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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Lights...camera...action! » » What’s your equipment for zoom shows? (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

dvno
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As in early 2020 I was just putting my mentalism on the next level and wanted to start performing and making my first money with my mentalism, the corona times were tough for me because it meant that there wasn’t any chance for me to get more gigs. I chose the worst time someone could imagine I guess, haha. But anyway, I had a gig in summer and now I even made it to my first zoom show which I will have in January. I am proud of this and of course I plan to make it as professional and good as possible. So I thought it would be interesting to have a look at your guys equipment. What’s your camera? What microphone do you use? I hope this might give me some inspiration for a completely new type of performing my mentalism. I have a ****ty webcam and maybe someone has something he would recommend.



Thanks
Daniel
Mindpro
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Are you looking for pro equipment or consumer?
dvno
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I am looking for something that’s on the level that the specs say „okay, that looks good“. I have this show for Google and I think this might be a great chance for me. I learned that the show won’t be on zoom but on Google Meet- so something new again for me. But I don’t want to have a bad quality cam where everyone says ok wow that’s awful.
Conner
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This is a huge topic that will be difficult to be done justice with a forum thread, but here are a few ideas that are vitally important as you go about preparing. This is not as simple as "what camera should I buy to look good?" Your priorities will be audio, then lighting, then camera--in that order.

AUDIO > VIDEO

If we watch something with high quality audio but low quality video, we can keep watching. If we watch something with low quality audio and high quality video, it's intolerable. Podcasts abound, silent films are gone. What does this mean for you? ***Your first priority is quality audio.*** Use a microphone. For use with a computer your best options are lavalier mics, USB, or XLR mics. I don't know what your technical setup is, but a general entry level mic is a Blue Yeti USB mic. But an external mic is not enough, you need to maximize its potential in three ways: reduce ambient noise entering the room, reduce echoes within your room, and use audio filters to improve the quality of your mic.

1) Soundproofing: You can reduce ambient noise by closing windows, doors, and using soundproofing blankets. Do whatever you can to keep external sounds out of your space.
2) Acoustic treatment: Reduce echoes (or reverb) within your room by lining flat surfaces with material that doesn't allow sound to bounce easily. Your floor needs a rug or carpet. Other surfaces can be covered in acoustic foam (which is not for soundproofing, as many people believe, but for "acoustic treatment"--reducing reverb), blankets, clothes, or pillows also work great. Don Gonyea, NPR foreign correspondent, uses pillows in a hotel to cut reverb in his professional recordings. As long as your foam, blankets, pillows, or whatever are not in frame of your camera it doesn't matter how messy it looks. You need to cut echoes.
3) Microphone Filters: The first two tips are important for any audio in any room. Your filters and settings, however, will depend on your circumstances. Filters can be used with a physical mixer (like a GoXLR) or software (like OBS Studio). Nonetheless, here are some common filters to be aware of.

- Limiter: A limiter will prevent your microphone from picking up noise so loud that it contains no information. This is called peaking or clipping and it is extremely painful to hear. Your mic needs a limiter. I tend to set my limit at -3db.
- Noise Suppression: This will limit the volume of background noise that is not your voice (e.g., computer fans, cars outside, air conditioning).
- Noise Gate: A gate will make your mic ignore any sounds that are below a certain volume threshold. Keyboard clacking, breathing, cars outside, any background noise that makes it past your Noise Suppression.
- EQ: Equalizers change the quality of the sound by changing the volume of specific frequencies, like making trebles louder or basses softer for a brighter, crisper voice or vice versa for a boomier or muffled voice. EQ settings will differ based on the quality of your mic and the sound of your voice.

If you use audio filters, you need a virtual audio cable which will become the "microphone" you tell Google Meet to use. Unfortunately, Google Meet has its own audio filters that it applies as well. There's nothing we can do about that. Zoom has an option to allow original audio which would allow your audience to hear what your mic and filters actually sound like.

---------------

LIGHTING > CAMERA

When it comes to video, quality lighting with a meh camera is superior to meh lighting with a quality camera. You cannot simply buy good video quality. You need to shape the light in your space. To make an audience say "okay, that looks good" (which you say is your goal), you need to understand types of lighting and how to shape light.

Types of Lighting

1) Key Light: A key light is your main light source. Generally speaking, it should as large as possible. Large light = soft light. Soft light means the transition from light to shadow on your face will be gradual, very professional. If however, some mentalists here would prefer something more pretentious, then smaller light sources produce more dramatic shadows. A large, soft light could be a 90" softbox or even a window. A small, hard light could be an exposed light bulb. Whatever your choice for your style, keep the key light in front of you. If the key light is behind you, you'll be a silhouette.
2) Fill Light: Fill is what brightens up the shadows on your face.
3) Kicker Light: A kicker, hair light, or rim light points at you from the side or back to separate you from the background. This is one of the secret ingredients that makes professionals on video look professional. Key and Fill lights are so we can see the subject, a Kicker is professional polish.
4) Accent Light: An accent light only illuminates a portion of the background, not you. It might splash some color or provide texture to a plain wall.
5) Practical Light: A practical is a prop that makes your scene feel more immersive. For example, a warm desk lamp in the back. It's not there to provide light, it's there to look like it provides light. Practicals are often used to "motivate" an artificial light source, like a Kicker. For example, a lamp in the background on the same side as a Kicker can make it seem like the "halo" on the subject is coming from the lamp--even if it's not. Light that seems to be coming from somewhere can feel more natural than light that's just there.

Shaping Light

1) Flat Lighting: Flat light comes at you straight on, eliminating shadows, but also eliminating depth. It's not very "cinematic", but is very practical. You'll often see this on happy-go-lucky feeling commercials or sitcoms. To get this, set your Key Light directly in front of you.
2) Rembrandt Lighting: The Key Light is 45 degrees to the side and above the subject. The Fill Light is exactly the same, in the opposite direction. This creates a nice soft, light with a gentle falloff. A pretty typical lighting setup with clarity and depth.
3) Split Lighting: The Key Light is 90 degrees off to one side. This creates a "Two-Face" look with half you face lit and half in shadow. Adjust the distance/brightness of your Fill to change the dramatic impact of the shadow.
4) Butterfly Lighting: The Key is placed in front of you, but above you pointing down. This creates gentler drama with a little butterfly-shaped shadow under the noise. Common in modeling. To prevent eyebrow shadows or "raccoon eyes", introduce a Fill below you pointing up. The brighter the fill, the closer you get to "Clamshell Lighting"--another common modeling setup but more approachable, like a soap commercial.
5) Broad/Short Lighting: Be aware that as you move and turn your head you also reshape the light. Broad light is when the side of the face closest to the camera is lit, Short light is when the side farther from the camera is lit. Broad lighting can be good for widening slim faces, Short can be good for slimming wider faces. Short light also tends to be more "cinematic" these days.

---------------

CAMERA

The camera is your last priority, and even then you'll probably be more interested in the lens than anything else. Two things will be of greatest importance with your camera lens: Focal Length and Aperture. Why? These two are most responsible for that professional-looking background blur that will clearly make you stand out as the "professional" on your video call. (Warning: Google Meet has a background blur feature--do not use it in lieu of a quality lens. It's very unconvincing and sucks a lot of CPU usage. Depending on your computer specs you may get very noticeable latency between your video and audio with that feature, and audio is the most important thing.)

First though, it's worth asking if you even WANT background blur. For my virtual speaking engagements, yes, I've wanted background blur. It's professional. But if you're performing mentalism and your audience needs to read something like a prediction--it depends. Is the writing...

1) Written behind you on a poster or wall?
2) Held in your hand, next to your face?
3) Held in your hand close to the camera?

In scenarios 1 and 3 you need a wide focal length, which is not conducive to background blur. Function will need to trump fashion. You won't benefit much from an expensive, new mirrorless camera. A solid webcam will do. In situation 2, if all the writing will be the same distance from the camera as your face, then you can benefit from background blur. Get a camera lens with a longer focal length and a wider aperture.

So, let's assume you're in scenario 2 and you CAN benefit from a fancier camera. What do you need to know? Background blur is primarily driven by 3 things:

1) Aperture: This is how wide your lens opens. It is indicated in F-stops. The lower the F number is, the wider your lens can open. F/2.8 opens quite wide. F/11 is very narrow. Want a blurry background? You need a lens with a low F-stop. Wider apertures = blurrier backgrounds.
2) The distance between you and the camera. The closer you are to the camera (while still remaining in focus), the blurrier the background.
3) The distance between you and the background. The farther the background is from you, the blurrier the background.

There's one more thing about the camera that can alter this recipe: Focal length. Focal Length is that number that says your lens is 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 200mm, or whatever. People commonly think of this as "zoom" (a zoom lens is simply a lens that switches between different focal lengths). How does focal length affect blur? Longer focal lengths make it easier to get blur without being too close to the camera. Most webcams have short focal lengths, so getting background blur with them (if even possible) means that you'd have to be very close to the camera. So here's your formula getting the most out of a fancy camera:

Professional background blur = Longer focal length + Wide aperture + Be close to the camera + Be far from the background

Generally, it doesn't matter what camera you use. Physics is physics. That will give you more background blur, lighting will make you look good, thus making you appear to be the most professional person on the call (which you need to be).

=========================



Honestly, this barely scratches the surface. I've said nothing about color temperature, LUTs, audio latency, camera sensors, focus modes, white balance, bitrates, virtual cameras, virtual audio cables, broadcast software, backgrounds--all of which are vital and could be included in your overall question "What's your equipment for Zoom shows?" I can't just give you a list of things to buy Amazon that will make you look professional. There's specific knowledge that you need to be professional online. This is knowledge that even the most seasoned pros onstage just will not have been exposed to. I hope what I've provided at the very least gives you some good search terms to start learning more online.

Even though I've tried to help, I still haven't answered the question. Knowing nothing about your situation, and having made the point that you can't simply buy quality, here are some gear recommendations I could make for just about anyone that, combined with the right knowledge, can make you the most professional person on the call:

Camera: Sony RX100 VII
Mic: Blue Yeti
Software: OBS Studio

Just be careful of reducing quality to a shopping list. Each item and relationship between items requires expertise. Expensive gear without knowledge leads to technical glitches that ruin reputations. For my own virtual shows/talks I actually use a pretty modest setup, but it looks better than anyone else I've seen doing what I do (including experienced pros performing virtually) because I have the audio/lighting/camera knowledge to squeeze out every drop of quality possible. I've spent the last six months doing a lot of training and coaching other professionals scrambling to transition online--almost all of them have the "equipment" necessary to get started (or can easily acquire it) what they lack is the knowledge to USE that equipment to make their routines, predictions, or talks really shine. I wish I could expound on more here, but as you can see it's just too much for just forum posts. It requires lots of conversation as I learn about your setup, your routines, your goals, your message, etc. I am pretty busy through the next couple months with training and beginning of the year events, but if anyone wanted to get in touch now I'm sure we could set up some coaching time. Just send me a PM.
Joe S.
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Hi dvno,

I will give you the equipment I use, but it may not be right for you. Before I get into it, I want to say two things:

1. Connor's post above has GREAT information. Copy and paste it to your hard drive!

2. I learned a lot by researching what successful YouTubers are doing. Top streamers have been going live for YEARS, and they know what looks good. I highly suggest you go to Youtube and search for a channel called "Live Streaming Pros". They have TONS of free information on their channel (about lighting, sound, equipment, etc.).

OK... here's my setup. It works for me. It may not work for you. Everyone has different needs:

Camera #1 - Panasonic V750 camcorder w/ clean HDMI out
Camera #2 - iphone with SHOOT app, focused on close-up pad.
Mic - Sennheiser Lav mic
Music - iphone #2 with GoButton App
HDMI Switcher to USB Out - Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini
Software - ecamm Live (mac only - use OBS if you are on PC)
Streaming Computer - 2020 imac w/ 64GB of ram
Controller for Ecamm & Zoom - Elgato Stream Deck
Music - GoButton on another iphone connected to ATEM
Lights - (2) Neewer 400 LED lights for key light and fill light
Backlights - various LED lights for background lighting, etc.
plus a whole bunch of tripods, light stands, close-up pad, bluetooth mice, etc.


Some suggestions:

Camera
I'm only using the camcorder because I already own it, and it has GREAT manual controls. I'd suggest you get a Sony A6100 with a Sigma prime lens for that really nice blurry background look. If you don't want to spend A6100 money, Sony now offers the ZV, which was designed for live streaming. Clean HDMI out, fast lens, under $800, & dead easy to use.

HDMI Switcher
The vast majority of camcorders and DSLR cameras will output only to HDMI, so you're going to need something to convert the HDMI to USB. The Cam Link 4k is great, but I use an ATEM Mini. It can switch between 4 HDMI sources and output to USB and HDMI, or stream directly to Ethernet. Also has great audio controls. Love it!

Mic
Connor is right about sound, and his yeti mic will sound better than my Sennheiser lav mic. But I'm not sitting down, and I move around a lot, so I chose a lav mic. The good news is that I plug the mic directly into my ATEM mini, which has a full equalizer, compressor, limiter, and more, so it sounds much better than you'd expect a lav to sound. The ATEM will also allow you to delay the sound by a set number of frames, so your audio and video sync perfectly.

Software & Hardware
Once you get your video feeds into your computer... how do you switch between them? You can do it via hardware or software. OBS and Ecamm Live are great for software, and the ATEM Mini is great for hardware. I use both (my setup is unusual), but it works well for me. With these solutions, you'll be able to have guest picture-in-picture, multiple camera angles, add overlays and logos, prerecorded video... etc. I strongly recommend an Elgato Stream Deck for easy switching. Many professional magicians I know use one.

Lastly
If you use software, it will output the video as a virtual camera. Remember that different streaming platforms handle mics and cameras differently. The good news is that Google Meet allows virtual cams, so you'll be good with Ecamm or OBS. So does Zoom... but others do not.

Lastly (for real this time!!!)
The virtual medium is different that a live show. Do as much as you can to involve your audience. I made the mistake in the very beginning of trying to perform AT them, instead of WITH them. Don't make that mistake! Get them involved CONSTANTLY. Smile

Good luck!
Joe
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dvno
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Thank you so much. 🙏
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