In this guide, you will learn everything you need to level up your Zoom meetings. Nowadays most people use Zoom or Teams on a near-daily basis. If you are using your laptops in-built equipment, you will not be looking or sounding great in your meetings. As we all know looking good matters 😎😎😎 in this tutorial I will show you how you can improve things... a lot! I can prove how bad in-built laptop equipment can look using my work laptop. The below image was taken from its in-built webcam:
There are several noticeable things wrong with this image:
The quality level is very grainy
You can not make out my face
The camera is looking upwards which makes me look less flattering
The good news is that there are some simple and fairly affordable bits of kit that you can purchase to improve how you sound and look within an online meeting. Over the last 6 months, I have been experimenting and purchasing different gadgets. My aim was to make professional-looking calls and YouTube videos that I can be proud of. As a lover of gadgets, it was very easy to convince myself that I needed to buy some new tech 😍😍😍
In the last 6 months, I have watched hundreds of hours of YouTube clips, read countless articles about recording and camera equipment, and spent a small fortune on home office supplies. This guide is the output of all that experimentation. Depending on how good you want to make your set-up will depend on your budget. You can spend thousands of dollars on kit if you really want to. If you do not have a big budget fear not. There are still loads of bits and bobs that you can purchase with a minimum spend that will make you look like a million bucks. This is why this guide is broken into three budget levels, beginner (budget less than $150), intermediate (budget less than $500) and baller (budget less than $2000)
This set-up is tailored for people with a budget of less than $150. For less than $150 you have limited options, however, the things you can level up will have a massive impact on the quality of your online meetings. If you do not want to spend much, I recommend you focus on levelling up your webcam and your lighting equipment:
WebCam If you look online the Logitech C920 webcam has the best reviews for its price. The C920 has been around for years, it records using 30 fps and records in 1080p.As you will not be streaming your meetings in 4K then this is more than enough. The good news is the Logitech C920 costs less than $100 and looks pretty good!
Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam, Full HD 1080p/30fps Video Calling, Clear Stereo Audio, HD Light Correction, Works with Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Hangouts, PC/Mac/Laptop/Macbook/Tablet - Black.
Lighting Lighting is one of the best and cheapest ways to make your remote meetings look a lot better. For less than $30 you can buy Webcam Light Stand for Live Stream, Selfie Ring Light with Webcam Mount for Logitech C925e, C922x, C930e,C922,C930,C920,C615,Brio 4K,Streamcam. This light ring works with the C920 and it will make your calls look less dark. Lighting really is the most affordable way to look better
Audio Most developers will have ear-pods, beats, or bose headphones to go with their phones. If you have some good headphones and you do not want to spend any more money, use what you already own! Your headphones microphone will usually be of a higher quality compared to the microphone found within your laptop.
Intermediate Level - Less Than $500
This set-up is tailored for people with a budget of around $500. Having a bigger budget allows you to level up more things. These items are the things I suggest you buy:
*CamLink: To get great picture quality in your Zoom meetings you will need a mirrorless camera. A mirrorless camera will not be cheap and can cost $500+ on its own. If you have grand designs on a better set-up in the future, however, you are limited with a smaller budget right now there is an alternative option. Instead of buying a webcam that you will need to get rid of later, you can buy an Elgato Cam Link 4K .
The CamLink is a little USB3 stick with HDMI input on the other end. You plug it into your PC, you plug the HDMI out of your camera into the CamLink and now you have a custom webcam. The set-up is as simple as plugging the CamLink in and then selecting it as the webcam within Zoom. The reason why you may want to consider buying a CamLink instead of a webcam is that it will allow you to upgrade to a proper camera later on. The CamLink will not be a throwaway bit of kit. Assuming you buy a CamLink you will need a cheap starter camera you can use as your webcam, this poses the question what should you buy?
Camera: For those with limited budgets, you can go onto eBay and buy a second-hand GoPro 8 and a GoPro MediaMod for not crazy money. I already had the GoPro 8 and the media mod cost me $30 dollars. For more limited budgets you could use an earlier version of the GoPro. A GoPro4 (that does not require the MediaMod to output HDMI) can be brought for under $50 on eBay. Combining the GoPro with the CamLink, will give you a webcam that is equally if not better than the C920. The benefit of this approach is that you can use the CamLink later on in the 'big dog' level. You also have a GoPro that you can use in real life to take photos and videos when running or hitting the gym, which is pretty good. The quality of a GoPro for a webcam is pretty solid, as can be seen below:
If you use GoPro8 you will need to use the GoPro media mod to make sure that it is always connected to your PC using USB rather than running off its battery. No one wants the camera to run out of battery in a meeting after all! There are a few hacks and quirks to get the GoPro with MediaMod working. For example, the battery indicator will appear on your video out. If you use OBS then you can crop the top part of the shot out. You will also get screens like the one below pop-up from time to time. It can be a pain to toggle through the menu options on the GoPro as you won't be able to use the touch screen when its connected to the MediaMod. It is not a show stopper to the approach, more of an annoyance!
I used this set-up for several months when the pandemic first happened and the GoPro with CamLink set-up was a noticeable improvement to my meetings!
Lighting Any money you spend on lighting will be money well spent. Lighting does not need upgrading in the future. Buying good lighting will stay with you for years. You may want to upgrade a camera once every few years, however, good lighting will last you forever. The lights I use are the Elgato key lights. Below shows the difference in image quality using my in-built webcam. Just having good lighting makes the picture look a lot crisper
Audio If you want to buy a solid microphone, you can not go wrong with the Blue Yeti Microphone. The Blue Yeti is a great mic for the price. You will sound amazing and it will not break the bank. If you want the best mic possible, you may want to consider holding off and buying a professional mic. This option will not be cheap as you will need to get an XLR mic, which will then require a compressor to hook it into your PC. For most people, the Blue Yeti will be perfect and it will make you sound 100% better.
Software To run your camera you can use OBS to stream the video into Zoom/Teams. OBS is free and once you get used to it, it's fairly easy to use. Using OBS instead of using your camera directly in Zoom will allow you to crop the image first. To pick the OBS output in Zoom, open OBS and enable the Virtual camera. In Zoom you can now pick the virtual camera as a webcam. To get Zoom to work with your virtual camera you will need to install an additional device driver. The virtual camera driver for MAC can be found here, and the download for PC here
This set-up is tailored for people who want the best and are happy to pay for it. At this level, there are loads of options. You can spend as much on a mirrorless camera and lens as you want. I wanted to keep my camera budget under $500, so this is the set-up I am currently using:
Mirrorless camera Using a mirrorless camera will give you the highest video quality. A good solid camera will be one of your most expensive purchases. With a good camera and a great lens, you will look like a million bucks on your remote meetings. You will definitely need the Elgato SteamCam to stream the HDMI out of the mirrorless camera to your PC. When deciding which mirrorless camera you should use for your webcam you will want to choose a camera that uses clean HDMI out for the StreamCam to work. You can check which camera works with the StreamCam here.
I personally brought a second hand Sony A5100 off of eBay. It was cheap, it looks great and it has an always-on battery. You can also buy the later model the Sony A6000. This will work just as well, however, it is likely you will not use all its features, so you may be wasting money! For a great experience, you could buy the Sony A73 and a lense. This will set you back over $2000! The level of money that you spend is up to you.
When using a mirrorless camera as a webcam you will not want to run it off its battery. Instead, you will want to buy an always-on battery like the Gonine AC-PW20 AC Power Supply. You can hook the camera HDMI out to your PC using [UGREEN Micro HDMI to Standard HDMI Cable](UGREEN Micro HDMI to Standard HDMI Cable). With these things your video quality will now be the nuts!
Audio If you want to get an amazing sounding microphone, you can not go wrong with the Shure SMB7 Microphone which costs $350. The SMB7 is a pro mic that you will not regret buying. Micheal Jackson recorded the album Thriller on it, Joe Rogan uses it on his podcast and a ton of other professional studios and podcasters use it. Once you learn about the SMB7, you will see it used everywhere. The Shure SMB7 mic is an XLR microphone, this means that it uses an XLR connection. This means it will not directly hook into your PC. To get the mic working on a PC you will need some extra hardware. I use and highly recommend the GoXLR Mini.
Getting the SMB7 working with the GoXLR is fairly simple. Plug the Shure SMB7 into the GoXLR using an XLR cable. Plug the GoXLR into your PCs sound card using a phono cable. Run the free GoXLR software and off you go. I really like the GoXLR, however, there are two big downsides I wish I had known before purchasing it. First, it does not work on a MAC. Second, there is no on/off switch so it drains a lot of power 😞
To get the best out of the Shure SMB7 you will also want to mount the mic on a mic stand so it is near your mouth. The Shure SMB7 is a dynamic mic, meaning that if it's not really close to your mouth it will be very quiet. I personally use the RØDE PSA1 stand. It does the job and works with the Shure SMB7 Mic.
Greenscreen: A nice looking background is a final touch to looking great online. Depending on where you live and space you have to play with, you may have limited options when it comes to changing what people can see in your background. One way to get around this issue is to use a Greenscreen. Greenscreens are not just for movies. For a reasonable price, you can buy a green screen for your home office. Using a green screen is great for streaming. If you live somewhere that is small, or, have a messy background you can level up your remote meetings by hiding the mess using a Greenscreen and overlaying a nice picture as your background instead. I use the Elgato Green Screen which costs around $150. The thing I really like about this screen is that it is quick and easy to set it up and then hide it. When it's not out, it rolls up into a very compact space that can be hidden out of the way and it does not look too intrusive in your space.
With all these things combined you can start to have great looking and great sounding online meeting. You can see the level of my set-up by watching some of my YouTube channel, JonDJones YouTube Channel. The set-up I describe here is the one that I use to record these videos. Below show a screenshot I took from a Zoom call:
Happy Coding 🤘
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