Social distancing has forced us into using virtual modes of communication, like video conference calls, online classrooms and video workshops. Many of us default into using the built-in cameras on our laptops, which — let’s be honest here — are of terrible quality.
I have been running my business online since I started it, so video calls have been the only way I could talk to my clients and students from all over the world.
One of the most common things people tell me when we hop on a video call is: “WOW, cool camera setup!”, which is a much better conversation starter than “hey, how’s it going?”.
In this article, I’m here to show you how to use a professional camera as your webcam for video calls. The streaming industry has already been using these tools for years (e.g, News on TV, YouTube streamers), but I haven’t seen a tutorial for beginners that explains how to do it. After months of ordering different kinds of gadgets, testing them, being disappointed that they didn’t work and struggling to figure out how to make such a setup work, I am now here to share my setup with you, so you can put it together quickly, and look like a pro during your video meetings.
We’ll go from this:
First, let’s start with the ingredients. The links I provided here are affiliate links, so a great way to thank me for writing this article (if you found it helpful) is by using them to purchase the extra gear you might need. I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you Thanks!
Let’s get into it!
What you’ll need and how to use them
1. DSLR camera with clean HDMI output & unlimited runtime
We will not be recording directly to the camera, but only use what the camera sees. To achieve a clean look without the UI elements of the camera (overlays of storage space, battery life, settings, etc.), it’s important to go with one that has a “Clean HDMI output”.
To check if your camera can do this, click this link, or google “[your camera] clean HDMI out”
Unlimited runtime means that the camera will not turn off after a certain period of time to preserve battery life.
To check if your camera can do this, click this link, or google “[your camera] unlimited runtime”
Throughout this tutorial, I will be showcasing how I made the setup work with my Canon Rebel T6i (750D), which has clean HDMI out and unlimited runtime.
To make sure you don’t have to bother with the batteries, it’s helpful if you can get an AC power adapter charger for your camera. This fits into the battery slot of your camera and keeps it powered on. I highly recommend getting one of these!
As for camera lens, I use a Sigma 30mm f1.4 (if you’re on full frame, go with a 50mm f1.8), this gives me a really good background blur, which makes the shot even more professional. This is not essential but a good bonus to have. I don’t recommend anything with more background blur (bigger aperture, so the f-number is smaller) as you will get out of focus fairly easily if you lean back or forward.
Now that we have our camera, we need to put it on something. Any tripod will work if it holds the camera steady. I have a lot of room behind my desk, so I use the ESDDI Camera Tripod, but you can use a smaller one, like the Joby GorillaPod as well.
3. A short Micro HDMI to HDMI cable
In order to get the camera signal out of the camera and into the computer, we will need an HDMI cable. What’s crucial here is to get an HDMI cable that is shorter than 2 meters (~7 feet). Anything longer than that will cause long video delays and significant quality loss. A high quality and short HDMI cable is key here. It can make or break your signal.
I use the BlueRigger Mini HDMI, but any high quality and short HDMI cable will work. Don’t save money on this item.
4. Elgato CamLink 4K (or any HDMI to USB/Thunderbolt capture device)
Now the trickiest part. How do we get the HDMI output from the camera as a digital input to the computer?
We need a Capture Device.
I use the Elgato CamLink 4K, which converts the HDMI signal to a USB 3.0 input.
I have yet to found a device that converts camera HDMI to USB-C (Thunderbolt 3). There are HDMI to USB-C dongles, but those are only good for HDMI output (e.g, hook your computer to a display), not camera input.
If you are using a USB-C only Macbook like me, you will need a USB-C to USB-A dongle. Most of those will work, but to reduce quality loss, go with a high quality item if possible. I use the Anker Adapter.
Depending on the brand you go with, you might have to install a software to make sure your capture device works, but after that we should be able to choose our Camera inside Zoom under the camera options.
Inside Zoom, you can select the Cam Link 4K as your input.
5. Professional microphone input
If you want to support your professional video look with professional audio, you will need a microphone input. You have three options:
Option B: An XLR microphone and a mixer that can output digital signal via USB. I use the Shure SM7B and a Zedi8 mixer (any other mixer will work if it has XLR input, USB output and preamp [for the Shure SM7B]).
Option C: If your camera can output audio via HDMI (Canon cameras can’t ), you can use any microphone that works with your camera. Like the Rode VideoMic GO. If this is the case, you might be able to avoid the next step of putting these together inside Wirecast, and just go straight to Zoom with the RAW inputs and not have any sync issues. If this is the case, I really envy you, because figuring out the sync issues took me around a month of trial-and-error and a few extra purchases…
If you are one of the unfortunate people (like me) who either:
- Has to use separate inputs for the video and audio, or
- Has interlacing issues with their video input,
you will need a streaming software to put things together. For Mac users, Wirecast is the only one that enables you to create a Virtual Camera Output (as far as I know). PC users might be able to use other software.
Once you open Wirecast ➔ create a new document ➔ on the top layer, add a Video Capture device (choose CamLink 4K Video if you use the same things as me).
Then go to Shot Layers ➔ tap the “+” icon ➔ Audio Capture ➔ Pick your audio device (in my case it’s the ZEDi8 Audio).
nce that’s done, on the Shot Layers, select your Audio device ➔ go to Shot Properties, and set the audio delay (for me it’s 0.250 sec to be perfectly in sync).
Then, adjust the camera view if necessary (Scale, position, rotation, etc.)
Press GO to feed your Preview view to Live view.
That little button under your face is the “GO” button.
You should see yourself in the Live View Screen (on the right)
Once that’s done, go to Output ➔ Virtual Camera Out ➔ Tick HD 1080p and Virtual Microphone ➔ Click Start
Then inside Zoom, you should be able to choose “Wirecast Virtual Camera” at the camera options, and “Wirecast Virtual Microphone” at the microphone options.
Optional stuff to make your setup even cooler:
This might be more important than what camera you use. If possible, try sitting next to a window, that will light your face with a lot of natural light. The problem with that is it changes throughout the day, so you will have to be changing your camera settings as well.
If you want to take it to the next level, get a big light source like the Aputure 120D Mark II with a softbox, or a cheaper alternative like the Fovitec Fluorescent set. Then, put it as close to your face as possible (especially if you’re wearing glasses). This will be your key light.
Then, supplement it with a hair light from top and a fill light from the opposite side. You can use small LED lights for this, I use the Neewer Kit.
If you want to learn more about lighting yourself, this is a cool video from PeterMcKinnon about lighting your face. Thanks, Peter.
If you want to avoid a phenomena know as the Asian Glow, which is when your forehead is glowing, apply Make Up For Ever HD Microfinish Pressed Powder before getting on camera. If you sweat a lot, this is your best friend.
I applied the matte translucent powder to my forehead, nose and cheeks.
You know how frustrating it is that you can’t look people in the eyes during video calls? A teleprompter solves this. I use the Caddie Buddy Teleprompter with my iPad as a secondary display. This way I can look at the person I’m talking to directly in the eyes while still looking directly at the camera (so they also feel like I’m looking at them).
The lens of the camera is right behind my face.
If we’re already building a studio with Cameras, Tripods, Microphones, Lighting and a teleprompter, we might as well work a little bit on what’s in the background. As my living room had a lot of echo in it, I installed some acoustic panels on the wall next to me and behind me.
The final setup. I wish I didn’t buy those orange panels though.
I light it up with the Philips Hue Play bars, so I can add some color to a boring black backdrop.
If you don’t want to mess up your home with these panels (you shouldn’t), you can decorate the background with almost anything. A bookshelf, some plants and a standing lamp can set the mood for some really interesting, deep conversations.
We send a lot of signals to people we communicate with. Not just the words we say, but how we say them and what our body language is. If we want to make a better impression on other people, updating our camera setup for video calls is a good way to make them feel like we’re in the same space with them.
To do this, we will need a good camera, a tripod, an HDMI cable, an HDMI capture device, and some extras like a good microphone or lights.
I hope that this tutorial will help you build your own setup with the things you already have, and provide you with a list of what else you might need to buy. You will probably not get all ingredients right for the first time. It took me more than 2 months of ordering and testing things to put this setup together. I didn’t have a step-by-step guide, so I wrote one, here it is, feel free to use it. If you have a friend who is looking for a similar solution, please send this tutorial to them. Thank you!