Supercharge your video calls with the right gear

Sick of people looking up your nose on video calls? Here’s how to take them to the next level.

Picture of Panasonic camera
Picture of Panasonic camera

You Need A Better Camera!

There are cameras to suit every budget and you may already own one that you can use. Some cameras can connect to your computer over USB and appear as a webcam to your computer using the right software. At the moment, the only one that seems to do this well is Fujifilm’s X Webcam utility, which works with some of their cameras. Canon and Panasonic both have utilities, but they are clunky in their own way; Canon’s EOS Utility requires that you use Zoom in a Chrome browser rather than the native application. Panasonic’s LUMIX Tether utility does not appear as a webcam and requires that you capture a window on the screen. Finally, Sony’s new vlogger-oriented ZV-1 camera will also support streaming over USB.

Don’t Forget Sound!

Audio is really important — often more important than good video. You can get by with your laptop microphone but there are much better options out there. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. USB microphone: If you’re going to be in one place, a USB microphone on a stand like the Blue Yeti Nano is a good idea and also looks cool. If you’re going to move around, you might be better off with a lavalier (aka lav, lapel or tie clip) microphone — just make sure you have a long enough wire. When using a standalone microphone, you’ll definitely want a pair of headphones like these Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pros to avoid echos.
  2. Camera audio: I would not recommend using the built-in camera microphone, but some cameras have audio inputs for external microphones. Most of these are 3.5mm (1/8") jacks, but some also have XLR options. Both open the door to more microphone options and you should read this article and this one for inspiration.

Let There Be Light

In many home workspaces, your face is lit by a ceiling fixture and your laptop screen. This is not a flattering look. There are many cheap lighting options available and you’ll want to go with something that’s diffused (the individual bulbs will be covered with a translucent panel), and you’ll want it to be at about the same level as your camera. You might choose a ringlight that goes around the lens of the camera or some other form of keylight. I would recommend choosing an LED one that is easily mountable and either has a long battery life or the option of running while connected to a power cord like the Lumecube Broadcast Lighting Kit.

Hold everything

You know what makes your iPhone look like crap? Annoying shaking. Not only is it distracting, but it also reduces the video quality. So you need to invest in a way to support your camera that isn’t a pile of books. I like the Manfrotto PIXI EVO but you may need something beefier depending on your camera and lens combination. The microphone and light that I’ve recommended come with their own stands.

Zoom In

Now you need to tell Zoom about your new gear. Open the Zoom client application and go into Preferences. You can also access it through the application menu. You’ll want to change the Video and possibly the Audio settings depending on your gear.

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Zoom Preferences panel
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Video and Audio settings in Zoom Preferences panel.

Video Settings

If you’re using a camera manufacturer’s streaming utility, you will need to start this first. Open the Video Preferences panel. The camera or the HDMI to USB adapter will appear under the camera drop-down and you’ll see a preview if it is all set up correctly.

Audio Settings

Open the Audio Preference panel.

  1. Bluetooth headset: Connect your Bluetooth headset using the appropriate Bluetooth menu. In the Zoom Audio Preference panel, you should see that both the Speaker and Microphone are set to your headset.
  2. USB microphone: Your USB microphone will appear as a new audio device. In the Zoom Audio Preference panel, you should set Microphone to your USB microphone device. You should set Speaker to be Same as System or the name of your computer. Remember to plug a headset into your computer using the audio jack.
  3. Camera audio: If you’re using the camera as the audio source, in the Zoom Audio Preference Panel, set Microphone to the name of your camera or the HDMI to USB dongle (i.e. the same as in the Video Preferences panel). You should set Speaker to be Same as System or the name of your computer. Remember to plug a headset into your computer using the audio jack.

Disclosure Statement

Many of the links in this post use the Amazon Associates program where will earn commissions for qualifying purchases that use those links.

Builder of media technology services and a videography, cinematography, photography, gadget, IoT, AI, auto and aviation geek.

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