So I've been spending my pandemic downtime learning the ins and outs of livestreaming and how to conduct webinars. The learning curve wasn't that bad (Photoshop is worse, but that's not nearly as bad as Unix internals, and both of those combined pale in comparison to Torah, which literally takes a lifetime to decipher. But I digress...)
I think nothing kills online credibility like bad light, bad framing and bad sound, all of which characterize about 99.99% of all Zoom participants. If you want to be taken seriously as an online educator in photography, you need to employ the techniques of the Hollywood cinematographers and the more successful Twitch streamers.
Let's start with that awful webcam that's built into your laptop. It just won't do. Let me share with you a test I did (this was also a high-level test involving live streaming to both Facebook and Youtube - more about that later.)
So feedback came in; and it was universally felt that the A77 II option was too close; but otherwise that had the most professional-looking angle. So I put a medium lens on and shot this "audition" video for an online school targeting elementary school kids called Outschool.com . I figured this would be a very low-stress way to practice giving live lessons and also control all the camera angles, powerpoint slides, and audience interaction, etc. Here's my submission; notice the fancy picture-in-picture at 0:19.
The setup is actually capable of much more, including using any specified windows as a camera input, and also you can feed the output into your next Zoom meeting - be the best-lit person at the party!
To accomplish this setup I had to hobble together a lot of disparate pieces, almost all of them free. I'll start with the question I know is on everyone's minds: HOW DO YOU TURN A HIGH-END CAMERA INTO A HIGH-QUALITY WEBCAM? After all, you can't just plug the HDMI output into your computer - most computers can't accept HDMI In.
IOGEAR Video Capture Adapters GUV301 for USD $85 each. One end plugs into the HDMI OUT connector of your camera, and the other end plugs into the USB port on your computer. This one is relatively affordable as it provides an HD signal; there are others that can do 4K which are more expensive and not immediately available. (You don't want to stream in 4K anyway unless you're a gamer and have gold-plated internet speeds.) I bought two of these; one for the "Gary cam" and one for the A6400 I'll be using in live demonstrations.
To get "clean" video output without cluttering icons, set your camera's exposure mode dial to the "Movie" setting, and set the following menu items:
For Sony: HDMI Settings --> HDMI Info. Display set to Off.
For Fujifilm: MENU --> Movies --> HDMI Output Info Display --> OFF (XT-3, X-T3, and X-H1 only).
For Olympus: Menu --> Video Menu --> Video HDMI Output --> Output Mode --> Record Mode (E-M1 II only)
OBS Studio. (Did I mention it was free?) It's available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and after watching a ton of youtube videos showing how to work it, I was up and functioning after about a day.
There are other plug-ins for this program which I installed to provide additional functionality:
Virtual Cam - Lets you route your final output to something other than a traditional streaming recipient - for example, Zoom.
OBS Live Extensions - I haven't actually used these yet, but they look promising. It lets you see real-time chats / emoticons / other feedback as you're live streaming. The downside to this is that while you're presenting, you'll have "dead air" as you scan the screen for questions. This is why every good webcast has a host who introduces and then scans for questions during the presentation, verbally posing the best ones after the presentation.
[Scholarly note: Like Linux, which comes in several flavors, so too does OBS. One fork was made by a company called StreamLabs, which initially seemed more capable but was missing a crucial feature that allowed me to feed into a Zoom conversation. So after a full week of learning and configuring, I tossed it and started from scratch with the new (original) version. You're welcome. :-) ]
MacroDeck - This allows me to use my old smartphone as a "Scene Switcher" - Easier than memorizing keyboard control sequences, it's comprised of software that loads on your PC as well as the smartphone. This free software is optomized for OBS Studio and lets you customize the look and feel of buttons. Requires another plug-in called obs-websocket.
[Scholarly note: Never toss your old smartphones, as they can be repurposed for all sorts of things since they still have Wi-Fi internet capability. Baby monitors are a popular application, as is the camera switching function above. Best is as a self-contained GPS Navigation system if you use Here Maps which never needs a data connection because it stores its maps on the phone. Great for travel too when your international data plan is prohibitively expensive! Download links here: Android Apple]
Mobizen - Mirror your Android phone's screen and capture it for streaming. One of the first classes I'm going to teach is how to get "Wow!" shows on your smartphone (this will be for 9-12 year olds). It's important that I show them the camera controls and how to do certain things. This software downloads to both your phone and your PC. It's free.
Jabra Style, whose name has recently been changed to Jabra Talk 30. It's comfortable, I can hear people even when I'm driving on the highway, and it's comfortable to wear for long periods of time. (And as you can hear in the demo videos above, the microphone sounds great!)
Finally, I set up an external monitor out of my laptop's HDMI output so I could see what the audience was seeing (while my laptop shows me a Zoom gallery view of participants so I can see who's raising their hands.) This is another great benefit to MacroDeck - I can switch cameras and layouts while my laptop screen was displaying me something completely different.
Other Scholarly Notes
speedtest.net - if you're not getting 10 Mbps upload speed then it's time to upgrade your network.
Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that I've had a LOT of internet connectivity problems in the past few years, and each time I blamed the cable company. I finally called them out to troubleshoot and we ran the tests together -- it turns out they were delivering 200 Mbps as advertised! It was my highly-regarded TP-Link Wi-Fi router that was the bottleneck. So I bit the bullet and bought a Google Nest Mesh network - 4 pucks in my case. These are WAY better than wi-fi extenders, and it solved my connectivity problems overnight. I'm now getting 120 Mbps download speed (from the 200 provided - much faster than what normal Wi-Fi can provide), and upload speed actually matches what the cable company promises. I'm a happy camper.
|Before and After Google Nest Mesh Wi-Fi.|
Live Streaming - Youtube makes it easy, and Facebook just doesn't for anything more complex than a single camera. And FB doesn't make it clear when it's receiving the stream or not (youtube is MUCH better in this regard). Plus, I have only about 60 followers on FB and about 11K on youtube (not bad for an old guy like me). Where should I invest my time?
An A-mount camera? For Video?
"Dear Gary, This is the only video I've ever seen where someone discuss's a Sony SLT camera for video. Do you consider them to be a capable video camera?" - Dan Ihde
Dear Dan, Excellent question. With the camera on Manual Focus (as this camera was), the video is outstanding. With AF On it's better than most DSLRs because those rely on contrast-detect to do their focusing in video mode. But compared to mirrorless, the A-mount can only autofocus with the f/stop as close to f/3.5 as it can get, plus if your lens is the older screwdriver-drive type the AF isn't as smooth, plus the microphones in the camera pick up the motor noise sometimes. None of that applied in this scenario so the A77 II was as good a choice as any. (And since I use my A99 II in the studio almost exclusively, I didn't want the A77 II to feel unloved. :-) )
What's the Point of Manual Settings if...
this blog post. And it happened again when I tried to get the same exposure and white balance between the A77 II and the RX100 V. Here are the settings I ended up using (which I'm still not happy with):
A77 II: ISO 800, 1/60th, f/5.6 White balance: 5200K M2
RX100 V: ISO 800, 1/60th, f/4.5 6000K M1.75
You can tell that there's too much yellow in the RX100 since the background turned out purple, but it was the face I was concerned with.
For those of you using select Canon cameras with 64-bit Windows 10, this recent announcement might be of interest to you. :-)
So What are You Going to Do with this Newfound Capability?
Well, first I have to convince Tony Phillips to be my co-host all the way from Australia (which will be difficult since he's working on two Fujifilm and one Olympus book right now. :-) ) Then we'll probably do 15-minute presentations based on questions from you, Dear Readers.
So let's start things off by leaving all of your burning questions in the comments. We'll get to as many as I can and I'll announce a date and time when we can virtually meet together!
Things that are still on sale
Best of Blog Bundle (all 3 volumes) are still FREE for the downloading!
The Streaming version of the Friedman Archives Seminars is still on sale. Use discount code april2020 when checking out.
In the Pipeline
- A9 II Update for Firmware v2.0 is out! You should have received an update automatically. If not, email me with your purchase receipt.
- Did I mention that the Fujfilm X-Pro3 book is out?
- The first few chapters of the Fujifilm X100V are now available, so you can read it now while Tony works on the rest.
- Olympus E-M1 III - Pre-order now at a discount!
- Fujfilm X-T4 - Pre-order now at a discount!
Until Next Time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman
"Author of the densest blog posts on the planet! (tm)"