Sunday, May 3, 2020

Turning Your Camera into a High-Quality Webcam


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.)



This was shot during the day.  Ignore the light bleeding through the backdrop.  Also note that I meant to say that the RX100 V has PHASE DETECT AF (yeah, it has face detect also, but it's the phase detect that keeps it from hunting in AF-C mode - an important quality in video.)

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.

The answer is you need an HDMI to USB converter.  There are many on the market; I chose two of these 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

The one piece of software that is the "Control Center" for all of your input and also in charge of your streaming is a free program called 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.

Bluetooth Headset - I've tried a bunch.  I'm in love with the 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

If you're going to be streaming any kind of high-quality, stutter-free video, you absolutely need good internet.  The best is to use an Ethernet cable between your computer and your router.  A distant 2nd best option is Wi-Fi.  I say distant 2nd because most wi-fi routers provide maybe 25% of the bandwidth you're getting from the cable company.  My reference for internet speed testing is 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.
Other mesh products include the Netgear Orbi, the Amazon Eero (but Jeff Bezos probably doesn't need more of your money).  And if you want to be a little future proof, both the Linksys Velop Mesh and the Netgear Nighthawk are Wi-Fi 6 compatible.  HIGHLY recommended.

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...

I always used to believe that if you set different cameras to the same manual settings then you should get a similar exposure and "look" under the same light.  That idea got shattered years ago when I wrote 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


Until Next Time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman
"Author of the densest blog posts on the planet! (tm)"

21 comments:

  1. great job as always Gary. I tried the Elgato HD60S capture card, it worked but costs almost $200, for only one camera capture. I returned it and ordered the Blackmagic ATEM Mini. Until the ATEM Mini ships I am using the Sony Remote software and OBS, this is all free but works ok.

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    1. The Sony Remote software is an interesting Plan B. I'm guessing the resolution isn't good enough for streaming since it's only to let you see and frame the shot remotely. Does it provide a "clean" screen free of icons, exposure settings, etc.?

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    2. Yes, clean screen and works great. ONLY thing you have to be careful of is that you can not minimize or otherwise move that remote window off the screen or the video will freeze. It's a good thing because when remote is minimized it's not processing in the background.

      Little info here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3GvGJ-4VLQ&t=200s

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  2. A big issue for us, as we record our worship service on Thursday for Sunday viewing on YouTube, has been the camera's 30-minute limit on video. I am using the Sony RX100 MK VII, and my cohort is using the Sony a7iii. My cohort has been flummoxed with his camera insisting on ending his video after 30 minutes, while my camera keeps recording merrily along as long as the service lasts (45 min to 1 hr). We are both recording XAVC S HD, 30p 50M. My cohort is ready to can his relatively new a7iii and find something that does not have the 30-min limit. Do you have any guidance on finding cameras without the 30-min limit or guidance on how to work with the 30-min limit?

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    1. Once upon a time in the European Union there was a law that said "If your product records video longer than 30 minutes, then it is to be classified as a camcorder and is subject to different taxes". (Or something like that.) That law expired in 2019 and so all Sony cameras made after that no longer have the 30 minute restriction in place. It turns out that if you're using the OBS method of recording your stream, that limitation should be meaningless - after all, the camera is not doing the recording, the OBS software is. Your camera is in Live View mode, ready to record, but not actually recording. So that's one solution you have without needing to buy new cameras.

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    2. You don't have to start recording on A7iii, just put it in movie mode and it will start sending video feed to HDMI. may you will need to fiddle with HDMI output settings in the menu, I don't remember details, but it definitely can work this way

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    3. I thought I just said that. (well, you said it better, using fewer words.) :-)

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  3. I just started using EpocCam which lets me connect my iPhone 11 Pro as a webcam, either via USB or WiFi. Both connections work great and work with any program that supports webcams, like Zoom. The quality really blows my old MS LifeCam (VGA, can it really be 12 years old?) away especially with my setup of a big window to my left. EpocCam supports all 4 cameras at HD quality; I find the front cam the most useful as I can see myself. Worth the $7 for the pay version which supports HD and gets rid of the watermark, 45 minute limit and spurious sales pitches.

    Now I need to buy an appropriate mount with a cold shoe which I will attach to a Gorillapod that I have. Then I can connect my Sennheiser MKE 400 Shotgun mike, which has been setting on the shelf for years. I just need a TRS->TTRS adapter cable.

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    1. Sounds like you're in good shape! Thanks for the EpocCam recommendation.

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  4. Can i use a digital camera that does not have a movie mode ?

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    1. Two answers: 1) "It depends" and 2) "Probably Not". Email me with your camera model and let's see what we can figure out.

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  5. Thanks for your post - really helpful as I have also been researching this as I teach online during the lockdown. I have a R100VA and A7RIII (and thanks for your wonderful manuals). I'm still trying to source a HDMI-USB capture card (completely sold out in Australia). However, I have seen several comments warning not to use mirrorless DSLR for webstreaming on Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc as they overheat. Have you come across that problem? Many thanks.

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    1. Glad you found the post helpful! It seems HDMI-USB adapters are sold out worldwide right now - even the iogear item I mentioned. Maybe the whole world is learning how to live stream.)

      The mirrorless / video / overheating thing is misguided - Yes, older mirrorless cameras would overheat IF they were shooting 4K video for more than 20 minutes; however that's not the case here, as they're technically not shooting video at all (just showing you a Live View out the HDMI port, and all cameras can do that forever if they have enough power). See also Milt's comment above - people are confusing live streaming with shooting video for long periods of time.

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    2. After waiting a long time for HDMI-USB capture cards to come back in-stock again, out of desperation searched for a capture card at Walmart shopping for groceries. And behold they had a capture device in stock for $99.00 and free shipping. Made by Pyle USA. It's the PHDRCB48.5. It works fine for pass-through HDMI.

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    3. Thanks for the recommendation! I just did a search for PHDRCB48.5 and all of the major outlets seem to be out. There seems to be a global shortage of these HDMI Video Capture Devices. Is everyone learning to stream at once? Toilet paper is easier to get now!

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  6. One tip: when using a lap top camera, raise the computer to eye level & then your nose hairs will not be visible.

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    1. I tried that as my very first test. It was wide and of poor quality, even if the lens WAS at eye level. :-)

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  7. Mr Friedman - this is great content as always. I seem unable to get my Fuji X100V to deliver a video stream to my desktop (I want to use it as a web cam), even after following your instructions. I have the IOGear HDMI to USB converter as well as OBS Studio, yet it cannot seem to find my camera. Any suggestions? Thank you so much.

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    1. The only suggestion I have is to turn your camera on, reboot your computer, and start OBS last. That usually gets the cameras showing through.

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  8. Nice info. I have seen a few simialr artcles recently but was also wondering how the really cheap converters on sites like Aliexpress faired?
    Rullz for under $15 US
    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4000917130635.html?spm=a2g0o.productlist.0.0.5706259fdih8z9&algo_pvid=fa37098a-4c6d-4970-a637-829ecfc0d893&algo_expid=fa37098a-4c6d-4970-a637-829ecfc0d893-0&btsid=0ab6d69f15886741498778800e4c95&ws_ab_test=searchweb0_0,searchweb201602_,searchweb201603_

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  9. When looking for solutions to the same problem, I found a video from this guy.
    And it turns out, you can really use your a7III as a webcam in LiveView mode, over USB only, using just these 2 pieces of free software - Camera Live and Cam Twist (URLs below the YouTube video)!
    As a side note - although Camera Live claims it only works with Canon DSLR-s, for whatever reason it also works with any Sony alpha. Can Sony be using Canon's protocols?
    And the Z-battery lasts for up to 4 hours without actually recording to card, just sending live view over USB. Even USB2.0 works, does not need to be USB3.0.
    Tried also over wireless connection, but the framerate is so hectic and low, it can not be used in anything except testing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ipTcB057KU

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