Using a GoPro, Camcorder or DSLR as a webcam

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Some GoPro, camcorder, digital camera or DSLR cameras can be used as a webcam connected to your computer, with a little trickery and the right cables.

Many camcorders and digital cameras have a video/audio output option. Look on the camera for a small HDMI socket or other output option. Those options are often intended for plugging into a TV not a computer, a HDMI capture dongle is needed, see below.

It’s not recommended by GoPro themselves though they don’t give any reasons.  Using GoPro as a web camera won’t hurt the device, but don’t expect any support from the company.

The video quality should be better than most integrated webcams. With a tripod you have more flexibility to position the camera.

Try it if you like tinkering with gadgets.  The problem, at the moment, might be getting the right hardware dongle to link the camera to the computer.

The gear needed

You’ll need:

  • A camera with a HDMI or combined video & audio output socket.
    • GoPro, look on the side of the GoPro for a micro-HDMI socket, usually next to the USB socket. We’re told that applies to Hero4 and onwards. Hero8 needs a ‘Media’ extra.  Any GoPro without a HDMI socket, won’t work (early models, 360° cameras etc).
  • A converter or dongle which converts a HDMI signal into a streaming feed that a PC or Mac can understand.
    • Perhaps some cameras have proprietary software/cables that allow streaming to PC/Mac already? Check the manual and online forums for info specific to your camera.
    • For GoPro and others look for a HDMI ‘capture’ dongle/device with video & audio. They are often used by gamers to record their play. Check the verified reviews, hopefully one will confirm compatibility with your camera.
    • A suggested one is Elgato Cam Link 4K It’s over US$100 and not available from Amazon as we type this. Maybe you can find one on eBay?
  • Cables to connect camera to dongle and maybe dongle/converter to computer.
    • Note, there are many HDMI-USB cables and adapters but almost all work the opposite way. They are for extending a computer screen to other displays with a HDMI input – not for streaming video/audio into a computer.
  • Power the camera. Most likely another USB cable to keep power going to the camera and not draining the batteries.
  • Tripod or stand. Something to keep the camera looking in the right direction.

What to do

Here’s the outline of the steps necessary.  Check the manual of your camera and software for details.

  1. Connect the camera, dongle and cables to the computer.
  2. Switch the camera to ‘HDMI output’, ‘Live’ or ‘Streaming’ mode.
    1. On a GoPro try Preferences | Input / Output | HDMI Output | Live.
  3. Start the streaming software on the computer, if necessary.
    1. Windows or Mac should detect the dongle and install the drivers automatically. If not, install the drivers and software.
  4. Check your video calling software (Skype, Zoom etc). If all has gone well, the camera will appear as a video input and in the microphone selection.

If you’re having trouble, try plugging the camera with HDMI output into your TV’s HDMI input socket.  That should confirm if the camera is sending out video & audio.

Your Milage May Vary

A lot depends on the camera, it’s features and limitations.  Office Watch reader, Alan S.  makes some good points:

Some cameras have 30 minute video recording limits to avoid an EU import tax. However that applies to recording and may not apply to streaming from the camera.

Some older cameras might duplicate the camera little monitor display to the HDMI feed. That means it could include all the camera settings (ISO, battery life etc.).  Deep in the camera settings there’s usually an option to turn all that off and have a clear image.

” Many modern cameras (Canon 80D) still do not have clean HDMI (without turning off all information AND switching to autofocus). Many of the newer mirrorless cameras (Sony & Lumix) do have clean HDMI. ”

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