USB Webcams for recording lectures

One of our faculty is home sick* and needs to record lectures for students from home and probably do web conferencing with Zoom Pro. She has a Macbook Air; I don’t yet know the model or system version. It’s not her primary computer, so it could be kind of old. She’d like at least a better camera/microphone than the Air provides. It would probably also be useful if she could include screen recording even if that needs third party software.

I know nothing about webcams and software. I vaguely know you can use Quicktime to record video, and presumably iMovie to edit.

Any suggestions for the physical camera–even important and convenient features–and good, very easy to learn/use software to run it? Classes are still in session, with finals coming up week after next, so time is important. But I expect this is going to be affecting other users before long too, so I’d also like suggestions on non-minimal solutions that we can get going on now for next quarter.

Many thanks for any help!

  • Not covad-19, but self quarantine is now required for us with pretty much any symptoms.

What about Skype? You can record in it, it runs on Mac (even very old ones), iOS, Windows and Android. You do have to set up a meeting, but you can have one person do the presenting and the other person doesn’t actively participate. Skype can even record well on mobile devices, probably as good as, or better than, a USB camera. If the all the students have Mac or iOS, recording in FaceTime would be even better.

I know a little more now, as various admin thins finally trickle down to me.

Campus has Zoom Pro available for everyone, so mostly that’s what will be used for conferencing though some groups do use Skype. But lectures are recorded, not live, comprised of a mix of Panopto screen recording and video recording.

Under normal circumstances, the video parts are recorded in classrooms with proper and fancy equipment. But we need to get everyone going on home studios.

Our department will be encouraging people to use the built in computer cameras, and only paying for other webcams if those are poor quality. Faculty can also buy their own upgrades on their own budgets, so they’ll need recommendations.

A lot of the computers are going to be old spare models, since many faculty keep their nice up to date desktops in their offices–which will become suddenly inaccessible if campus shuts down. Fortunately, file storage in either/or Google Drive and One Drive is fairly common now, though I expect there will be issues. With enough warning we can hand out static IPs and set up file sharing, but we may not get that much warning.

The specific early test case turns out to be a 2014 Air running Yosemite. Fortunately (and somewhat surprisingly) it can handle Zoom and Panopto well enough, but the camera is wonky. I’ve made a temporary suggestion of a Logitech C925e, which claims to work on Yosemite up.

I’ve also been learning how to record video and do minor edits. Nice to learn new things, even for unfortunate reasons…

I can’t make specific product recommendations, since I have only done this very infrequently, but some critical things to consider whenever recording video are:

  • Lighting. Make sure there’s lots of it. You may or may not require actual movie lights, depending on the room’s normal lighting and where you will be sitting, but it needs to be bright. Don’t rely on the camera’s gain control or software brightness adjustments after the fact - they won’t produce very good results.
  • Audio. You probably want to have a separate USB microphone. The mics built-in to web-cameras are usually pretty bad. Look for a highly directional mic (e.g. a cardioid pattern) and not an omnidirectional mic - this will help to minimize background sounds. And talk into it, not over it - this will help to maximize your voice.
  • Camera. Any camera capable of 1080p should be OK if you aren’t doing anything fancy. You probably don’t want one built-in to your computer’s screen, however, since it is very awkward to move the computer whenever you need to adjust the camera’s position. Anything standalone mounted on a tripod or a desk stand will be more convenient. You probably don’t need fancy lenses, although basic zoom functionality might be convenient to help get yourself framed the way you want.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend any specific makes or models since I’m not in that business, but hopefully this will be enough to help you get started.

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If there is a way to record using their smartphones, it will almost certainly be better quality video than their computer.

(Using the real camera, not the “selfie” camera.)

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As far as I am aware all Apple’s current Mac models are still fitted with only 720p resolution cameras.

This is frankly pitiful these days, indeed one wonders how they still manage to find such low-res CCD chips anymore. As a comparison the original iSight dating way back to 2003 was 480p and the latest iPhone 11 models have 4K selfie cameras.

Logitech do at least two USB webcams capable of 4K and compatible with Macs, indeed they now have one specifically designed for use with Apple’s new XDR display. The overwhelming majority of USB webcams are and have been for ages 1080p.

The company I work for does a lot of work on face recognition and we have tested various webcams and I can confirm the built-in MacBook Pro cameras are comparatively very poor. (I was actually rather disappointed with the Logitech Brio 4K camera as we did not find much better than a 1080p camera.)

There are rumours that Apple will be adding FaceID to MacBook Pro models and this might finally force Apple to add a better camera.

You would think it would have made economic sense to share camera parts between iPhone, iPad and Mac if feasible and as admittedly not an Apple engineer the selfie camera would seem highly suited to Macs, even the distance of the object would be generally consistent with the distance an iPhone is held to take a selfie.

Going back to software, does anyone have suggestions for Mac software which would take a webcam feed and simultaneously record it and stream it? This could involve using well known services e.g. YouTube but it is more intended for internal use.

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I believe the iMac Pro has a 1080p camera. Still disappointing, but better than 720p.

I just checked and your right, the exception that proves the rule. :grinning: I had previously checked the MacBook Pro and it still is only 720p.

This isn’t for the next blockbuster, it’s for lectures. 720p is adequate, 1080p is fine, 4K would be impossible. Not all students, or even faculty, have a lot of bandwidth at home, and that usually has to be shared with other family members/housemates, who are also tending to stay home as much as possible. One reason that most of the lectures will be recorded is so that they can be up/downloaded instead of streamed in many cases.

The current situation is that all classes are on-line only to avoid crowds, but the campus is still open. An unused office has been set up as a ‘studio’ for our department. A PC is provided or BYO laptop. We have a Logitech C930e on order for it, a wall whiteboard, possibly a tablet an some point, though that’s likely to stay BYO. It will be in fairly heavy use in the next week or so not just for finishing off this quarter, but for getting a start on next quarter before the whole campus shuts down.

I’ve been going door to door to staff offices to make sure everyone is set up to work at home, configuring a lot of static IPs and delivering mini-lectures about the VPN-to-campus options. I’ll take my work mini home so I can still keep work and home stuff separate.

A full campus site license for Zoom Pro got through the bureaucracy in the nick of time, so everyone is covered for that; it used to be just faculty and some staff, with a 40 minute time limit per session.

Getting hold of useful hardware is becoming an issue, because educational institutions all over the world are in the same mess. Shipping dates are often listed as something that probably translates as ‘maybe eventually, if you’re lucky’.

For simultaneous recording/streaming, I think Panopto can do that, though it isn’t on my list of things to deal with so I won’t swear to it. Possibly Zoom Pro, too, though I’m still in the baby steps stage of playing with it. Zoom is good for webcams; you can connect two at once, e.g. the regular video webcam plus a tablet for scribbling. Too bad the company is despicable.

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I don’t know about your campus’s setup, but if the streaming servers work the way YouTube’s do, then you should upload the highest resolution you’ve got. The server should transcode it to lower resolutions for those who have smaller screens or lower bandwidth.

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