Use a DSLR as a webcam?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Hector Javkin, Apr 22, 2020.

  1. I need to participate in some Zoom meetings, and have encountered several problems. My laptop has a perfunctory camera and a rather small screen, so I can't see everyone clearly. My desktop does not have a camera. The good and not exorbitantly priced webcams appear to be all sold out, as are nearly all the webcams listed at B&H.

    Why not use one of my DSLRs? I have three Nikons that might be suitable, a D5600, a D7200 and a D750. I don't shoot video and have no experience in long videos or connecting the camera's video to an external device. Are there any reasons not to use a DSLR in this way?

    I will appreciate any guidance.
  2. I'm using the adequate camera on my laptop, but pumping video out on my good widescreen, high-res monitor. I bought an HDMI switch so I can jump back and forth between desktop and laptop without wrestling cables, and I simply swap the keyboard/mouse dongle between front/side USB ports on the two machines. Unless it's truly terrible I would not worry about the quality of your webcam on the laptop.

    I'd check the manual on your bodies under "tethering", but I think making your laptop work will be much easier.
  3. I don't know how long you can have your DSLR on liveview mode before it gets too hot. I used to use a camcorder as webcam connected via USB or Firewire.
  4. I second the suggestion of just connecting your stationary screen to your laptop.
    After endless Zoom meetings over the last few months, I subscribe to the principle of keeping it simple in order not to screw things up.
    Sound is more important than image quality anyway, so buy a light headset if you want the best possible experience.
  5. Thank you all. I'll give the laptop--with an external monitor--another chance.
  6. A DSLR or mirrorless camera gets hot only when. you're recording to a memory card, mainly due to the battery heating under the load. When streaming video, there's no need to record, and there's no arbitrary 30 minute time limit. If you use the internal battery for straming, the camera barely gets warm to the touch. If you use an external power source (via a dummy battery), the temperature rise is even less. I.have used mine for up to 10 hours at a stretch when recording certain events to an Atomos Ninja V.
  7. In order to ingest video into the computer, you need a device to convert the camera's HDMI output into a digital signal the computer can use, via USB or an internal card. Audio picked up by the camera is embedded in the HDMI signal. Most USB attachments with an HDMI port are for output only (a second monitor or recorder). You need a converter specifically for input, AJA makes one for about $300 which will handle up to 1080p60 video, and works flawlessly with either PCs or Mac.

    Audio picked up by the camera isn't much better than that picked up by a mic in the computer or smart device. It picks up too much ambient noise and reflections from the walls unless you are very close. Sound from the internal speakers blees into the microphone, and further confuses the issue. You get much better results if you use headphones with a built-in microphone, or with a lavaliere mic or one on a desktop stand.

    New Macs have a headphone jack but not for an external microphone. There are inexpensive lavaliere mics you can plug into the camera ($60), or you can use a USB microphone or audio interface with a conventional mic. If you want CD (or better) quality sound for music, there are ways to do that too.

    You don't need a switcher unless you want to.use more than one camera, one at a time to the computer. Most of the time you will still need a separate converter card for the computer. That's probably for another time, another place an another thread. In these troubled times, live-streaming is becoming an increasingly useful skill set.
  8. I'm using my iPhone, which has a more than adequate camera, mounted on a tripod in front of my desk. I'm on zoom most of the day now, and it works just fine.
  9. My lap top web camera made me look bad so I bought a $40 one on Amazon and got it in a week. Works great!
  10. Ed, thank you for all the information. It's very useful. And thank you, Tholte, will try again. I looked for a webcam on Amazon, and haven't found one that seemed trustworthy yet. There are probably fewer now than when you ordered. David, my iPhone would show me even smaller faces than my laptop.
  11. For another possible alternative, If you have a smart or "semi smart" TV, you can almost certainly sister or pair your laptop
    (sync it with the TV so the TV copies the laptop display simultaneously) to your television.

    I would surmise that your voice would probably transmit thru the laptop mic. Both devices would be right there with you as you "zoom". (guess that's a verb now, eh?)

    Just a thought.

    EDIT: you may need a cable to physically link the two devices. Blue tooth MIGHT work, depending how new each device is. By cable I mean Cat-5 or 6, USB, or possibly HDMI- perhaps any of these would work?
  12. @Hector Javkin

    How to Connect a Laptop to a TV

    How do I connect my laptop to the TV? | TechRadar

    Connecting laptop to the TV with just a few simple steps | | Resource Centre by Reliance Digital

    OK so here are a few articles on connecting a laptop to a TV. One more advantage of doing this might be that you can still do things on your laptop as you conduct or attend your meeting- say if you had to do some sort of powerpoint presentation, share some kind of graphic, or whatever.

    If this is difficult for whatever reason, start with consulting the world wide web- go to the TV brand website, enter your model number- OR do a straight up search that goes something like

    TV brand + model number+ sync/mirror + laptop brand

    I'm sure the web would also tell you how to operate any and all programs, features, etc etc etc while you zoom on your tv/laptop combo.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2020
  13. The OP's question was whether a DSLR could be used for podcasting. That said, a webcam is the least expensive way to add a camera to your computer or laptop. There are dozens on the market for $50 or so. They connect via USB, so there's no need for a separate converter. USB2 has enough bandwidth to support 720p video, and USB3 will support 1080p, even 4Kp30. At any point, your internet upload spead may be the limiting factor. For 720p30 you need at least 6 Mb/s speed, 10 Mb/s being a safer option. 1080p needs twice as much bandwidth, etc. 4K video is possible, but impractical for live connections, and there's hardly anyone on line to talk to at that resolution. If you push the available bandwidth, the signal becomes erratic with many dropouts.

    HDMI is limited a cable length of about 15 feet. Most TV sets have an HDMI input which would display signals from a DSLR, and mime the screen of your computer or laptop. That does not address the issue of getting your DSLR video into the computer for podcasting. You could certainly use a smart phone or tablet to podcast, and many people do just that. HDMI is not an option, but you can mimic the screen via AirPlay (Apple) over Wi-Fi, and many TV sets now have WiFi capability.

    BlueTooth is audio-only, and does not have the bandwidth needed for video. Even audio is subject to a time lag of 1/4 second, which can make two-way communication very difficult. You can use BlueTooth headphones for monitoring a conversation, but you must take pains to exclude your own voice from the signal. If your own voice is delayed by 1/4 second, it's as though your tongue becomes glued to the roof of your mouth. It's a phenomena once used to detect fake deafness in military inductees.
    tholte and DavidTriplett like this.
  14. Thanks, Ed, but hmm, I thought the conversation was more about meetings online. I don't know a whole lot about the technology of online meetings, just adding what I do know about tethering devices together, more or less in response to the highlighted statements.

    HDMI cables have gotten longer to serve the need of high end TV/stereo/entertainment/AV systems where a TV might be mounted across the room from everything else, say- on a wall. Where I live there's a specialty electronics warehouse where I can probably buy any length of any cable I would ever need- I did somewhat recently buy a 50' cat 6 cable over there, for example- hence an assumption that if I can walk into a building and buy some stuff, there'd surely be an online source for pretty much anything. The linked article I posted (1stlink below) seemed to suggest varying cable-connect options.

    Mirroring devices (laptop to TV) is old tech, I was doing it nearly 10 years ago- admittedly simply for video streaming, before our TV was "connected" to the web.

    How To Extend Your HDMI Cables - DIY Tech

    here's an article from a few days ago on mirroring Zoom meetings to a TV set using an app with an android device

    How to Cast Zoom Meeting to TV from Android / iOS / PC

    here's a whole set of ways to Zoom on a TV

    How to get Zoom on your TV

    here's some Zoom support stuff

    Screen Share Using Airplay Mirroring

    I tend to believe, without ever really knowing, that with 21st century technology, anything no matter what- is doable.
    Sorry man call me hopelessly optimistic.


    [QUOTE="Hector Javkin, post: 5823843, member: 18876"]I need to participate in some Zoom meetings, and have encountered several problems. My laptop has a perfunctory camera and a rather small screen, so I can't see everyone clearly. My desktop does not have a camera. The good and not exorbitantly priced webcams appear to be all sold out, as are nearly all the webcams listed at B&H.
    I will appreciate any guidance.[/QUOTE]
  15. Okay. What's in a title anyway ;)

    HDMI tends to get jittery with cables longer than 15'. Furthermore good cables tend to be thick and relatively stiff - a tripping hazard and risk of damaging connectors with excessive strain. There are powered HDMI extenders, even HDMI to IP adapters. I use SDI connections for anything longer than 6' or so. SDI cables are thin and can run up to 300 feet or so, so keeping them out of the path of traffic is easier.

    I have been using an 11" iPad for Zoom meetings without eye strain. How large does a screen need to be? Most laptops are as large or larger.

    The keys to a good web meeting are
    • Good internet connection, particularly an upload speed of 6 Mb/s or better. If you rely on WiFi rather than ethernet cable, consider using repeaters for better coverage.
    • Good sound: use an external microphone if possible. An inexpensive USB lavaliere mic ($80) is ideal because pickup doesn't change when you move around. There are very good USB desktop microphones too, but in the $250 range. You should be within about 1' when speaking into a microphone.
    • Sound bleed: Use headphones or ear buds rather than speakers in the computer, phone or tablet. Sound from the speakers is picked up by the microphone, causing a noisy, hollow sound that can be hard to understand.
    • Distance: Stay far enough from the camera that your face is not distorted due to perspective. That works best if you have an external microphone.
    If. you haven't guessed, streaming and podcasting have become a major part of my business. I'm just trying to share some experiences. What is video but photography with sound and a time line?
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  16. Black Magic has an HDMI to SDI micro adapter for about $60. It will transmit video up to 1080p60. It needs external, 5 VDC power via a micro USB connector. A small USB battery can be used for many hours in lieu of an AC adapter. There are matching SDI to HDMI adapters which can be paired with the transmitters.

    AJA to USB converters are available for either HDMI or SDI inputs. Setup is easy and relatively foolproof. No drivers are needed for Mac computers.

    I use SDI between my switcher and laptop, a distance of less than 3'. HDMI is a PITA, best avoided if you have a choice.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  17. Hi Ed, I know nothing or very close to nothing. A tiny bit of experience coupled with The Internet = (as usual) danger. LOL
    Hope Hector can get himself sorted. Cheers man.
  18. I don't think Ansel Adams ever reached this point. When you've made a few mistakes, including some expensive ones, you call it "experience."

    I use HDMI a lot, and I use some thin cables for local connections, but not more than 3'. When you route cables for a camera 3/4th the way around a 20'x30' room to avoid a doorway, you get 70' and change. SDI cables have locking BNC connectors, which won't be dislodged if you move equipment around.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  19. Tom and Ed, than you so much! The reason I want to avoid a $50 web camera from a manufacturer about which I know nothing is that I'll probably replace it when B&H says they have the one I want. It would be like a cheap tripod to use "for now." I might go ahead and buy one now anyway. Now that I understand the complications of using one the DSLRs that currently sit in my dry cabinet, I won't be doing that. Using my television or another external display with a laptop sounds like the right plan. Our television, which sits in the living room, has a side benefit--I would have art on the wall behind me instead of bookcases. BTW, I have a good USB microphone which I've used before on the laptop. I should add that there are Macs around the house, with rather good cameras, but my wife is teaching three courses on them until mid-June.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  20. If you are looking for something without need to buy it. There is a free trial version for the mean time .... Camera via USB and uses a software?


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