If you’re anything like us, you’ve likely spent a lot more time on video calls, online meetings and streaming in the last year than ever before.
Your webcam has been getting plenty of use, but perhaps you’ve considered upgrading it to something fancier or just wished you could look better on camera.
The good news is, if you have a DSLR camera knocking about in your house, you can easily use it to upgrade your video calls and really look the part online by following this guide.
Camera specific software
In the last few months, some of the major camera brands have released software updates to enable users of popular digital cameras to use those cameras as live webcams.
Panasonic released Lumix Tether for Streaming and Cannon dropped its EOS Webcam Utility to do the same. These options are potentially great free solutions to use your camera as a webcam, but only if you meet the right requirements.
The software only works with specific cameras – Panasonic’s for example, works with the Lumix GH5 but not the ageing GH4. Your PC also has to meet certain requirements and the software isn’t completely stable.
It is worth checking for these options first though as they’re free and a great way to try it out if you already have an appropriate camera.
HDMI capture cards
If you don’t have the right software, the other option comes in the form of HDMI capture cards. Devices like Elgato’s Cam Link 4K allow you to make use of your camera’s HDMI output to convert that view into something your PC can use.
Quite simply, you plug an HDMI cable into your camera, then the other end of that into the Cam Link 4K capture card. That, in turn, plugs into a USB port on your PC or Mac and then you can use the camera in place of a webcam.
The Cam Link 4K works with not only DSLR cameras but all manner of other cameras including camcorders and action cameras too. You can check whether it’s compatible here, but what we’ve found is it works with more cameras than the official manufacturer software.
There are a few other things to think about, like how you’re going to mount your camera or what tripod to use but otherwise, it works perfectly. The Cam Link 4K is recognised by your computer as a USB webcam, so you can simply switch to it within your software and get it to work (more on that in a bit).
If you’re planning on using the camera a lot, it’s worth thinking about buying a live power adapter so you don’t need to replace the batteries constantly.
These are battery converters you can purchase that swap out your standard rechargeable battery with one that can be connected directly to the mains so you don’t run out of juice mid-video call. They are different depending on your camera, but as an example, this is the one we use with the Panasonic Lumix GH4.
Why would you use a DSLR as a webcam?
You might be wondering why you’d use a DSLR camera in place of your webcam. The answer is simple enough. You’ll likely have a better lens and capture quality on that camera than any standard webcam you can purchase.
An HDMI capture card like the Cam Link 4K also allows you to make the most of your camera’s video capabilities. Where most webcams can only manage 720p, the Cam Link allows up to 4K at 30FPS. So with the right lighting, your video will be much more professional, crisp and satisfying too.
How to use the Elgato Cam Link 4K
Once plugged into your camera and your PC, the Cam Link 4K is fairly simple to use. Most apps will recognise the Cam Link 4K as a USB webcam immediately. If it doesn’t work when the camera is powered on, then you can usually dive into the settings to get it working.
How to use Cam Link 4K with Zoom
To set the Cam Link up with Zoom is very straightforward. Turn your camera on and login to Zoom. If it’s not automatically selected as your main device, then click the settings cog to option the options menu.
From there click on video and you’ll see a dropdown with “camera” next to it. Select that and you should see all the available camera options for you to choose from.
If you’ve started the app and leapt straight into a call, then you can achieve the same results by clicking on the small arrow on the bottom left next to stop video and then select the Cam Link from there instead. You should then see the camera displaying a view of your surroundings.
How to use Cam Link 4K with Microsoft Teams
The logic for using the Elgato Cam Link 4K with Microsoft Teams is mostly the same as using it Zoom.
Open Teams and click on your profile icon on the top right, then click settings. Once in there, navigate to devices and click the drop-down for camera. Again you should see the Cam Link 4K displayed in there. Select that as an option and you’re away.
Streaming with your DSLR camera
We’ve written before about the best gear to use when streaming and the Elgato Cam Link 4K is certainly a worthy addition to that list if you’re looking to improve your efforts live streaming on Twitch, Facebook or YouTube.
The good news is, it’s really easy to use the Cam Link 4K with your favourite software. Whether you’re using OBS Studio, OBS Streamlabs or other, you can simply select the Cam Link 4K as your video source and add it into your stream.
In OBS Studio, for example, click the plus button under sources. Then click video capture device and create a new source. From that menu, you can then select the Cam Link 4K as your chosen camera.
Then you’re free to adjust the position and size of your camera’s view as you normally would with any source in OBS. Whether that’s full size for just chatting scenes or snug in a corner for a game overlay with a greenscreen filter.
It’s worth bearing in mind a few things when using your camera this way. Because you’re using your camera’s HDMI feed, you might find that some of the data you’d usually see on your live display might appear on your live camera feed in the apps as well.
So, things like levels, histograms and grid markings may appear over your face, which is not ideal. The best thing to do is dive into your camera’s settings and turn these things off manually.
You will also find that tweaks to the live camera settings can usually only be done on camera, rather than within the software. This includes simple things like adjusting brightness, ISO and focus. However, the end result is much better than you’d find with webcams.