A few weeks ago I talked about using a Canon camera as a webcam, for ultimate video quality, and in the most part, that is still my favorite method of presenting in online seminars. With the Out of Chicago Live event coming up this weekend though, I decided to pick up an AI-powered webcam that I’ve had my eye on for a while. It’s a little device called an OBSBOT Tiny 4K, and although it isn’t perfect, it’s a useful enough device that I figured I’d share some details with you today.
In general, I’m very happy with this little powerhouse of a webcam, although there are a few areas where it doesn’t quite match my expectations, it’s definitely a viable option for anyone that wants a little bit of movement in their presentations. The main idea behind the OBSBOT Tiny and its big brother, the Tiny 4K, is that it uses AI to track you around and watches for a few simple hand gestures as well. In a tongue-in-cheek way, I have called the camera semi-intelligent in the title of this post, because if this is AI, we don’t need to worry about it starting a war with the robots in the near future. There are real people in the world doing much worse at moment.
I have to tell you that the video quality of this device isn’t quite as good as I’d hoped. It’s good, and compared to most webcams it’s really good, so I’m happy that I picked this up, but I’d not be telling the truth if I was to say that the quality matches my expectations. There are also times when some internal processing makes the video very blotchy and pixelated, although that usually only lasts for a few seconds, and generally when I have the curtains open in my studio, and the camera is having to deal with a lot of contrast.
The camera works with a piece of software called OBSBOT TinyCam, which enables a number of features that would not be available without it. One of which is an HDR mode which does a good job of evening out contrast extremes in some conditions. For example, if I’m in my studio with the lights on, the HDR mode helps to remove harsh highlights on my skin, while maintaining good light on the background. If I open my curtains during the day though, the HDR mode seems to just go belly-up and makes no difference to the video whatsoever, other than it’s more likely to get pixelated when HDR mode is on. I’m not sure if the extremes are just so great that it throws its hands in the air, but there is literally no change at all when I have my curtains open and a strong light source outside.
There are two other gripes I have, which we’ll get out of the way first, and one is so superficial that I almost feel back mentioning it, but the outer box that the OBSBOT Tiny 4K comes in is pretty much impossible to remove without tearing it off. I like to keep the box of devices that I buy in case I decide to sell them on at any point, but as you can see in this photo, I don’t think I’ll be able to claim that I have the original box still if I should ever resell this little camera. Of course, there was a little bit of frustration behind that tearing as well, but it wasn’t without cause. I simply could not get the inner box to slide out.
Once opened though, inside this outer box, was a very tasteful red nested box which revealed a very nice Applesque manual envelope with the words Video Calls With Freedom written on it. I was even more pleasantly surprised to see that the Tiny 4K comes in its own little case, so if you want to carry this device around, you’re sorted from the get-go.
And as you can see in this next image, there is space in the top of the case for the cables. Unfortunately, the optional remote control that I also bought is about an inch too long to slide into that cable compartment, but it’s thin enough to slide into the pocket of a laptop bag without taking up a lot of room. The remote is a nice addition, but its implementation is very limiting because it basically takes over any keyboard connected to your computer. When turned on I estimate that around half of the keys on my keyboard stop working. The product manual says this is normal and to use your keyboard you simply need to turn off the remote control and you have to use the TinyCam software to do that. Essentially if you need to type anything while presenting, you cannot use the remote.
This to me seems very much like the people that developed the hardware have a relatively limited skill set, and they are patching together a solution with the skills that they have, rather than really trying to figure out a way to make the device user friendly. I initially felt as though I’d have been better off saving the thirty bucks or so that it cost, but the hand gesture recognition for zooming in and out is so clunky that I can’t see myself using it in a live presentation just yet, so I will need the remote. In practice, the remote control is most useful when you are away from the computer, so the fact that you can’t use the keyboard at the same time is not such a big deal, but if you switch between the computer and a more dynamic standing presentation style a lot, it’s going to be frustrating.
The hand gestures do get easier with practice though. You basically have to hold up your thumb and forefinger at 90 degrees, as though you are pinching outwards on a smartphone to zoom in and do it again to zoom back out. The zoom-in seems to work more often than the zoom-out, and it works better when your hand is over a plain background. I can really only see myself using this in informal situations, where I can laugh it off if it doesn’t work. By default the zoom factor is 2X but you can change this up to 4X in the TinyCam software, although the image quality drops significantly as you zoom because it’s a digital zoom. It is a 4K camera though, so if you are streaming or meeting in a lower resolution that will mask the lower zoomed image quality to a degree.
The other hand gesture that you can do is to show the palm of your hand to the camera to ask it to follow you, essentially toggling tracking on and off with each raising of your hand. This seems to work much more reliably and will be quite useful when you want the camera to stop following you around. It will probably be necessary to explain to people watching though, as it looks like you are waving goodbye.
Here are a couple of screenshots, of the TinyCam software and its settings, which are strangely titled System Settings. If you are at your computer, these settings do make it easier to get the most out of the camera, and most of what you can do via this software is possible via the remote control. You can control the position of the camera with the joystick on the right, and put it to sleep if necessary as well. If you don’t have the software up, you can also put the TinyCam to sleep by physically pointing it straight down at its base.
You can also use this software to create up to three Preset Locations. You might have one down on your desk, for example, another pointing at your whiteboard, and the third pointing over to the side where you have some apparatus set up. This is useful, but again, a somewhat clunky implementation, because it doesn’t work when tracking is on. If you press a preset button on the software or on the remote while tracking is turned on, the camera flicks off towards the specified location, but then instantly tracks back to your face. It would seem much more intelligent to me if hitting a preset button would automatically disable tracking, then you could restart tracking by holding up a hand.
A nice touch is that there is a colored strip below the camera that flashes blue when a gesture is recognized, so you get a visual confirmation. When tracking is on there is a wide green strip and when tracking is off a narrower green strip. Personally, I think a better implementation would have been to use green while tracking and blue when not tracking, and simply show the wider strip momentarily when a gesture is recognized. This would be easier to see from a distance and more intuitive in my opinion. I should also mention that the Tiny 4K is equipped with a dual microphone that seems to be reasonably good, although not studio quality, it’s good enough for most applications.
On the whole, I’m happy with the OBSBOT Tiny 4K and I’m looking forward to using it as part of my Out of Chicago Live presentations this coming weekend, and of course in future online presentations and meetings. It’s far from perfect, and I hope that the folks that created it continue to tweak the software and make it more intelligent. I’d also love to see a change in how the remote works. Rendering a computer’s keyboard useless while turned on is not acceptable, even with the clear disclaimer. And a better fitting outer box would be nice too, but otherwise, it’s a nice little camera.
This episode is not sponsored in any form. I paid for my unit and have not contacted the manufacturers regarding this post. I wasn’t able to find the remote on Amazon.com, but I’ll include an affiliate link in this post if you’d like to help out by using our links if you decide to pick up one of these cameras yourself. For Amazon.com please use https://amzn.to/3Cwzpmf. If you prefer B&H here is a link https://mbp.ac/tiny4k, but note that the device is not in stock at the time of writing.
I’ve recently been using my Canon EOS R and EOS R5 for Zoom meetings as the image quality is so much better with the shallow depth of field, but as there are a few steps required to get this working, I figured I’d share what I do with you today. I do have a good Webcam, as well as the camera in my iMac Pro, which are both suitable for zoom, but sometimes I feel that it’s worth going a little further and using my Canon cameras. We’ll talk about the key components necessary to get started and move on to a few nice-to-haves as well.
Canon Webcam Utility
Of course, we’re going to assume that you already have a Canon camera, and I’ll center this discussion around what I know. If you own a different system and use different software, feel free to share that in the comments for the benefit of any other non-Canon users. To get started with a Canon camera though, you are going to need the EOS Webcam Utility which is available for both Mac and Windows. You can do this without the software, and we’ll touch on that, but there is an important reason for using the Canon software, and that is because it’s the only method I’ve found that completely stops the camera from falling asleep while you broadcast.
Once installed, there is no configuration, you’ll just find the EOS Webcam Utility listed as a camera for selection in Zoom or whatever system you are using. If you don’t see it, ensure that your camera is on and connected to the computer via USB. The Utility works with over 40 Canon cameras, and according to Canon also allows you to record your video internally in the camera while broadcasting. I’ve never needed to do this, but there are situations where that would be very useful.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no mechanism to switch between two EOS cameras. If you connect two cameras, the EOS Webcam Utility uses the first camera detected and ignores the second. If you switch the first camera off and select a different camera, then go back to the EOS Webcam Utility, you will be able to use the second camera, but it’s not exactly what I would consider a smooth switch.
Using Straight HDMI Signal
Before we move on, you can also see the option for the OBS Virtual Camera in this screenshot, which is what I would choose if I was using my video capture card that accepts HDMI signal and feeds it to my computer. This does enable me to use the HDMI signal from the camera, and if necessary, you can put an HDMI switcher between the camera and the video capture device, and that allows you to switch between multiple cameras, but this only really works if you are not going to use either camera without touching it for more than 30 minutes. There is no way that I’ve found to stop the camera from going to sleep while feeding out HDMI. The longest you can set the Power Off timer to is 30 minutes, so even if you disable the options to turn off the display after a certain time, the camera will go to sleep after 30 minutes.
Now, you can, of course, reach over and press the shutter button every so often to keep it awake, but I generally find that I forget to do that, and my video turns off, usually when I’m not looking. For this reason, I only use direct HDMI when I’m actually handling at least one of the cameras, such as when I’m showing a technique through the camera. Another important thing to note there as well, is that if you use the HDMI feed from the camera, you can set the camera up so that it includes the screen overlay in the HDMI feed as well, which is very useful in a teaching situation.
Note that to get the overlay displayed on your output HDMI, on the Canon EOS R5, you’ll need to go to the Shoot menu 8 and select HDMI display, then the next option seems a little confusing to me. The icon that shows both a camera and a computer display will prevent the camera’s settings from being displayed on the computer over HDMI. They are only displayed on the camera. If you select just the computer display icon though, the menus are displayed on both and are included in your HDMI feed.
I’m not aware of any combination of setting that will enable you to record the screen with controls when connected directly to the computer over USB. If you want to record the controls you’ll need a video capture device. The device I chose is from Basicolor and it seems they make a variety of these video capture devices. The price range is pretty wide, and generally increases with the resolution that the device is capable of passing through and feeding to the computer, and these are not always the same. They may be capable of passing through 4K video but only send 1080p resolution to the computer over USB. If you buy one of these ensure that you check the specs before you make your final decision.
Use a Power Adapter
Another consideration is power supply. I generally get about 50 minutes to an hour from a single battery when it’s constantly providing a video signal, so rather than interrupting your call or broadcast to pop your battery out, it’s better to use a power supply. I have two. One that provides power through the USB port, which is a Canon adapter and costs over $100. The second is virtually the same as the Canon ACK-E6 Adapter Kit which also retails for more than $100 but I broke down and grabbed a $20 adapter from Amazon.co.jp which seems at this point in time to do just as good a job. As you can see in this image, the ACK-E6 basically provides power through a mockup battery that is wired to the power supply.
There is a small rubber flap on the side of the battery compartment that you can bend outwards to feed the cable through so that you can go ahead and close the battery compartment while you’re using the camera.
Autofocus with Face Detection On
You’ll need to put the camera into video mode, which you do on the Canon EOS R5 by pressing the Mode button followed by the Info button, and by default, this will put the EOS R5 into Movie Servo AF mode. I also like to check that Face Detection mode is selected, so that the camera will follow you as you move around the screen. This is especially important when you select a wide aperture as the depth of field is so shallow that you’ll quickly go out of focus if you move away from the plane of focus. On the EOS R5 the easiest way to get into Face Detection autofocus mode is to his the Focus Point Selection button in the top right corner on the back of the camera, and then hit the M-Fn button next to the shutter button until the Face icon is selected, as you see in this screenshot. In this mode, the camera will do a great job of keeping your eyes in focus as you move around.
I also find it useful to turn on Auto-ISO while shooting video for streaming as this will keep you relatively well exposed, even if the light changes. I sometimes use an LED video light if I’m streaming after dark, but during the day, if I have my curtains open, the camera still does a great job of getting my face bright. My other dedicated webcams can’t do this. They just go supernova on the light from the window and I go into silhouette. This is another reason why I like to use the EOS Webcam instead of my regular webcams.
Using an External Monitor
You can also use an external monitor if you have one, and I find this especially useful as it forces you to look towards the camera as you check your appearance, and that is good for staying engaged with the people on the other end of the call or meeting. Here I shot a quick photo of my setup with my video monitor attached to the flash shoe of the EOS R5 but pointing forwards so that I can see myself as I stream.
Another thing that I generally do is move my display as close to the line of sight of the camera as possible, and then put my zoom screen in the corner of the computer display, and make it as small as possible, so that I am forced to look close to the camera while speaking. Your line of sight still goes away from the viewer though, so when I want to virtually make eye contact, I look directly at the lens of the camera.
It’s not a great photo, but you can also see that the background of my video is significantly out of focus due to the shallow depth of field of the camera. When using my 50mm F/1.2 lens I like to open it up completely for super-shallow depth of field. This looks so much better in a streamed event than having everything tack-sharp, which is, of course, what happens when using the small sensors in regular webcams.
There are benefits to dedicated webcams, of course. They are easy to set up and because they are so small or even embedded into the computer just above the screen, it’s easier to get close to the line of sight of your viewers. There are also some high-end webcams that will follow you around if you stand up and move around, as you might in a product demonstration or presentation. I still use my regular webcams for casual calls and meetings, but when I want to provide professional-looking video, like when teaching at events and camera clubs, I take a few minutes to set up a Canon camera, or two, to make a good impression. We’ll wrap it up there for today. I hope you find this useful. If you do, please consider supporting the podcast as well as gaining access to a range of other benefits by joining our Patreon community. Thanks very much to Christian and Blazej, our latest contributors, and to the others that are already helping to keep the wheels on the MBP Wagon.