I’ve tried lots of webcams. Many no-name ones are okay and work for a quick video chat with your family and friends, but they lack some features such as being able zoom in and out, auto-focus, or adjusting the lighting. Plus, they simply don’t look very vibrant, even though they are “Full 1080 HD.”
You can spend over $100 and get a decent name brand camera like a Logitech Brio, which is a good solid camera with some adjustable features (via software). These cameras are a full 4K and can even be tripod-mounted (when you remove the monitor clip).
But like a cell phone or a point and shoot digital camera, all webcams suffer from a relatively small, fixed lens. Sure, they might shoot in HD, but the lens doesn’t have the same light gathering capability of a professional DSLR or professional video camera. And they are all designed to sit on top of your monitor, limiting your options for audience engagement.
What if you could use a professional DSLR camera like a Canon or Nikon as a webcam? You could set it on a tripod and locate it for the best possible shot. This would also allow you to use interchangeable lenses with all sorts of lightning adjustments and effects such as a blurred background. You could zoom in to crop your shot just the way you wanted. Combined with a studio microphone, you could create professional level broadcasts. In fact, you can do exactly that and I’m going to show you how.
First, you need a camera with a a mini-B USB video output jack. In my case, I have a Canon 60D.
Then you need a mini-B to USB cable to plug your camera into your computer. The only other thing you need is the webcam utility software provided by the camera manufacturer (which is free!). Here are the links:
Hook up you camera and run the software, selecting the webcam utility as the input source. Note: be sure to plug the USB cable into a USB 3 slot, directly on your computer. I started out trying to go through a USB splitter box and it kept crashing Zoom. As soon as I plugged the camera directly into a USB 3 port on the computer, it worked flawlessly. The other thing you want to do is make sure the camera is in video mode, not picture mode.
Of course, you also need power to the camera – make sure your battery is charged up as your DSLR camera is not powered by the USB cable. Canon as well as a number of third party suppliers manufacture dummy batteries that use AC power so you can create extended video shoots. I am using this dummy battery pack and it works great so I never run out of power of have to remember to turn my camera back on after it has been sitting awhile.
You’ll need a separate microphone to conduct videoconferencing calls. The camera’s built-in microphone doesn’t function as an audio input for your computer, and neither will an external camera microphone like the RØDE VideoMic. I use this one from Maono, although many people prefer the Yeti Blue.
Now you can position your camera to where it makes the most sense for your purposes. Placing the camera directly in front of the monitor will allow you to look directly into the camera lens while still looking at others on the call, so you can maintain eye-contact. This also makes it possible to have a script behind the camera that you can scroll, much like a tele-prompter.
Notice that the camera’s LCD screen in pointing towards me – this is required. You can also see that I am using a green screen for my background. Depending upon where I place the camera, it always appears as if I am looking directly into the lens, even though I may be looking at the person I am talking to, or if I have a document up, I might be reading from a script, but still looking directly into the camera.
The cost to create this professional setup instead of using a cheap webcam? Zero! Well, okay, I already owned the $1000 DSLR camera, mini-B cord, large monitor, etc. But the incremental cost of using your professional camera as a webcam is simply a free download of the webcam utility software, and possibly a $5 cable.
The result is the same quality that you would expect from a professional news studio. You don’t have to buy a teleprompter or anything additional. Whether you are making videos for your business or participating in video conference calls, this setup will give you better results than any webcam.