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Camera Upgrades for Remote Streaming Production

As Zoom and other videoconferencing applications dominate our professional interactions, and remote productions and presentations remain a necessary alternative in-person conferences and other events, webcam video is often the weakest link in our remote connections. Anthony Burokas recommends alternative camera sources--smartphones, DSLRs, and better webcams--and explains how to make them work.

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Learn more about remote and cloud-based live production at Streaming Media East Connect 2021.

Read the complete transcript of this clip:

Anthony Burokas: Let's talk remote cameras, because when your guest is remote, the camera is remote too. So, obviously, for remote cameras, we have the built-in webcams in laptops and some desktop computers and all-in-ones. And, generally, these aren't very good. We all know how bad they look. The resolution is 720p, if that, and the camera itself is not great. It's easily washed out if you've got lighting behind you, or if there's a window to the side. If somebody puts all the windows behind them, you really have no hope unless you want to have a shadow as a guest.

The selfie cameras on a cellphone or a tablet are a distinct step up. If you're looking at someone's laptop webcam, and it's looking awful, and it's got fingerprints on it, ask your remote guest, "Do you have an iPad or a tablet? Let's try to connect with that and see how it looks." And I can literally place it on the screen of their laptop and act as the laptop, but the camera will be better, and they can plug in earbuds right into the tablet and be good to go with both microphone.

External USB webcams offer another distinct step up over nearly every computer's internal webcam. If your guest has an external webcam anywhere in the house, or anywhere in the office, have them use it if you want them to have a better image quality and sound.

I'm partial to Logitech. I have three of them, and I've purchased them with my own money. I use them. There are other ones out there. I am not an expert in every webcam. I have tested a few, and I know that if you're going to spend $15 on Amazon for a 4K webcam, it's not going to be that good. If Logitech is charging $200 for the Brio, there's a reason why a good webcam costs more money. So when I say get a good webcam, I mean, at least $50 to $100. A hundred dollars can get you a really good webcam that will deliver a superior picture. You could even change the focus on it, things like that.

So now the challenge, if you want to use an external webcam and they don't have it, the challenge is to get it to the client. They're hard to source at this point, but if you can find them, get a couple, and then use a bubble mailer and send it out to your client and include a return receipt in there. So when they're done, they stuff it back in the bag, put a new label on top, and send it back to you this way. You're not without it for a long time. If you have a client you want to impress, order one online and drop ship it directly to the client, so you're not paying for any additional shipping. And then they get the webcam. And then they'll say, "Well, what do I do with it?" Tell them "Keep it, I loved working with you. Look forward to working with you again."

If you're paying $50-$75, but you've really impressed this person with your skills and your expertise, when they have another event coming up and they need somebody to make them look good, they'll think of you.

Stepping up from webcams, you have DSLRs. There are a lot of DSLRs out there, and not a lot of them are being used right now. So there's a lot of solutions that almost every single camera manufacturer has put together. Canon has this EOS Webcam utility that lets you connect your DSLR directly to the computer itself. And it will appear as a webcam to your software of choice. Panasonic, Fuji, and Sony have similar utilities. If your customer says, "I've got a couple of Sony cameras," you can say, "Download this software, put your camera on the tripod, and put it right the over top of your monitor." That's what I'm doing right now, with an old Panasonic GH4. I'm getting full HD off of it, into my mixer. And this is what gives me the depth of field, the evenness of tone, and the clarity over a webcam.