The Best Cheap Webcam Alternatives Until Prices Drop
The COVID-19 pandemic sent the prices of certain bits of PC hardware spiraling. Webcams were one of the first items to begin selling out. People working from and those wishing to stay in video contact with family quickly cleared webcam stocks at the most popular online retailers.
The result is a webcam market filled with questionable brands, high prices for webcams, and a lack of stock at regular stores.
However, you don’t need a dedicated webcam. You probably have a webcam alternative in your home, waiting for use. So, here are the best webcam alternatives until the prices return to normal!
How to Use a Smartphone or a Tablet as a Webcam
Let’s start with the easiest option—using your iPhone or Android device as a webcam. There are numerous apps available to both platforms that convert your smartphone camera into a handy webcam.
As many smartphones now come equipped with powerful cameras, you’ll get a clear image for your video calls. Check out how to use your iPhone as a webcam or how to use your Android device as a webcam for detailed instructions.
One thing that will make using your smartphone as a webcam easier is a tripod or mount. The UBeeszie Adjustable Camera Stand Holder is a basic smartphone and camera mount. It won’t change your life, but it will keep your smartphone stable on your desk during a meeting or family voice call, which is perfect.
How to Use a DSLR as a Webcam
Using a DSLR as a webcam requires a little bit more work than the smartphone option. The plus side is that you’ll have one of the best webcam streams around, unrivaled in quality amongst your co-workers and family.
There are two options for using a DSLR as a webcam. One uses software and is relatively plug and play. The other uses an external capture card to convert the HDMI output of the DSLR into a streamable USB signal output.
1. Using a Nikon or Canon DSLR as a Webcam with SparkoCam
If you own a Nikon or Canon DSLR, you can use SparkoCam, a webcam and video effects tool for Windows. SparkoCam is freeware, although the free version will add a large SparkoCam logo to your video output.
There are various SparkoCam licenses, which you should check out before committing. For example, you can purchase a Standard License for both camera types for $69.95, which includes one year of upgrades. There are also licenses available for just Canon or Nikon cameras.
On to the software itself. SparkoCam offers support for a range of Nikon and Canon DSLR models (full list). If your camera model is not on the list, it is highly likely it will not work with the software. This is due to limitations with some older DSLR models.
SparkoCam is easy to use. You connect your DSLR to your computer via a USB cable, then select the corresponding model in the software. Once SparkoCam recognizes your camera, you can adjust the resolution and other features.
Now, there is one important thing to note before purchasing SparkoCam. The output frames per second appear to fluctuate, with some users noting that they could not create video at more than 30 frames per second.
However, this is more likely an issue with USB 2.0 devices, rather than the software. And for the most part, 30FPS is absolutely fine for a family video chat or meeting with colleagues.
The other thing to consider is that SparkoCam does not use the microphone on your DSLR. You will need to use a separate microphone. SparkoCam is available to Windows only. Furthermore, at the price point, it is most of the more expensive solutions. However, it is an option, nonetheless.
2. Using a Canon DSLR as a Webcam with EOS Webcam Utility Beta
Canon DSLR users can opt for the EOS Webcam Utility Beta, which turns your compatible Canon camera into a high-quality webcam.
The software is in beta, so there are potential bugs and other glitches that could affect performance. Furthermore, we haven’t tested the software with a Canon DSLR. Still, the software looks decent enough, and Canon is specifically marketing this new software in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help make communication easier.
Check out the above video for a tutorial on setting up EOS Webcam Utility Beta. Like SparkoCam, the EOS Webcam Utility Beta is available to Windows only.
3. Using a DSLR as a Webcam on Linux
The previous two options were all about Windows. But what if you use Linux and you want to use your DSLR as a webcam? Well, the libgphoto2 project takes care of that. The video above is a detailed tutorial on how to use your DSLR as a webcam on Linux with libgphoto2.
Using a DSLR as a Webcam with a Capture Card/Device
If none of the software options work with your DSLR, you’ll need an external capture card. An external capture card is a special video device that turns your HDMI input into a streamable output, usually via a USB cable.
There are several excellent capture cards on the market. Most are extremely easy to use, too. However, one thing to note is that the capture card market is also experiencing fluctuations due to COVID-19.
The AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini offers plug and play connectivity if you want to use your DSLR as a webcam. Furthermore, there is Full HD recording, hardware encoding, and zero-latency passthrough up to 1080p at 60FPS (1080p60).
You also have the option of using AVerMedia’s RECentral streaming software, which adds additional streaming and overlay options.
The slightly smaller cousin to the Live Gamer Mini, the AVerMedia AVerCapture LGP Lite is a handy plug and play capture card that lets you use your DSLR as a webcam.
Like the Live Gamer Mini, the LGP Lite allows Full HD recording and 1080p60 video passthrough. There’s also the handy capture card button you can use for one-click recording.
The MiraBox Capture Card is a USB 3.0 capture card that works well with DSLRs. It offers Full HD playback with 1080p60 video passthrough, and is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux. It is completely plug and play and will work with your Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, too.
The BlueAVS Capture Card is a basic but effective capture card option. You can connect a wide range of media options to the BlueAVS Capture Card and stream directly to your computer.
You should note that this is a USB 2.0 capture card, rather than USB 3.0. This means that you will not stream video from your DSLR at more than 30FPS. Again, that isn’t much of an issue for video calls with your friends and family, but something you should consider if you want a higher fidelity video stream.
The Elgato Cam Link 4K is one of the easiest ways to use a capture card with your DSLR as a webcam. You connect your DSLR to the Elgato Cam Link 4K with an HDMI cable and insert the capture card into a USB port on your computer. You can then select your DSLR for video calls, as well as other video recording tools.
Unfortunately, the Elgato Cam Link is sold out at many retailers, while the price on some sites is clearly double the usual retail price. So, while the Elgato Cam Link 4K is an excellent option, you could save money by waiting until the price returns to normal.
Are These the Best Webcam Alternatives?
For the time being, while the webcam market is unsettled and prices fluctuate, using a webcam alternative is a great option. You can use your smartphone or tablet as a webcam for a quick and easy alternative. Or, if you want greater video quality, you can use a DSLR camera as a webcam alternative.
Webcams won’t remain sold out forever. The demand for new webcams will stabilize, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to ease around the world. Until then, try one of the webcam alternatives.
Oh, and if you have more than one webcam or additional camera, why not try using multiple webcams for your video calls ?
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