It’s time to Level Up
In Part 1 of this guide, we learned about the basics of a good video set up:
- Framing yourself in the shot
- Creating a background that isn’t distracting
- Placing your webcam at eye level so it looks like you’re speaking to other people and not to yourself
- Placing your brightest light source in front of you (and what to do if you can’t)
- Wearing a headset with a good microphone
In Part 2, we’ll talk about what you can do to improve your presence.
Toss the Cheap Webcam
It amazes me that webcam manufacturers charge so much for such poor quality images (and sound, for those equipped with microphones). Some of the key issues include (but are not limited to):
- Inaccurate Color Reproduction - Have you noticed that you sometimes look orange or that the color of the wall behing you looks different? This is why.
- Poor Low Light Performance - If you don’t have perfect lighting, you may appear dark or shadowed in the image.
- Infinity Focus - If a webcam is typically used for video conferencing and you are the subject, why does it need to put everything in focus, including things that are way in the distance?
Unfortunately, this is the industry standard for web cams. So what do you do?
Get a real camera.
If you take photos as a hobby, you may already have a DSLR with a kit lens and can use that to great effect, but not everyone is going to want to spend thousands of dollars.
For the rest of us, I would recommend a point-and-shoot camera like the Sony ZV-1.
Sony’s target market for this camera is YouTubers, Instagrammers and Tik Tokers who want to be able to take videos and still images of themselves, especially using it as a handheld.
But it’s the features that make it so attractive for Sony’s target market that make it a stellar webcam alternative.
First, let’s talk about connecting it to your computer.
The ZV-1 has two options:
- USB Streaming Mode
- “Clean” HDMI Signal
The first option is a recent addition to the ZV-1, along with other Sony cameras. By updating your ZV-1 firmware to version 2.0, you have the ability to connect it to your computer via a USB cable and use it like any other webcam.
While this is certainly much better than a typical webcam, there are two problems with this (both of which we’ll solve in a moment):
- 5 volts of USB power is not enough to both stream with the camera and charge the battery. After a few hours of use, your camera will shut down.
- It only outputs 720p. Sure, the image is MUCH better than what you’ll find on the 720p camera in your MacBook or XPS, but it’s still not full 1080 or even 4K.
To solve your power issues, get a “dummy battery” kit.
A “dummy battery” is basically a power supply shaped like the camera’s original battery (circled below). You just pop it in the camera and plug it in to a wall socket.
I chose the DK-X1 which has some electronics to maintain proper voltage to your camera and protect it from overloading. The last thing you want to do is fry your brand new camera.
Unfortunately, the battery door on the ZV-1 doesn’t have a slot to feed the cable out cleanly, but I can confirm that it can still be mounted on a tripod when used this way.
“Clean” in this case means that the HDMI output doesn’t display any overlays like framing tools, exposure info, battery level, etc. It just outputs the video signal.
There are plenty of “prosumer” tools out there to help you connect your camera to your computer but the most popular ones cost $100 or more. The El Gato Camlink is the one that gamers seem to prefer, but you don’t need to spend that much money.
This generic capture card will work just fine.
It supports up to 60fps output, but that’s overkill for your standard video conference. Most video conferencing software only supports a maximum of 30fps anyway. I bought an earlier model that supports 30fps and it works like a champ.
Get a Professional Mic
In Part 1 of this guide, I suggested that you to use a headset with a good mic that is as inconspicuous as possible.
In Part 2, I’m going to tell you a better way.
Headsets can be distracting to people that you’re speaking with. Typically, the alternative is the use the built-in microphone on your computer or webcam, but as we’ve established, it’s a hit or miss situation and won’t always perform properly.
To get the best audio quality without the distraction of a headset, use a small video shotgun mic.