A pretty dang good video setup for remote work if I do say so myself

So anyway, here’s the premise

  1. Is high enough quality
  2. Has natural eye contact
  3. Is simple enough to use everyday without constant fiddling
  4. And doesn’t totally disrupt my desk and computer setup

How I got here

v2
v3
v4
v5-final_FINAL

Benefits

  1. Light sensitivity and dynamic range
    What you look like in real life, or in front of the mirror, is hardly ever what you look like over a standard webcam. The biggest reason in my experience is insufficient lighting and lack of dynamic range, which erases details in your face, hair, and clothes, making you appear flat and muted. This rig makes much better use of available light, even at night. I’ve got the aperture all the way open and the shutter speed low, and the camera plus my window and the glow of my computer take care of the rest. I’ve had people on calls ask what kind of lighting I’m using, and the answer is: nothing!
  2. Depth of field
    With a good camera and lens, and a wide aperture, you can blur the background behind you, creating dimension and separation between you and the room you’re in. It makes you appear to viewers at once both more in a place, and distinct from it.
  3. Separation from my other screens
    Sometimes I’m on video calls for over half the day, and it’s nice to have that on its own display so it doesn’t interfere with the work on my main screens, or get buried behind windows during a call. This feels like a proper video conference phone, and for something used so heavily, earns its place on my desk.
  4. Context and transparency
    There’s something surprisingly appropriate and natural to having your video call, and your camera itself, off to the side of your main screen. It feels like the people I’m talking to are more present in my workspace, and separate from my computer. And from their perspective, it’s clear when I’m actually looking at them, and when I’m looking at my computer, just like it would be in real life. With a built-in webcam, you can’t really tell if someone’s looking at your face or reading something. There’s a welcome level of transparency to this setup I wasn’t expecting, similar to typing indicators in a chat.

Gear

  • Sony a6300
    It’s an older mirrorless camera, but there are even older/cheaper ones that would probably look just as good. You can find plenty used on eBay if you don’t have something laying around already. It’s got great image quality and a nice kit lens with autofocus and optical stabilization, useful if like me you tend to move around a lot, shaking your desk.
  • Camera power adapter
    This is so you never have to worry about batteries, and can just leave it turned on throughout the day.
  • iPad
    You need a small, light display to mount as close to the lens as possible to simulate natural eye contact, and just about any old iPad fits the bill. Because of how high I usually keep my iMac the eye contact with the iPad actually seems better.
  • Elgato Cam Link 4K
    These seem hard to find right now, but there are alternatives for connecting your camera to your computer as a video input, like the Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Monitor. The Cam Link worked instantly for me, no setup required.
  • Manfrotto Super Clamp + 2-Section Single Articulated Arm with Bracket
    Now I mean, you can use anything you like to mount this. But the key is to get the camera at eye level, the iPad immediately below the lens, and the whole contraption far enough forward on your desk to be usable without being in the way. A tripod, in my experience, takes up too much space and is too unstable.
  • iKlip tablet holder
    This is technically for musicians to use on stage clipped to a mic stand, but it works great here. Lots of other options, but I like how compact it is and simple to use.
  • Duet Display
    You can use Sidecar too, but Duet gives you more options, like portrait orientation which I prefer along with Zoom’s gallery mode.
  • Lightning cable
    You can connect the iPad wirelessly, but using a cable gets you better quality with less network traffic, and keeps your iPad charged.
  • AirPods
    I tried a shotgun mic mounted to the camera, and a mic mounted to an adjustable arm. But the former is too inflexible, and the latter is too in-your-face for all-day use. True, AirPods have lower bandwidth sound, but they’re rock-steady reliable and consistent with input volume, and practically invisible when wearing them throughout the day. Plus you’re untethered from your computer, letting you grab coffee or go tend to your now-homeschooled child without leaving your call. I regrettably consider myself a bit of an audiophile, but even still, to me AirPods are the best all-around video conferencing audio solution.

Prior art

Updates

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store