Not a webcam light
Before I get started, let me just say that the RotoLight RL-48 is not designed to be a webcam light – it’s a really versatile ringlight for use with D-SLRs and camcorders. One of the unique things about its design is that it just squeezes onto the foam windbreak on your camcorder’s shotgun mic (I use it with my Rode NT-G2), and it runs off three AA batteries, making it very portable and really simple to deploy in the field.
It’s not without its limitations, though – the range is pretty limited, so it’s not going to match a fresnel like this one for punch, and the only way to dim it down is to dismantle it and insert one or more of the included ND filters that are stored in the body.
But like all video equipment, you find out what the limitations are, and work to its strengths instead. As far as I’m concerned, the RL-48 is a seriously handy addition to my off-site kit bag, allowing me to quickly rig up a light source for vox-pops and interviews in seconds. But that’s really not what I wanted to talk about here.
Generally speaking, there’s not much to like about webcams. They rarely have decent manual controls, which means that they’re impossible to lock down, and you’re likely to experience all sorts of fun stuff like noise, focus-hunting and exposure/colour balance shifts during use. But let’s be honest – they’re not designed for serious video work. They’re designed to let you see people who are sitting in front of their computers.
The Microsoft LifeCam Studio isn’t without its faults, but it’s safe to say it’s one of the better models on the market. You can, at least, lock the focus, the exposure and the colour balance (assuming you turn off TruColor, which I’d strongly recommend). Interestingly, it’s also one of the only ones I know of that supports a 4:2:2 YUV colour space, which theoretically brings it in line with semi-pro camcorders like the HVX202 and XF300 that I currently use. But the merits of this are debatable given that much of the colour fidelity will be stripped out during its use as a web-based communications device.
A different approach
About my biggest beef with webcams is that they’ve never addressed their biggest shortfall – and that’s lighting. Because you’re sitting at your computer, it’s highly likely that the main light source is going to be the eerie blue light cast onto your face by your monitor. Either that, or there’ll be a window right behind you that causes massive backlighting problems.
So when I was asked to come up with a low-cost solution that would allow non-technical operators to set up a live broadcast that didn’t look as though it was shot in their bedrooms, I knew that I had to address the thorny problem of lighting. And this is what I came up with.
With a bit of lateral thinking, you can break down the Rotolight’s camera mount and attach it to the LifeCam Studio to provide about the best close-range fill light that you’ll find at this price. It does mean that you’ll need to employ a stand or clamp to mount it (and if you’re clamping it to your monitor, I recommend that you don’t overtighten the clamp – this may break your screen), but overall I’m pretty happy with the end result.
The video was shot in an entirely dark room with the RL-48 as the only source, so you can see that there’s more than enough light for night work. Even if you’re shooting in broad daylight, it’s still good practice to use a fill where you can.
Now you just need to find a better microphone solution – but that’s another article!
If you have any tips you’d like to share – post them in the comments section below.