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Your Canon Camera Just Became the Best Webcam You Own

Canon’s EOS Webcam Utility Beta software gives Canon cameras a new purpose as a webcam. Here’s how to set it up.

There’s currently a mad rush to find the tools necessary to operate home-based quasi-offices. Students, educators, and home workers need computers and other hardware to make it happen, but major retailers are sold out of microphones, headsets, laptops, PC components, and webcams — especially webcams.

Fortunately, there’s a way to circumvent the need to buy a new webcam, albeit one that requires owning a Canon camera. The EOS Webcam Utility Beta is Canon’s answer to the ongoing webcam shortage. It’s really, really easy to set up, and the picture quality is top notch. Here’s how it all works.


How to Install the Software

EOS DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras

This is a list of the cameras that work with Canon’s EOS Webcam Utility Beta software. Even a few of Canon’s point-and-shoot cameras are compatible with the software.

To get your Canon camera working as a webcam, head to the Canon website and download the webcam utility specific to your camera.

Canon’s webcam utility is still in the beta stage, so there are some caveats. At the time of writing, the software did not work with macOS devices, but that has since been fixed. And, while the webcam software does work with most Canon cameras released in the last few years, older models have been left out.

If you have a Windows machine, install the software then restart your computer. After rebooting your computer, turn on your camera, and plug it into the computer via the USB port. Your conferencing software of choice should detect the camera as EOS Webcam Utility Beta. The software also works on macOS devices (versions 10.13 and up). For instructions on how to install the software on Windows and macOS devices, head to Canon’s site.

While the Windows camera app didn’t detect my camera, it wasn’t an issue when I used the camera for Google Hangouts. If the camera isn’t immediately recognized, you can head to the section of the Settings menu that deals with camera input. If everything is okay, you should see EOS Webcam Utility Beta as an option.


Impressions

Mirrorless Camera (M50)

The Canon EOS M50 is a mirrorless camera that’s compatible with the EOS Webcam Utility Beta software. Image via Canon.

I don’t own a webcam for my desktop computer because of privacy and security concerns — Big Brother is always watching, after all. However, my Pixelbook does have a webcam, and its picture quality leaves a lot to be desired. Canon’s webcam software bridges that gap. I can have a great webcam when I want to, without compromising my privacy, and it’s miles ahead of any webcam that sells for under $100.

When using a Canon as a webcam, the video quality will depend on the camera, the lens, and lighting, among other things. To achieve the best results on your webcam setup, choose movie mode on your camera. I also suggest turning on auto-focus, but you can manually focus if you prefer.

Shallow Depth of Field

When placing this figure in front of the camera, you can see how blurred the background is. You probably won’t be this close to the camera during a video call, but it’s an example of the shallow depth of field.

I used the Canon M50 as my webcam, and I have no complaints. The camera’s excellent dual-pixel auto-focus tracked my head as I moved around, and it rarely, if ever, lost focus.

I used a 15-45mm Canon EF-M lens, which came included, with an aperture range of f/3.5-6.3. When I moved closer to the camera, the background behind me blurred because of the shallow depth of field. Standard webcams don’t offer bokeh like that.

Video Call Quality

Despite the noise caused by Google Hangouts’ compression, the quality of the video call is pretty good. Obviously, the lighting isn’t great, and I haven’t seen my barber in months, but there’s no denying that this looks better than a standard webcam.

Since I used a telephoto lens, I was able to adjust the lens to zoom in, which resulted in over-the-top close-ups whenever I wanted to add some drama to a call.

Joking aside, being able to tighten up the frame is useful when you don’t want to display everything behind you — e.g., a messy room or kitchen. My camera also has an articulating touch screen, so I was able to adjust what the camera was focusing on with a simple touch.

To have an even better experience, it’s a good idea to put the camera on a tripod, so you should invest in one if you haven’t already. I used a JOBY GorillaPod 1K, which is about a foot tall, and it kept the camera eye-level when placed on my desk.

Also, while I didn’t have one on hand, a light (such as this one from Elgato) would take your webcam setup to the next level. This gear would increase your budget, but the spend is worth it if you’re a frequent webcam user.


What You Need to Know

Desktop Setup

The camera and tripod are positioned to the right of my screen because the desk is a bit crowded. I could find a way to place the camera above the monitor, but I like where it is.

This type of webcam setup isn’t perfect, so here are three points you should consider — desk space, battery life, and microphone.

My desk, which you can see above, is not for a camera setup. You’ll need to make some space for a camera, a tripod, and any other accessories you’re using.

While webcams are lightweight and easily mounted on a monitor, a heavy DSLR or mirrorless camera might need a workaround. I’ve seen people stack boxes behind their monitor or place the camera above the PC tower. Something like this arm camera mount is a clever (and expensive) solution.

When using a Canon camera as a webcam, keep an eye on battery life. The USB charging cable doesn’t charge the camera, at least in my experience, but I did notice that the battery lasted much longer. I was on a two-hour call recently, and the camera stayed powered the whole time.

The EOS M50 is known for its bad battery life, and it shouldn’t have lasted that long. However, the longer battery life is a result of the camera being idle; it’s not shooting images or video, which are the real battery hogs. Regardless, keep a charged battery nearby in case a call goes on for longer than expected.

Finally, you’ll need a separate microphone to conduct videoconferencing calls. The camera’s built-in microphone doesn’t function as an audio input for your computer, and neither will an external camera microphone like the RØDE VideoMic Go on my camera. Most USB microphones priced around $100 are good. Check out this list of options to see some of our favorite picks.

Since the software is still in beta, hopefully Canon will add microphone functionality in the future. Some webcams may come with a built-in microphone, but it’s much better to have a dedicated microphone.


Is This for You?

Working from home

If you’re working from home, using your Canon as a webcam is a budget-friendly solution. Image via Creative Lab.

If you already own a Canon camera and a Windows computer, then the answer is a resounding yes. This is your best bet for a budget-friendly solution to The Great Webcam Shortage of 2020.

You could buy a new Canon camera, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re purchasing solely for webcam reasons. If you’re determined to buy, you can find heavily discounted Canon cameras on eBay and similar sites. And, if you do purchase an affordable Canon camera, it’ll be higher in quality than any low-cost webcam. Just remember to check compatibility on the chart at the top of this post.

Your experience may be a bit different based on the variables mentioned above, but the truth is that the software works as advertised — it allows Canon owners to use their camera as a webcam. Not only does it work, but Canon owners won’t have to spend a single extra dollar.

The software just plain works without having to adjust any settings. Simply download it, forget about it, and open up your living room to the world.

Update 05/27/20: The EOS Webcam Utility Beta is now compatible with macOS devices, which was not supported when the article was written. The software works with macOS 10.13 and above. For more information, visit Canon’s EOS Webcam Utility page. The article has been updated to reflect the changes.


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Cover image via Canon.