High-resolution video calls

Because Sourcegraph is all-remote, I do a lot of video calls from my home office. Over time, I’ve improved the lighting and video quality of my video calling setup. Here’s how I did it.

Here’s the difference in quality. (It’s especially noticeable if you enlarge the photos.)

Before

 

After

Equipment list

In all, this will cost around $2,000 USD. If you’re looking for something cheaper, just get the LED lamps for around $120 USD (lighting makes a huge difference).

Here’s what I look at when I’m on a video call. The camera rests on the shelf on my iMac, right above the iMac’s built-in webcam.

How I got to my current setup

Step 1: built-in camera with warm room lighting

I started out using my iMac’s built-in FaceTime HD Camera and an LED floor lamp (in addition to my home office’s ceiling lighting) set to the “warm” color temperature.

Step 2: warm spotlight

Next, I got an LED desk lamp (with a warm color temperature) to illuminate me in front of the camera. The result was much better, especially at night.

The spotlight takes a little while to get used to because it’s fairly bright. I find that it’s actually quite nice to have bright, direct light in the mornings, especially in the winter when the sun isn’t out yet.

However, the image is still quite blurry and grainy compared to a photo or video taken on a modern iPhone. I can do better than that! Also, the walls, door, and desk behind me take up most of the frame. I could use a virtual background, but I didn’t want to. If I zoomed in more, the image would become even blurrier.

Step 3: real camera

I lived with the setup above for several months. I looked around for better webcams, but nothing seemed significantly better than my iMac’s built-in webcam.

Then I had a Zoom video call with Kevin Mahaffey, who had already figured this all out and had amazing video quality. Credit goes to him for helping me with the rest of this setup. The equipment list has the mirrorless camera and other gear needed for this.

One additional benefit is that your background is optically blurred (because of the lens), which looks great and adds privacy.

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