Web Conferences with a DSLR/Video Camera

I decided to make the switch from using my Microsoft LifeCam or the camera built into the computer to using my DSLR. When I made the switch, I didn’t disclose that I was using a different camera. I wanted to see if anyone noticed. It was noticed, and almost distracting😊! I received a few questions from coworkers from what I was doing different. In response, I’ve made this post and a video. In the video at the end of this post, you can see comparisons of quality for the cameras that I had used.

Note that some cameras can already be use as web cameras by downloading a firmware update or other camera specific software. You may want to check if your camera has this functionality available before making any purchases.

Canon 5D Mark II with Remote Focusing Motor

There are two primary pieces of hardware that are needed. Everything else is optional or can be improvised. The first is a camera that will produce clean HDMI output. By “Clean” I mean without the user interface elements on it. For a camera that supports this you may have to change a setting instructing it not show the UI elements on the output. You also will want to be able to disable the power saving features of the camera so that it does not power off while using it.

The second item that you need is an HDMI capture device that the computer “sees” as a Web Cam. Right now, the popular unit is the CamLink 4K. I’ve used a few of these for my day job and while they work, they also sometimes have errors that is just plain annoying. The device sometimes looses video signal. When it does, the only way I’ve been able to get it back is to unplug it and plug it back in. Another option that is not out yet is an HDMI capture decide from ATMOS. This device isn’t out yet, so I can’t recommend on its reliability. But I think it is worth considering.

Cam Link 4K HDMI Capture Device

The basic setup is to connect the HDMI capture device to the camera, turn the camera on, and plug it into a computer to use it as a web camera. That should be it, everything should work with no software installation required. For my setup, I do have additional hardware. While a table-top tripod would work, I prefer not to have fixtures take up space on my desk. To minimize the space being consumed I’m using a photography clamp to set an anchor point on the desk. A tripod extension attached to the clamp supports the camera. So that I can have the camera positioned as needed, I have a ball head between the camera and the tripod extension.

My camera is an older unit. It is a Canon 5D Mark III. A feature this camera does not have is refocusing automatically. Though even if it did, since my favourite lenses are fully manually, I would not have access to autofocus anyway. A potential focusing issue (since I prefer a shallow depth of field with my background blurred out) is that manual focusing on one’s self can be difficult. To adjust the focus I have to move to be able to reach the camera. But if I move then I am no longer in the field of vision where I need to be to know whether or not the camera is properly focused. The solution that I’m using for this the Nucleus-N wireless focusing unit. The Nucleus-N is composed of a wireless focusing knob and a motor that attached to the camera. When the knob is turned, the motor reacts and adjusts the lens.

If I were trying to setup this up from scratch and had to acquire a camera today, I would consider a mirrorless camera. The Canon EOS R and the Sony Alpha a7 would be at the top of my list.

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