It's the times we live in. All of a sudden interactive video chats are everywhere. I have people who want to meet or chat via FaceTime, groups that want to stay all socially connected via Zoom (mostly swimmers) and even people (clients) who are interested in doing live casts on YouTube (we'll see about that...). And up until now I've participated by sitting in front of my iMac and taking advantage of the built-in microphone and camera. But the thing that always annoyed and embarrassed me was the thought that my video presentation and the audio that are supplied by the desktop computer probably look as crappy as everyone else's. (Well, my video feed is probably nicer than that of one guy who insists on sitting right in front of his window... and my audio feed has got to be better than that one woman with an old laptop, with two children under 5 years old playing in the same room...sorry!).
I didn't think there was much I could do about the overall quality of my presentation without spending more money, and online video chatting isn't really where I was interested in spending ever diminishing cash. By chance I was over at Michael Johnston's blog and he was bemoaning his tremendous difficulties in getting up to speed with video (I assume he wants to be streaming) and it made me realize that I hadn't done nearly a deep enough dive into the capabilities of gear I already have in house. Maybe I could cobble something together...
There was some free time on the schedule, between my afternoon nap and happy hour, so I decided to re-read my camera owner's manuals and see if there was any mention of using the cameras for streaming. Nothing in the Panasonic texts. Then I chanced to look at the skinny, but decent, Sigma fp manual and noticed that I could make choices for the camera's USB connections and there it was. One of the choices was: Video Class UVC.
The studio was quiet. Dark and cool. I fired up the iMac Pro and found the USB 3.x cable I always have strewn across my cluttered desk, waiting for a camera connection or battery recharge duty, and plugged in the Sigma fp. I'd already set the USB protocol to Video Class UVC and when I turned on the camera and opened FaceTime I just got the regular built-in camera feed. Then I noticed "Video" in the menu bar for the program and...ta-da!!! There was an available selection for the Sigma fp. I clicked on it and a few seconds later I was getting the feed from the Sigma fp instead of the built-in Mac camera. I could also chose from the menu whether I wanted to use the audio from the computer's internal microphone or whether I wanted to pull in the audio from the camera. Cool.
A look through the microphone bag languishing on the Metro shelving uncovered the Beachtek DXA Micro-Pro pre-amp/audio interface and an Audio Technica, dynamic, side-address microphone. I hooked the DXA to the camera's audio input and the microphone to the DXA, set the gain to high (it's an inefficient microphone) and...voila!!!! my feed both looked and sounded great. It also worked for Zoom.
Now, if I add a couple of nice LED panels shining through a couple layers of silk diffusion and then do something to clean up the background, and maybe just a little bit of back lighting, I'll have the prettiest feed in my online social streaming groups and I didn't have to spent a cent. I mean, other than the $4,500 I spent on all the toys to get to this point.
At any rate I now have a fully functional webcam and I no longer have to hunker down in shame in front of the monitor as I chat with my people. Nice when you find you already had the "ruby slippers" of streaming all along...