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We’re in an exciting time for being able to broadcast whatever it is we want to say, as there are so many platforms on which to stream live video. YouTube Live is the de facto live streaming platform, however Facebook Live is now pushing strong to catch up. YouTube has had desktop streaming, and just rolled out mobile streaming. Facebook is the opposite, at first allowing everyone mobile streaming capabilities and now allowing everyone–not just fan pages–to stream from their desktop/laptop. And that’s where this will focus: What are the best webcams or cameras for streaming live video to Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Twitch, or whatever your platform of choice is?
What kind of cameras can I use to stream to Facebook Live and YouTube Live?
There are really three main types of cameras you can use to stream to Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and the others. First, is the good ol’ webcam. While most laptops have them built into the monitor bezel, they’re almost never any good. This is where you would buy an external webcam with a larger sensor, better lens, and higher quality mic than what is built into the laptop. Webcams are usually the first choice in kicking off a livestream broadcast due to their availability, low cost, and ease of use.
The second option gets a bit more complicated, however can possibly up the quality of your stream considerably. Many YouTubers these days are running DSLRs for their live video streaming needs. The reason this gets complicated is that, natively, DSLRs aren’t made to be video cameras. Most do not have native video interfaces via USB, and require an HDMI output to a capture device. And even then, not all cameras output clean HDMI at full resolution (clean resolution refers to not having the onscreen display data on the output). Most DSLRs don’t come with power adapters and require separate purchases, as well as not always being easy to use–many are battery inserts that leave a cord coming out of the battery compartment. And that’s not even getting into the overheating issue with many consumer DSLRs. But if you do some research and get a setup that works well, you will absolutely get better image quality for your Facebook Live or YouTube Live videos.
Dedicated camcorders are the third option for live video streaming. Whereas DSLRs aren’t necessarily designed for always-on video capture, camcorders are. As such, they have clean HDMI outputs at the common resolutions and frame rates, and don’t heat up the way that a DSLR does. Camcorders are most often your best bet for quality streaming video for long durations, and are most likely the easiest method to get going, outside of webcams. The downside to camcorders, however, is the fact that usually it’s only one half of the hardware equation. As these output HDMI signals, you do need some sort of HDMI capture device, which then will connect to your computer via USB, Thunderbolt, or another similar interface. Unlike DSLRs, the options of connecting directly through USB (depending on your DSLR model) are basically non-existent. At this point, however, very few Facebook Live streamers are probably using this setup outside of established media/video outfits, and is much more common on YouTube Live.
Best webcams for streaming live video
The Logitech HD Pro C920 has been out for quite a while, having been released in 2012. That said, it’s probably the absolute go-to webcam for most people. The camera shoots at full 1080p at 30fps, has dual stereo mics, and a solid build. It’s definitely the best camera around for performance per dollar, and sits atop many a monitor as a result. There are newer versions at higher price points, but honestly you can’t go wrong with the C920 even with those other options.Buy Logitech HD Pro C920 here
While the C920 is actually pretty affordable for the quality you get, the Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 is our pick for the best true budget webcam. Coming in at less than half the cost of the C920, it still delivers great image quality and just works reliably to deliver 720p 30fps video. You may see some issues with color temperature here and there, but at this cost it’s definitely acceptable.Buy Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 here
The follow-up to the C920 is the Logitech C922 Pro. It’s essentially the same camera as its predecessor, however does allow for shooting 1080p at 60fps, if you’re into that buttery smooth video look. It also comes with a few months of free Xsplit Live, which is cool, but other than that, you may be better off buying the C920 at the lower cost.Buy Logitech C922 Pro here
The Logitech C930e is the business version of the C920. Basically the same camera, however this model offers a wider field of view, along with pan, tilt, zoom, and other conference-friendly options. Unless you do a lot of group videos, the better choice would be any of the other cameras in the list.Buy Logitech C930e here
For those who absolutely, positively shoot every pixel available, the Logitech Brio is your weapon of choice. Yes, it shoots 4K. No, most streaming/chat platforms don’t support 4K. But you can record locally, and then edit/upload that 4K footage. And honestly, as a 1080p camera, this thing just kills it. The Brio is sharp, adapts well to not-so-great lighting situations, and also has Intel RealSense in order to function as a Windows Hello unlocking method. This camera also offers 5X digital zoom and adjustable field of view, which makes it a very versatile camera. But if you want all these goodies, it’ll cost you, coming in at a crazy high $200. That said, it’s worth the money on a pure features/quality level; it just may not be worth the extra cost if you’re on the lower side of the budget.Buy Logitech Brio 4K here
Best mirrorless cameras or DSLRs for streaming live video
Canon has finally delivered a camera with two features that haven’t been paired together before: 4k video and a flip-out screen. Although it’s not without its compromises, this is a great new entry geared toward vloggers and similar creators.
The strengths of this camera lie in the 1080p footage, which has Canon’s great dual-pixel autofocus and will do up to 60fps, but no more. Jumping up to 4k means ditching the dual-pixel autofocus and limiting frame rate to 24fps. You can get 120fps at 720p, but you lose so many other options it’s not even worth it.
And the only reason this camera makes the list whereas the Canon SL2 doesn’t is because the M50 also features a clean HDMI out, making it a perfect streaming camera with great autofocus and other helpful features for streaming.Buy Canon EOS M50 here
The Panasonic GH4 is one of the most popular DSLRs among YouTube content creators, and is an extremely versatile camera. It falls under the Micro Four Thirds sensor format, and unlike many DSLRs that do video, it seems to have been designed with video as a forethought.
While it’s an excellent stills camera, it shines in video, offering 4K 24/30fps, and up to 60fps at 1080p. The GH4 has all the other video options you may need, with a great flip-out screen, long recording times, and the ability to run for an extended period without overheating. It supports both 8- and 10-bit output at various formats, and of course supports a wide variety of compatible lenses.
If you look into the setups of many serious video content creators, you’ll see the GH4 pop up in a vast majority of them. If you want a flexible option for offline video, stills, and streaming to Facebook Live and YouTube Live, this is always an excellent choice.Buy Panasonic LUMIX GH4 here
The successor to the GH4, naturally, is the GH5. Arriving earlier this year, the GH5 is very much the same camera loved by video creators, with some helpful upgrades. This time around, 4K can shoot in up to 60fps, with 1080p at 180fps. If you do a lot of cinematography and need slow motion functionality at higher resolutions (or more slowness at standard HD), this camera is a great option to cover all your bases. The camera can also output 4K 10-bit images at 4:2:2, whereas the GH4 can only do 10-bit at 4:2:0. The GH5 also adds a cool “rack focus” focus shifting system, which will allow for changes in autofocus to emulate cinematic focus pulls, instead of requiring manual focusing or an all too quick change in focus like previous autofocus systems. All in all, if you need the extended color depth and upgraded sensor and focusing, it’s a great option. But if all you need is basic video functions, save the money and get a GH4.Buy Panasonic LUMIX GH5 here
Best camcorders for streaming live video
Sticking with Panasonic, the HC-V770 is a great entry-level camera for 1080p video with a quality clean HDMI output. The camera has a bunch of great video features for the price, including HDR, wifi/remote monitoring/shooting, 20x optical zoom, 5-axis image stabilization, manual focus, mic/headphone jacks, and 1080p at up to 120fps (software interpolation can get you up to 240fps). At the just barely sub-$500 range, this would be an excellent video camera for your live streaming needs.Buy Panasonic HC-V770 here
Zoom isn’t really known for video recording at all, but are a well-known name in the audio game. Striking gold with the H4n handheld recorder, they’ve reached further into the portable content creation market with the Q4 Handy Video Recorder, along with some other models in this lineup. The Q4 shoots 1080p video, but the audio is where this camera stands out. It has dedicated X/Y mounted stereo mics for excellent field audio capture without requiring external mics, amps, or adapters. You can control the gain manually or let it go on automatic gain control, as well as apply an optional low cut filter to remove boominess if you’re shooting somewhere with a ton of volume. There are also, of course, dedicated headphone and external mic jacks on the back. A distinguishing feature to the Zoom cameras is that you don’t need a capture card–USB will connect the camera to your PC for transfer and live streaming video. Add a flip-out screen, tripod and three-prong action camera mounts, and a small portable size and you have an excellent on-the-go lightweight video capture system as well as an excellent streaming camera for those who love great audio without the hassle.Buy Zoom Q4 Handy Video Recorder here
The Q8 is two levels up from the Q4 (the Q4n falls in between the two), and offers some massive upgrades in the audio department. First, the included X/Y mics are removable, and can be replaced with other mic capsules that have been available for the Handy Recorder series of portable audio recorder devices. You can replace the usual stereo configuration mics with a shotgun mic, mid-side mic, as well as a few others depending on your audio needs. Then there’s the addition of two phantom-powered combination jacks at the back, allowing for XLR or quarter-inch inputs with individual gain controls. The headphone mini-jack remains, offering a serious set of I/O for such a small camera. The video features still take the back seat here, with no zoom and what is referred to as 3M HD, or a resolution of up to 2034 x 1296 up to 60fps. Again, not the highest-end video options, but the audio offerings here cannot be beat on an inexpensive device like this.Buy Zoom Q8 Handy Video Recorder here
Finally a Canon camera in this list! The G40 is the successor to the popular G20 and G30, both of which can be found used or from sellers who still have them around, but for the sake of this list, we’ll run with a newer version. The G40 provides great video performance with all the usual offerings for a 1080p/60fps camera. Image stabilization, wifi control/shooting, 20x optical zoom, all of the useful IO for input/monitoring, and even dual SD card slots. You also have the choice of encoding the video into AVCHD or MP4 codecs, depending on your destination or workflow process. If you’re looking to step up into a serious video camera, the G40 is a great intro to that realm.Buy Canon VIXIA HF G40 here
If you’re looking for a flexible, high quality 1080p camera for any production need, the XA35 is a great option. No, there’s no 4K here, but there is a high-end sensor, great glass, and built-in XLR inputs on the removable handle for a self-contained video/audio rig. HDMI and HD/SD-SDI output start to show that this is a camera for serious video enthusiasts, and also includes the increasingly common prosumer feature of wifi control. The XA35 is a very common run-and-gun journalism camera because of its compact size and impressive feature set. If you don’t need 4K, but want top-end video and audio features and are serious about a presence on Facebook Live or YouTube Live, the XA35 is most likely your solution.Buy Canon XA35 here
Blackmagic Design has some of the very coolest stuff out there, and the Pocket Cinema Camera is no exception. For under a grand you can get true cinematic video thanks to its Super 16 sized 1080p sensor. Again, no 4K on this one, but the quality of 1080p video more than makes up for it. The ability to save videos into lossless CinemaDNG or Apple’s Prores 422 formats give you great-looking video files that are easy to work with. The Pocket Cinema Camera also has a Micro Four Thirds mount, allowing you a huge selection of compatible lenses. Although be sure to stock up on spare batteries if you’re shooting without AC power, because this camera will absolutely chew through them. But I think this is still a great option for streaming because you won’t necessarily run into the issues faced while shooting on location, and can’t be overlooked as a live streaming video camera option.Buy Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera here
Best HD capture devices for streaming live video
There are a ton of inexpensive HD capture devices out there, but as far as reputable, quality budget capture devices go, I’d suggest starting with the AVerMedia AVerCapture HD. Despite being geared toward capturing game console video for livestreaming to YouTube Live, Facebook Live, or Twitch, you can connect your 1080p HDMI camera without any issues. No fancy features or uncompressed video here, but for less than $100 it gets the job done.Buy AVerMedia AVerCapture HD here
Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle
The reviews on the Intensity Shuttle devices are a bit mixed, but if you have compatible hardware and get things set up properly, you have great capture of your 1080p devices. The Intensity Shuttle is available in a USB3 version as well as a Thunderbolt model, so you’re covered regardless of what side of the OS divide you come down on. You can capture uncompressed video, however the storage requirements might be a bit more than you can provide for it depending on your drive configuration. But if you do your homework and have some patience, it’s a great option for HDMI capture.
Epiphan AV.io HD and 4K
Epiphan is a new brand to me, however after looking into it further, they’ve got some great gear. I first heard of Epiphan from Linus Tech Tips regarding their hardware revamp for their live streaming show, The WAN Show. Not only do they go over all the new audio hardware (which, of course, is one of my favorite types of hardware), but Linus introduces the use of the Epiphan converters, and later on demonstrates a full-on hotswap disaster situation live on-air. This stuff just friggin’ works. Epiphan has a 1080p model as well as a 4K version, and neither are cheap. They don’t require drivers and are natively detected by Windows, so setup and config are entirely done within your streaming software with the AV.io devices merely acting as a camera source. If you need no other features other than to capture video and audio from an external HDMI source and have the budget for rock-solid gear, look no further.
Well, that got a bit long-winded. But as you can see, there are so many options for so many needs and budgets that this could just go on forever. I didn’t even cover any of the higher end cameras such as the Canon C100 or Blackmagic Ursa 4K Mini (although those are both excellent cameras!). But it all comes back to this: What is the best for your situation? To be honest, even the venerable Logitech C920 will get great results if you light yourself properly.
And what will you actually be doing? Will it be a daily news vlog? Facebook Live posts to your friends? Live hangouts with your fans? Facecam for YouTube Live or Twitch streaming? All of these could warrant different hardware choices or limitations, so keep that in mind.
When it comes down to it, I think you’re really looking at two realistic conclusions. Either you’re using a traditional webcam and are alright with what I would call good but “less than professional” video quality, or you’re attempting to create a more polished product, and invest in a camcorder-style camera and a decent HDMI capture interface. The DSLR option is fine if you have that already, but I wouldn’t advise it for people starting from scratch, hardware-wise.
And then the topic of 4K: Unless you plan on doing a large amount of non-live video and need the glossy sheen of all those pixels, 4K isn’t necessary yet. Your internet probably won’t even support uninterrupted streaming in 4K, so if streaming is the majority of your usage, skip the extra pixels and get a better sensor/lens. And lighting.
I hope this helps narrow down some choices and answer some questions regarding camera choices for platforms like Facebook Live and YouTube Live. If you have a question that I haven’t covered here, leave a comment below!
Update 6/25/18: Added the Canon M50
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