Viet Duc Le
Improve Video Quality for Online Conferences and Live Events
Here's how you can make your dusty holiday camera useful again
Megapixels get higher, sensors bigger, and resolutions are crisper. Cameras are vastly improving, whether it is the one built in your smartphone or your mirrorless camera. But webcams are still bad. Of course, what matters most is still what is behind the person in front of the camera. But at times it can be crucial to make a good first impression, for instance in live video events when you are representing you or your company. And by the way, your holiday camera is currently getting dusty anyway. So why not give it a try?
Good lighting: Get the best out of your webcam
If you are hesitating to use other equipment than your webcam, you still have the opportunity to improve the overall picture quality. First of all, it is not only important that your environment is not only free of distraction but also well lit. Place your workspace in the direction of the windows. Avoid backlight since this will make the image grainy and the highlights overexposed as shown in this comparison:
This simple change can improve the visual quality of a bad webcam a lot and you do not even need an external light source. Whenever you have a video conference in the evening, consider getting a softbox that delivers white light since normal ceiling light or desk lamps only provide yellow light.
Vitamin D is the key!
A well lit environment is not only good for the video quality but especially for your mental health.
The Smartphone is your Best Friend
You can go a step higher and use your smartphone as a webcam but you might need to pay for additional software and a smartphone tripod if you want to have 1080p resolution and a little bit of convenience. But purchasing these additionals is still cheaper than buying an actual decent webcam.
In order to create a link between your smartphone and computer you initially need to download the right app and application.
Now do not panic. It is much easier than you think. The only requirements are the charging cable and one app!
Link your Phone with the PC by using EpocCam
Link your Smartphone with your computer via the EpocCam App
The best-rated app for turning your smartphone into a webcam is EpocCam. There is a free and a premium version that costs 9 Euros but will allow you to max out the resolution to 1080p. Afterward, open your computer and download the correct driver from the Kinoni website. Kinoni provides drivers for both Windows and Mac. When the installation is done connect the power cable of your smartphone with your computer and open the EpocCam app. The link between your smartphone and computer has been created and you can now select in the preferences of your conference application such as Zoom, Skype, etc. your phone as your webcam.
Using DSLR/DSLM as Webcam
If smartphone quality is not enough, the only way to improve the visual standard is to use your actual camera as a webcam.
The only requirements are a capture card such as the Elgato Camlink, an HDMI cable and a camera.
Prices on Capture Cards vary from 15$ – 200$.
The camera you choose can be either a high-end cinema camera or the entry-level camera that you bought your 15-year old daughter/sister for birthday. There are plenty of different cameras, the only requirement the camera should fulfill is that it has an HDMI-out port which is often the case.
In order to connect your camera with your computer, you need to:
Put the HDMI cable in both the capture card and camera.
Plug the capture card into your computer.
You will be able to choose the webcam in the preferences of your conference application.
The biggest advantage of using a DSLR for instance is its capability of changing lenses. I am currently using a Nikon Z6 with a 50mm F1.8 which allows me to blur the background with ease.
Here's the Comparison
The Macbook Pro Webcam has a much wider angle just like any in-built webcam in notebooks. The Telelenses of the Nikon and the iPhone deliver a much tighter viewing angle which is good if you do not want to show your whole room. Why do I look so bright on the Nikon picture? The Nikon has a better light meter and can compensate it way better than the rest. Anyway, the Nikon Z6 is not cheap but older cameras can achieve similar results.
The Bummer and the Solution
Since Covid-19 capture cards, especially the Elgato Camlink, are widely sold out. You would need to wait until they get restocked or buy them for a much higher price on the third market. But I did some research and came across this cheap alternative to the Elgato Camlink. The Youtuber EposVox confirms that it is definitely worth giving a shot.
If you own a relatively new Canon camera, you can directly link it to your computer with the shipped USB-cable. Then download the driver from the official Canon website and install it. If your Canon is turned on, it should now appear as a selectable webcam in your conference application of choice.
Conclusion and how to keep Eye Contact
The actual camera apparently has the edge in this comparison. However, the webcam has an advantage, too. It is much closer to the screen than its competitors which is why you will most likely be able to look into the viewer's face. In most cases like seminars or friendly online meetings with colleagues, it does not even matter how good the quality of your camera is. This is a no-brainer, then go with the in-built Webcam. But if it is about making the best possible impression then you should better think about using your phone or your big camera.
For this comparison, I have tried to place them as close as possible to the height of the webcam to be able to look the viewer in the eyes.
Not only good for Video Conferences
A better camera as a webcam is not only useful when you are having a conference but also if you are planning a live online event. Livestreaming can be an essential part of marketing, especially if you want to build up a better relationship with your followers or customers. Soon I will do another, separate guide on doing livestreams.