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Using a "proper" camera as a webcam (tratt.net)
204 points by ltratt 3 hours ago | flag | hide | past | favorite | 203 comments

If you go this route, please make sure your system is robust and ready to go before meetings.

We had to ask one employee to go back to his reliable built-in webcam because every other meeting started with 2 minutes of him getting his camera turned on, messing with audio inputs, getting his microphone boom in place, and fighting other quirks. He also had a tendency to drop out of long meetings when his camera overheated, at which point it was another 1-2 minutes of messing around with the camera setup.

If you're going to do this, it must be reliable and ready to go before meetings. Don't be the person fighting with expensive equipment all the time just to get a marginally better image for your highly compressed Zoom video stream. This isn't a Twitch stream. We just want to talk and get down to business.

He was probably using software, like Canon's Webcam Utility, to stream his camera's HDMI OUT to his computer instead of using a capture card. He likely did this because of his camera not having "clean" HDMI output (i.e. you'd see icons if he were to capture what was on his camera's screen). Software like this is extremely unreliable by comparison and consumes CPU cycles like crazy, both on the camera and on your computer.

Additionally, for most cameras, the input feed used by the software goes through the camera's image processing stack as if they were using the real-time "Live View" feature (i.e. showing you the image you're going to take post-processing, i.e. real-time image processing). This often heats the camera up and causes it to shut down due to thermal overload. If you use a capture card, it captures whatever's on the screen without hitting the image processing stack, which is much less resource-intensive.

The first person I interviewed with this setup had the same problem. He looked great, but the software processing the input from his camera made him lag horribly.

I have a Canon M200 mirrorless SLR with an Elgato HDMI Capture card and have used it for all-day online meetings (even through OBS!) with no issues at all. Startup takes me, like, 30 seconds: turn key and fill lights on, turn camera on, press hotkey to start OBS, Krisp and Zoom, turn on video.

> Additionally, for most cameras, the input feed used by the software goes through the camera's image processing stack as if they were using the real-time "Live View" feature (i.e. showing you the image you're going to take post-processing, i.e. real-time image processing). This often heats the camera up and causes it to shut down due to thermal overload. If you use a capture card, it captures whatever's on the screen without hitting the image processing stack, which is much less resource-intensive.

These pathways are the same.

Agree 100% - This is why I eventually dropped it. I used to run a photography side gig, so I reused my full frame DSLR, nice portrait lens and lighting + cloth backdrop. But I had cables everywhere and multiple points of failure in the chain. Camera could overheat, software was wonky, something would get unplugged, and there was stress on the CPU at times too due to 3rd party apps required.

Overall it just wasn't worth the effort, especially once I realized nobody cared or even really noticed. Now, absolutely, many projects are worth doing for their own sake and for your own satisfaction :). But while accomplishing it brought that satisfaction, continued use on daily bases just wasn't worth it.

So I looked for a nice webcam with narrowest possible FOV (which is the opposite from what manufacturers are going for, unfortunately), put it on a tripod with ring light, and I get results that are externally undistinguishable (if not better), but FAR superior reliability.


Note also that photographer in me wanted to do a Portrait shot with zoom in my face. Interestingly, overwhelming feedback once I actually asked real people, is that they PREFERRED a wide shot with my office visible. Made it more human and less stark/intimidating, apparently. So as ever, don't make assumptions of your user base! :)

What camera did you end up with that had a narrow FOV?

I can recommend a full-frame Canon RP ($999) with RF 35mm f1.8 lens ($449) as a relatively inexpensive narrow FOV setup.

I've got a very nice mirrorless camera and glass and eventually came to the same conclusion: It's just not worth the hassle even for the improvement in image quality.

However, I have found that it's absolutely worth it to upgrade to a better microphone. Just about anything is better than the mic built into most computers and better voice quality will give you more presence and make it significantly more enjoyable for others to listen to you. Wearing headphones also helps so that the computer isn't forced to do echo cancelation on the signal.

I 100% agree. I have a decent video and lighting setup and never get comments on it, but I always get comments on my audio.

It's fairly easy to get an audio interface and a xlr microphone. I always appreciate when other people have clean audio.

That sounds unfortunate. After a few kinks at the beginning, I've moved to using my nikon z6 as webcam. The first kink was power delivery, I found a plug that goes into the battery slot.

After that everything works flawlessly.

This advice goes for... life. Don't switch over from something reliable to a newer/flashier solution until the reliability of a new system gets close-enough that you won't break critical functionality.

Source: Recently swapped over to a better camera, after testing it out in informal meetings and verifying reliable function...

Agree! It took time to learn how to do this effectively while remaining mobile/nomadic, and it forced me to decide what meetings are worth it which ones aren’t. For all of the gear I have (as a filmmaker…) I fall back to using an iPad quite a bit on the road.

… I mean, that's Bose QC headset's & macOS's relationship with Bluetooth, in a nutshell.

Heck, I've had to fight to just get the onboard to function, particularly so in MS Teams.

Honestly the video adds pretty much nothing to a Zoom meeting. You're better off without it. Maybe it's different for managers/executives but for engineers it's more of a distraction.

People built Linux over email. Having audio meetings is more than enough.

Protip: if your goal is to use your smartphone as a webcam, check out this: https://vdo.ninja

Written by some guy named Steve, it’s an incredible piece of web software that uses WebRTC to stream phone audio and video as an OBS input. OBS then features a virtual webcam capability to take that stream and make it a webcam. I can then also use OBS to do whatever processing I want, e.g. making my webcam also contain a screen share or whatever else.

It’s trivial to then load up multiple instances for multi-angle scenes in OBS, then cut between the two. For example, you could have one ‘face’ camera and one ‘page’ camera showing paper on your desk and make a 2nd scene with the ‘page’ camera as the primary and a small PIP view of your face.

It goes much farther than just being an input for OBS, though. For example, it can create video chatrooms of multiple participants with URL parameter configuration and without touching OBS (indeed that’s now one of its primary use cases).

I use it to stream applications/webpages with my partner when we’re apart so we can watch a movie together by creating a high res vid/stereo audio input with no noise cancelling as the movie, then have her and I connect as lower quality, mono+noise cancelling participants. Each of us receives the video and audio of the movie, but only the audio of each other.

There’s heaps of parameters to control video and audio quality, buffering, etc. - just about anything you need.

I stumbled across it when I was trying to get my iPhone to be a webcam early on in the pandemic. There’s multiple apps for that purpose - many paid - but this was so easy and worked so well that it blew them out of the water from a capability perspective.

I know I sound like a shill but honestly I’m just a huge fanboy. It’s one of those web apps that does a job really bloody well, with heaps of flexibility and extensibility. I’m genuinely impressed with it and all the hard work Steve’s clearly put in.

The docs explain a lot of its capability: https://docs.vdo.ninja/

Flick through the how it works and use cases pages, they’ll explain it far better than me.

Guides that show sown of the advanced capability: https://docs.vdo.ninja/guides

This was the best tip of the day - this is why I read HN - to find such gems. Work smart - not hard, thank you for the tip NamTaf!!!

I have an alternative approach that I discovered recently while building a microscope with a webcam driven by linux.

Nearly all modern cheap webcams are UVC-compatible and they work with linux. Different models expose different functionalities, but I ended up with this: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07R489K8L

It does 1600x1200 25FPS YUYV (as well as a wide range of other resolutions and FPS) uses the C/CS-mount lens standard (easy to buy a wide range of high quality lenses). It doesn't have a microphone but you should be using an independent mike anyway. Has software control of exposure color temp, and gain, which is great for various lighting conditions.

You read the data through USB, not HDMI. The one thing I haven't managed to do is autofocus, but imho, for webcams you want to set a fixed focus around your head anyway.

Works with all video conference programs, and OBS studio (I actually import the video in OBS and then create a virtual camera).

> I have an alternative approach that I discovered recently while building a microscope with a webcam driven by linux.

Do you have a web page somewhere describing your linux webcam microscope?

Not really. It's unclear if the time invested in documenting the design is worth it yet. I haven't decided if it would be useful. For now, I recommend looking at OpenFlexure or Flexiscope (there's one other one that's good but I forget the name).

The idea is fairly simple. It's a basic construction kit for simple microscopes (just LED, lens, objective, tube, and camera, all mounted to an aluminum extrusion post using 3D printed parts). Then some inexpensive XYZ stages to move the sample holder holder around for large FOV and focus stacking.

Everything else is just cobbled-together from python, but see MicroManager for a tool that can drive an open source microscope.

This looks like it should compare favorably to the "real" camera + HDMI capture card solution. The lens is always the most important part of any camera setup, so if you get the right lens, you're probably gold.

In my case, the "lens" is a microscope objective and a long tube, but I've also tested it as a webcam.

Arducam has a bunch of C-mount lenses, https://www.amazon.com/stores/page/35052708-55DC-4832-A0B6-A... as well as nice USB webcams that let you choose from several sensors. https://www.arducam.com/sony/imx477/

Ehh. After a certain point that's true, but a lens doesn't help much with a garbage sensor, particularly one that has to be compensated for with huge exposure changes. (This is the core of why webcams are disappointing, not the lens.)

I use a GH4 or G9 with a USB3HDCAP at my desk because I already have them and the glass, personally, and I know the sensor is not going to be a trailing problem behind the (cheap!) glass that I use.

Keep in mind that if you're going to be using a fast lens as the author suggests the focus depth will be paper-thin at large apertures. So you're probably not going to get that creamy bokeh in your standup unless you stand perfectly still and move only your mouth muscles.

You can really see this effect when the early mirrorless DSLRs took to market and every youtuber was using one with a fast wide open normal lens. Everything was zoomed in and out of focus resulting in queasy viewers. It took a couple of years for them to get the hang of it though.

Not sure about the autofocus advice; I'm pretty happy with manual focus. It requires static camera placement, and fixed distance to the person, but isn't this happening anyways? Are people really walking around the room or moving camera between calls?

Manual means there are less failure modes - slow autofocus, autofocus trying to refocus, focusing on a wrong thing, etc.

It also means the hardware can be cheaper - camera doesn't need to have good autofocus (some old DSLR is fine), you can also use manual lenses.

One thing that I’ve been trying to educate my colleagues about (including the A/V folks!) is that one can bypass the need to fiddle with drivers by using a generic hardware HDMI -> USB video conversion stick utilizing the mirrorless/DSLR’s HDMI output. It’ll mount as a generic video input that Zoom/Teams/OBS can use. You can find these for $40-$100 and it allows one to switch out hardware brands at will without installing drivers. And don’t forget that it opens up a world of filmmaking mics to complete the package, and sends it all on one cable!

I’ve used Fujifilm, Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and I think even a gopro once successfully using this method.

Edit - added mic suggestion

Also: this works for me on Win/Mac, but I’ve not tried Linux yet.

I just failed at this recently. Apparently the camera needs to support "clean HDMI out," which many don't. Mine (for example) has HDMI out, but it's for like a "preview" screen for a photographer--it doesn't just output a clean, high-res HDMI stream.

There's a web page on Canon's site here:


You'll see one list of cameras on there, but at the bottom, you can expand "Clean HDMI", and then you'll see a different list of cameras.

Now I'm debating whether or not I want to spend hundreds of dollars for a DIFFERENT photography camera that support clean HDMI.

Yes, that is a gotcha, as some of the cheaper or older camera models have no HDMI out or the require proprietary conversion with a vendor driver. I haven’t run into this often myself yet since most people I know have been buying newer and more video focused cameras over the past couple years.

EDIT - For your case perhaps using camera settings to minimize the data (ISO/aperture/shutter etc) being shown on on the screen works well enough to use what you have?

> EDIT - For your case perhaps using camera settings to minimize the data (ISO/aperture/shutter etc) being shown on on the screen works well enough to use what you have?

I saw a few threads with that suggestion, but I wasn't able to minimize the data being shown, or confirmation that anyone with a Rebel T7 was able to do it.

I was able to do this on my Rebel T7i by switching to manual focus, and then selecting the "info" button a couple of times to remove the overlay. There might have been some other changes I made, like turning off the grid overlay, but I think just the first two changes were enough though.

This is the gap I hit, after trying to set up an old Canon G11 (released 2009) as an alternative to a webcam for my partner's Twitch streaming. It has a micro-HDMI port on the side of it, but only for reviewing photos— it doesn't pass through the live viewfinder image, and it appears there may be hardware limitations which prevent that from ever being possible, even with the various hacked up firmware options like CHDK/Magic Lantern [1].

[1]: https://chdk.fandom.com/wiki/G11

Custom software, such as Magic Lantern[1] for Canon cameras, can offer clean HDMI out for certain models, among other features.

[1] https://magiclantern.fm/

It can, though it doesn't seem to support my Rebel T7 either.

For a T7, one can simply use Canon's webcam software.

Kind of, yeah [1].

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31413073

EDIT: I mean it'd probably be OK if I were just shooting a video--I can fumble through it connecting unreliably, or just do another take if it unexpectedly disconnects. But I'm doing multiple video calls a day, and the webcam built-in to my monitor "just works" every time. It's tough to justify the additional complexity for something that isn't working reliably.

That's why I started leaning toward "Clean HDMI". With that method, as long as the HDMI capture device works, everything should "just work" on the Mac side, and as long as the camera can output clean HDMI, it should also "just work." I'm not dealing with a poorly-supported software webcam utility, special USB signaling, or annoying inactivity timeouts.

But it looks like I'll need a different camera, and it won't be cheap, but at least it's an option.

It's not ideal but I've circumvented this by disabling automatic focus and other things that add visible elements to the preview, and the just using the preview's 720p output. It's a hassle and you'll have to manually adjust the focus so that everything's not blurry, but the end result quality is quite good.

Are you doing it on a Rebel T7 or a different camera? I tried doing this on mine but it didn't seem possible.

This is the method I use, in conjunction with the Sony ZV-1 which gets a mention in the article. It also bypasses the problem mentioned in the article about turning up as a mass storage device.

What I've found is that by USB charging and using HDMI out, it's good for ~2.5 hours of streaming, which I've only ever hit once as a limit.

there's a newer Sony in the same line (the ZV-E10) but it moved the ports to the other side of the camera, so if you flick the LCD round so you can see it, the cables are in the way...

With my a6300 I actually managed to get a week (!) of constant streaming and USB charging out of it. I use a USB data blocker to enforce USB charging only, it works incredibly well.

Ditto. I'm currently using an old Nikon D5100 with a generic HMDI->USB input stick ($15), a generic USB-->battery adaptor ($35) and a custom firmware (to remove borders and menus) from https://nikonhacker.com/

The body is old enough to not car about voiding warranties by using a generic battery adaptor and custom firmware.

> You can find these for $40-$100 and it allows one to switch out hardware brands at will without installing drivers.

The cheap ones (as little as eight bucks) all use the same all-in-one HDMI-receiver-MJPEG-encoding-USB-device chip; it's not perfect, but they do actually support 1080p at 30 fps.

is the quality at least comparable to what i can get from a mid-range webcam? because that is what this is competing with for someone like me who already has the necessary camera, but also needs a webcam occasionally.

i found this article https://havecamerawilltravel.com/nikon-d3400-webcam-live-str... that suggests the budget device is workable but obviously doesn't deliver the quality that the camera can provide. but how does it compare to a regular webcam?

Isn’t the video interface over USB standard? You don’t need drivers do you? Just plug and play.

At least my Fuji X-T4 insists on its own driver that makes use of live view video the camera sends via some proprietary protocol and exposes that as a virtual webcam. It doesn't do USB webcam sadly.

Yes, using this with my XT2. Works perfectly.

I even got one for 8$ on AliExpress, it's still working fine two years on :)

It's a bit limited in that it only does 1080p30 and it's not the best quality either.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned using a teleprompter yet. You can pick one up for around $100 and when combined with a little 7" monitor (another $100) attached to your computer, creates a nice setup for zoom calls where you can look directly at your partner. Also doubles as a great talking head setup for video production.

I second this! I’ve been using one of these as well, and I’ve noticed the positive impact looking directly at the camera can have on my conversations.

Do either of you have a shot of what this looks like in practice? Google Images isn't giving me much. Specifically what the Zoom or Meet looks like from your perspective.

Sure, this is what I see [1] and you can see how it looks on the other side from my Twitch streams [2]

[1] https://i.imgur.com/4JPIHx1.jpg [2] https://www.twitch.tv/mrdonbrown

Do you have a good telepromper recommendation? I have found it hard to search/find good ones at a good price.

I use the Caddie Buddy one [1], which is a bit more robust for bigger cameras. There are other options where you can use your phone or something, but I prefer using a mirrorless and a good sized monitor.

[1] https://caddiebuddy.com/teleprompter-for-ipads-androids-and-...

Oh my! A teleprompter for less than $200! I haven't kept up with this market, but that's so amazingly affordable. I've long switched to tablet for the text, but this is easily 5x cheaper than what I still use from a purchase back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I'm guessing that mine is 5x heavier too. However, it is one of those things that once you have it, you don't need a new one so I've just never looked to see what is cheaper today

Only tangentially related but if you already have a popular Logitech webcam (like the C920) chances are you can find a kit to mount C/CS/D-mount lenses on it, like with this one: https://www.kurokesu.com/shop/C920_REWORK_KIT2

C/CS/D mounts are for CCTV camera so you can find new and used lens for cheap. They will not fix a cheap/bad sensor, but they will definitely get you extra flexibility in what kind of framing/shot you can do.

Do you know of sites with examples of the results?

This right here is the best solution I've found. I have their Brio kit w/2.8-12mm CS lens and it's excellent in a small package. Low light conditions are still a challenge due to the tiny sensor.

As a bonus, you can disconnect the built in mics and opt for a nice boom mic with a hardware cut off switch.

I got a Mokose UC70 USB C mount camera on Amazon. It's just a plug and play webcam but I mounted a Ricoh f/1.4 lens on it and it's fantastic. Much cheaper than getting a real mirrorless camera too.

Latency and audio quality are wayyy more important than video quality.

Optimizing for that would have me downgrade the video resolution being received by the 8-10 people on my calls.

Also what are the folks on the receiving end actually seeing? Certainly not the image he posted.

We had a surprising result using a "proper" camera instead of a webcam for a task.

We needed to take a picture of a particular thing every 15 seconds over a weekend. Our first though was to get a cheap webcam that has some reasonable interface to retrieve static images.

Then someone remembered that the owner of the company was doing some personal projects that involved photography and he had a bunch of cameras in his office. One of them was a Canon Digital Rebel. That could be controlled by a computer.

The owner always liked to save money, so agreed to let us use the Canon for the weekend. I wrote a script to trigger it every 15 seconds, set it running Friday before I left, and came back Monday to see how it went.

What I found was a dead camera. The electronics seemed fine, but something mechanical was broken. A bit of poking around on camera forums turned up that something in the mechanics of the Digital Rebel didn't like extended rapid picture taking, and apparently every 15 seconds counted as rapid if you were doing it for more than a few hours.

We then bought an under $100 Logitech webcam that ran a web server on its ethernet interface that made available a URL that when fetched gave you a static image of whatever the camera was currently looking at. It was simple to write a script to hit that URL every 15 seconds and save the result in a file named with the current timestamp. That ran flawlessly over the weekend capturing all the images we needed.

The quality aspect is obviously important but I'd suggest that the location of the lens is also vital if you don't want to have meetings where everyone seems to be not looking at you.

I cannot wait until cameras work behind the screen and can be positioned right in the center but for now, the only option I found was something called Center Cam that mounts a small lense on a skinny support that can be positioned over the screen, somewhat unobtrusively.

I am a Camo user too and it's incredible but having the phone off to one side in a tripod or mount exacerbates the "here's (not) looking at you" issue.

I started a project that uses Camo and suspends the phone upside down from the top of the screen via a 3D printed mount. Then, an app on the phone, mirrors the portion of the screen that is covered by the phone. Not perfect (or even close) and it means you need to use the lower quality front facing camera but it fun to dabble.

As someone that puts a cover on their camera since I am in various states of compromise in front of it I'm not looking forward to a camera I can not cover.

Oh good point - I hadn't thought about that and of course, no one will trust it's off via software. I should imagine that's a blocker for many people.

That’s a super neat idea! I have a feeling the inevitable solution to this need will be a combo of a tech like Apple’s Center Stage and some sort of eye-focusing alteration to the image, like a live deep fake of yourself (just the eyes). Software-only means widespread adoption.

FaceTime actually did the eye adjustment thing for a bit, but they disabled it. Not sure why, it seemed to work okay. Maybe it freaked people out though.

Yeah, agreed - I had wondered if 4 lenses at the screen corners (maybe) plus some clever software could maybe do the trick too.

I appreciate the cleverness of your approach. But is it possible to take a C290-ish webcam, chop off the left and right, and maybe the top and bottom, until it is the width of a dime, so I can suspend it in the middle of my screen? Unlike the thread's original post, I am not overly concerned with image quality, but the "not looking" effect that you mention is an issue for me.

Yeah - that's what Center Cam does I think. You might be able to make both the lens and the support really small and/or transparent these days too.

Cool. Thanks, somehow I didn't understand that it is a product instead of an idea. (I have a microphone and can put it off camera. The quality of the picture is not critical for my application, and my personal eye does not find it a bother. I just want to look at the screen.)

Why don't you just use a teleprompter setup? That's so much simpler

I wasn't aware of such a thing until I came across the parent thread - something to look into for sure

It's really just a piece of glass and some black fabric to keep the light out, very inexpensive and super useful compared to all the engineering solutions suggested here^^

I'll put Reincubate Camo here as an option too - turns your iPhone in to a webcam.

I was so impressed I bought a used iPhone to use solely as a webcam; the whole setup was cheaper than the Logitech C920 he mentions.

The picture quality is great.

Shameless plug here, but I want to mention the free alternative https://webcamplus.app for Mac/iOS. (It is a personal project of mine).

This looks neat. It seems like it requires you to install software on the system, which is often (usually?) not an option.

Is there anything like this that shows up as a webcam without additional software that doesn't come with the OS (i.e., uses a driver already available on Windows, Linux, ChromeOS like most webcams such as the Logitech C920 do) ?

camo is great. I was doing what the OP outlines at the beginning of the pandemic with an a6000 and a $10 ebay hdmi capture card. It looked 10% better than camo for 100% more effort.

Don't iPhones do that annoying thing where it shows your image flipped the wrong way when you use the selfie camera? Selfie cameras should always behave like a mirror, in my opinion. It's how humans are used to seeing themselves.

I forget if that's the default or not, but if it is you can disable it. You ideally wouldn't use the selfie camera, though; the rear camera has a bigger sensor and a better lens.

Zoom and I think Teams and OBS have a setting to flip the video input.

There's an option to flip the image, you can have it either way.

I repurposed my old 6s and I gotta say the quality is excellent. And the free version of the software has more than enough for most people, so this could very well be a completely free upgrade for someone.

I do have a lifetime license, and have tested it with my 12 pro and while it obviously looks better, most of the time I stay with the 6s and default settings since I can just leave it mounted on top of my monitor.

Seconding Camo. It's not as cheap as the Elgato offering but I found the quality and options to be superior.

what stand/mount do you use and where is it on your setup? (right now I have crappy logitech hanging on to top of monitor)

These $10 selfie sticks with handles that open into a stand are actually great and much more compact and portable when closed than even a small tripod https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09B6QHZK5

I use a flat piece of cardboard, folded with slots cut for the phone on top, and the monitor on bottom.


I just switched from an old apple cinema display to a modern monitor with small bezels, so I need to cut a new one to stop it from blocking the top of my screen.

I've got a lego stand built from a few bricks holding an iPhone 7 in landscape above my screen. The lens is maybe 18mm above the top of the display pixels.

Does this work with the Teams client on MacOS without having to disable code signing?

Can you use portrait mode?

Camo does support portrait mode, but I think it’s a paid feature included with the “Pro” version on iOS.

I'd love to see stats on how many people actually still use webcams for online meetings. I rarely do, and I don't care if anyone else turns theirs on. Watching someone act like they aren't hyper-aware of what they look like on camera adds very little value to the conversation. Unless you're in sales, trying to make a good impression, or some kind of introductory meeting, who cares?

It's nice to see your colleagues and it adds an extra dimension to meetings.

True. But I think one can avoid the credibility damage presenting or appearing poorly over time can cause with just a little thought about audio and lighting etc. There are gains to be had simply by being seen and heard better even if there is low ‘diminishing returns’ point.

For me, I look for the opposite solution. What is the poorest quality camera my colleagues in meetings will passably accept? I want as few pixels of my sleepy head in morning meetings being beamed to my colleagues as I can get away with, which for now the crappy MacBook integrated webcam does a reasonable job for.

I second others here in that having a good quality mic is generally far more important. High quality doesn't mean spendy either - the location of the mic is just as critical as the mic you choose, many cheap headset mics sound pretty good because they get to place the mic directly in front of your mouth, not because they are especially great mics.

I fully appreciate my opinion might be different if I worked in a field where being seen clearly mattered, such as guitar teacher in online lessons etc, but I imagine for most of us here this isn't the case.

A cheapish alternative is to use https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ndi-hx-camera/id1477266080 or https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.newtek.ndi... and OBS as a webcam. The back camera on most phones is quite a bit better than any webcam.

Yes the app is $20 but for me it was worth it.

You can also use https://vdo.ninja/ for free to stream the phone camera to OBS.

If you're willing to throw $1000 at a "proper camera" of the sort the author recommends, then sure, it would be very disappointing if it didn't outperform the webcam built in to most laptops or phones.

But is there a "proper camera" for under $100 that can also offer an improvement over a webcam?

$100 can get you an excellent microphone with a boom arm and that will be appreciated by your colleagues much more than being able to count your stubble in 4K 60 fps.

I actually don't want colleagues to be able to inspect my face in immaculate detail, and the amount of ceremony and awkward stands begind the monitor, etc. do not make sence to me. The more expensive webcams do a decent enough job.

I agree. And you don't even need to spend much - I picked up a Fifine K669B usb mic for $25, and the thing records absolutely fine.

No boom needed for a big improvement -- the Blue Yeti Nano sits nicely on my desk, gets the job done.

I think its nice, I find a big mic on the desk gets in the way

The key to the better quality is not camera, it's light.

A dedicated camera with a fast lens has three key improvements over a typical webcam:

- bokeh

- less noise in the dark, better dynamic range (almost irrelevant for a webcam)

- less compressed video (potentially), which is critical for chroma keying; certain USB3 webcams can deliver a much less compressed stream as well.

If you're willing to sacrifice bokeh and don't need chroma keying, $100 or slightly more can buy you light sources to make you look substantially better on your under $100 webcam. And without proper lighting, the proper camera is useless as well.

Some other steps to look good on a webcam: choose a good lighting scheme, use proper camera settings, do some color correction; a color calibration card helps with this immensely, even a cheap one. Use the virtual webcam in OBS with a LUT generated from your card, control your scene with a vectorscope plugin. Voila, you just upgraded your look to a 100x more professional one, using just a simple webcam.

Keep in mind that you need much (and by this I mean MUCH) more lighting than you probably think you do. And possibly blackout shutters or curtains to completely block the outside light, making your lighting controlled.

I'll second this. My recommended order is:

1 - Lighting

2 - Microphone

3 - Camera

Even when you see people on the news through webcams, their pictures and audio often are not well lit or mic'd.

> But is there a "proper camera" for under $100 that can also offer an improvement over a webcam?

no just buy an off the shelf web camera if that's all you're willing to budget.

but for those of us with these cameras already becuase we enjoy photography, this dual use is quite nice!

Not for $100, but a Sony A5100 with 16-50 lens can be bought for $400 over here, and will produce a great image. It is very similar to the A6000 but it a bit more compact, less features and a cheaper build.

Canon's EOS Webcam Utility supports cameras down to the EOS 1100D, which, depending on your level of luck, you can find used under $100. Then all you need is a kit lens which can be found for very very cheap nowadays. Or, if you really think you won't be moving much, just get a super cheap vintage one.

It's under 10fps for most of the cheap models. And unless you don't move at all the focal point of the kit lens is going to make the video almost useless. Autofocus on these cameras can't follow as fast as necessary for live video.

I have played with EOS webcam utility in the past and if you are not ready to spend big, DSLR is not the way to go.

Eh, I've had mixed results with Canon's EOS Webcam Utility and my Rebel T7.

I didn't see this documented anywhere, but apparently it's built only for Intel-based Macs. It'll still work on Apple Silicon, but only if the application using it is also built for Intel-based Macs. So you'd want to ensure you install the Intel-based version of Zoom, and then be careful to avoid it auto-updating to the version for Apple Silicon.

I bought a license for Cascable's Pro Webcam, and it mostly worked, but I'd often have issues getting it to initially connect to the camera and it'd sometimes cut out unexpectedly.

Not quite $100 but I see the aging yet highly-regarded, video-centric Panasonic GH4 sold used for as little as $200 without a lens. This is the camera many small-midsize video production outfits have stuck to for a >decade. There are many (often fairly good) generic lenses for the 4/3” sensor mount it uses, and the camera is known for having a clean Full HD HDMI out. I can see building a setup like this for as little as $300-400. Add a $40-$100 LED light mounted on the camera and you’ve improved your video presence by 10x for less than $500.

*Edited for grammar.

At that budget you’d be better served getting a cheap lighting kit and a small to help push your webcam to its limits. Mount the webcam at eye level, pick a classic portrait lighting setup, and make every pixel work for you.


No. It comes down to sensor size and that doesn't come cheap

A compromise for when you want a high quality webcam without spending money or dealing with the downsides of using an "real" camera is to use your phone. A 3 year old iphone/samsung will have a built in camera that is better than any webcam you could find under 150$. When you are pairing it with a PC, you can use the back camera instead of the front facing one.

They either work through OBS or a dedicated app that you have to start on your pc. I paid for an app (droidcam, 15$ for the "premium" HD version and free for SD+watermark irrc) because I was in a hurry but I know there are good free alternative if you have some time to spend trying them.

What I am surprised about is that nobody has made a high quality UVC camera with a large sensor and great lens, specifically for videoconferencing.

Even the "good" webcams (like the Elgato FaceCam and Logi Brio) have tiny sensors with small lenses. And iPhones (with Reincubate Camo) have bigger but still relatively tiny sensors.

Pair an APS-C sensor with a ~24mm f/2 lens, with no controls; just a USB connection. This would barely be bigger than the lens itself (think double the size of Apple's old iSight).

I'd easily pay $400 or more for this just to avoid messing around with mirrorless cameras and trying to mount them and use their drivers or HDMI capture USB interfaces.

Yep -- I'm real surprised Logitech hasn't shipped such a thing. $2-400 is the sweet spot. At ~$600, one starts being able to use a Canon M50 and a 22mm f/2 for plug-and-play high-end webcam usage.

There's a huge market there that doesn't know it wants one yet, but it will once it becomes available.

A decent webcam with good off-camera lighting yields most of the benefits and none of the hassle of using complicated camera equipment.

I turn on the lights before teleconferences and turn them off afterwards, everything else is plug and play.

Another reason to not use a DSLR is that many (all?) have timeouts (<30min) in their video mode due to some import tax reason, even when hooked up to a computer. Atleast this is what I found when I tried a canon DSLR with canons webcam software.

That's only if you actually hit the record button and are actively recording to the memory card, but if you're using the DSLR as a passthrough, it works all day. I have done it w/ my Sony a6500 and it works really well.

I think Sonys tend to be recommended as working well as webcams, partly for this reason, not all do.

I've read some cameras still have a timeout when not recording, e.g note on Canon EOS 6D here: https://www.elgato.com/en/cam-link/camera-check

Can you run autofocus continuously when you're not actively recording?

Sony cameras work (as mentioned below) but nearly every mirrorless or dslr I’ve used does this by default or can be set up to by switching to continuous AF modes. This is best done while connected to a power source, as the motors drain battery faster.

The Sony a series can, no idea about others.

This changed in 2019 IIRC. The EU changed its regulation and the 30 minute record limit no longer applies. Furthermore, it was always possible to install custom firmware on many cameras that bypassed this limit. Record limits due to temperature and overheating, though, is a different story.

Is it such a big issue? My Canon DSLR turns off every 30min, but that's only for a couple of seconds, it then turns back on. On a positive side, it's now easy to notice when 30min or 1hr meeting is running over, it's a nice reminder :)

> have timeouts (<30min) in their video mode due to some import tax reason

People are often misinformed about EU laws, but on the other hand the EU has no shortage of ridiculous laws that give fodder to the euroskeptics.

In this case, it DOES look like the 30 minute limit is the EU's fault[1]. Thankfully it ended in 2019.

[1]: https://www.fujirumors.com/yes-eu-import-duty-reason-fujifil...

For those of us with less than perfect skin, using a webcam can be a feature.

Also I found out that the difference in image quality between a good webcam and a semi-professional camera is not that big after video compression.

One big advantage of a dedicated camera over a webcam is that you can get a focal length that actually makes sense, instead of an ultra-wide angle.

Apart from that it's pearls before swine - any mm² of sensor area above 1/4" OF doesn't matter for MS Teams video crushing.

Agreed. Using an SLR with a capture card and proper three-point lighting makes you look amazing in online meetings. Very easy to set up as well. Will cost about $700 to get going with, but it's a one-time cost that will work on any computer for a long time.

Not every camera has clean HDMI output, though. It's hard to find a single list of cameras that have this feature, so you have to Google around. Cameras without clean HDMI out will show icons and focus windows when you stream from them.

Some camera manufacturers offer software that uses your mirrorless camera to emulate a webcam without requiring a capture card.

For example, Fujifilm's X Webcam software[1] would allow the author to connect his X-S10 to his PC using a USB-C cable, and use it as a webcam. The downside is X Webcam lacks support for Linux.

[1] https://fujifilm-x.com/global/products/software/x-webcam/

And my X-E3 is not supported, but the practically identical X-T2 is!

Early into the pandemic, I was experimenting with an Elgato Cam Link as an alternative to a webcam. However, I never got the setup to work reliably with MacOS and MS Teams (e.g., random disconnects). Has this changed over the years and become a good solution suitable for daily usage? Currently, I'm using a Logitech Brio with two video lights; the quality isn't amazing but at least everything works out of the box.

I have the Elgato FaceCam and it's absolutely fantastic on the Mac. Zero issues, great adjustability, good quality (much better than a laptop webcam, not quite as good as an iPhone/"real" camera.

+1 I wish I could make the Elgato Cam Link 4k more reliable. Some days it is flawless and then other days during an important meeting, I have to keep resetting the USB dongle.

I have a setup much like the article, Sony A5100.

I've been using an A6300 with a Sigma 16mm f1.4 lens (both of which I already had), mounted to the monitors stand using a basic clamp. It works great, looks fantastic [3] and I still get a lot of compliments for how good my video quality is.

One issue I did run into was getting a decent HDMI -> USB capture device that works with Linux. My first choice was a high end (~£200) ClonerAlliance Flint 4KP [1] which worked fine for Hangouts, but had issues with Zoom and actually seemed to get worse as time went on and it eventually became a bit of a joke as I tried to join calls and had to restart my camera, unplug cables, etc. just to get video. Eventually, I swapped it out for a cheap £15 no-name brand from Amazon and have had literally 0 issues since [2].

The biggest drawback to this sort of setup is that if you're using a camera you already own, it can be a pain to switch between using it as a camera and using it as a web cam, so I've essentially got an expensive camera that I don't get to use as a camera very often. The advantage of course is that even on a dark, rainy evening with nothing more than a small lamp hidden behind my monitor, the image still comes out looking great [3].

[1] https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07YY52YP6/

[2] https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B09955PYSH/

[3] https://i.imgur.com/ReHStnV.png

Very similar setup here: Sony a5100 + Samyang 30 + Elgato Cam Link 4k and a usb-powered dummy battery. This setup has been rock-solid for over a year now, and I run it all day, every day.

Also useful is Sony's remote control, for engaging/disengaging autofocus without reaching for the camera. The a5100 has a useful flip-up screen, where I can see myself.

Before that, I was running a RasPi Zero with a HQ camera module and a C-mount lens as a webcam. That worked well, too. Better image quality than any of my colleagues, but a long shot from the Sony, obviously.

My only suggestion was going to be "get the cheapest HDMI->USB you can find", but I see you also discovered that trick :)

I found my phone's camera together with DroidCam[0] to be good enough for my conferencing needs.


Only thing I find annoying about Droidcam is that I end up having to reinstall the audio and video drivers on Linux every week or so, either due to updates, restarts, or PulseAudio breaking.

Could somebody do an ELI5 on why some phones have very good cameras but for some reason there's no standalone USB version of them?

Phones have just an image sensor with a direct interface to the CPU, with a driver plus a ton of software running on the CPU to enhance quality. You can get good cameras with modern image sensors with usb interface. Note that they need a local controller to well, control them and provide a usb interface, and need firmware for the local controller and need to provide a driver or support for a standard API at the USB end. The market is tiny compared to phones, so for those reasons you can't buy a usb camera with the same low cost and high performance as what is in your smartphone.

That being said, you can buy good usb cameras based on many modern image sensors from a company like e-con[1], but you have to do research about what features are enabled by the driver.

I'm not sure why actual webcams including a way to mount on your monitor are so far behind and expensive. Logitech C920 is still a common recommendation, and it's now 10 years old!


That appears to be what the Opal C1 is doing.


That looks great, except for being mac-only.

Have they given any indication about whether it'll be a standard UVC camera and Just Work on all platforms?

Phone cameras are very good but owing much of it to the DSP and software. An iPhone camera will not produce iPhone quality photos without the chipset and OS.

That still leaves the original question of why dedicated cameras aren’t doing this.

The question of GP wasn't that, but why you can't buy "iPhone image processing pipeline to UVC/USB".

I think we agree but you don’t understand me.

I can't justify the kind of prices being discussed here because the only use I have for a camera setup like this is Family Zoom meetings. I went looking on Amazon and I stumbled on "Vlogging Cameras". There seem to be quite a few of them available for less than $200, with 4K sensors, and either attached microphones, or an input for an external microphone. I have no idea of the quality of the image being produced by these cameras, but they seem like they could be a low cost option, and better than the typical webcams available.

The more appealing approach is to use a camera you already own rather than a C920 -- anything made within the last decade or so will probably work better, given the C920's awful white balance and autofocus.

I use a Sony A6000 with an Elgato CamLink 4K USB adapter. Works great in Windows and Pop_OS 22.04. Slack, Discord, etc all work and I didn't have to fiddle with any configuration since the CamLink shows up as a generic webcam.

I set up howdy (facial recognition login) in Pop_OS and was pleasantly surprised at how relatively simple it was to get working.

> Most kit lenses are pretty bad

errrr... no they aren't. The 24-85 I have on my Nikon D600 is extremely sharp. The 18-55 on most DX Nikons is also pin sharp. For a webcam it surely doesn't even matter?

I agree with you. For use as a webcam, however, the author is probably after a much shallower depth of field than kit lenses generally provide, so opts for a fast prime lens.

Having done exactly this, my main annoyance is that you have to manually power on and off the camera, which means losing whatever zoom and settings you had configured.

There are proper cameras which don't remember settings across power cycles and battery swaps? Curious. Never heard of that before, that's a complete deal-breaker for actually, y'know', using a camera to me. Perhaps the SRAM battery/capacitor in yours is just dead? (Then again, not exactly sure how that happens, I've used 15+ year old Nikon DSLRs and they had no trouble with Alzheimers)

This is actually an issue I've got with the a6300 and the Sony 18-105mm f/4.0 G lens, because it's a zoom-by-wire lens and forgets the zoom setting after every restart.

Some newer compact zooms aren't manual, but zoom by wire. They usually retract when the camera is turned off. This is also the case for most compact cameras, which maybe the GP is talking about, because technically they're also "proper" cameras".

>Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter and have almost entirely replaced DSLRs.

I haven't paid attention to cameras in a while. Did I miss this happening?

Yes. Sony became as big of a player as Canon and Nikon because of it. Canon launched a new lens mount (RF) and announced they will stop producing EF lenses and flagship DSLRs. Nikon launched a new lens mount (Z).

I agree with the blogger that you should go with a smaller sensor size. In addition to better price points, they have less scanning to do for each image and should work better for this scenario. I've heard reports of some full frame mirrorless cameras overheating when used extensively for video.

That really entirely depends on the brand / model. Some will overheat in under an hour, some will go on forever as long as you supply power. Price has nothing to do with it.

DSLRs will almost certainly be a cheaper option than a mirrorless camera for this, because pretty much any DSLR from the last ten or so years works for this, and there are many more of them. Autofocus and availability of clean HDMI in video-liveview mode depends though. Many support direct streaming over USB using proprietary tools.

> DSLRs will almost certainly be a cheaper option than a mirrorless camera for this, because pretty much any DSLR from the last ten or so years works for this, and there are many more of them

That used to be true, but with used a6300 cameras going for around 300€ nowadays, it's not the case anymore.

Sony a7iii + Elgato camlink have been working flawlessly for me for several years now, on all platforms (windows, linux and even chromeos)

I use a Sony a6400 with one of those powered "battery" adapters and hdmi out to an Elgato Cam Link 4k.

Works nearly flawlessly. Sometimes Google meet refuses to pick up the video until I unplug but that might have to do more with the handshake between my back and my TB3 dock.

Another good option is to use an older flagship smartphone. I have a heavily cracked iPhone 8 that works wonderfully as a webcam.

Why can’t laptops just get smartphone cameras? Is the BOM impact of a phone camera from 2018 really that high?

Because the sauce is not in the camera, but in the software. I recommend the following article, if not even for reading, just to appreciate how much processing magic is going on: https://vas3k.com/blog/computational_photography/

not the bom, it's the screen thickness.

Most laptops screens are much thinner than a smartphone.

That said, i'd gladly have a little camera bump.

I've been using the 'thecentercam' the last few days, and I get good comments on the "eye contact" that I now have with people

Extra note here, I've been running my olympus em5 mk-2 with the drivers Olympus released to run it as a web camera and its been working just fine, out of the box. I got an extra dummy battery to power it (cannot be powered though usb) so I have no worries of it dying during a long meeting.

in a remote office world, I'm glad my team leaves their cameras on and I view it as a form of professionalism to present myself as best I can, and if that's not following a dress code and keeping trim in an office, its giving good video quality in online meetings.

I'm also using an E m5 mk2 on macos, with the battery holder grip and 25mm lens. I'm happy with the image but the software is pretty bad, isn't it? There's a substantial lag between the audio and video which is disconcerting to the viewer. And the video stream doesn't reliably start. I usually have to flip the video off and on a few dozen times in the Zoom app before it begins working.

Aside from that the cost of the Very Special USB Cable is a real insult.

I haven't had the same experience at all, perhaps its because I'm on windows? I also don't use my camera as my audio source. I use my laptop microphone for now, with plans to get an external microphone. I just use the usb cable that came with the camera, I never had to purchase it separately.

The battery I use is one that uses the shell of a matching battery but provides a wired 8V DC through a usb SMPS, 20$ from aliexpress and I never have to worry about it.

I'm using the microphone on the mac ... the audio is ahead of the video. I don't think the OM-D Webcam software supports audio at all.

I’m using a Sony A6300 with 35mm F/1.8 lens and I get a lot of comments about my “webcam”.

I’ve put it next to my monitor and put my meeting on the side of the screen so I look “into” the camera.

Maybe it's a bit overkill, but I use a Fuji X-T4 + Fuji 10-24mm lens as a webcam. At around $2500 definitely not cheap but it gets the job done magnificently. Additionally, the Fuji X Webcam software allows me to switch between Fuji's film simulations, adjust color temperature and exposure on the fly. The cam is mounted on a Manfrotto ballhead tripod behind my monitor.

What is the distance from you to the camera as you have it set up? Any issue with your monitors, etc coming into frame as well?

I bought an Anker PowerConf C200 for less than 60 bucks; I expected an OK camera, but it's surprisingly good!

I love it. Where is the startup to fill this gap in the market?

I repurposed my old Fujifilm X100F as webcam with the Elgato cam link 4k and dummy battery during the pandemic-- video quality received heavy compliments on Zoom. The setup was working fine until I upgraded my desktop rig. Seems Cam link doesn't play nice with the new Mac Studios.

I've been using a Sony A7iii and it's been great until I switch to an m1 mac. No compatibility anymore.

I use a Sony a6600 with Sigma 16mm f/1.4 lens as a webcam and people love it.

Why does my Go Pro Hero 9 Black not work as a webcam with anything other than Cisco WebEx on MacOS? I can't get it to work with OBS or Discord on Mac, and I can't get any video from it on Windows. It's a fucking mess.

Off topic, but does anyone know which monitor that is? Looks beautiful.

How does this compare to using something like the Raspberry Pi HQ camera and a decent c mount lens?

"...the A6400 seems to be slightly better as a webcam."

Contact me if you want to buy mine! I bought mine at the start of quarantine for streaming live video at my local church but haven't really used it much since.

Yes, please!

Twitter or email? My gmail is my username.

Email sent.

But isn't running a camera as a Webcam actually bad for the battery, especially if you plan to use that camera also for trips?

There's no reason it should be, it's unclear to me which scenario concerns you:

Mirrorless cameras can be powered by USB, either Micro or C depending on model. The batteries have a built-in BMS so leaving the camera plugged in won't harm them.

Some mirrorless aren't thermally compatible with running full video on battery for long periods, this is worth researching before purchase, but for the ones which are it's not going to damage the battery to run off of it.

There's no motive to do so with a desktop setup.

I have a thing that replaces the battery with AC power supply. While the DSLR is being used as a webcam, it doesn't even contain a battery.

I've seen some AC adapters that fit into the battery compartment to replace the battery. No idea if it's a good idea or not.

That's a standard accessory

You can connect it to a power source that has the form factor if a battery.

This is the main reason I own a Sony ZV-1: it supports UVC out of the box.

With a use case as repetitive as jumping on a call, the UX is important.

My problem is when you turn it on plugged in it defaults to USB mass storage. I have to turn mine on and then plug it in. What do you do?

I guess the only reason for me not to try this is how insecure I am about seeing my make-up free face in HD haha Solid write-up though!

For those with no camera, DroidCamX works rather well too!

Yep, I'm using a Pixel 2 with both DroidCamX and DroidCam OBS (with OBS' virtual camera), I can second that claim.

I occasionally use a Nexus 6 on another setup, but it's a bit bulkier to mount and is a bit finicky with DroidCamX. It has froze up on me a couple times. The OBS version works fine, though. I'll chalk it up to not cleaning up the phone prior to repurposing it.

Does anyone have a comprehensive guide for Canon DSLRs on MacOS on M1? The Canon drivers to use as a webcam are nightmarish and my friends had a hell of a time trying to get it to work.

As I understand, the drivers (webcam utility? not sure) are built for x86. For some reason they don't work in apps which are built for M1, so the camera only works if an app which needs a video is running in emulation mode.

So, if you want to use Canon DSLR on M1 in a web browser (e.g. google meet), get a browser built for x86.

I'm using Chromium, it can be downloaded for x86. The issue is that Chromium doesn't have screen share feature. So, for screen share, I'm using Chrome, and joining the call for the second time, in "companion mode". That's 2 separate browsers to participate in a call. Maybe there is a way to get Chrome or Firefox for x86, but I was a bit too lazy when setting it up :)

I’ve solved most compatibility problems with several camera brands (and their drivers) by simply using a hardware HDMI->USB video capture/processing card or stick. Then I can mount it as a generic video device and not install drivers at all, allowing me to switch cameras out at will.

Ah ha, thank you. Which device are you currently using?

Currently using an Atomos Connect since theyre compact and not expensive. Good luck!

FYI, online reviews say the Atomos Connect is just a repackaged version of the same generic HDMI-to-USB converters with the ms2109 chip that sell for $10-20 on Amazon (like the one linked in the original article).

The recently viral “USB hubs drove me crazy” post forced me to realize that all commodity outboard consumer hardware are probably identically sourced boards/chips, with western branding responsible for the markup— but this one survived where a previous cheaper one failed, YMMV.

Thank you!

Actually I prefer not to show face during any meeting. So probably won't buy an extra camera just for that. However, could be useful once I'm semi-retired and start streaming retro gaming.

The problem with all “proper” cameras is that they have multiple frames of latency and latency is by far the most important thing in a call. Has anyone found a “proper” camera pipeline as low latency as a webcam?

Hm, I haven't noticed any increased latency when using a DSLR as a webcam.

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