How I livestream with OBS, a Sony a6000, and a Cam Link

A few weeks before this year's pandemic started affecting the US, I started live-streaming on my YouTube channel.

In the past, I've helped run live streams for various events, from liturgies in a cathedral to youth events in a stadium. (I even wrote a blog post on the topic a few weeks ago.)

For larger events, there was usually a team of camera operators. We also had remote control 'PTZ' cameras, and dedicated streaming hardware like a Tricaster.

For my own livestreams, I had a very limited budget, and only one person (me) to operate the camera, produce the live stream, and be the content on the live stream!

Since many smaller churches are gearing up to live stream Easter or other major liturgies this week, I thought I'd make a quick video showing how I do my livestream, and giving some tips for people in a similarly budget-and-personnel-limited situation!

This video should also be useful for other individuals interested in making higher quality live streams on their own.

Simplest option: a smartphone on a tripod

There are a number of different options you have for live streaming; the simplest is to set up a smartphone on a tripod, point it at something, and start streaming using YouTube, Facebook Live, Periscope, or whatever streaming service you want.

But the quality is usually so-so, you are limited to one camera and viewing angle, and the sound is often terrible since the microphone on the phone is not close to the person speaking, nor is it tied into a sound system.

So the next step is to set up a laptop with an external camera.

Laptop and external camera

If you don't already have a quality webcam—I usually recommend a Logitech StreamCam or Breo—you might be out of luck because they're sold out pretty much everywhere right now.

But you might have or be able to borrow someone's digital camera (mirrorless or some models of DSLR), and use that to do the live stream.

To do this, you need to be able to plug the camera's HDMI video output into your computer. The best device to assist with that is the Elgato Cam Link 4K. Most cameras don't have a full-size HDMI output, so you'll also need to buy a mini or micro-HDMI-to-HDMI adapter cable.

For my setup, I use a Sony a6000 mirrorless camera, with a 10 foot micro-HDMI to HDMI cable, plugged into my Cam Link 4K, which is then plugged into my computer.

I also have a nice Manfrotto fluid video tripod head that allows me to pan and tilt the camera smoothly, so if I want to move around the camera and zoom in or out during the stream, I can do that easily (but for my live streams, I usually keep it still).

You can use an external camera plugged into the Cam Link directly with most any streaming software, since it shows up as a selectable camera just like any plugged in webcam, but for ultimate control, especially with advanced 'scene' capabilities that allow you to add title cards (for things like prayers), you should use streaming software like OBS.

OBS for ultimate streaming control

OBS is a free and open source program that lets you produce live streams and deliver the streaming content into any major platform like YouTube, Facebook Live, or Twitch.

For my livestreams, I have one main 'scene' set up in OBS:

  • It has my main computer screen so I can share what I'm doing on the computer.
  • It has my external camera in a 'picture in picture' area on the bottom right.
  • It uses my external shock-mounted microphone, for really good audio.

We'll get to the audio in a minute, but for now I'll focus on OBS.

In OBS, you can set up one or more 'scenes' and switch between them. You could have one scene be an image or video that plays prior to your stream officially starting (make sure you have the microphone or audio input muted during that time!). Then you could have another scene with your main camera, and switch to that when it's time for the stream to start.

If you have a webcam in addition to the external camera, you could set the webcam to be a 'wide' overview angle, showing the entire area of interest (like the whole sanctuary, if streaming a liturgy), and you can have the external camera set up on a tripod with a zoom lens, and that camera could zoom in and focus on areas of interest, like an altar, lectern, or the presider's chair.

In OBS, you can switch to the wide-angle webcam scene, then while it's not visible on the live stream, point the external camera at the next area of interest, and then go back to OBS and switch back to the external camera again.

You're basically doing all the amazing things sports broadcasters do when producing live events in their video trailer, but all on your own laptop!

Great lighting makes great video

Now, many churches already have pretty good lighting in the sanctuary, but if not, in a pinch you can set up a few worklights on stands to 'flood' the area in light.

For individual live streaming, I have a few overhead LED light panels that are built into my office lighting. To supplement that and give a tiny bit of a 'catch' light in my eyes, as well as slightly more even illumination on my face, I have a small on-camera video light panel, which is battery powered, charges over USB, and sits in my camera's hot shoe.

There are other lighting rigs which can be much more elaborate, but the main thing is to make sure there's enough light so your camera doesn't have to raise its ISO or lower its shutter speed to get good image quality. If that happens you get a lot of distracting noise and artifacts in the live stream picture.

Making sure you have power

There are three major caveats to this setup, though, and they all have to do with power:

First, mirrorless and DSLR cameras like my a6000 use a lot of power when streaming video, and one battery only lasts about 20 or 30 minutes. So I have an external power supply for my a6000 that plugs into where the battery is. Not all cameras have an external power supply available, or can be powered through a USB-C cable, so you might have to make sure you have extra batteries and a plan for swapping them out in the middle of the stream.

Second, you should make sure you have your laptop plugged into external power the entire stream, as it will also need to use a lot of power to put together and compress the live stream.

Third, you should use as new and fast a laptop as possible; a cheap ten your old laptop is not going to have the processing power required to run a live stream with OBS very well.

Getting great sound

The last thing that's important to mention is sound.

In my streams, I am able to use a big, bulky studio microphone plugged into an audio interface on my computer. And this makes really good sound.

For live streams, the best option is to find a way to tie the in-house audio system directly into your computer. Usually if you have a sound system, it has a headphone output, usually with a separate headphone audio level control.

If that's the case, you could get a long quarter-inch guitar cable, plug it into the headphone output, then plug the other end into an audio adapter that goes into your computer's audio input. Then, in OBS, set the audio settings to use that audio input instead of your camera or computer's microphone.

Otherwise, you might be able to plug the sound system output directly into your camera's microphone input, assuming your camera has one, and use the camera's audio in OBS.

Finally, if there's only one person who will be talking, you could consider using a wireless lavaliere microphone. I have an older Audio Technica model, which is good for short distances, but if you need to be moving around a lot in a large space, using a more expensive UHF microphone system would be better. But a UHF wireless microphone system is usually four to five times more expensive!

Comments

Hi Jeff.

I am a radio amateur who does digital amateur TV (DATV) and have a similar interest in streaming, particularly high quality. Your advice is very good. I have used the Elgato Cam Link 4K with a Panasonic Lumix mirrorless DSLR with success. The Lumix has a clean feed from its HDMI port. Magic Lantern firmware can be used for Canon some DSLRs to get a clean feed. However, the cost is pretty high.

A cheap way to get good FHD quality and use multiple cameras with OBS is to use the NewTek NDI iPhone app ($10) and the NDI plugin for OBS. The NDI will work on all IOS devices, of special interest are iPod Touch gen 6 or 7. A new iPod Touch is about $200 and is available used. A cracked screen doesn't matter too much as long as the device works. The picture quality is good and the autofocus very good depending on the IOS device; iphones have the best camera.

I have a draft blog post that in part covers it. https://vk4zxi.blogspot.com/2019/09/live-video-for-datv-or-streaming.ht…

Regards Drew VK4ZXI

That's some excellent advice. Even if you wanted a really decent WiFi-only camera, the just-announced iPhone SE (based on the iPhone 8 hardware) has an excellent main camera, and will likely start appearing on the used market soon.

Most smartphones have cameras that punch way above their weight in comparison to similarly-priced dedicated cameras. You mostly miss out on a zoom lens. But even a mic input is standard on most smartphones—assuming you have the proper adapters—and that's something that most low-end cameras and camcorders lack.

Do you need to use the Elgato Cam Link for it to stream live? I too want to use my a6000
Thanks

Yes, you need the Cam Link or something else equivalent to get the output of the a6000 (HDMI video) into your computer so it can be used as a 'webcam' source.

This may be a bit late to the game, but I watched a video recently on an alternative and was able to reproduce its success in testing. I haven't used it in production, but it seems to be fairly good for an inexpensive alternative. Swap out the Cam Link hardware for the Sony Imaging Edge software and OBS' VirtualCam plugin. Basically, Imaging Edge shows a live view of what the camera sees. OBS can capture the app's display (you can crop in on the image preview to get rid of the controls), and use the plugin to make it show up as a webcam.

That's an interesting option! I would imagine there may be a little more latency there but you can fix that in OBS by adjusting the delay on your microphone input to match the delay in the display from Sony Imaging Edge.

Thanks for sharing this! I am planning to live stream an elopement because we had to cancel our planned wedding due to COVID. I already have an a6000 and a video capture card, though it's another brand. I'm testing it out and seeing what feels like a pretty low frame rate when recording to QuickTime (plan is to record to QuickTime while feeding into Zoom so we have the raw video recorded too). It could be the capture card or my MacBook, but I first wanted to check that I have my a6000 set with the right settings. What capture mode do you use with the top dial? Movie mode? Were there any specific settings you needed?

Thanks!
Nate

I set it in movie mode, and then under 'Record Setting' (under Camera in the menu, number 2), you can select a different frame rate and resolution. If you're in 60p 28M, you might want to consider switching to one of the 24p options instead. Also, in OBS, set the encoder to 'ultrafast' and see if that does better. If so, you'll have to test a few different settings until you find where the computer can keep up or where it falls over.

Hi, Jeff..

Maybe you had the problem-solving method in mind about what I am going to ask. I've got headache about this for three days!
Actually, I used the pretty similar camera (sony a6000) and the OBS as well, combine with Ezcap 261M. When I added source in OBS, which is video capture device, I got the display from my sony camera, but it doesn't look proper. In the OBS preview, I got a huge black space on the right side, and the left part is seems to be cropped. There's no problem view from my camera, whereas there's a problem in the OBS view. Would you mind to get me out from this problem?

Thanks a lot!

That seems like it could be a problem with the Ezcap 261M — are there any settings you can configure for it? Also, in OBS, when I add a new video source I have to reposition and resize it to fill up the canvas; maybe you need to do that?

Thanks for advice!

Finally I found the way to fix this issue. I need to change the settings of my sony a6000 from PAL to NTSC. Now, the huge space black has disappeared.

Hi Jeff, thank you for this useful post. Could you advise me on how to connect my Rode Filmaker Kit lavalier mic for livestreaming. I'm using a Sony A5100 which has no external mic input. I have a Macbook Pro with a headphone socket. And I have an Elgato CamLink. Somehow though, I can't figure out how to get the audio. I know this is basic but any advice about how to link up my external lav mic is appreciated. Thanks so much.

It looks like that kit has a receiver with a 3.5mm output. You would plug that output into the input on the MacBook Pro using a 'TRS to TRRS' adapter with the correct impedance for a mic input. I believe the Rode SC4 adapter is the right one, but if it's a line-level output that the Filmmaker kit puts out, you'd need a line-level adapter instead. The Mac's jack only takes a 'TRRS' plug for mic inputs (it's a little longer than the standard 1/8" jack, with three insulators to give four conductors total).

Thank you, I tried it using the SC4 as have that one already but it didn't work so I'm wondering if I need to change a Mac audio setting. There's option to select the Camlink as the mic input but if the mic is connected to the laptop, does that mean its going through the Camlink?

No, if the Mac is not picking up the input, that means whatever plug/adapter you're using is not putting through a signal on the mic pin that the Mac is detecting as an audio input source. Annoyingly, if the impedance of the adapter doesn't match up correctly to what the Mac's expecting, it will just not show as a source.

The best option would be to buy a cheap USB audio adapter (like this one) that has a dedicated 3.5mm mic input, which I believe would work with the output from the Rode receiver.

I don't comment on things. This video was 100% exactly what I needed. Thank you sir. Great work.