Your laptop webcam looks a bit pixelated. The webcam mounted on your monitor cost a lot of money a few years ago, but somehow makes you look like you live in a videogame.
In short, your Zoom meetings look ridiculous and you're losing authority to a lack of video resolution. The budget won't stretch to a new webcam, but there's no reason why it should. After all, you already own a DSLR camera.
Here's what you need to know about how to use a DSLR as a webcam.
Why Use a DSLR Instead of a Standard Webcam?
A DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera provides a more accurate view of what you're photographing, as the viewfinder displays exactly what is in front of the lens. DSLRs have been used for years – since replacing traditional SLR cameras – for professional photography. While they're slowly succumbing to the march of technology and the new generation of mirrorless cameras, for many the DSLR is the perfect marriage of old school photography and the digital era.
A webcam, in contrast, is more compact, with a small lens, smaller CMOS sensor, and lower resolution. They're optimized for sending data through wires rather than direct to a memory card, which means that webcams are more efficient, but the result can be, you guessed it, pixelated.
DSLR cameras can replace webcams for streaming video over Zoom, Skype, or whatever video conferencing software you're using. If you've ever watched live streams on YouTube with stunning picture quality, the chances are the streamer was using a DSLR.
The result is a better picture, smarter positioning (thanks to your tripod), and the benefit of using whatever lens you have attached to create depth that a webcam simply cannot. There is also the advantage of autofocus, although this can be noisy sometimes. It's smarter to use this for video calls than stay static or keep reaching for the focus ring, though.
Disadvantages to Using a DSLR Instead of a Webcam
However, there are some reasons not to use a DSLR as a webcam.
Webcams have quite wide lenses. If you move around a lot, you'll need a similarly wide lens on your DSLR, or have the default lens installed with the zoom pulled right back. The problem here is you might pick up items in the background that you might not want to be seen.
Finally, leaving a DSLR switched on and feeding video will hit the battery and can cause the camera to overheat. This can cause the device to shut down while it cools off. To avoid this, keep the calls relatively short, the environment well ventilated, and switch off the camera when not in use.
Before You Get Started: What You'll Need
To use your DSLR camera as a webcam, ensure you have:
- A tripod that suits your camera.
- A high-capacity battery or mains power solution. Mains power supplies for DSLRs typically feature a dummy battery that slips into the battery compartment. This then connects to an adapter to power the camera.
- The micro-USB cable that shipped with your camera, or a mini-HDMI cable.
- Optional: LED ring or other lighting, microphone.
Ensure you have these items and have them connected or set up before proceeding.
Is a Webcam Function Built In?
Some digital cameras include a webcam function, and this includes some DSLRs.
So, before proceeding, check the driver disc that shipped with your camera, along with the menus on the device. If there is a webcam setting you can use, you're free to proceed with connecting the device to your computer, webcam mode enabled. The camera should then be detected as a standard USB webcam, ready to be used with your video chat software. Note that if this is an option for you, the resolution will be lower than usual, limited by the constraints of the USB cable.
Usually, however, this option is limited to standard digital cameras. DSLRs don't often have a built-in webcam function. So, how can you replace your webcam with a popular DSLR?
How to Use a Canon DSLR as a Webcam
Canon DSLR owners can use their cameras as webcams. An incredible 43 models can be used in this way. For full details, check the Canon EOS Webcam Utility download page.
Download: Canon EOS Webcam Utility for Windows or Mac (Free)
After downloading, unzip the contents and run the setup file to install.
With the software installed on your computer, switch on your Canon camera and put it in movie mode. Adjust the exposure as required, then connect the USB cable that shipped with the camera. Connect the other end to your computer, then open your video conferencing tool. In the video settings screen, select EOS Webcam Utility as your chosen camera.
That's all there is to it.
Canon EOS Webcam Utility includes a useful feature that enables you to save footage to the camera's onboard SD card while you're streaming. This is enabled by hitting record on the camera.
For further information, consult the Canon EOS Webcam Utility download page, where you'll find other tips and tricks.
How to Setup a Nikon DSLR as a Webcam
Download: Nikon Webcam Utility for Windows or Mac (Free)
After installing, find the camera's USB port and connect it to your computer with the USB cable that shipped with the device. Switch on the camera, put it in video mode, and select a suitable mode – P (Program Auto Mode) is the easiest for getting started.
Next, set the camera so your webcam doesn't switch into standby:
- Press Menu
- Navigate to Custom Settings > Timers/AE Lock
- Set the Power Off Delay standby timer to No limit
Also, be sure to enable Auto Focus (AF) and set AF-area mode to Auto-area AF.
For audio, the Nikon Webcam Utility requires an external microphone connecting to your DSLR, rather than the built-in mic. Alternatively, use your computer's mic.
It is worth checking the notes for the Nikon Webcam Utility as there are some quirks to the software. For example, it may continue recording/broadcasting until you switch it off and on again.
Camera Not Supported? Try a Capture Device Instead
Despite wide support, not all DSLRs work with manufacturer webcam utilities.
To get around this, you can use the device's HDMI out, a video capture card, and the OBS broadcast software. Specific instructions differ between devices, and this can prove expensive if you need to buy a capture card as well.
To find the right solution to your camera and operating system, perform a web search using a term like "Camera model + webcam + OBS" to find precise details.
Your DSLR Can Now Be Used as a Webcam
Using your DSLR guarantees a far superior picture when compared to a normal webcam. It's straightforward to do with compatible DSLRs, but if you don't have the right camera for the manufacturer's webcam software, you can use a capture card.
Failing that, why not use your smartphone as a webcam instead?