Camera, DSLR as a webcam for zoom, teams, jitsi and co.

It is quite impossible to record three people standing at a distance of 1.5 metres with a common webcam in a zoom meeting. When a typical webcam is placed far enough away so that all persons fit into the picture, the fixed focus kicks in. The picture is blurred and in our case, there was only little light. Another detail that should not be forgotten is the webcam’s USB cable length.

To be prepared for the next time and because it is a nice gadget, I remembered that there are beta drivers for some Canon DSLRs to use them as a webcam.

Be aware though that your camera was most likely not designed for use as a webcam and may degrade when used as a webcam. Please check with the camera manufacturer if and how your device is suitable for this purpose. Use this report at your own risk.

Starting point for my research were two websites: A guide for Linux using gphoto2 and the Canon Webcam Utility Beta drivers. There must be a cheap second-hand camera that is on the list of supported cameras of gphoto2 as well as supported by Canon on Windows or Mac. Please note, these beta drivers are only available from Canon USA and in the USA the camera models are sometimes called differently than ours. For example the Canon “EOS 1300D” I acquired is called “EOS Rebel T6” in the USA.

At second-hand dealers an EOS 1300D costs from about 200 EUR. My camera comes from private ownership, less than 2 km away with two zoom lenses and under 1.000 shutter releases.

Canon DSLR als Webcam

The camera worked immediately with Linux using the above instructions. Oddly enough, the resolution provided by the camera is 1056×704 (at about 20-25 fps). Under Linux, the camera controls are not available on the camera, but can be controlled via gphoto2. The mode dial should be set to “P” or “Auto”, in the video setting little changes except that the frames per second (fps) drop to about 15. Set the lens to manual focus “MF” and adjust the focus on the lens ring. The camera is now available as a resource under Zoom, Teams, Jitsi and Co. This also works in parallel e.g. for local recording of the video.

EOS1300D under Linux in VLC

Using Windows, the camera only showed a kind of splash screen with the words “EOS Webcam Utility BETA”. Uninstalling all the other Canon tools actually helped and a live image came up. This time the resolution is 1280×720, set the camera to “video” using the mode dial and it remains partly operable e.g. autofocus. In VLC, Skype and Zoom the video is square with black bars on the sides, so it’s more like 720×720. The microphone of the camera will not work in both versions.

Possibly you’ll find out which part of the EOS Utilities actually has to be uninstalled or if you can’t put the tools to sleep. Simply terminating the EOS Utilities was unfortunately not enough for my installation (EOS Webcam Utility Beta 0.9.0 for Windows 04/28/20). Beware some users report that this solution does not work with every video software.

EOS1300D unter Windows im VLC
EOS1300D under Windows in VLC

This camera provides a resolution of 1920×1080 (Full HD) in the built-in video mode, i.e. when you film with the camera itself and record to the SD card. I suppose that the webcam resolution is basically a kind of preview image for computer-assisted shooting (tethered shooting).

The webcam scenario

Having a zoom lens on your webcam is truly unique. Unfortunately, such a camera is a bit too heavy to be hung on the top of the monitor like a webcam via clip. So you need a travel tripod or a mini tripod. With my space conditions and the rather lightweight EOS1300D a mini tripod on the windowsill would be great. But this is very tricky to position the camera due to the construction. I couldn’t find good cheap monopods that can stand on a table. Maybe you have an interesting idea.

It’s worth buying an external power supply or rechargeable batteries. I emptied a battery charge in one evening testing. In a video conference, I estimate the battery to last one to a maximum of two hours. A camera power supply unit costs about 20 EUR in the open aftermarket.

A 2 m USB extender cable helps to place the camera a little further away from the notebook in the room. With gphoto2 even the connection via WLAN might work, but I haven’t tried it yet.

For unknown interiors it is worth taking some lighting with you, as existing lighting might not be flicker-free or not sufficient.

Conclusion

The DSLR webcam hobby solution is especially suitable for people who already have a camera or use the SLR camera for their actual purpose.

For my goal of a hobby video conference with several people in one room, such a DSLR solution with a matching zoom lens is also excellent. The camera is even useful for taking photos or videos before and after the conference to document it. Including all necessary parts I kept costs below 250 EUR, that’s what a very high quality webcam would cost.

Actually, I thought that these cameras would then also provide Full HD as a webcam, but if you look at the transmitted video resolutions during web conferences, 1056×704 is more than sufficient.

Finally

+ Amazing possibilities compared to a normal webcam
+ Inexpensive if second-hand camera
– Needs some time to set up
– Needs space on the desk
o Reuse of an existing camera

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