WFH and Webcams

people on a video call
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

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In our new, not nearly so temporary world of working from home (WFH), like everyone else, “Zooming” or other video conferencing, has become a more integral part of the way we work and communicate with friends.

I started out using my laptop’s built-in webcams but found as others have noted, that Macbook Pro webcams output pretty poor video and, depending on how your workstation is set up, I’m not seated oriented towards the built-in camera. I have the laptop connected to a Kensington – New Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station SD5300t – SD Card Reader, 135W and Dual 4K for Mac and Windows (K38625US) off to the right side and two external monitors in front of me. So if I use the built-in webcam, unless I undock the laptop (losing the two monitors), you get a sideways view of me. If I put the laptop on the desk directly in front of me, I should elevate it with some books or something so you’re not looking up my nose (no one’s best look).

I scratched around looking for better options, but in these “extraordinary” times, decent webcams are either out of stock or much more expensive than pre-pandemic and have been for months. I saw a post about using your DSLR for a webcam and thought, hey, I just bought a $3,000 mirrorless camera that I couldn’t use on the trip I couldn’t take, I wonder if I can use it as a webcam (that would probably cost no more than $200 if I could find them). What I found is that yes, you can use them, with some caveats. Your camera needs to output “clean HDMI” and you need a way to connect your camera to your computer and have it recognized as a video source in the video conferencing software you use. I’m not (yet) into streaming and likely will never be a YouTuber, but thought I’d look into how and whether I could use either my older Sony A6000 mirrorless or my shiny new Canon EOS R as well as other options. “Clean HDMI” output means a video signal through a camera’s HDMI connector that includes no text or graphic overlays showing camera status, exposure variables, etc. It’s just an image of what the camera sees through its lens, and nothing more.

Connecting my Sony A6000 to my Macbook Pro required a video capture card. Well, those are in short/non-existent supply as well, so initially, that was not going to be an option. Canon, fortunately, came out with a beta version of some software that allowed you to connect some of their cameras (mine included) to your computer without a video capture card. You still need a tripod of some sort to place the camera at the appropriate level. I have a large tripod, but cannot place it where it needs to be so that it faces me at my desk. So I looked for options for tripods and remembered I had a couple of gorilla pods. Even though the A6000 does output “clean HDMI” , I would need a video capture card to output the video to my computer. I found one like BlueAVS Audio Video Capture Cards HDMI to USB 1080p USB2.0 Record via DSLR Camcorder Action Cam with USB Extension Cable” this which seemed like a reasonable price to pay to try something I wasn’t sure would work. But look around. I also found these on eBay. There seem to be a number of these and I cannot tell that there is any difference at this price level. But connecting the A6000 (which can output clean HDMI with some changes to settings) to the video capture card, turning the camera to movie mode, then adjusting the short “on time” to something much longer than a minute, worked fine in my limited tests with Zoom. The heavier Canon EOS R definitely needs a reasonably sturdy Gorillapod.

Another option I’d heard about that was seemingly even more simple was using an app for your phone that allows it to serve as a webcam. Almost any modern phone has a better camera than any webcam, so this seemed feasible as well. But for a phone, I could not use the JOBY GorillaPod 5K Kit. Professional Tripod 5K Stand and Ballhead 5K for DSLR Cameras or Mirrorless Camera with Lens up to 5K (11lbs). Black/Charcoal. [paid link]because the phone does not have a tripod mount. So, then it was off to Amazon to look for a solution for the phone! I bought a [paid link] Square Jellyfish Jelly Long Legs Micro Tripod (Tripod Only) Jellyfish tripod and the [paid link] Square Jellyfish Jelly Grip Tripod Mount | 360 Degree Swivel Squeeze Grip Compatible with All iPhone 11 and Android (Mount Only) [paid link] tripod mount with a grip that will expand to fit phones of different sizes and clips around the case.

Now that I had the hardware for the phone, I needed an app for letting it serve as a webcam. I’d seen a review about Epoccam. There are two versions for the iPhone, with the free version giving low resolution (640 x 480) video and the pay version giving 1080p resolution. There is a version for Android as well. How does it work? For me, it works quite well. I connect to Wi-Fi and choose it as a source in Zoom (using only the browser to participate, not even the Zoom client application). The Epoccam app is only $7.99 on the Apple App Store now, though I think I paid $8.99 a while ago.

So there you have it, two different ways to upgrade your “Zooming” with better video than the built-in video of almost every laptop without trying to find an overpriced webcam.

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