Elgato Cam Link review: Turning decent cameras into amazing webcams
Keep yourself on the cutting edge of camera quality with Elgato's Cam Link.
If you're a serious streamer and/or influencer, there are only a certain number of shots you can comfortably get away with when using a top-tier webcam. Overlaying a head and shoulders view of yourself, possibly as you overreact to trailers or encourage strangers to eat Tide pods, will be fine – the max resolution of that footage will be squished down into a corner, making the webcam's technical limitations less noticeable. That said, problems will arise if you want to address your audience at full-screen with a bush-league-looking 1080p 30fps.
Basically, it just doesn't look good enough. A presentation in 30fps lacks a natural fluidity, and while most modern webcams do offer you the option to achieve 60fps, typically that frame-rate increase is a double-edged sword. All of a sudden, you've got the desired smoother motion, but you've been downgraded to 720p. We're not living in 2007 and 720p is an unacceptable resolution to deliver to any fanbase. The problem then is how to keep yourself on the cutting edge without shelling out for another webcam?
The hook up
Thanks to the Elgato Cam Link, a bit of repurposing might be your best option. What we have here is a simple product: a flash-drive-like dongle that has a USB 3.0 connector on one end and a female HDMI input on the other. Providing you have a DSLR camera (or some other video recording device that supports HDMI out) the Cam Link will allow you to harness an uncompressed 1080p 60fps output.
For my own testing purposes, I hooked up a DSLR that I had floating around my house. My better half is/was obsessed with Australian birds, so I bought a Canon EOS 70D back in 2016. The good news is that hooking it up to the Cam Link and getting it running with OBS proved to be a cinch... once I bought a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable. Aside from a modest USB 3.0 extension, Cam Link comes with no other cabling.
Annoying additional costs aside, Cam Link delivered lossless results that no sensibly priced webcam can match. Even somebody unversed with the minutiae of webcams (ie, most of your followers) will be able to immediately spot an increase in quality. The picture I was getting was noticeably crisper than my most recently tested webcams, the Razer Kiyo and Logitech C920, and the most obvious improvement was in FPS. Swinging a hand past the dedicated webcams would result in choppy motion or after-trail fingers. The 70D was much more mirror-like. So if your stream focusses on a lot of Mexican waves (or just more motion in general), the footage Cam Link delivers cannot be beat.
Connection is super easy, too. Windows recognises the Cam Link as a webcam with no fuss, but you should also be aware that transcoding video in real-time will ask a lot from your CPU. Elgato insists that Cam Link will play nice with any new quad-core processor or an older midrange processor, but PC gaming streamers need to factor in some additional load that may run their games slower. OS-wise, you'll need to be packing either Windows 10 or OSX 10.12 Sierra.
Pitfalls to avoid
You can't buy Cam Link on a whim as you'll need to do some homework first. Elgato boasts a lot of compatibility with a bunch of major brands, such as Panasonic, GoPro, Nikon, Canon and Sony, but having a decent camera, or achieving the main prerequisite of an HDMI out, isn't enough to ensure a problem-free experience.
Clean HDMI output is your first hurdle. This refers to footage that excludes overlays such as recording time, remaining storage space, focus point and more. If your chosen camera insists on slapping all of those HUD elements over the footage, Cam Link lacks the means to digitally divorce them from what it will capture.
Last but not least, you'll need to investigate whether your camera supports Unlimited Runtime. This pertains to a camera's ability to happily keep doing what's asked of it, without user input, for as long as its power level is maintained. There are a number of DSLR cameras out there that happily take a nap after a certain period to preserve battery power. If you can't manually disable that function (or delay it for a long period of time) that may not fit with your broadcast needs. My advice is to pore over the user manual of your camera and check the compatibility list that Elgato maintains here .
Coming in above the RRP of webcams like the Razer Kiyo or Logitech C920, the Elgato Cam Link isn't exactly cheap. Obviously, there's the additional cost of an expensive DSLR or GoPro to tack on top of that as well. All that said, if you already have the extra kit lying about unused, Cam Link delivers the goods on all fronts and is a no-brainer purchase.
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