The Best Webcam You Already Have

UPDATE (June 22, 2020): Short and sweet update, finally found the old iPhone I knew was somewhere, an iPhone 5S. A few great benefits including, permanently being able to leave the phone on the tripod, not having to worry about turning off notifications (all have been disabled in addition to enabling Do Not Disturb – talk about belt and suspenders), and no loss in quality. In fact I would say quality has improved because ManyCam now frames the exact resolution without having to software zoom and am now pushing 25 fps instead of the 15 fps before reducing CPU overhead overall let’s me tweak the frames per second up (I don’t intend to push past 720p since there is no super benefit in the video conferencing applications). FiLMiC also works fine with iOS 12 (as much as I can upgrade an iPhone 5S to).

FiLMiC + ManyCam + iPhone 5S
FiLMiC + ManyCam + iPhone 5S

UPDATE (June 2, 2020): I can’t believe I hadn’t mentioned in the original post or previous updates but you definitely want to make sure that Do Not Disturb (DND) is enabled when you are “web-camming” otherwise everyone will be able to see your texts, slacks, or whatever is set to pop up in an iOS notification.

To make this reminder easy, I’ve setup a Shortcut to automatically set DND to on when FiLMiC is opened. Shortcuts is a free iOS app from Apple (previously known as Workflow), go ahead and download it. Done? Good. You’ll be dropped into the My Shortcuts screen. To make this automatic we’ll need to do a few things.

Go to the Automation panel, it’s in the middle bottom set of buttons. Click the “+” in the upper right. Select Create Personal Automation and on the New Automation screen that appears, select Open App in the Settings area. Choose the App you want to have the trigger on, in my case FiLMiC Pro. Select Next, and Add Action. Do a search for “Disturb” and you should see “Set Do Not Disturb” as an available action. Select it and you should see it listed in the Action with “Off.” Tap on Off and it will switch to On as well as give you an option for when DND should be turned off. Go to the next screen and before you hit Done you might want to consider if you want to be asked to run the automation or have it run automatically. There you go.

If money is no object, Matt Mullenweg of Automattic and WordPress fame has a great post on how to Stream Like a CEO. It’s a great read and has really got me thinking that the teleprompter more than anything else will be my next upgrade.

UPDATE (May 25, 2020): First with great news, we have a Zoom update which fixes the virtual camera issue. Second, I have finally written the details for my current Best Webcam You Already Have. I’ve updated, upgraded, and enhanced the tools pretty much across the board.

Let’s start with the physical setup. Having a tripod laying around I decided it was time to have a more stable rig for the iPhone, the Slopehill Gooseneck holder I was using worked just fine but no way near as stable as a tripod and mount and getting the phone positioned just right every time was annoying. I purchased the Woohoto phone mount and it works as advertised. It’s solid and very configurable for a mount. Remember that you will always need to be cabled directly to your computer.

Tripod with Woohoto Mount

Next on the hardware side, I needed to bump up the audio. I needed something more dependable than the built in iPhone or laptop microphones and was getting annoyed with wired headphones and the AirPods. I purchased the Maono USB microphone for a few reasons.

  1. USB C so I can slowly get to future proofing with USB C only cables
  2. Hardware mute
  3. Hardware gain controller

The Maono also has an audio monitor jack and volume control. I never use it but it may come in handy at some point. I used the microphone with its included stand but this eventually was just adding to desk clutter so I purchased an adjustable mic stand. Nothing complicated, does its job.

Mic with Mount

Last bit of hardware was some light. My office has two windows but the one to right side of my desk creates a pretty poor one sided effect. I bought a simple desk clamp LED, it has three brightness modes and nothing else special. I may look into a more advanced light in the future but this lamp easily solved the lighting issues I was having. Also with FiLMiC Pro I can control light temperature so having a specialized LED for that is not a high priority.

Total cost of hardware purchases: $138. I would say that’s actually a pretty good price and significantly cheaper than buying a DSLR! Now for the software.

First, nothing has changed with the iPhone, still using FiLMiC Pro and very happy with all the functionality (especially when utilized with FiLMiC Remote on my iPad).

I’ve refined and decided to start paying for software that works better and has more options. Instead of using CamTwist for the virtual camera, I’ve gone to using ManyCam and in fact opted for the Studio package to take advantage of 4K and background blur (and maybe chroma key in the future). The Studio package is $59 per year. I did start with the Standard package, $29 per year, and it’s probably more than enough for most people. I really like having easy access to multiple pre-sets so I can switch between just a camera or mix-in with other media (i.e. a logo).

The last bit of software (absolutely not required) is Krisp. Just as ManyCam is a virtual camera, Krisp is a virtual audio device. The sole purpose is for ambient noise cancelling (both from your microphone as well as on your speaker if others have poor ambient background noise). Very important note: turn off if listening to other media, this is really only for talking. I had heard about Krisp but my office is pretty free of ambient noise so didn’t give it another thought until I got the microphone with the gain controller. Turning up the gain (so I wouldn’t have to have my face smashed into the microphone and displayed on camera) would introduce a lot of ambient noise. Krisp completely erased it! It was amazing. There is a free version to evaluate.

Total cost of software purchases was $124 with $99 of that cost being an annually recurring charge but at least I get a year to decide if I want to keep this exact setup.

After all is said and done, for a first year total of $262 this has been an amazing and cost effective method for getting amazing audio and video without going full studio.

UPDATE (May 12, 2020): Thank you Engadget and Steve Dent for the shoutout in the How to use your high-end camera as a webcam post. TL;DR? Zoom and other video conference tools are not supporting virtual webcams. Keep reading below for how to “fix” Zoom on MacOS.

UPDATE (May 11, 2020): First there is a bunch of stuff sitting in draft for me to finish about tools to use but most importantly Zoom and WebEx have made virtual cameras inoperable on MacOS (which applies to tool like CamTwist and ManyCam). This is by no means an intentional crippling by these providers but actually adhering more strictly to Apple’s application sandboxing. In a nutshell neither Zoom, WebEx, or Apple has registered 3rd party virtual camera vendors as “signed.” In a sandboxed environment a signed application is inherently more secure since you know who is accessing what. The ManyCam team has provided a good description of the issue.

This is another thing we’re trying to get resolved, due to an update in Zoom, a MacOS feature has been enabled that restricts Zoom from loading plugins that aren’t digitally signed by either Zoom or Apple.

What was removed was the “Disable Library Validation” 3 entitlement.

Mac users may have seen this issue last year when Google Chrome inadvertently blocked Virtual Webcams, but since then Google has resolved this and moved the webcam capture to a different process where they added the “Disable Library Validation” 3 entitlement allowing that specific process to interface with the ManyCam plugin.

If anyone would like to follow how the Chromium team did this, you can check out the Chromium support ticket here: https://bugs.chromium.org/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=990381 6

We’re currently in contact with Zoom, Apple and others on how to get this resolved. We hope, through mutual cooperation, Virtual Webcams like ManyCam will be able to be used again with these applications.

So far this issue doesn’t affect other popular applications like Skype, Skype for business and others but we are monitoring the situation and will provide updates as we get them.

ManyCam

A quick fix, which requires downloading Xcode, is really simple. Open Terminal and copy / paste the following, hit return, and enter your MacOS password when asked.

sudo codesign --remove-signature /Applications/zoom.us.app/

(April 15, 2020) I’ve been trying to figure out for the last few weeks a way to take advantage of equipment I may already have to create the best webcam possible. My MacBook Pro and ancient Apple Thunderbolt Display really don’t cut it with 720p resolution (at best). To make a long story short, attempting to utilize the Canon Rebel XSi took a lot of time and in the end was a failure. I eventually discovered that max output resolution is like ~700px X ~500px. I may opt for a Canon 70D in the future but let’s get to what is the Best Webcam You Already Have!

If you’ve purchased a new iPhone in the last few years, you easily have one of the best cameras available. Here’s the list of hardware I have running:

Now for the software:

FiLMiC Pro is an insanely controllable video app for iOS. A key and absolutely required feature is the ability to hide all interface elements. FiLMiC Remote makes setting up your iPhone much easier but you can live without it if you don’t have a separate iOS device. The secret sauce is CamTwist which allows you to grab video feeds from a slew of sources that may not be supported directly by the likes of Zoom, Google, Skype, etc.

Getting Configured

Step 1

Start installing and configuring. With FiLMiC Pro you are going to want to enable tapping the screen to hide all interface elements and if using Remote, enabling it. I’ll direct you to FiLMiC for the moment since their documentation is very comprehensive and you’ll learn a lot.

Step 2

Plug your iPhone into your Mac.

Step 3

Installing and configuring CamTwist is straight forward but doesn’t have the most user friendly UI and I’ve found the everything goes smoother if all devices are plugged in before CamTwisting.

  1. Select Webcam from Video Sources
  2. Click Select
  3. Skip Effects for now
  4. Select Webcam in Adjust Settings
  5. Select Camera in the Settings pane (you’ll want to look for your named iDevice)
  6. Hit Command-P or View | Preview from the menu

You should now see what your camera has displayed on the iPhone screen. This is why being able to hide interface elements is critical.

We are pretty much done at this point.

Let’s test! Open up Zoom, head to your video settings, and look for a CamTwist webcam. Ta da! Hangouts/Meet is a little trickier, it will flip your image, so that’s where effects come into play. Select Flip-Flop from Effects, click Add and then play with horizontal and vertical flipping to your hearts content.

This is just a started for The Best Webcam You Already Have and I’ll be updating with screenshots and more as well as attempts at getting some podcast going but definitely need to get the camera and a microphone.

This post contains affiliate links so anything you buy goes to help keeping the dogs fed since they’ve never worked a day in their lives.


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