For reasons of which we’re all aware, 2020 has been a banner year for video-conferencing, video calls, and livestreaming. While standard webcams tend to provide acceptable quality for basic functionality, there are times that a sub-par image just won’t cut it.
Fortunately, there are ways to bring the better lens, depth of field control, and improved low-light capabilities of a “real” camera to any video-conferencing software. Here’s how you can massively improve your avatar’s appearance using a camera you already have!
The easiest way: Dedicated software
If you’re lucky, your camera’s manufacturer may have released a utility designed to allow their high end cameras to be recognized as webcams by your computer, making the process practically plug and play. Just point the video-conferencing (etc.) software of your choice to the utility as the input camera, and you’re off to the races! To date, Canon and Fujifilm have implemented official webcam utilities, though I would expect more to follow soon (and some third party streaming apps do recognize other cameras natively).
Watch informative introductory videos from Canon here:
Click here to download EOS Webcam Utility Beta (Windows 10 or OS X)
Compatible Canon cameras
Update: Since this article’s publication, webcam utilities have become available from other camera manufacturers. Many of these are still considered “beta” versions and only select cameras are supported, but it’s getting easier and easier! Click the links below to download and for more information about supported models.
Use an HDMI capture device
If your camera isn’t compatible with any webcam utility, don’t despair! Any camera with a video output can be used as a webcam with a simple hardware solution.
- HDMI cable. Most cameras that have HDMI outputs these days use micro HDMI or mini HDMI, so first you’ll need to make sure you have an adapter or a cable that goes from micro (or mini) HDMI to HDMI.
- HDMI capture device. There are numerous versions available and can be external hardware or internal PCI cards, but they all provide the same functionality: adding an HDMI port which your computer can use as an input, whether to record or instantly share video. (Note that not every device is supported by both Windows and OS X as a webcam; double check your system’s compatibility.)
Simply plug your camera into the capture card, select it as the video input for the video-conferencing software of your choice, and enjoy video straight from that big ol’ sensor. As you can see, it makes a huge difference!
Use your camera’s remote live view
If you don’t want to purchase new hardware, there is one more method. If your camera is compatible with the manufacturer’s live view remote software*, you can use that as an alternative to the HDMI capture card! The image may not look as good as the HDMI output and the interface may be a little less clean—though Panasonic has released a streaming-optimized version of their tethering software which hides the controls—but your image will still look a whole lot better than most webcams’ will.
Pro tip: If your tethering software doesn’t let you hide the camera controls and you want to clean up your output, you can manually select a slice of screen to use as a webcam input using the very capable, free OBS Studio software.