What Camera do you Use to Stream?

When setting up a live stream there are innumerable variables that need to be considered. Am I exceeding my bandwidth? Is my lighting setup dialed in? Does my audience even know who I am?! All valid questions, of course, but when it comes to a successful stream there is one aspect more important than all others. (Well, audio is important too, but we will save that for another time…)

The camera. It is the Holy Grail of live streaming.

Exceeding your bandwidth suddenly seems less important if your face is grainy, and who cares if your lighting setup is of professional quality if the camera’s light meter can’t tell the difference between the surface of the sun and a night under the stars? Once you have chosen the ultimate camera for your setup, everything else should be much easier. To help you through this process, we have put together a guide to simplifying the selection headache. Whether you are just starting out with a small budget, or your funds are limitless and your computing power monstrous, the search for perfect camera starts here

**These are only potential options, and not necessarily the best. If you have a strong opinion, negative or positive, let us know in the comments!**

HD USB Webcams

USB Webcams are most likely the easiest way to go. They are cheap, light, powerful, simple and easy to use. With HD capabilities and the direct to computer USB plug, setting up a broadcast won’t get any easier. It even harnesses the computer’s power so you never have to charge any batteries!

At the same time, the limitations are apparent. A lack of storage makes it impossible to record locally, and although most come with microphones, to get professional sound an external mic must be introduced through a separate channel. Often no zoom, focus, or lens control of any kind is possible and customizations are near non-existent.

If you are on a low budget, just starting out, or don’t need much more than an ability to capture video, USB webcams are the way to go.

Check out these two great options.

Logitech C930e – $70

  • Huge, 90° visual field
  • Frees up PC bandwidth by putting video processing within the camera

Microsoft Lifecam Studio – $80

  • TrueColor Technology, which means your video remains bright and colorful in virtually all light conditions
  • Autofocus from four inches to infinity

HDMI Cameras

HDMI Cameras offer a significantly more controllable and higher quality video stream. With hundreds of price points and options to choose from finding the perfect HDMI camera for you can be daunting, but more than likely the perfect match is out there.

While there are a few drawbacks, like the short cable length and connectors that sometimes slip out in the middle of a broadcast(!!!), the benefits of HDMI cameras translate into high quality streams. Check out these two options:

Panasonic HC-VX981 – $800

  • Affordable and Powerful
  • Basic and reliable, easy to use HDMI Camera
  • Video Review

Canon XA111 – $1,300

  • Professional camera in a compact design
  • Double SD Card recording for duplicate copies

**Keep in mind that HDMI outputs require a capture card or box, which will require some extra spending.**

HD-SDI Cameras

HD-SDI cameras are the top of the line. Prices begin around $3,000 and go above $20,000! With price margins of such magnitude it is hard to compare different models. Suffice it to say that even the cheap ones will be well worth the money.

These cameras are what you will find in professional settings with locking cables running over 300 feet without extenders or amplifiers and some of the highest quality, most customizable video streams. These are big, heavy, powerful cameras that are marketed to professionals. Very rarely do you see these cameras in a low budget studio!

If you are in the market for a camera like this, you probably already know what is out there and what works best for you, but here is a recommendation of a great, relatively low cost HD-SDI option:

Canon XA35 – $2,000

There is no perfect camera. Similar to all consumer electronics, you need to find what fits your style, and your setup. Spend some time researching and renting cameras to find one that does just what you need it to do. Your stream will be better for it!

What cameras do you use? Let us know in the comments!!


  1. CraigS

    Went to CanonExpo in NYC. Things are getting very interesting on the camera front. The “sleeper” feature is touch screen LCD. Canon Vixia S and less expensive M series have this, not the R series apparently.

    Key is you can flip the LCD and put the camera in manual and have complete control of camera setup while being in front of the camera. This is important for show hosts of course.

    They AVCHD cameras with HDMI out though. Component out would allow you to use less expensive A/D convertors though.

    If only we can get past the connectivity hurdle. My ultimate hope is that both computers and and these inexpensive video cameras move to USB3 next year.

  2. CraigS

    A novel idea inspired by the CanonExpo. The DSLR alternative. With their live video out and shallow Depth of Field, they’d be great if you want that messy background of the room you stream from to be out of focus.

  3. Jones

    Really great post – what you are offering with your blog is a good example for how to deliver meaningful content to your customers, not only marketing blah blah – I want to express my respect and thankfulness for doing this! Please continue this important work.

    I would like to suggest another way: good old analog signal transmission! With many cams you get really good analog signal quality and with very cheap capture devices you can easily handle multiple input channels – of course driver problems apply, but it is not too hard to find mature products. I would like to recommend to take a look into the VJ scene and also learn a little bit from surveillance systems. If you combine the best pieces of these areas together you get good quality with reliable and cheap hardware.

    Anyway, it would be nice to see Telestream engaging with hardware producers to make them better understand, what the web-caster of today is missing in modern hardware. Just look at all the netbooks – I do not know ONE netbook with firewire input – a real PITA!!!

  4. CraigS

    Hi Jones,
    Thanks for taking note of the blog work.

    I have mixed feelings about the cheaper A/D devices. Those going to Firewire tend to be a bit more reliable than those going to USB. There are analog input cards for desktops as well. The challenge is that audio and video must remain in sync when switching between cameras and other sources and then must remain in sync over long durations and the cheaper devices are very hit and miss based in those regards based on user reports. It’s best to buy and test with the ability to return.

    AVCHD cameras usually have composite and component video out in addition to HDMI so analog can be worth testing though. I do wish people wouldn’t have to look back to analog when the image of the sensors is so good especially with HDMI.

    Analog in can work but due to the nature of real time encoding for live streaming, input quality is critical. Encoders tend to exaggerate issues in the source such as noise and other aberrations common to analog video.

    I’m curious what you’re seeing in the VJ scene as far as video inputs that Wirecast doesn’t already work with. I think the issues are similar with the caveat the Wirecast must see all input sources simultaneously as a compositor/switcher.

    Telestream is certainly is looking the surveillance field and that’s why IP camera support is part of the Wirecast 4 roadmap.

    Thanks for your input and ff you’ve had success with specific analog hardware devices please do mention them.

  5. CraigS

    Mike, there are certainly DV bargains to be found. This is especially true if someone is selling an used camera where the record and/or playback heads don’t work well anymore. Unless one is doing “ISO” recording, all you need is a live firewire port and the camera will work fine for streaming.

    The price of some of the AVCHD/HDMI cameras are dropping nearly as low as some of the used DV cameras though. I do hope for future inexpensive connectivity between current cameras and computers.

  6. I use to use usb webcam and if the conditions are right a very sharp picture.

    But it was not very consistent, quality would constantly change.

    I decided to change to two Sony HDR CX110 HD camcorders thru two Blackmagic Intensity Pro capture cards. Yea, a bit expensive, but get very hi quality consistent/stable video sources.

    I have tried firewire but was not quite what im looking for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.