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Today’s Webcams Are Boring, So I Brought Back a Classic (debugger.medium.com)
441 points by hiharryhere 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 179 comments

This blog post is kind of a playful idea on the iSight. However, if you want to take it seriously, you should consider using the High Quality Camera with the Pi as a USB webcam. The sensor on that HQ camera is HUGE, thus the picture quality is really really good, especially when you take time to figure out the focus and such [1] [2]. It's better than most if not all the webcams you can buy on the market. It's definitely more compact, cheaper, and less hassle than using the whole Mirrorless + HDMI capture-card setup if you want to upgrade your Zoom appearance.

On the software side, I have worked on the exact Pi-as-a-webcam software project for a while [0]. It's quite customizable and you can play with parameters of the camera to further extract values out of the hardware. I also am hoping, in the future, to implement "smart" functions such as auto-panning the camera and such.

However, I still couldn't figure out a good case for it so the setup looks kinda crummy, not as slick as the iSight.

0: https://github.com/showmewebcam/showmewebcam

1: https://hackaday.io/project/174479/gallery#715fab460d86cbd11...

2: https://hackaday.io/project/174479/gallery#da539049c84e7fd64...

A few notes for those going down this path (I'm doing the same).

1. This doesn't work on OSX yet. Works really well in windows though.

2. There's no microphone. I'm looking for a directional mic setup for the rpi but haven't found anything I'm satisfied with yet.

3. The 6mm lens is total crap. The 16mm lens is decent but the zoom makes it difficult to use as a webcam. I'm still looking for a good rectilinear lens in the 4mm to 8mm range that has minimal distortion and doesn't cost an arm and a leg (after all, the whole point of this is to do it on the cheap). There's no obvious candidate yet.

4. Commonlands has a couple M12 lenses that look promising. I'd prefer a C mount but you have to go with what's available. I'm going to pull the trigger on one of them to test out when I get back from vacation.

5. Arducam has a bunch of lenses, but I find them to be very strange. Maybe it's a language barrier issue, but the videos and the marketing copy are all very odd and don't quite tell you what you want to know. It feels like a Chinese company masquerading as an English company. It's all weird enough that I'm not ready to pull the trigger and purchase one of their lenses.

6. Focusing is a pain in the ass with all these lenses. You will not have the same experience as a typical webcam but once you have the focus dialed in things look great. Just don't move.

7. The HQ camera is very capable but it's limited by the bandwidth limitations of the pi interface. 1080p 30fps is the max you'll get. Don't expect 4k video.

Thank you for posting this list. I was actually looking at the Arducam lenses last night because I'd love to build my own webcam capable of a good image for light content creation, but that I could throw a 90 or 100 degree FoV lens on for calls with groups. I was starting to get a sense of the limitations you listed here and now I'll probably keep looking at some other options like re-purposing a used GoPro with a camlink, spending way more for a DSLR, or really cheaping out on a couple different lower quality cameras. If I can't figure anything out, maybe I'll revisit in 6-12 months.

I think the article's author is right that today's webcams are boring. But I would go a step further and say that the webcam market really needs some of that patented disruption that people keep talking about.

Regarding point 7: Are there other interfaces like the Pi's, but with higher bandwidth, for the Sony sensors?

I've had good luck making use of the Pi-cam in the lab, but would love to be able to configure them with a higher-bandwidth connection to a computer with a burlier processor/GPU.

We just figured out How to solve point 1 about a week ago. It is now working well on macOS. Try it :)

I’m actually really excited about this! I had previously bought everything for this exact project and referenced the blog post on your GitHub for setting up. Unfortunately I got stuck on the Mac issue myself. I’ll definitely be taking a look at your work.

Thanks for putting this together.

That's great! I'll take a look first chance I get.

I don't know why people don't just come up with good single-use-case enclosures for the pi.

for example:

1) hang on the wall with official display

2) sit on the table with official display

3) hang on wall with tiny display

4) hang on wall with epaper display

5) outdoor webcam

6) indoor tilt/shift webcam

7) webcam on top of monitor

8) small server case with space for gpio breakout inside and ports either routed to the back or through grommets

I mean heck, I've ordered a raspberry pi on amazon and I recall it was "#1 selling barebones" so I think there is money in it.

I still wonder why open hardware hasn't taken over the consumer electronics market yet. Hackability/upgradability is a feature I would pay for... ah wait! these things (Pi, 3D printing) are even cheaper than many closed designs.

The problem is that people and companies are still not okay with the idea of paying for R&D of open source, especially when it is not a direct investment - i.e, they pay for FOSS only when it is going to make or save them money elsewhere.

Open source consumer electronics does neither. It is at best a hobby and a very expensive one at that. Take a look at /r/mechanical keyboards or /r/headphones and you will see.

But I am with you. I would love to work on a drop.com equivalent that would focus only on curating and aggregating open source projects focused on consumer electronics.

I think it's hard to get funding for that business model.

Really, the chances of getting funded go way up when you have patents, exclusivity, a monopoly, etc.

Because it's easy to commodotise it. If all the designs are open then the race is to who can manufacture it better but there's a technological limit to that and the return on investment is quite low. What would be a company's market differentiator in this? Quality of construction is easily achievable nowadays, price will be low (as the market is very price-sensitive, who will be buying US$ 100 cases for their Pis?), there is not much incentive to participate in it, even more as the market is quite niche.

Maybe a company doing the packaging and selling of open-source hardware as whole product, much like as Mutable Instruments did with modular synthesizers, could work but then you aren't simply making cases anymore.

Chinese companies don't seem to mind doing this. The answer to thread OPs question is that all the stuff they want is sold by Chinese manufacturers.

For (1), I made https://callanbryant.co.uk/blog/universal-wall-mounted-touch... which works pretty well supporting a Pi3 + (generic) PoE adaptor.

I doubt there would be a viable market for commercial production like that, but I've seen several 3D-print-at-home options for custom cases for Pis and similar.

Lots of individuals make them. They design and 3d print them with their home printers.

I've been looking at the specs of the HQ camera for some time, and I'm not quite sure I understand it. I mean, the sensor is outright TINY for its resolution, at 1.55µm pixel size. I have found some C-mount lenses that claim to provide an optical resolution matching a sensor with 3.5µm pixel size (which would give you an effective resolution of slightly under 3MP with that sensor), but they are at least in the same price range as a a Sony A6000 mirrorless with the kit lens which will have a much higher effective resolution. And that is less hassle as you don't have to deal with two PCBs connected by a ribbon cable...

The sensor definitely isn’t too tiny to be useful, and you can get some nice C-mount lenses for cheap on eBay and Amazon. Incidentally, my favorite lens for my Canon M50 mirrorless is actually a C-mount lens with an adapter that cost me $30. It goes for about $20 new on the bay.

Edit: $50 for the Pi HQ camera, $30 for the lens, $20 for four Pi Zeroes (just in case it’s not as easy to find them for $5 where you are). Still comes out to way less than half the price of a used A6000 with the kit lens.

But as far as I can see, that lens (assuming the default 6mm lens offered with the module) will give you about the same effective resolution as your standard webcam, with maybe slightly better control over depth of field, far worse image distortion near the edges, and no autofocus.

The cheapest 6mm lenses that come even remotely close to using the sensor resolution start at 400€.

What lens? Always a fan of interesting old lenses

The sensor is pretty much the same size and density as a smartphone camera (~1/2.5", 12 MP).

I have a mirrorless laying around, so I only had to buy a cable and a $12 HDMI to USB capture card off of ebay. The image quality is fantastic. My colleagues frequently comment on how clear my video quality is.

If you have a mirrorless that has a clean HDMI out signal, I highly recommend it.

The capture card is actually optional if you're using a Mac, at least for some cameras.

I run my mirrorless via microUSB using two apps, Camera Live[0] and CamTwist[1], both free.

[0]: https://github.com/v002/v002-Camera-Live

[1]: https://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/24275/camtwist

Camera Live claims to only support Canon, but I can tell you that Sony ASP-Cs work fine. The details of how exactly to get it working vary by camera, but a search for "$your-camera webcam CamTwist" will turn something up.

Sony has their own software for using your mirrorless camera as a webcam, whether APS-C or Full-Frame. But the quality is inevitably lesser to an HDMI adapter. A version for MacOS is being developped, according to their website

It's called "Imaging Edge Webcam" : https://support.d-imaging.sony.co.jp/app/webcam/en/

I'm personally using an A7ii with a Tamron 28-75 for Canon EF, and it works much better resolution and quality wise with the HDMI, just because of the limitation to 1024x768 of the USB camera mode, which was really meant for tethering. Coupled with a 4$ phantom battery, it's awesome! I can get a clear image in the very low light conditions of my room at night, too. No need to turn the lights on, even :)

Is that using the tethering feed? I wasn't wild about the quality, ymmv, seemed lower res than my webcam. Here's how to do it using gphoto2 in Linux: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23407365

Yeah, it uses the tethering feed, and I had to tweak some setting in CamTwist to get 1080p.

Starting to think some kind of capture card might be worth the investment though.

I ended up buying the $10 1080p USB capture card recommended in a sibling post, and it's much better than what I got out of the tethering feed.

Yeah, if you have an expensive mirrorless camera in a fixed setup then it's not bad, but it's quite a hassle if have to carry it around and expensive to buy.

IME, a cheap a6000 with the kit lens is very light and easy to carry around, and it's one of those things you keep for a very long time.

Then again, I'm the type of person to lug around an A7ii with a 135 2.8 and a 28-75 2.8 everywhere I go!

That indeed isn't cheap. They sell on local classifieds for around ~250 CAD here. It's not a production model so buying it from Amazon doesn't make sense.

I've been looking for a DSLR/DSLM on eBay for a while now to hook up to my Elgato Cam Link, and prices there aren't any better. It's like every youtuber has worked out the DLSR + HDMI output = Webcam trick, and it's inflating used camera prices.

That is unfortunate. In my local classifieds I can find them for around 300 USD before any haggling, maybe you will have more fortune there?

But yes, the prices did indeed rise. It's quite how remarkable how well cameras conserve their value compared to other electronics.

There are $12 capture cards? Any recommendations?

For $12 you can get a HDMI-to-USB2 capture card on ebay - it's based on the Macrosilicon 2109.

You can also find $18 fake "USB 3" devices that are the same chip, but a higher price, a different case, and a blue plug.

As it's USB2, you'll find it will only do uncompressed 1080p at 5fps, although it'll do 30fps if you use mjpeg. At either framerate, I noticed several frames of video lag, putting my lips and voice slightly out of sync (although how much is the camera vs the capture card is hard to say).

I'm fairly certain the capture card also introduces some colour distortion compared to the camera's preview screen - perhaps brightening? You'll need a way to convince your camera to autofocus continuously, which might mean running in video-recording mode at all times. And of course you'll need a camera support that's the right height for where you're making calls from. You'll need mains power, or at least enough batteries to run the camera all day. And of course, no taking calls in different rooms for you!

I bought this one: https://www.ebay.com/itm/HDMI-to-USB-2-0-Video-Capture-Card-...

Works great. Haven't had any framerate issues when paired with a Panasonic GH3.

Thanks for the advice! I bought the adapter (or a device that looks just like it) and it does work great. Sony A6300, tested on both Linux and OS X. Plug and play.

1080p -- or whatever the resolution is that it's delivering -- is easily enough for Google/Jitsi meet. Quality is much better than the MacBook Pro internal webcam.

I have this and it works fine. When I bought it it was only $8 though https://www.amazon.com/Capture-Camcorder-Support-Broadcast-S...

No need for a mirrorless camera, most DSLRs can do it, if they support clean HDMI out/external recording.

I was thinking about using a Nikon D7100 with a capture card, since it has "clean output" HDMI (no menus or info ovelayed), but it has a 30 minutes maximum recording time according to https://www.atomos.com/cameras/nikon-d7100. Any ideas how to overcome that?

I've heard 30 minutes of video is the threshold for leaving the EU's 0% "IT Equipment" import tax category and entering the 5-12% "Video camera" tax category. https://www.tested.com/tech/photography/44445-why-digital-ca...

I found this tool that claims to be able to patch your firmware to remove the recording time limit, but I haven't tried it due to being a Sony guy : http://simeonpilgrim.com/nikon-patch/nikon-patch.html

dont't try - its going to burn the sensor, as it will overrun it's thermal capacity. this is why there is the 30 mins limit in the first place; you'll see a marked raise in noise after 10 mins or so any way

The limit is only for tax purposes. One guy at my work uses Sony DSLR as webcam and it works just fine and we are staying with cams/mics on for hours at a time (pair programming)

Indeed. My A7ii uses a very similar sensor to some Nikon cameras, and the sensor is literally always on, because the camera lacks an optical viewfinder. While the noise for very long exposures is negatively affected by the temperature of the sensor if left on too long without being allowed to cool down, the camera is made for having the sensor on for hours and hours every day without issue, and the Nikon sensors aren't any different.

Whats most likely to break, however, is the shutter mechanism. But even that isn't affected here.

My D90 purchased in Europe kind of disagrees with you.

I'm actually really upset that my Lumix LX100 doesn't support live hdmi output, I was hoping to use it as a webcam replacement but apparently Panasonic never implemented this feature, which is a shame because the picture quality would blow any webcam out of the water.

If you're on Linux and don't mind an unreliable hack where your video sometimes freezes, I was able to bodge the mobile app preview stream from my Lumix GX80 to appear as a v4l2 camera [1]

[1] https://www.mjt.me.uk/posts/wifi-streaming-video-lumix-gx80/

I thought the older ones weren't designed for it - they weren't designed to hold the shutter open, or use the sensor for long periods of time.

I assume that has changed.

Not sure that was ever the case. My Nikon from ten years ago had the 'bulb' exposure mode that would stay open until a remote trigger was released.

People have been doing hour long exposures with these cameras for years. Let alone Live View mode!

It's really moreso an excuse to up sell you on a video camera.

I have been working along these same lines, but am still waiting for a Canon lens adapter to arrive so I can have decent glass in front of the sensor (the basic is OK, but I have a few Canon lenses that knock it out of the park).

Meanwhile, I have a slightly tweaked version of uvc-gadget that does not jump to 100% CPU when the camera is off: https://github.com/rcarmo/uvc-gadget

I tried the K&F Concept lens adapter, but the big caveat is the sensor size difference, so effectively you get a huge zoom factor. Using the Kit lens from my Canon, I either need to put the camera module meters away from my face or meeting participants are only going to see my nose. :)

I have a 18-55(?) which is blatantly overkill but might be easier to tune in that regard. Biggest concern I have right now is aperture size, and I certainly don't expect things to be perfect on the first try :)

The crop factor of this camera is about 5.6, so 18 mm behaves like a 105 mm telephoto. For a portrait shot the camera needs to be about 3-4 meters away from you.

7.9mm(1/2.3”) diagonal is not exactly huge, same or smaller than many smartphones.

To be honest, I didn't realize that that sensor just about the size of an iPhone's sensor. I would have guessed the iPhone's camera sensor is smaller. It really blew my mind how compact the whole iPhone camera package is.

Flagship smartphones are cameras first, and phones second.

The iPhone camera module is among most expensive parts in the bill of materials, at about $37.60.

The Apple processor is about $30. NAND and RAM? $40 combined. TrueDepth? $17.

I'm not entirely sure about this situation, but sensor size numbers often don't reflect an actual measurement of the physical size of the sensor. It's all based on old film standards.

Fractional inches notation is based on imaging tubes, not films.

There were of cylindrical fluorescent vacuum tubes that has rectangular imaging area at one end. Inch size notation like 1” or 1/1.2” for CMOS sensors denote size of equivalent imaging tube diameter for its imaging area.

“135 full frame”, “APS-C”, “Super 35mm”, “Medium format” on the other hand refers to film sizes, and thus respective imaging area dimensions.

Maybe jimmies meant compared to webcams?

Last time I hooked up my 5d3 to Teams I saw a nice capture but the other participants saw something that appeared like a 5kib/s 320p feed. When I switched back to the internal webcam the picture was 720p so it wasn’t my connection. Any ideas on this? (macOS, ODS, cam twist, and 5d3 over usb.)

It might have been too high quality, and teams squished it to save bandwidth for every participant?

So why not squish it down to the same level as the internal webcam instead of completely down?

I see there are different lenses available for it (wide angle, telephoto etc.) are these photos using any of those? Or would lenses make it even better?

Also what is the output? Can it do 1080p60? Forgive my naivety if I am asking something obvious

- The wide angle (6mm) is the one I used. It has a good angle of view but with quite a bit of lens distortion.

- I haven't had time to look at the custom lenses, as this is quite confusing to me.

- Output is 1080p30. Here is the link for the specs: https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/hardware/camera/

Video quality for the demo video on showmewebcam github page is quite bad. I suspect it is mainly caused by the lens.

Are there any good lenses out there that don't cost a lot?

I could not find any good demo videos from the Rpi HQ camera. There are either macro shots showing the background blur, or some terrible medium range ones.

If a good lens costs an arm and a leg, it is probably still cheaper to buy used entry level mirrorless camera, and it will also have autofocus.

I really wish there were better webcams and I would not have to result some bulky mirrorless/dslr or iphone with droidcam.

See my other comment to the parent, but yeah, the lenses are a challenge. The 6mm is not great. Finding a workable cost effective lens is my biggest hurdle right now.

Have you considered adding a ring light?

When I imagine a classic webcam, it's definitely the Logitech QuickCam Express (1999), with its memorable industrial design of an orb perched atop a stumpy pyramid. It only predated the iSight (2003) by 4 years, although there were earlier models with a similar design under the Connectix brand name dating back to 1994.

That's what I thought it would be too --- the "eyeball" which became the standard icon for a webcam.

I remember buying one of those in 2000. It was even USB. A few years later someone gave me another eyeball Logitech without the stand and I just put it on a soda bottle filled with water with a bolt and wing nut through the cap (poor man's tripod). Comparing it to my old one, man was that a huge jump in quality and framerate in just 6 years.

I used it to make this fun little tool:


Whatever happened to that company that advertised IP cameras literally everywhere in the early days of the internet? I think the main one was called the X1 camera.

For those that weren’t around at the time it’s hard to overstate just how over the top ubiquitous that ad campaign was.

The webcam use case even made its way into browsers, ie multipart/x-mixed-replace was specifically introduced in support of hooking up IP/HTTP-capable cams.


To me, the absolute classic webcam is also the original QuickCam[1]. When I was MUCH younger (late 1990s), a group of us at a Global Trading Bank whose name I won't mention bought a bunch of them and set up a web server with all the video feeds in a Zoom-like tiled arrangement. The page was so popular (especially as some of the cameras were owned by some of the ladies in our social group), that one time it took down the internal WAN connection between the London and New York office. Oops.


[1] https://wiki.preterhuman.net/Connectix_QuickCam

And the Amazon reviews are still live from the early 2000s!


> If you have a slow computer (less then 200mhz) the pictures will be a bit fuzzy and the lighting is bad.

Agreed, but I was thinking IndyCam

IndyCam had the same resolution as the iSight but it looked like trash. There was a lot of geometric distortion and wacky color fringing.

It was weird because you _could_ get excellent video input on the Indy just by hooking up a real camcorder to the S-Video port. The Indy was the only SGI that came out-of-the-box with analog video capture. But the IndyCam wasn't analog, and it wasn't good for anything either.

It was a tolerant one too. The SGI Pro Video performed better on broadcast grade signals, but would reject many others.

If one wanted to capture vintage / retro computer generated video, the Indy VINO did a great job of it.

Intel had webcams earlier than Logitech, just tried out the Intel PC Pro Camera and the Logitech Quickcam Pro 3000, one of the better orbs from around the turn of the century.

Quickcam now fails to provide a hardware ID but the Intel works.

No Intel drivers this old built into Windows 10 any more or from Windows Update, but there was no need for Windows 9x or the matching VfW or WDM drivers on the original CD.

By the time Windows XP came out there were built-in NT WDM drivers for Intel cams right there in the INF & SYSTEM32 folders.

In Windows 10, pointing Device Manager manually to those XP folders gets the cam working without any need for compatibility mode or anything.

Then the Windows 10 Camera App can not detect the installed WDM cam, but Expression Encoder or VLC have no problem at all.

Incidentally if you are using Windows 10 on a primary partition of a system booting in BIOS (not UEFI) mode, that means you traditionally have a WINDOWS folder on your NTFS _C:_ volume, not much differently than in previous decades. Ideally your NT6 BOOT folder would be on your C: volume too, and that partiton would be Actively bootable instead of some separate hidden boot partition. The NT6 BOOT folder migrated toward hidden during Windows 7 support period. Both NT5 & NT6 work with either combined or separate Boot & System partitions.

So you're basically ready to install XP alongside W10 (without reformatting of course) into its own dedicated folder other than WINDOWS. I suggest the folder WINXP instead of the WINNT name that was also shared by W2K and earlier NT. The XP setup routine will prompt you to create a different folder on your target volume if there is already a WINDOWS folder there. You will have already needed to rename the W10 Program Files folder to something like Program10Files so it will not be replaced by the XP install. The only other folder written by XP setup is Documents And Settings, so there will be a real folder there when finished and W10 can handle it no differently than the default symlink it carries for backward compatibility.

Simply XP setup will overwrite the bootsector of your Active volume with an NT5 NTLDR-seeking version, put NTDETECT.COM, BOOT.INI, and NTLDR on the root of your Active boot volume next to the NT6 BOOTMGR and BOOT folder already there, and write the three WINXP, Program Files, & Documents and Settings folders to C:.

And act like you no longer have Windows 10 unless you know better.

Windows 10 is of course still properly installed too, but it will need a BOOTMGR-seeking bootsector again which can be easily replaced from the command prompt of W10 install media using the BOOTSECT.EXE command. Before you boot back to Windows 10, you need to also rename the new Program Files folder to something like ProgramXPFiles, and rename Program10Files back to plain Program Files.

Then it will act like you don't have XP any more

So then you add an NTLDR entry to the W10 boot menu using BCDEDIT.EXE, not a difficult exercise, and you get freedom of choice.

When XP boots it doesn't use the Program Files folder anyway until you actually try to run a program residing there.

So you can do file management, and lots of other things when booted to XP whenever you want with fewer headaches many times than NT6.

Even without drivers for all your devices, none of them current either, and default low-resolution graphics.

Too bad going forward Intel is discontinuing BIOS support leaving only UEFI on its branded mainboards.

I just acquired an obsolete Tandberg teleconferencing system via surplus auction. The codec isn't much use to me, but the camera is 720p with pan/tilt/zoom/exposure controlled over serial. It looks outstanding and I can re-aim it easily in my office where I sometimes sit different places.

I use a cheap HDMI capture device to get the video off of it, and due to Cisco/Tandberg being a bit evasive about the control protocol I'm working on my own software to control it this evening... that and notes about getting it up and running here: https://github.com/jcrawfordor/tandyberg

These Tandberg systems were expensive ($1500 and up) when new but the outdated ones turn up at auction somewhat regularly and the cameras, having been top of the line at the time, are still pretty good by modern standards. I'm quite happy with it for $35. Later versions were 1080p as well.

We had a Lifesize system at one point that ran on a dedicated T1. It was amazing at the time.

When I got mine I thought it had a 4-port ethernet switch on it for convenience for a moment. Then I realized it was for eight bonded ISDN BRIs.

I actually used the exact model I got at a previous job, although it was on ethernet by that point. I remember the codec's UI being painfully hard to use. I have a SIP setup here so I might try to get the codec working with it later, but for now I haven't even powered it up yet. I did crack it open out of curiosity and it's neat how they heatsinked all of the ASIC codec chips to the aluminum case. All around very nice hardware design, which I guess we ought to expect out of Norway. The camera is surprisingly heavy but the drive motors are extremely smooth and quiet compared to the PTZ surveillance cameras I'm more used to working with.

I sold life size when T1 connectivity was still the norm and you could get HD over one of those. The quality was outstanding for the time.

PTZ? How about automated tracking with OpenCV? You could pace around during meetings ;)

I’ve used an unmodified iSight camera since working from home, it’s fine, no one needs more pixels of my face on calls.

Its FireWire 400 cable is connected to a powered drive enclosure to convert it to FireWire 800. That cable is connected to a Thunderbolt 2 adapter which is connected to a Thunderbolt 3 adapter. I already had all these parts; if I had a FireWire 400 to 800 cable, I wouldn’t need the powered enclosure, the iSight cable is detachable.

Haven’t tried this, but there are supposedly driverless usb 2 to FireWire 400 adapters. I figure we are likely to have USB 2 ports on hubs and monitors for some time.


I like your approach much better, the linked article just seems wasteful. I really appreciate finding new uses for old electronics, it can be a fun challenge, a unique aesthetic & it benefits the environment over buying new. But here he destroys what’s basically a functioning webcam to put another webcam in there (which I assume he bought new). He could at least have usen a broken iSight.

your cable connections are a reflection of Apple's footprint on peripheral ports. Are you doing this on purpose?

My only purpose was to get a webcam above my monitor and I had all these parts.

I don’t know what part Apple played with Intel in the design of FireWire and Thunderbolt. I’m glad that over ~20 years of marked improvement, it’s still possible to connect and use this hardware. I think I still have a 3com USB webcam somewhere that’s even older but after only a few years, it wouldn’t work with anything I had.

Screw this webcam stuff, the iSight chasis would make a sweet case for a raspberry pi zero. Install a Linux OS with MacOS clone interface and it’s like a baby Mac.

Apply a dark tint film on the top lens and a white diffuser and add an RGB led that turns on colorfully when you wake the voice assistant.

That's a great idea.

I actually imagined the iSight as soon as I read 'classic webcam'.

The only other 'classic' I can think of is the Logitech QuickCam Express.

This [1] hand labeled green cutting (project) matt image is just about the best ever. Really terrific visual. Gives me a Scott McCloud or How Things Work vibe.

Should we call that arrangement "unknolling"? I love it.

Fun project, great writeup.

[1] https://miro.medium.com/max/2000/1*swkZD1-z23KR2FbsU3OUbQ.jp...

I wonder if there is a way to salvage the microphones from the isight as well. Author hasn't lost a word about it so I guess it has been discarded.

I still have a knock-off iSight from eBay which was quite similar but of course had worse image and production quality. One advantage is that it features a thread on the bottom so it can be mounted to a small tripod which still looks quite nice. I use it for a time-lapse project that records the growth of a plant by taking a photograph every 15 minutes. The image resolution is a lot better than the video resolution on these things but still years behind the pi camera I guess.

Why can't my Android device with OTG & fancy SoCs act like a UVC webcam!

The current workaround for this would be to use an app like IPWebcam and route the network traffic over USB with adb, then ffmpeg it into v4l2loopback on your computer.

I have been using an old smartphone as webcam for quite some time now, and I got to say it works quite well. The only problem is the power supply, because video recording draws a lot of power it drains the battery even when it's plugged in.

Of course, an out of the box solution with UVC would be much nicer!

I tried to use a smartphone (moto g2)as a camera IP. Heat would shut down some components at some points, the camera or the app would crash, the wifi would shut down and not reconnect.

All those problems went away when I switched to pi zero. Other problems invited themselves though.

Since we’re reminiscing — here’s the SGI Indycam:


I called SGI in high school and received some beautiful brochures, on the Indy, and Indigo II. The webcam on the Indy was the most futuristic thing I’d seen at the time.

Modern industrial design is a nauseating mix of commodification and trend-following, both of which drive drive products in the same niche to look the same. It's the beige-box phenomena writ large. Electronics used to be sexy, dammit.

To be fair, electronics used to be boring too. When I was growing up I had a Packard Bell PC with a 13" CRT (which weighed something like 20kg), and a boxy Epson printer. All three had a case in the standard 90s white/cream with grey highlights, where the white part turns yellow after a few years.

The idea of 1080p HD or even 4K webcams is silly when most videoconferencing software/apps limits to 320p or 720p.

Google Meet, for example, does not even support 1080p.

> videoconferencing software/apps limits

Those are, I believe, rather simple to adjust.

Please tell me what commonly used videoconferencing software allows for 4K conversations and how to enable it.

Knew of a guy, bought an old HP 3000 industrial computer, gutted it and used it for a stereo rack. Folks do strange things.

> 640x480 is not a camera resolution anymore

But 1280x720 unfortunately is

I had the iSight camera when I was in high school. Brings back a lot of dial-up memories too.


Firefox + NoScript + Privacy Badger + Blocking Cookies, and I have never seen this request.

I recognize that it shouldn't take a workaround, but there are workarounds, and I have seen interesting articles on Medium that I'm glad I've read.

Also, I want to say thanks for your work on Sway and Sourcehut, I use both frequently.

Unless it's somebody I really want to hear from, I close Medium links almost immediately.

I hate it too, but you can open it in incognito mode.

Paywalls and sign-up-walls should be against posting guidelines

> Paywalls and sign-up-walls should be against posting guidelines

I've noticed that some paywalled sites (NY Times, in particular) provoke an almost immediate posting of an unpaywalled mirror (usually archive.org or outline.com). It would actually be nice if HN just did that automatically.

Open in incognito window?


> Paywalls pose a serious problem to discussion sites such as HN where it's hoped (often in vain, but still) that all commenters have read the linked document in its entirety.

Well, do you want to read 20 comments on HN by people who have read the linked document in its entirety, commenting about the linked document, or do you want to read 100 comments on HN whining about Medium.com? Yes, paywalls are annoying, but comments saying "WWAAAAAAHHHH MEDUMB" are not good comments, they aren't interesting reading, they don't add to the dicussion on whatever the linked document is, or on the topic of paywalls. IMO they aren't on-topic here under the guidelines[1] "Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents." (Medium.com having a paywall is unrelated to putting an rPi in a webcam, paywalls are a generic tangent) and "Please don't post shallow dismissals" ("No" is not a thoughtful substantive dismissal) and maybe "please don't complain about website formatting, back-button breakage, and similar annoyances. They're too common to be interesting." - requiring a login is too common an annoyance to be interesting.

In particular to this article and your slatestarcodex link, this webcam article isn't clickbait with zero payoff like the "why are men pointing guns at their dicks" reference, this is a story of something technical that someone did, along with many links relating to the parts they bought, the guides they followed, gif of what it looks like when it's working, links to source code and 3D printer models used. It's not the most technical post ever, but it's incredibly good and relevant to HN compared to a clickbait article on US political social media memes.

I don't enjoy paywalls, and I don't pay for them, but this is what they should be for - if this guy gets a few cents for writing this post about an interesting real project which took a couple of hundred dollars and some decent chunk of hours of design, electronics, hardware assembling and software work to do, then good.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

> IMO they aren't on-topic here under the guidelines[1] "Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."

The FAQ [0] actually specifically allows for paywalls with workarounds.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html

Edit: Missed character.

I didn't claim that paywalled articles are not on topic as submissions, I claimed that short, dismisive, substance-free, non-contributing, non-constructive comments whining about paywalls when the article is not about paywalls, are not on topic as comments.

Had I read the FAQ more closely, I would have pointed directly at the entry "please don't post complaints about paywalls. Those are off topic." in defense of flagging and downvoting said comments.

I was agreeing with you...

I was just offering more evidence to support your case.


We've banned this account for repeatedly breaking the site guidelines and ignoring our requests to stop.


If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.


I think reusing materials is interesting, especially when its reuse brings an old technology into the modern era.

Can anyone make a convincing case for having a good webcam in the era of zoom? No one is going to see a crisp image.

The post-covid internet is rife with stories where people discover their classmate/coworker is a Twitch streamer because the person pops onto Zoom with high-quality lighting and camera and their picture quality is so glorious that everyone else's looks like a fuzzy classic film by comparison.

Most people's Zoom video is poor quality because it's "garbage in, garbage out". Barely-passable camera, and lighting that's actively hostile to picture quality, because nobody cares as long as your face is more or less visible.

That and decent cameras were immediately out of stock. A $99 Logitech 922 gives a perfectly usable image but you couldn't find one for that price for months, if at all.

I was able to get a c920x last week for $69, and while I am super happy with it, the video quality really sucks for 2020.

Ah when the iSight came out, the best thing about it was the stereo microphone array inside of it. Well, that and it looked amazing. Microsoft has a camera that looks like a crappier version of the isight called the lifecam.

You can have a basic mirrorless with “clean” HDMI live view and MS2109 for that price, if you don’t mind buying ones that were collecting dust on someone’s shelf

> where people discover their classmate/coworker is a Twitch streamer


Anecdotally, that's how my team found out one of our co-workers does some Twitch streaming. He has a really good mic, camera and a 3-point light setup.

It's how my team had it reiterated that I like to mess around with things like this (especially when I'm already working from home).

I still just have the basic Microsoft 1280x720 USB webcam that I grabbed from the office when we left in March. Phone-as-webcam was more trouble than it was worth, but it did get me playing with OBS for better control over exposure, white balance, gamma, etc.

From there I rigged up a couple of desk lights and clamp lights I had around for better lighting. Then I got a cheap green sheet to replace the white sheet I'd hung behind me to hide the junk room I've been using as a temp office. Then I hooked up a Shure mic to the old USB audio interface I used to have hooked up for messing with guitar.

So now I've got the best sound, lighting, and video-loop backgrounds of the team. Yay? ;)


> Lighting matters much, much more than the camera setup.

That’s true if you have a decent quality camera, but the built-in camera on a laptop or the front-facing camera on a phone are generally terrible to begin with. The MacBook Pro comes with a “720p FaceTime HD” camera and I know it’s not the best on the market, but it’s more or less typical and it’s mostly garbage, except for the fact that it gets the job done and it fits where it needs to go.

Twitch is a live streaming platform primarily targeted at gamers to stream gameplay.

Twitch streamers also have very good lighting setups. A ring light at minimum, usually multiple lighting rigs.

Optimizing lighting absolutely produces bigger wins than optimizing the camera, but I've seen plenty of terrible webcams where a better camera could do wonders even with the same lighting.

True, but this seems distracting from the point that 99% of people have terrible telecommuting lighting.

I went all-in on a decent mirrorless, lens, and some lighting. Not really for videoconferencing, but I use it for that as well.

It's true that the bandwidth isn't there to push 4k. But being decently lit, with a real depth of field, large sensor and aperture, and the flattering effect of a good focal length, all adds up. I look a lot better than the other people on the call, and people notice and comment on that.

This isn't worth a few grand on its own. But if you have other uses for decent video and photography equipment, or just find yourself needing an expensive hobby, you'll get a substantially better effect with it.

I use a nice mirrorless camera as my webcam. Every single person I meet with first comments on the image quality before we get into the meeting. It absolutely makes a difference.

And I haven’t done anything about my lighting which is pretty terrible. At least I can set the exposure for my face regardless of whether the background ends up solid white or black.

Which one?

I’ve spent a few hours trying to pick one and there’s no standout obvious choice.

LUMIX GH5? Kind of old and likely to be replaced soon.

LUMIX G100? New, but video record limit and bad autofocus.

Sony ZV1? Good autofocus, but no interchangeable lens and smaller sensor

It’s really hard to find something that is clearly the best choice.

Edit: just saw your response to the other comment, thanks

Any mirrorless will have a better depth of field, color accuracy, and perceptual appearance than the small sensors employed in run of the mill webcams. I wouldn’t overthink it if you’re just using it as a webcam. My coworkers are all using their old DSLRs now that driver and firmware updates have enabled their use. They look better than the very expensive Logitec cameras they installed in office.

Can you tell us which?

Yeah, I use my Sony α6600 with the Sigma 1.4 56mm lens. And an Elgato Cam Link 4K to hook it up to the computer.

I certainly wouldn’t buy it just for a webcam, but I already have the camera and I got the Cam Link for my son’s violin performances that moved to Zoom for a while.

Oh, also I use the ECM-B1M mic even though I use Bluetooth headphones. I realized Bluetooth headphones (at least on a Mac) drop down to super low quality when transmitting both audio and mic, so I only use them for my sound and rely on the camera mic through the Cam Link for input.

I have a similar setup (a6600 with the Sony G 16-55mm f/2.8). Have you tried it without the cam link?

Like so:


I've been satisfied with the results, I'm wondering if you've done both and if you see a difference. I'll probably end up with a capture setup eventually, but I've been kicking it down the road.

Sorry, I haven't tried the direct setup so I can't compare. That software wasn't available yet when I started so I just got the Cam Link.

Thanks for sharing the software setup! It'd be nice to not have to carry the Cam Link if I want to use this on the go, so I might try setting it up when I get some time. Right now the Cam Link is working very well; it's totally plug-n-play and the quality is top notch.

Will try to remember to come back and share here if I do try the software setup.

Tangential for folks with more bluetooth knowledge than me - is there any bluetooth profile (or plans for a future high-bandwidth bluetooth version) which can support high quality audio while also supporting microphones?

HFS/HSP is one of the major reasons why I'm still reluctant to use wireless headphones as my default playback device.

I use a Newer NW700 as my microphone attached to my standing desk with my wireless headphones. macOS makes managing this easy through either independent controls through the Sound control panel or as an aggregate device. For the road I found a pass through mic that plugs into my headphone’s line in and use it as wired headphones. The mic comes out on an arm and it does a much better job than an in line mic built into a cable.

Many proprietary wireless headphones do fine. “HFP but like A2DP” sadly don’t exist.

The Dell XPS 13 with the absurdly located camera - just above keyboard level. When I bought it, I had no intention of using it and had taped it over. And then 2020 happened. When I really need to show people my face on zoom, I now use DroidCam and make my phone the webcam. Works really well for me.

It's not just Dell. I have an old iPad Pro I use for video calls (Zoom maxes my CPU on Linux) and when it's sitting in the case, the camera is either to the left or the right of where I am looking...

How do you mount your phone to the top of the laptop screen?

A better investment will be in lighting. Good lighting makes a HUGE difference in the quality of the image.

I use a 10 year old logitech c910 - 1080p with stereo mics and a room with indirect natural light and 1Gbps fiber internet connection. I have people ask me all the time if I'm a podcaster or streamer and mention that my setup looks really clean and sounds great. Most of my calls take less than 1Mbps upload during the call so it's probably not the internet's fault for the most part.

Never had anyone say that with my laptop integrated cam on wifi. My guess is that now that every laptop has a camera and a mic just above the keyboard, we are just used to seeing shitty images and hearing garbled sound but apparently, it does make a difference.

Like a few other commenters here, after seeing how often I would be on camera and being tired of the potato quality of my laptop's built-in camera, I decided to do something about it. $60 worth of lighting recommended by YouTubers + a $7 HDMI to USB capture device off eBay plugged into the Sony RX100 I already had from years ago and now I regularly get people commenting on how good my video looks (bonus: it makes me look better, too).

Well a large part of that is because the low light performance on all these webcams is stuck in the early 2000's. So, if you feed them some extra light the image quality gets a lot better.

OTOH, take a 10 year old DSLR, flip it to video mode and compare the results when you don't have the lights amped up to max.

Webcams are one of those areas where 7-8 years ago I was wondering why all the webcams were still USB2. For something like video you _REALLY_ want the extra bandwidth. Sure lots of peoples home connections aren't going to be able to feed the 250Mbit or so that is possible with a USB2 webcam, but in many cases your GPU/etc is probably much more capable of doing a good job with a random codec than whatever $.50c codec happens to be integrated on the webcam itself. So run a reasonable bandwidth to the PC and let it cleanup/compress the image. Rather than having the camera compress it to mpeg2, drop 1/2 the clarity, then have your PC decompress it and re-compress it with a more modern codec.

> [...] tired of the potato quality of my laptop's built-in camera, I decided to do something about it.

The term "potato quality" has a lovely ring to it.

I don't really care if you meant "makes you look like a potato" or "looks like you're using a potato as a webcam", it works so well either way.

> a $7 HDMI to USB capture device off eBay plugged into the Sony RX100 I already had from years ago

Is it the Sony RX100 I or a later version? I couldn't find any CamLink which supports the first generation.

IV in my case. I'm not sure when they added it, but the HDMI port allows real-time output of what the camera is seeing. With an HDMI to USB capture converter it works perfectly as a camera device for any of my computers (limited to 1080p with my cheap converter, but that's more than enough for Zoom calls).

Could you link to the lighting?

Sure thing. Check out [1] for the overview in video form. I saved some money by building my own softbox with cardboard, duct tape, aluminum foil, and white tissue paper (works surprisingly well), and got the corncob bulb direct from China [2] since the right color temp wasn't available on Amazon or eBay at the time. Note that if you go that route you'll probably need one of these [3] as well. Alternatively, you can grab one of these two-light kits for lots of light on the cheap [4], but you won't get much control over per-side intensity. Be sure to watch a few "video lighting tutorial" videos on YouTube to see how they are usually setup in relation to yourself and the camera for best results.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IF-VG69DAU

[2] https://www.ledlight1.com/40w-led-studio-light-bulb-e26-e27-...

[3] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07X37NZSK/

[4] https://www.amazon.com/HPUSN-Professional-Photography-Contin...

Are you using a single light source or multiple?

I have two lights. One bright one to my right-front, and a dimmer one to my left. I couldn't get a good bounce panel setup with the way my apartment is arranged. Note that my apartment is really dim, even during the day, due to the way the windows face. If you get more sunlight you can probably get away with a single light.

You can set up your phone (or DSLR) as a webcam in a pinch, no need to purchase new hardware.

I recently upgraded to a gaming laptop with no camera at all, and for a moment thought my remote working life would be burdened by expensive and clunky extra hardware to avoid seeming ineptly suited to working from home. Instead it's only burdened by awkward phone placement, but the image quality is much better than before.

I'm reusing an old Sony 4k handycam with an hdmi to usb c capture card and it looks way better than most. The larger sensor helps a ton.

to all those recommending better lighting: nobody sits in a dark or unlit room when using a webcam. we shouldn't need to buy more crap at extra expense and space just to make something which should work work. it's the cheap components in the cameras which are the problem. I don't understand why this seems to be the norm, it reminds me of laptops being sold with crappy resolution screens even though the underlying hardware was fully capable of outputting higher. they still exist actually

it will take years before good quality webcams become the norm. we are only just starting to see them with built in IR sensors in mid to higher end models

It's not that the components are cheap. They are, but that's not the problem. The problem is that the sensor package is impossibly tiny because it's a webcam. You need more light--and by the standards of that tiny sensor package you are in fact sitting in an unlit room because it's just not getting enough light not to crank up the exposure and kill your framerate.

This is a universal problem regardless of webcam and regardless of laptop manufacturer, even Apple.

To fix this, you either need to give it the light it wants or get a better sensor/lens package--and in this case, "better" means "bigger".

Which is why you buy a mirrorless camera when you're serious about decent video in your office.

>to all those recommending better lighting: nobody sits in a dark or unlit room when using a webcam.

You'd be surprised.

not really, if you cannot see then the camera should not be able to, and the opposite applies

Tons of people do Zoom from poorly lit rooms. Not because they prefer not to be seen, or go for the gothic vampire aesthetic, but because they don't know any better or don't have good lighting in their home office.

I'm not disagreeing with that, I'm saying they are still lit, even if a little. if the human eye is able to see in such conditions, why not an electronic device?

Sensitivity and dynamic range of the human eye is far, far better than any camera sensor you can buy at a reasonable price.

On top of that, you are looking into a light source. If you were reading a book or newspaper you'd probably want more light.

I was thinking this: my upload speed maxes out around 10Mbps, and on a not-even-that-bad day can be as low as 4Mbps. (Thanks, Comcast.) Is that enough to transmit anywhere near the quality this camera can output? And even if there is, will Zoom do a good job finding the optimal encoding?

A higher quality sensor will mean less noise in the captured image (especially with poor lighting), so the compressed stream will spend more bits on encoding you and fewer bits on encoding artifacts. A better lens will reduce distortion and aberration. A larger sensor combined with a large aperture lens will enable a shallow depth of field, so your face can be in focus while the backdrop of your messy home office is out of focus—again helping spend your precious upload bandwidth on the details you want to be transmitting.

4Mbps is nowhere near low enough to level out all the differences between a crap camera and a great camera. With modern codecs, 4Mbps is actually quite a lot of room to work with; Zoom specifies a requirement of just 3Mbps for group video calls at 1080p, and even Twitch only supports up to 6Mbps.

You could always use something other than Zoom.

I often use my own barebones WebRTC thingy for 1:1 meetings and get crisp video.

Is this something you've built yourself or is this an open project. I'm looking for something like this if you can give more detail.

DSLR or DSLM with HDMI output.

what use would that be for teleconferencing / facetime? nobody has an HDMI input

I use one of these to use my camera as a webcam: https://www.elgato.com/en/gaming/cam-link-4k

For about $20 you can get an HDMI capture device: https://www.theverge.com/21346571/cheap-cam-link-capture-car...

Good way to reduce your plastic consumption....NOT!, by unnecessarily 3D printing the housing for this project.

Sure the plastic will be here for a long time after we have all parted this earthly plane.

Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you should.

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