When is a webcam not a webcam? When it’s actually a DSLR!
Around here we are strong believers in DSLRs. Our first DSLR was an Olympus E-10, but these days we have a couple of Canon Rebel XSi’s. Released in Q1-2009 these are not the latest and greatest by any stretch, but they’re nice cameras. We also have a small selection of lenses.
As DSLRs have come to shoot video it would make some sense that they could also be used the more sedate role of webcam. Our Rebel XSi’s don’t shoot video, but they do make nice 12 mega-pixel pictures.
It happens that many Canon cameras, including the XSi, have a feature called “Live View” that’s intended to stream the image to the LCD viewfinder or even across a USB connection.
In the past I’ve tried a couple of programs that attempt to leverage this feature to mimic a webcam. One was ManyCam, which simply didn’t do what I required at the time…or hid the capability beyond my view. So many of these programs deliver a diversity cutesy features but lack the ability to deliver video at decent frame rates & sizes.
This past week I stumbled into SparkoCam, a new Windows program from SparkoSoft, shows more promise than anything I have tried in the past. So much so that I made the $30 investment to purchase a license.
SparkoCam is a nice piece of work. It delivers a substantial suite of capabilities for modest price. For example, it presents to the OS a virtual webcam much like Wirecast. I tried it with a Google Hangout for VUC #457 and it worked nicely.
It allows you to select video sources from amongst the following;
- A recognized Canon camera
- A normal webcam
- The Windows desktop itself; all or partial screen
- A video file on disk
- A still image on disk
When using a Canon camera a video source it offers a range of controls appropriate for the camera. That includes such things as manual focus, auto focus type, auto focus zone, color temperature, exposure adjustment, etc. You can capture stills or record video directly from the camera.
You can set the camera for a variety of resolutions from 160×120 pixels to 1920×1080 pixels. Be aware that as you go above 1280 x 720 pixels the frame rate falls off sharply. That’s to be expected given the aforementioned limits of USB 2.0.
There are quite a number of things to like about SparkoCam. For example, is allows rudimentary compositing of a video source with several independent layers. The video source is the background layer, to which you can add a full frame still later, an “object” layer that can be a still or animated item. The objects can behave like animated GIFs, and can be can be repositioned and scaled as desired.
I think that I’ll use the animated pumpkin object to brand the Halloween Hangout that we share with family who cannot attend our annual night-of-fright and candy.
In addition, the video stream can be loaded into one of a variety of “scenes.” These are very much like simple virtual sets. They can be combined with the foreground layer and objects to create fairly interesting and useful presentations.
Once you have the presentation arranged how you want it the software can capture stills or even record the resulting video to disk in WMF format. That’s how I created the following little example clip.
This admittedly simple clip shows the use of the (1) video from the Logitech C910 webcam in the (2) Polaroid scene with (3) Autumn overlay and (4) animated holiday pumpkin object. The camera was set for 720p but I didn’t record any audio.
As the complexity of the presentation increases the frame-rate drops, which is to be expected. The application includes a “green screen” tool that offers some kind of chroma keying. I’ve not tried this simply because I don’t have a chroma green backdrop to use in a test sequence. SparkoCam shows a remarkable amount of compositing prowess for a low-cost application.
There are other capabilities as well, including a number of video effects filters that apply various distortions to the video stream. There’s more to see than I care to describe, so I’ve created a slide show with a number of screen shots and exported images that highlights it’s various capabilities.
While there is a traditional installer for SparkoCam, I started using a “portable” release that doesn’t even install anything into the OS. That makes it safe to try without any chance of impacting your PC. It runs with a large watermark until you enter a license key.
For the serious user of streaming video SparkoCam can’t touch Wirecast. Wirecast is a more sophisticated, professional tool…with a hefty price tag. Priced at just $30 SparkoCam costs less than one-tenth the price of Wirecast, which makes it a lot more accessible to a broad range of more casual users.
It will be interesting to use SparkoCam along side Wirecast to evaluate the use of a DSLR as an alternative to a traditional webcam.