5 Steps to Upgrade Your Video Call Setup

Since COVID, video calls have become the new normal for how we meet. And while video calls will never be the same as in-person meetings, having a good setup can get you close. What I’ve realized is that good sound and audio quality make calls a lot less tiring. Check out this video for my five-step process to upgrade your video call setup!

Links: #1 Front Light https://walimex.ch/product_info.php?products_id=5044&language=en

#2 Camera + Camera Live EOS RP + RF 35mm 1.8Lens: 500 USD (new) https://www.amazon.com/Canon-35mm-1-8-Macro Lens/dp/B07H4SFG4G/ref=sr_1_1dchild=1&keywords=eos+rp+35mm&qid=1602155032&sr=8-1

EOS Webcam Utility: https://www.canon-europe.com/cameras/eos-webcam-utility/

Camera: 1200 USD (new) https://www.amazon.com/Canon-Full-frame-Interchangeable-lightweight-3380C132/dp/B086TTTZR5/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=eos+rp&qid=1602155071&sr=8-1

#3 Microphone RODE NT-USB Mini https://www.amazon.com/Rode-NT-USB-Mini-Microphone-Detachable-Headphone/dp/B084P1CXFD/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=rode+usb+microphone&qid=1602155015&sr=8-2

#4 Backlight IKEA: Symfonisk (199 CHF) https://www.ikea.com/ch/en/p/symfonisk-table-lamp-with-wifi-speaker-white-30435157/ Philipps Hue starter kit incl bridge: (find a cheaper set with just bridge and light)

#5 Logo CamTwist: http://camtwiststudio.com/

Video Transcript

Hey everyone, during the quarantine, we all spend a whole lot of time on Zoom and other video conferencing apps. And so today, I want to show you how you can take your Zoom setup from this to this. So one of the things that I’ve changed. There’s a total of five steps that I’m going to walk you through.

Number one – front light, Number two – the camera.
Number three – microphone, Number foursome backlight.

And then last but not least, number five – the logo up here. So let’s reset, and I’ll take you through this step by step. So now we’re back at the beginning. First and foremost, the most important thing is to get good lighting. Good usually means more light coming from the front than from your back. Otherwise, your face is just going to be dark. In my case, I have either a window here that. I can open, or I have a ring light here that I can now turn on. All right, that already adds quite a bit of contrast in my face, and generally makes my face pop out from the background. To give you a quick look, I’ll quickly share the view with you from my camera.

Here we go. This is the light right next to my desk. This is also what keeps my room lit. By the way, the hairdryer is not part of making this work. Step number two – the camera. So you see that right now I’m using my regular camera here on my MacBook Pro. And then right behind it, I have my Canon. EOS RP, with a 35-millimeter lens. Now this setup here will probably set you back somewhere around 1100 to 1200 dollars, Probably a little less if you buy it used. Or it doesn’t have to be this expensive. There are cameras and lenses that you can get for 300-400 dollars, that will give you the exact same effect. I would go with a Canon camera just because they have a US utility that allows you to connect the camera as a webcam, but that’s by no means a requirement. So, I’m going to switch now from my webcam, in my MacBook Pro to CamTwist. Alright, this is the camera that I have up here. So now I’m looking at the DSLR. What you can immediately see is that there’s a much clear difference between what’s sharp and what’s not sharp. And that’s just due to the DSLR lens or the mirrorless lens, in this case, that has that property that it’s hard to replicate. At least with hardware on smaller cameras. There’s a ton of software that already blur your background and does a pretty good job, but it’s not native.

If you go with a Canon camera, then you can just use the Canon webcam utility. I think it’s still in beta, but it seems to work pretty well. You can download it from the website. There’s also a list of all the cameras that are currently supported. And what this will do is will just show your camera that’s connected via USB or USB-C as a webcam in Zoom, Google Meet, and wherever else you use video conferencing. Step number three – the microphone. While making the image look better OS already a huge step to make you’re conferencing for everyone to be more pleasant, one of the biggest improvements definitely is sound. So right now I’m using the microphone that’s built-in on my MacBook Pro. And I’m now going to switch it to Rode mini. NT-USB that I have right here. I usually keep this out of the frame, about 20 centimeters from my face. For the purpose of this video let’s bring it in here. So here we go.

This is the Rode mic that I’m using. It has very simple outputs: one is the USBC cable that goes straight into my laptop. This doesn’t need a driver or anything else to be installed. And then second, you have a headphone jack that you can use to test the sound as well. I’ve connected this to one of these telescopic arms so that whenever I’m not using it or I’m not on Skype, I will just move it out of the way. And if I am on a call, I usually put it somewhere up here and the sound quality from this. It’s just so much better than the built-in microphones. Alright, step number four background lighting. So you see that right now this camera because it’s set to manual, it’s actually overexposing quite a bit.

And that’s because I usually set it to how it should look when I have my window and door close. So I’m going to do that right now. Alright, so this already looks a lot better exposed, but the image looks kind of boring.
So the next thing I’m going to do is I have two U-lights, Philips U-lights. One here in the corner, and one sitting on this little piece of furniture back there. When I turned them on, this gives me a bit of contrast. So there’s a yellow light right behind me and one that’s kind of bluish-violet in that corner. And you can see the difference of how my face pops a lot more compared to how it was before. All right.

And last but not least, I like to show the logo up here. For that, I use an app called CamTwist. CamTwist is software that’s only available for Mac OS, as far as I know. But I’m sure there are alternatives. You could even use something like OBS (Open. Broadcasting Studio) that I think is available for both Macintosh, Windows, and Linux even. So looking at CamTwist. In my case, I use two settings only. Number one – I use a siphon. What this means is just I take the video stream coming from my DSLR. And I use that as the main background for my image. And then I put an image overlay. What I’ve done here is I’ve taken an image. A PNG with the logo, the Tomahawk.VC logo on it, and I’ve overlaid that. Everything that’s transparent in that PNG lets me see the camera image.

Now I could scale this, make it smaller, make it bigger. I’ve just positioned it in a way that I like. And I could just always undo this in case. I’m on an interview or anything where I need to be unbranded. CamTwist is completely free to use forever. And so that’s it. So if you’re wondering how much this costs, I’d say, number one – light is easy, you can just sit in front of the window, so that should be free. If you’re getting a ring light, like the one that I have, I think I paid about $250 for that. That’s probably one of the cheaper ones, it can get more expensive, but you can also find ones that are even cheaper. There’s also the Elgato lights that you can attach to your desk, which I really like. Haven’t used them here, but I just like how compact they are, and they kind of move up and down, If you have a standing desk as I do.

So that’d be an option to look into as well. So roughly $250 is what I’d budget for that. And second, the camera, I’m using USRP with a 35 millimeter 1.8. lens. I think the package to combo probably will cost you somewhere around 1200 dollars, plus-minus a 100 dollars. I haven’t checked prices, that’s not super expensive, but you can definitely get cheaper. I would say you can get any kit lens, any 18 to 55 lens that comes with a standard Nikon or Canon camera. And you can get a camera body for I’d say 400 or 500 dollars, including the kit lens, so I’d budget 500 bucks for that.

Number three – the microphone. In this case, the Rode mic, I think cost me about 150 to 200 dollars, including the telescope arm. Although you could also put this on the desk in front of you. And just put it away when you don’t need it. So that’s another roughly 250 dollars. So until now, we’re at about 1000 dollars. Then number four – background light. I got a very cheap light from IKEA, on the right for the yellow light, that’s U connected, and. I have a U light bulb with a bridge. And that was another probably 50 dollars. So all in all, I would say I got this for less than 100 bucks. So that brings our current total to 1100 dollars for this whole setup.
But if you want to go on the lower end, you could probably spend about 500 dollars more, if you want to upgrade the camera and use it for photography as well or videos. And then last but not least, I showed you how to include the logo in your screen. And that, good news, is completely free CamTwist is free software. All you need to do is chat with someone that can get you your logo export as a PNG, so you can overlay it.

So all in all, anywhere between 1000 and 3000 dollars will give you the setup. Not cheap, but it’s kind of fun. And as I’m spending so much time on Zoom these days, I felt it was a worthwhile investment for me. If you have any tips on how to improve your video setup, if you’ve made any experiments, if you have any tips to share, please leave them in the comments. If you have questions for me, the same thing goes there.
I’ll leave the links for the types of software and the articles that I’ve mentioned below. And with that, I wish you a beautiful day. Stay curious and I’ll talk to you soon