How to upgrade your next virtual event or web conference: lighting, microphones and more

Credit: Logitech

Are you scared to turn your webcam on during your company’s latest ZOOM-based stand-up call for fear of traumatizing your co-workers with your pixelated visage? Then setting up your home office with proper lighting might be the next natural step.

How does it work?

At the end of the day, four things affect how you come across through the lens of your webcam. 

Credit: Zoom

The first of these is your connection quality. Having a bad connection is going to make every other part of the virtual event and web conferencing experience worse. You won’t be able to properly hear what other people say as they say it and you might end up out of sync with other participants. Depending on what software you’re using, your video stream could also end up slaughtered by some pretty gnarly compression as the platform tries to compensate for your slower connection.

Annoyingly, fixing that can sometimes be easier said than done. Sometimes, your router might be overheating or your connection or your internet connection might be getting bogged down by a download from someone else in your household. Other times, it might be worth looking at changing your internet provider to one known for more reliable connectivity. 

If you’re still using an ADSL connection, you should look at upgrading to the NBN. If that doesn’t help or you’re in an area where the NBN either hasn’t reached or hasn’t lived up to its full potential, it might be worth looking into fixed wireless solutions like a 4G hotspot. You can find a roundup of recommendations for NBN plans below:


The second thing you need to think about here is your choice of webcam. 

In 2020, we live in a society of surplus cameras. Our phones have cameras on them. Our tablets have cameras on them. Our laptops have cameras on them. However, unless you have no other options, you should rule all of the above out from the get go. 

If you want to look better on your next Skype catch-up with your colleagues, you don’t want to be seen through the 1.2-megapixel camera on your iPad. 

Opting for a standalone webcam might seem unnecessary or superfluous but, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. The camera in your phone is only as good as the limited amount of physical space involved lets it be. Independent webcams from brands like Logitech tend to be bigger and boast larger sensors, which means you’re going to get better image quality. 

Credit: Logitech

In addition to this, the fact that the manufacturer of your webcam is probably only focused on making a good webcam should give you more faith that they’ll deliver as opposed to the manufacturer of your laptop or tablet, who tend to design around many different competing priorities and use cases. 

The next thing that directly affects the level of quality that your webcam can deliver is lighting. At the end of the day, your image sensor inside a webcam is only as good as the lighting that you feed it.  The more light it has, the more detail it give your on-screen presence. 

Now, depending on the kind of house you live in and where your webcam is set up within that environment, the level of either natural and artificial light might vary greatly. If you’re near a window, you might have too much light. If you don’t have any windows, you’re probably dealing with the opposite problem. 

The explanation for this disparity is pretty simple: most houses aren’t built with delivering studio-quality lighting in mind. 

Credit: Supplied

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, it might be worth looking at closing the blinds and investing in a portable lighting setup to give you more control over the amount of light in the room.

For better or worse, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions here. Some people are going to have more luck with a tripod-mounted LED-Ring. Others are going to benefit from the flexibility of a webcam mounted alternative.

Regardless, augmenting your existing home office setup with even a small LED light can give you a lot more control over the way you look on-camera and give you the tools to get the most out of your webcam’s capabilities. It’s also a great way to learn more about how cameras work and how to look good in photos. 

The final thing that affects how you look on web-calls is you. It sounds tacky but, just like in the pre-COVID-19 world, the clothes you wear are going to shape the way that people perceive what you’re saying. If you want to seem casual, dress casual. If you want to seem formal, dress appropriately.

More than just generic life advice, this information is a tool that you can use to express more nuanced control over your next virtual event. The same goes for digital backgrounds like the ones that Zoom has popularised. They don’t just hide away what your cramped office says about you, they allow you to set a tone from the moment your camera is turned on. 

Webcams: what do we recommend?

Credit: Logitech

Webcam: Logitech StreamCam - Available here

In our review of the Logitech SteamCam, we said that “If you’re looking for a webcam to put at the center of your next video capture setup, the StreamCam is superb way to go.”

"If you’re someone who thinks the 4-megapixel selfie-shooter on your iPad is good enough, the new Logitech StreamCam is a bold rebuke towards that kind of complacency. It’s a little pricey compared to entry-level fare but Logitech’s latest doesn’t just see them deliver the goods. They’re practically showing off."

Other considerations

Microphones 

While investing in a great webcam might make you look better on camera, it’s not necessarily also going to make you sound more professional. For that, we recommend  the Rode NT-USB Mini. 

Credit: Rode

In our review, we found that “Previously, Rode has had the pedigree for quality audio gear. Now, they've got a product that's affordable enough to plug that gap in your home or office-based content creation setup. Again, it’s not quite pro-grade - but if you’re expecting something that’s merely decent, you might be surprised.”

There are more expensive options but if you want something that’ll immediately make you sound better and won’t cost you an arm and a leg, the Rode NT-USB Mini is a great way to go about things.  You can buy it on Amazon here.

Webcams with built-in lighting rigs

Razer showed off their new Kiyo webcam and Seiren X microphone.Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG
Razer showed off their new Kiyo webcam and Seiren X microphone.

A potential alternative to buying a desk-mounted lighting rig exists in the form of webcams with built-in lighting. There are plenty of options here, with many gaming brands expanding into the content creation categories in recent years. 

We recommend the Razer Kiyo. In addition to being capable of capturing 720p at 60FPS, it takes advantage of two of Razer’s biggest strengths: appealing material design and mature software packaging. You can buy it through JB Hi-Fi here.

If you’re looking to save some money, the Angetube Streaming cam is an acceptable, off-brand alternative that might be worth trying. You can grab it through Amazon here

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Tags MicrophonesVideo ConferencingwebcamcallszoomLighting

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Fergus Halliday
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