LeBron James’s shoes. Kim Kardashian’s hairstyle. Beyoncé’s dance moves. Every cultural phenomenon leads to “how to” guides for those who want to know how to get what their famous role models already have. The same is true of live streaming, one of the most disruptive cultural forces to emerge over the past decade.
Fans of popular streamers often spend hours combing through live streams to find out which headsets, cameras, keyboards, and PC setups these uniquely 21st-century icons use.
Today VC Daily is taking on the task of digging into the data to find out what’s popular…and what’s necessary. We’ll focus on what is perhaps the most fundamental piece of equipment required for streaming: the camera. So, what webcams do streamers use?
What Webcams Do Streamers Use?
The defining characteristic of the streaming generation is the ability of an amateur user to attract audience numbers that were up until now reserved for mainstream media corporations. User-created content generates millions of dollars a month in revenue for its stars and the advertisers and platforms that support them. YouTube, Facebook, and YouNow have taken personalities like Logan Paul and Miranda Sings (Colleen Ballinger) from home studios to the world stage by essentially allowing them to hone their craft over video conferencing.
Part of the allure of these viral personalities is how much they are like ourselves, and how accessible the technologies are that have powered their ascent. Imane Anys, known to Twitch gamers and to YouTube as Pokimane, reaches an audience of 3.7 million subscribers with a $100 Logitech C922 webcam.
Indeed, a quick look at the top five most-followed individual Twitch users, as ranked by SocialBlade, reveals that many are using consumer-grade webcams.
Of course, not everyone uses a webcam. There are a wide variety of cameras available to live streamers, and as the incomes of the top live streamers rise, so too does the cost of their equipment.
The Cost of Live Streaming
Streaming online is free. All the costs of broadcasting yourself are tied up in the equipment you use to capture your unique personality and edit your videos. As a streamer, your biggest investment will typically be in a quality desktop that can handle the heavy data burden of large video files. Your camera, on the other hand, can be as expensive as your budget dictates. The variation in price is huge, as shown in the list below of cameras commonly used by streamers (price rounded to the nearest dollar):
There’s a camera in there to suit your budget, and all of them are currently being used to broadcast to millions of people. Cameras used by streamers generally fall into four categories:
DSLR: Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras are the most expensive on the market but offer the smoothest frame rates and the highest resolution images. Not primarily designed for video, DSLR has nonetheless become the gold standard for professional streamers. The Panasonic GH5, Sony Alpha 7S II, Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II, and Sony Alpha A6000 listed above are all DSLR cameras.
Camcorders: Unlike the DSLRs, camcorders are designed to do nothing but capture and broadcast video. You lose a bit in presentation, but camcorders provide longer filming times and better HDMI outputs to preserve image quality.
Action cameras: The newest and most flexible members of the streaming world, cameras such as the GoPro have given streamers greater control over how far they can stray from their studio, and a robust build means broadcasts can get more adventurous.
Webcams: By far the most common camera used by streamers, webcams are designed for producing video online. With the introduction of 4K imagery at consumer-friendly prices, webcams offer high-grade production at an entry-level cost.
For the reasons described above, a high-quality, dedicated streaming webcam like the Logitech’s C922 webcam makes the perfect camera to start your broadcasting career with. Since it comes with a three-month premium XSplit license, it also lets you focus on the presentation, editing, and production side of your videos.
The bottom line? The key to streaming success is finding and projecting your unique voice. The difference in image quality between a $2000 DSLR and a $200 webcam won’t make or break your broadcast career. It’s also a good idea to remember that a webcam designed for streaming will have simple plug-and-play capability, while other types of cameras, such as DSLRs, will require an external capture card and an external power source.
Broadcast Yourself to the World
Now that you know the answer to the question, “What webcams do streamers use?” you’re left to wonder how a streamer goes about picking his or her webcam in the first place. The key to that question is understanding what to look for in a streaming webcam.
Here are the key elements that define a great streaming experience:
Resolution: The most noticeable aspect of any camera is the quality of image it produces. Webcam resolution is indicated in “p,” and refers to the number of horizontal scan lines or vertical pixels. The higher the number, the better, but be aware that the term HD applies to anything from 780p to 1080p and up to 4K resolution–so check the number, not just the description.
Framerate: Along with resolution, this is the heart of your camera quality and the two are often displayed together–1080p/30fps, for example. Fps stands for frames per second and measures the frequency at which frames are displayed, which affects how smooth the moving image appears. Typically, there is an inverse trade-off between resolution and framerate, so that a higher-quality image moves more slowly. Your choices are generally going to be between 780p/60fps and 1080p/30fps. Either will be fine for some streamers, but to truly create the appearance of fluid motion–important for gamers, especially–you’ll want a camera that can provide 720p/60fps or higher.
System requirements: As we mentioned above, the power of your desktop is likely to be the biggest streaming investment you have to make. Managing video takes a lot of processing power, so check the basic computing requirements of your webcam before you make a commitment. Also note that some cameras are optimized for operating systems, meaning they may have Mac, PC, Chrome, or Android preferences.
Audio: Streaming is an audio as well as a visual experience, so don’t neglect your microphone considerations when setting up a studio. Webcams have built-in mics, but you will get better results by buying a standalone device. Microphones from Blue, Audio-Technica, Shure, and Rode are all frequently used by live streamers; of these, Blue has some of the best entry-level mics–the Yeti Nano or either of the mics in the Snowball series will up your audio game without costing a fortune.
Features: There’s more to a camera than just point-and-shoot functionality. Many webcams now come with added features such as auto framing and lighting correction, while others have downloadable software solutions like background blurring or special effects. With practice, these effects can improve your live stream presentation.
With all these camera types, features, and quality variations available, it’s easy to get lost in a world of tech possibilities. But keep in mind that your streaming success is dependent on your performance, your voice, and your opinions. Streaming is about providing a platform for your talents–the camera is just there to make sure we can all see you clearly.