there’s an OBS Studio plug-in that seems to do what’s desired: https://obsproject.com/forum/resources/obs-virtualcam.949/

If your camera is Canon/Nikon, and you’re on Windows, other advice points to SparkoCam (https://sparkosoft.com/sparkocam).

Mac

On the Mac, it’s… exciting. Suggestions include http://camtwiststudio.com and https://manycam.com, both of which, for me, crash on startup.

(Update: this option is under construction… it requires a lot of manual work each time you launch Zoom, and does not yet work with FaceTime. It is neat! https://github.com/johnboiles/obs-mac-virtualcam/releases)

(I’m running all of this in a Parallels VM because I want to avoid these downloaded programs infecting the computer I use and care about. I don’t know if these programs are fragile, or the issue is running them in a VM.)

Phone/Tablet

No, not really an option. I looked.

Additional Fun Issues to Anticipate!

Your DSLR probably has an automatic power down setting to conserve the battery. What you want is “unlimited runtime.” Depending on your camera,

  • it might just work

Not clear to me how much an improved camera will test your internet connection’s upload speed.

Oh, and a tripod. And you might as well make sure that the lighting and backdrop are awesome too.

Why Trust Me? Videos

I wrote this because I couldn’t a decent overview of my options. The videos below cover specific paths in much more detail. You might find them helpful. YouTube’s suggestions for related videos are actually somewhat helpful here — they were better than any search result.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCwRY06cAW4 — useful, and the guy is kinda mellow and soothing (Sony camera, and CamTwist)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTCHnbRt7YE — nice overview, just found it last :\ Win only, the OBS plug-in path.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3eak-DJh3k — another Win only, the OBS plug-in path.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXhYgybNz0I&t=185s — another Win only, the OBS plug-in path

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qA82AiRp8s — OBS to CamTwist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmUhyxEcnyY — how to for Mac folk. Who have a Canon and like downloading stuff from GitHub.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U870pZLHQzI — British guy. Mac and Elgato… talks about lights, mic, lots of settings, etc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RdOfjUqgb4 — Elgato (the HDMI capture device)

Again, I am super open if there’s better advice or I missed something obvious along the way.

/end

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Listening Learning & Writing at http://deanhach.com

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