Being in the professional photography industry, hopping on to a Zoom meeting for the first time can be a horrifying experience. A low-angle webcam showing off your chin(s); wide-angle distortion emphasizing the size of your nose; exposure shifts as the webcam's automatic, center-weighted light meter overreacts to minor changes in brightness. For the masses, these details go unnoticed but stick out to anyone who takes imaging seriously.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of ways to increase the image quality of your Zoom meetings. It takes a combination of video, audio, and lighting skills to create a stunning video feed. Let’s start by upgrading a webcam for a DSLR for Zoom meetings.
Why a DSLR as Webcam Is Beneficial for Zoom Meetings
Skip to “What You Need” if you need no convincing, but it’s important to make these distinctions for anyone outside of the professional photography world.
A basic webcam is a low-quality camera restricted by automatic video capture. Webcams automatically determine the brightness, color, and focus, and often do a lackluster job. Additionally, most webcams have mediocre lenses and tiny image sensors that pale in comparison to the video quality of the most basic DSLRs.
Using a DSLR camera as a webcam for Zoom meetings allows you to control the look of your video feed with camera settings. Whoever is on the other end of your Zoom meeting will surely be impressed by the professional look that a DSLR webcam adds. While this article focuses on the DSLR camera, this is all applicable to many mirrorless cameras as well.
What You Need
Everything you need to pair with a computer to use your DSLR or mirrorless camera as a webcam
A Camera With Video Mode and Clean HDMI Output
For a DSLR to function as a webcam, it must be capable of shooting video. Video recording functions are common on DSLRs, ever since Canon shook the world with the 5d Mark II.
Nowadays, advanced video functions exist on entry-level models of DSLRs (think Canon Rebel t7i or Nikon D3500), mirrorless cameras (Sony a5100), and some compact cameras (Sony RX100 VI).
However, not all cameras with video features will be suitable as a webcam. Additionally, the camera must have a clean HDMI output. This means the DSLR camera will output the video feed through the HDMI port with no additional menu information, such as camera settings or focus modes.
The Canon Rebel T7i doesn’t make this cut. If your DSLR camera is on the supported cameras page from Atomos, it has a clean HDMI output.
To use a camera as a webcam, you need an HDMI cable to link the DSLR to the computer. While chances are you have one of these around the house, it may not be long enough for this task. Consider how far away you want your DSLR camera to be from you and buy an HDMI cable of appropriate length.
I’ve used up to a 50 foot HDMI cable without having signal strength issues. Do not confuse the HDMI output with the USB port. There are solutions to using a DSLR camera’s USB connection as a webcam such as Sparkocam, however, the applications are limited.
Camera-Specific HDMI Adapter
If the standard HDMI cable doesn’t fit your DSLR camera, you need an HDMI adapter to connect your camera to the standard HDMI cable. The two common HDMI ports on DSLR and mirrorless cameras are Micro HDMI and Mini HDMI. For instance, my Sony mirrorless cameras all feature the Micro HDMI port, whereas the last Nikon DSLR I owned featured a Mini HDMI port.
The Canon 5d Mark IV also uses Mini HDMI. You can find the exact HDMI adapter necessary by searching for the port under the HDMI specs on a camera’s listing at Adorama. You can skip the adapter route if you opt for an HDMI to mini HDMI or HDMI to micro HDMI cable instead.
Elgato Cam Link or Capture Card
Next, you’ll notice that your desktop or laptop computer does not have an HDMI input (it’s extremely rare). For your computer to view the DSLR as a webcam, you need some type of capture card.
The Elgato Cam Link 4k is a capture card that takes the video from your DSLR camera and processes it so your computer can recognize the camera as a webcam. The Cam Link is far and away the most common device used by live-streamers.
Connectivity of the Elgato Cam Link is simple, as it plugs into your computer like a USB cable. Without any complicated software or settings, your computer instantly recognizes the connected camera as a webcam.
Elgato does offer a number of additional capture card devices, some that connect externally via USB and others that occupy a PCIe slot on a desktop computer’s motherboard. Most of the added benefits of these devices are geared towards the video game streaming community. While I use an Elgato HD60 Pro in my studio’s desktop computer, I recommend the Elgato Cam Link or Cam Link 4k for their extreme simplicity.
Note: the original Elgato CamLink is discontinued, so only the Elgato Cam Link 4k is currently available. You can still use an original Elgato Camlink if you can find one used.
The Elusive Elgato
Due to COVID-19 restrictions around the world, live streaming and video conferencing have exploded in popularity, putting a significant strain on the availability of the Elgato Cam Link. If you are unable to purchase one and cannot wait, there are some alternative options (none of which I have personal experience with).
How to Set it Up
The complete set up of camera, HDMI adapter, HDMI cable, and Elgato cam link plugged into a computer
Thankfully when using your DSLR camera as a webcam, most of the hard work is in the preparation phase. Ensuring your camera can function as a video device, choosing the correct HDMI adapter, and picking the right capture card device will all pay off with an extremely simple setup. So, once you’ve gathered all the pieces, here’s how to put it together.
Set Your DSLR Camera up in Video Mode
Before connecting anything, position your DSLR as a webcam where you want it and switch to video mode. This is where you get to take control of how your video will look by choosing your settings. I’d also suggest you put your camera on a tripod off your desk, to eliminate any camera shake.
I’ll leave the creative liberties of white balance, focus settings, lens focal length, and aperture up to you for now. Look out for my future articles for more tips on a clean video stream.
Connect the Cables
First, plug the HDMI adapter into your camera. Connect the HDMI cable into the HDMI adapter. Plug the other end of the HDMI cable into the Elgato Cam Link. Connect the Cam Link into a USB port on your computer. Turn the camera on. Make sure the HDMI cable is not putting significant strain on your camera's HDMI port, as tension can damage the port.
Open Zoom and connect the video to Cam Link
On the bottom left corner of an ongoing Zoom Meeting, click the arrow next to the camera icon in the bottom left corner. Here you can select Cam Link as your video source. On both Mac and Windows products, I have never had to do any type of firmware, software, or support maintenance for the Elgato Cam Link.
Every time I use it with video software, it’s instantly available as a video source. If you notice that your menu details are showing up on the zoom meeting, there’s a menu function to turn them off. If you are using Zoom for the first time, you can choose the Cam link as your video source during the startup process as well.
Keep in mind HDMI also carries an audio signal. If you have a shotgun microphone on your DSLR camera (Like the Rode VideoMic Pro), you can access that audio by selecting Cam Link on the microphone icon.
Your audio source can be a laptop’s built-in microphone, a USB cable microphone, Bluetooth headset, or XLR microphone connected to a USB audio interface. Once connected, you’re ready to start using your DSLR webcam on Zoom.My home setup for making Youtube videos, live streaming, and video conferencing
Using a DSLR as Webcam Beyond Zoom
Now that you’ve successfully made your DSLR a webcam, there’s plenty of other applications beyond one-on-one video chats. You can use the same DSLR camera and Elgato Cam Link with Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) to record and live-stream videos practically anywhere. Livestream your retouching on Twitch, create videos for Youtube, chat with your Facebook Page followers.
You can even use the free version of restream.io to broadcast live to multiple places at the same time. Most platforms that support live video have a streaming option for OBS to connect to. So, dive into the massive world of live streaming and look for creative opportunities to share your work and build your business.
Robert Hall is an editorial photographer in Michigan. He shares his views of the photography industry on his Youtube channel and High ISO Podcast.