Hi-res Zoom video for a lower price

2020-11-19

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:

  1. Camera body: $75-100 for a used Nikon D5100 body

  2. Camera lens: $75-100 for a used Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G

  3. 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)

  4. 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 Pilgrims 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.