When quarantine began, I read tips for getting hi-res optics during Zoom video calls. These product recommendations were useful, but expensive — many of the beautiful DSLR kits were north of $1000, while the so-so external webcams were $100-$200.
However, you can get breakthrough optics for a lot less. In the list below, you can put together a very good DSLR kit for under $200 — provided you are willing to do a bit of work and ride the risk/cost curve of used gear from eBay. I’ve found that many old DSLRs (with HDMI out) will do — I’m running an old Nikon D5100 that I bought about 9 yrs old. The key is to pair this camera body with a very good lens: preferably F/1.8 aperture or better. The high-quality lens pulls in so much light that it nearly eliminates the need for external lighting.
Here’s how you can build this blurred-background / mega bokeh kit for about $200:
Camera body: $75-100 for a used Nikon D5100 body
Camera lens: $75-100 for a used Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
Power supply: $35 new (this allows your camera to be plugged in and running off wall power all day, not relying on batteries which run out after an hour)
HDMI capture card: $15 new (converts the raw HDMI signal from your camera to a usable form at your computer)
My Nikon required a firmware upgrade to eliminate some of the native on-screen graphics that appeared when I first tried to use it. Thanks to Simeon Pilgrim‘s work on this, I downloaded the new firmware to the camera, restarted it and it worked perfectly with a clean HDMI signal and extended ’sleep’ time so the camera could run all day on liveview without shutting down.
This original post was only about video, but I recommend a good microphone to pair with this setup. I went with the Shure MV7 paired with a Gator stand and it’s been quite good although costly at over $200. Another lower priced option for a good external microphone is the Shure MV5.