The personal website of Chris Coyier

The Fancy DSLR Webcam Thing

I got me a setup!

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Be tryin to look and sound good while on video

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Inspiration

I was on a Zoom call with Dan Mall a little while back. The first thing you’ll notice while being on a Zoom call with Dan Mall is how extremely organized and professional Dan is. He can really wrassle a meeting to get things done and keep everyone on track. The second thing you’ll notice is how damn good he looks on camera. I mean, Dan is an attractive guy, but I mean just literally the sharp video quality. I asked Dan about it, and of course, he’s got a whole fancy blog post about it.

We’re used to seeing people on webcam meetings like this with built-in laptop cameras like this:

But Dan’s setup has him looking like this:

My incentive to get this done was twofold:

  • Look (and sound) good on video calls. I think super clear communication on video calls is so damn important (he writes while the entire world is working from home and communicating this way)
  • Be able to record screencasting videos from my desk and get good camera video/audio as well.

The Equipment

Here’s the list before we dig into it any deeper:

  • Canon T7i camera
    • Has clean HDMI output. More on that later.
    • Support a dummy battery. I did not want to be recharging and changing batteries. The dummy battery allows you to plug it into an outlet.
  • Tamron 17-50mm lens. I don’t have a mega strong opinion here but it does look pretty damn good. What’s cool about having a DSLR here is that I can experiment with lenses if I like. I need to try my nifty 50 to see if it’s better.
  • Elgato Cam Link
    • This the magic thing that makes it all work!
    • This takes HDMI from the camera and sends it to USB. Old USB, which is a bummer, but it works. I use the CalDigit TS3 Plus Dock for a USB hub, which I have a whole blog post on. This turned out to be extremely important. My old USB hub would cause the video to fail randomly and it’s a miracle it was even figured out.
    • You’ll need a cable from the camera to this. I needed a Mini-HDMI cable, but note that you might need Micro-USB. They are different!
  • Tripod. This is the closest I could find to the one I have. Point is, it’s short enough to use behind a monitor, but still useful as a standing-height tripod other times.
  • Rode Podcaster. Just a good basic mic, the big advantage being it’s USB so you don’t need any extra equipment.
  • Elgato Keylight. Don’t wanna waste the good quality video by having bad lighting. This one is cool because I can control it from a menu bar app over WiFi. And also because it mounts to a desk easily, just like the microphone swivel arm.

Recording

With all that stuff plugged in, I can test it out by opening Quicktime Player > New Movie Recording and selecting the right inputs.

Here’s a YouTube video I did with this setup:

I’m using ScreenFlow there, which records my screen, video, and audio all at once so I have zero syncing-up work to do.

The whole “Clean HDMI” thing

If you happen to have a camera that can output a video signal, and you manage to get it working as a webcam, that doesn’t 100% mean you’re in the clear. The problem with a lot of cameras is that they don’t output what the people call “Clean HDMI”.

Dirty HDMI is when the video output has things from the camera’s UI on it. I was so worried when I thought my camera has this problem:

And annoyed as well, because Elgato specifically lists the Canon T7i as verifiably having clean HDMI output. That’s why I bought it! Thanks for that handy page, Elgato. I had a Canon T3i before (which doesn’t have the right kind of output, but I otherwise liked it). I specifically upgraded bodies because I already have some Canon lenses and this new body has the video features I wanted.

Turns out the T7i actually does have clean HDMI output. You just have to tap the “info” button a few times, which thank god someone told me on Twitter as I would have never discovered it on my own.

Other People’s Journeys

Alternative Equipment

  • I have no particular allegiance to the Canon Rebel Tx line. There are obviously way fancier bodies, like the Mark II or whatever. I’d call that overkill for this, but I’m sure many would call what I’m already doing overkill. What confuses me more are models like the 77D or the M50 which are basically the same price as the T7i. I have no idea what the difference is. I don’t even really care about brand, it’s just that sticking with one DSLR brand means being able to slowly build a collection of lenses and other accessories.
  • This Pengo Video Game Capture Device looks nice in that it’s USB-C instead of old USB style. The reviews look OK and one even compares it directly to the Elgato Cam Link saying it’s better. Nowhere has it in stock right now, but I think it lists cheaper.
  • If you happen to have a DSLR camera that doesn’t support clean HDMI output, I’ve heard people have had luck with Magic Lantern (on-camera software). That’s pretty far outside of my comfort zone though.