Another question from the Belly Dance Teaching Online group I belong to/admin!
"We started w the website computer (ugh), changed to casting from the phone, and currently are using a webcam. I wonder if I should just go for the DSLR...do you happen to have one you recommend at all?
Again, this is so helpful and I am grateful you are willing to share all of this info."
As usual, this started as a short answer, which just...turned into a longer blog post!
If you plan to do this longer term, then a mirrorless DSLR with a good lens will be worth it...but it won't be cheap. Be ready to go in for $800-$1200 with the full package. And it may not be easily plug-and-play. Sorry, this will be long (probably need another blog post on this, too! LOL) (<===and look, it did!)
A good "entry level" with a lens with autofocus will cost about $650-700 for body + lens (look for official refurbished models or used on OfferUp or CraigsList to save some coin). But that may not be all you need. Other costs may include:
- a different, more appropriate lens for the field of view you want (aka a wide angle lens, $100-$300 depending on what you want)
- a "dummy battery" if you want to use it for long periods of time (which is basically a wired battery, so you can plug it into an outlet, no need for name brand, buy cheap <$50)
- a video capture card--like an Elgato Camlink which is around $100 more if your camera doesn't natively have ability to stream (the listed ones here need a capture card)
- possibly software like SparkoCam to remove any on-screen prompts from the camera, only IF you get a model which does not have native clean output via HDMI. Luckily, more and more cameras are natively ready to rock with just the HDMI output or some other native software solution (such as Canon's free software)
Video Tutorials and Reviews
I find Harris' delivery mildly annoying (sorry Harris, I simply ain't your "hey bro" Twitch audience), BUT he has great info on equipment. I watch him a lot when I have questions about tech like this. Like MOST streaming tech gurus, he is mainly talking about gamers and other people sitting relatively still at close range, so you have to parse his info and recommendations for your situation.
The beginning of this video talks about what basic streaming camera tech concepts are. The whole video has more details and brands and I recommend watching it all, but this was made in 2018 and he has more recent videos with updated suggestions on brands. I think it's good to start here to see what his metrics are for comparing different options. At 7:15 he starts to talk about the benefits of DSLRs over webcams (and keep in mind most of us dancers won't care about/want bokeh, which makes seated streamers look "fancy", but the same lens tech benefits us in low light settings):
Word of warning: the Sony A7 he recommends at the end of this video is in the same pricing category as the the recommendations you'll find below, and continues to be popular with seated streamers; BUT to get clean HDMI output, you have to turn off autofocus, which as dancers is typically a bad idea. So steer clear no matter how much you may see that recommendation, unless you are fine with a wide angle lens with no autofocus. In my experience, some lenses will give many dancers plenty of deep field focus without needing to re/auto-focus, so that may be fine for some use cases. For me, I sometimes walk up to the camera to show my hands close up (especially when teaching finger cymbals), and not being able to do that would be a bit of a pain for me. Guess I could keep a webcam as a backup/second view I could switch to for that, but right now it's seamless to just walk up and my camera refocuses near-field, and I'm not sure I'd want to give that up...
In this video, he takes some camera recommendations he made in the previous video and shows them side by side. I like that it shows the common Logitech C920 against other options, and how movement reads very poorly on that compared to the upgrades. that is key for us as dancers! He also explains why 4K cameras are NOT recommended for streaming (something I have said in the group before, but never shared any details as to why--he does that, short and simple--near the beginning of this video.) Keep in mind that in his videos he is NOT STREAMING. That is, the quality is recorded quality, not the compressed output your students will see. But the point stands that as you move away from webcams, you have truer color, higher dynamic range, better low-light results, and crisper video overall.
In the last year, the Canon M50 ($450 refurbished without lens, $600 new) has consistently been lauded as a strong option. It has a flip out screen, which is great to make sure you're staying in frame without having to have your computer right next to you at all times to double check. Clean output without capture card, continuous power, autofocus, mini-jack input for external microphones, etc. Unfortunately, this does NOT have native clean HDMI output, but Canon offers a free software solution to allow many of their modern cameras--including the M50--to be used as webcams. More info on that one in this video:
He recommends (and lots of other vloggers recommend, also) the Sony A5100. It's a similar price range to the Canon M50, maybe even a little cheaper--it has a cool flip UP screen, native clean HDMI output, and great reviews, including some of the fastest, most responsive autofocus--which I would love to be able to use. Note it has no mini-jack for a mic input, if you want to record your video and sound together on/through the camera itself. At that price point, I would personally prefer to have that capability for using the camera in the field for performances, once we are back to that. To get this, you have to go up to the A6100 or A6400, which will jack the price by $250-$400 more. If that isn't important to you, this may be a good option and save a few bucks on a strong camera for streaming dance.
There are lots and lots of more videos on this topic. I'll share a few more here for you to have an introduction to some of the more prolific vloggers on streaming tech:
More on the A5100 and A6400 from EposVox
Another A5100 review from Live Streaming Pros (and he talks about the upgrade points on the A6100 or A6400)
Used GoPros + a Camlink are an option, this shows side-by-side with a higher end webcam.
Shay is the owner, director, and headmistress of Deep Roots Dance, Studio Deep Roots, and Deep Roots Live! Sharing the exciting and surreal journey into teaching online during the time of COVID-19, and the joys of staying connected to community when it seems the world is literally trying to keep us apart.