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Using a "Proper" Camera as a Webcam

May 17 2022

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It's 2022, so many of us now have 2 years experience of online meetings. My experience is that the better that I can see and hear someone in an online call, the more natural the conversation feels. Put another way, I think one does a courtesy to the other person by improving the quality of how you appear in a video call.

Unfortunately, most webcams are terrible cameras that take terrible pictures. The market for decent quality webcams seems to be non-existent, with the available choices seeming to sit somewhere between bad and mediocre. Laptop webcams have the additional problem that thin lids mean that the camera is fighting a losing battle against physics [1] that software can only partly overcome.

Fortunately there is a solution: you can use a "proper" camera, of the sort you associate with earnest tourists, as a webcam. In particular, most modern mirrorless cameras from the last few years can do an excellent job if you know what you're doing.

To give you an idea of the difference, here's the output of the most widely used webcam, the Logitech C920, and the Fujifilm X-S10 I use as a webcam:

I took these photos in daylight within a couple of minutes each other at almost identical positions: the C920 is about half an inch closer to me than the X-S10 was. The difference between them is stark. The C920 captures far too wide a picture of my "office", showing you elements of the room I'd rather didn't trouble you, including the background (do you really need to see the light switch in detail?!). It also makes everything too bright with a blue-ish tinge — my walls aren't that white and I'm not that pale. Finally there's only a small amount of detail to my face — I'm a sort of pinkish-with-blue-tinges [2] semi-smudge. In contrast, the X-S10 zooms in to just my face and shoulders; my skin has a natural (and fairly accurate) colour; retains as much detail on my face as 720p can express; and naturally blurs the background (the light switch is now almost invisible).

At nighttime (OK, OK, I just closed the curtains!), with two normal lights on, the differences are magnified. The C920 loses what little definition it had to my face, which is now very smudged. In contrast, the X-S10 still produces an excellent quality picture: