Use Your Canon DSLR as a Webcam

In this post, I’ll share how I use my Canon DSLR as a webcam using Canon’s EOS Webcam Utility Beta.

The “Stay Home, Stay Safe” lockdown changed the way many business professionals work–myself included. My company ordered me to go home, and work remotely. At first, everything was fine, and then someone booked a Zoom meeting. I quickly learned that Zoom used the audio and video on my computer–which was a crappy laptop webcam, and teensy little microphone hidden on the bezel. The result? Not very good…

Who Cares?

For many people, a basic webcam image is just fine for Zoom meetings. I mean–it’s just a boring work meeting, not Hollywood! Who really cares? Right? My wife and I both telecommute, and since March, we’ve seen people in our online meetings with large, bright windows behind them–making them silhouetted, like they’re part of the witness protection program… Some have too much light, others have almost no light, and there are a few who look like they’re in an earthquake, (they’re typing and their laptop screen jiggles…) In some cases, people are in their kitchens, others are in their back yards (with their barking dogs). Some have mentioned being distracted by our “busy looking” bookshelves in our home office. You get the idea. My point is, people actually notice how you and your surroundings look in your online meetings.

Just like dressing sharp helps you to come off as a professional, having a high-quality online presence can significantly improve how you come across online.

My Quest for Better Zoom Video

As a photographer/videographer, my craptastic laptop audio/video Zoom experience made me cringe. I knew there had to be a better way, so I scoured the internet to see if I could use my Canon camera as a webcam.

I learned I could use a gadget by “Elgato” called the Cam Link 4k. I also learned that it was completely sold out world-wide, and used eBay copies of the $129 device were selling for close to $400. Looks like the price also went up on Amazon… Yay capitalism! Well…scratch that idea.

Next I tried searching for webcams like the HP webcam my wife uses. Logitech also makes good ones… But just like Elgato, they were pretty much sold out everywhere–and once they restocked, prices went up.

I even tried using open source solutions like “Camera Live”, “Camtwist”, and “OBS” (Open Broadcaster Software), and actually made it “work”. But it was clunky, and involved a bunch of troubleshooting. While I could see its potential, there were “lag” issues, and I knew it wouldn’t work for me.

The Solution:

Just as I resigned myself to use that crappy built-in webcam on my laptop, Canon released the “EOS Webcam Utility Beta“. I immediately downloaded it, and tested it with Zoom. I was blown away by how well it worked, and how incredibly SIMPLE it was. Check out these “selfies” I took using my built-in webcam vs. my DSLR! For reference, I used the same lighting, same chair, same office–same everything. Just two different cameras.

My Basic Setup

Here’s the basic ingredients you need to massively improve your Zoom video quality with your Canon camera as a webcam:

That’s the basic overview. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. You should already have Zoom installed and ready
  2. Download and install Canon’s EOS Webcam Utility Beta
  3. Reboot
  4. Connect your Canon camera to your computer via USB cable
  5. Open Zoom
  6. Click the gear icon (upper right)
  7. Click “Video”
  8. In the combo box labeled “Camera”, select “EOS Webcam Utility Beta
  9. That’s it! You’re done! You should see your smiling face in Zoom!

Basic Troubleshooting

If it doesn’t immediately work, check the following:

Look for this icon down by the clock (lower right)–if it’s there, right click and close it. If you don’t, the EOS Webcam Utility Beta won’t work correctly with Zoom
  1. Make sure your camera is switched on
  2. Make sure your camera is in “video” mode
  3. Close the Canon EOS Utility if it’s running:
    1. If you have Canon’s EOS Utility software loaded, it might automatically open. (Canon’s EOS Utility isn’t the same thing as the EOS Webcam Utility Beta. The EOS Utility is like a virtual remote for your camera.) Check for this tiny little icon down next to the clock in the lower right hand corner. If the icon is there, right click it, and close it. If you don’t, your camera won’t show up in Zoom. You’ll only see a black screen with the words EOS WEBCAM UTILITY BETA. Trust me, I got tripped up on this step
  4. “Wake Up” your camera
    1. My Canon 80D goes to “sleep” (standby mode) after a few minutes. If my camera is “asleep” when I open Zoom, nothing happens–no image–nada. To fix it, I reach up and half-press the shutter button to “wake up” my camera. That does the trick!

Now fire up Zoom, and open the video settings. You’ll see a new option in your webcam drop-down called “EOS Webcam Utility Beta“. When you select it, your camera springs to life–and there you are–in all your HD glory.

Beyond The Basics:

The stuff in the following sections is optional, but if you can swing it, will add more quality to your video! After I got my camera set up and working with Zoom, I started thinking about other things that might enhance my overall video meeting experience:

Lighting

My desk is right in front of a large, north facing window–so I have lots of natural light that doesn’t change much during the day. That’s good, but I wanted to experiment to see if I could make it better. So I grabbed my little Falcon Eyes SO-28TD, and played with lighting.

I didn’t have a particular “look” in mind–I just wanted play around with the light, and see what I could achieve. I tried using the SO-28TD as a hair light, kick light, and key light–and finally settled on placing it just to the left of my face at about 50% power, on neutral color setting (around 4000K). That adds a little color to my pasty white skin, and allows me be primarily lit by the natural light from the window in front of me.

If you don’t have a fancy light–that’s fine–just make sure whatever light source you have is in front of you, not behind you. Unless you actually are part of the witness protection program!

Backdrop

After getting my lighting just right, I took a long hard look at my backdrop. My little home office is stuffed with bookcases behind my desk. They’re loaded with gobs of random books–it looks like a messy library. I didn’t want people getting distracted by my “busy”, “messy” looking backdrop during meetings. But rather than tear apart my home office and design a hip, modern, sparse look, I opted for a different way to “hide” my messy library.

First, I tried Zoom’s virtual background feature. Surprisingly, the software actually does a pretty good job! I downloaded some generic office images and played with them. To really make Zoom’s virtual background feature work, I knew I’d probably need a green screen. Since I didn’t want to bother with that, I decided to change my camera’s settings to blur my “messy” background.

Camera Settings

Disclaimer– These settings generally work for me, in my little office, with my big window, and little Falcon Eyes light. You may need to plug in different settings on your camera, depending on your unique lighting circumstances.

  • First I set my camera to “Manual” mode–so I can dial in the settings I need
  • Next, I open up my camera’s aperture to f/1.8 (which is the widest setting my 50mm lens allows). This creates a shallow depth of field, which keeps my face in tack sharp focus, but lets everything else blur away into an unrecognizable blob of colors and shapes behind me
  • With my camera in video recording mode, I open the main menu, and select full HD at 23.98fps (which is effectively 24 frames per second)
  • I set the shutter speed as close as I can to ‘double the frame rate’–which is my case is 50
  • I set my white balance to “automatic”
  • Finally, I set my ISO to 100. When I’m setting things up and checking settings for a video conference, I dial this up and down a little depending on the amount of light coming in through my window. If it’s overcast and rainy, I might go up to ISO 200. If it’s bright and sunny, I may stay at ISO 100, or 125. Again, it all depends…

Lens

As a photographer, I know how to achieve bokeh–or background blur: Just pop on my fastest lens. By “fast” I mean one that has a wide aperture, like my 50mm f/1.8. That lens, along with my lighting setup, makes me look like I’m being interviewed in a documentary. It makes me look “cinematic”, (which is tough to do, since I have a face made for radio). As a bonus, the 50mm happens to be Canon’s least expensive lens–so if you don’t have one, it won’t break the bank to get one.

Camera

I own the Canon 80D. It’s not Canon’s “newest” model, but it’s still a VERY powerful camera that takes “webcam” to a whole new level! In fact, any of Canon’s supported cameras will measurably step up your Zoom meeting video quality!

Camera Placement and Tripod

With my 50mm lens attached to my cropped sensor Canon 80D, I knew I’d be effectively shooting at or around 80mm. That’s pretty zoomed in. I knew I’d have to position my camera a little farther back to frame myself correctly for my online meetings.

I put my camera on a Joby GorillaPod, then sat back in my chair to see the results. With some fiddling and adjusting, I finally achieved a composition that I liked. I locked it off–and haven’t moved it since. When I need to grab my camera to take photos, I just pop it off the GorillaPod, and go. When it’s time for a meeting, I mount the camera back onto the GorillaPod. Since I don’t move the GorillaPod, I know it’s positioned where I last had it–so no need to repeat all that initial fiddling.

Don’t have a tripod? No problem. You just need to be able to plant your camera somewhere so it stays put. It can be on a stack of books, or whatever works for you in your situation.

Power

Using my DSLR as a webcam quickly sucks the life out of my batteries. I had to always remember to rotate fresh ones in, and keep charging the dead ones…

That got old pretty quick, so I bought a dummy battery kit so I could roll from one meeting to the next without fear of battery failure. A dummy battery lets me plug my camera into the wall. No more drained batteries!

The dummy battery I bought is a simple 3-piece kit:

  • The dummy battery with wire dangling from it
  • The middle wire bit
  • The last wire bit that plugs into the wall

My Canon 80D has a little rubbery opening for a wire to snake out from the battery compartment, with the battery door closed. It’s like Canon knew…

This is a no-brainer if you have an indoor setup with your camera in a semi-permanent location. I don’t stress about batteries anymore. Honestly I don’t know why I didn’t buy one of these sooner!

Don’t Do Zoom Meetings?

You might not do the whole Zoom meeting/webcam thing like I do, but there are other ways to use your Canon DSLR when it’s tethered to your computer:

  • Are you a YouTuber who live streams or makes “talking head”, “unboxing”, “how to”, (anything really) videos?
  • Facebook Live streamer?
  • Are you an online gamer who does Twitch streaming?

Conclusion

The “Stay home, stay safe” lockdowns of 2020 have certainly changed the way many of us work. Maintaining a professional appearance when working online, is just as important as looking sharp in the business office. One way to do that is to use your Canon DSLR or mirrorless camera as a webcam. I hope this post helps you! Good luck, and stay safe!

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