Using a Panasonic G7 for Video Streaming
I’ve only occasionally used services like Zoom for video streaming. The photographic quality of the streams I have been in has not been good. The limitations of an iphone or ipad make presenting a nice image while viewing your conference difficult. Due to the covid pandemic, I knew that this year I would be involved in more Christmas videos. Would it be possible to dig into my collection of camera gear and come up with a better solution for video streaming?
My main camera these days is a somewhat old Panasonic G7. Released in mid-2015, this camera has many advanced features, but it was released before video streaming features became a standard offering in advanced cameras. I checked online to see what was being said about using Panasonic cameras for video streaming. The GH5, the G9 and the G95 seemed to get good reviews for streaming use, but I could not find any reference to using the G7. One of the main issues for non-streaming ready cameras seemed to be “clean HDMI output”. This term references the ability for the camera to output its monitor display without any of the usual camera information, like exposure, battery level, available shots, etc. You don’t want this information included in the streaming output – you want a “clean” image. Apparently, the newer Panasonic cameras can eliminate all this information. It was not clear if the G7 could do this.
My initial inclination was that I could achieve the clean output I wanted by just changing the display mode of the camera. The camera has five display modes, one of which is a clear screen with just the basic exposure information. The exposure information turns off after 5 seconds, and I figured that this would be sufficiently “clean” for my needs. However, while I was looking around in the menus searching for display functions I might want to use, I came across a setting in the Setup (wrench) menu I had never used. On panel 3 of the Setup section is a feature called TV Connection. That item has a sub-menu with a feature called HDMI Info Display (Rec). This is exactly the feature you need. Set this feature to Off. With this option set to Off, all screen information is deleted from the HDMI output. I suspect that if this had been called the “Clean HDMI Output” feature, a lot more people would be aware of its availability.
I already own a 15’ micro-HDMI to HDMI cable and I have used this to display my camera’s monitor onto an HDMI screen, but this is not the same as getting your HDMI input into a computer for streaming. To stream, you need a device called a video capture card. I was unfamiliar with these and spent some time online researching their use, features, and cost. A leading brand is Elgato. Elgato has a range of cards and they cost upwards of $130, which is more than I wanted to spend just to have a couple of streaming video calls. As I was checking prices for the Elgato products, however, I keep seeing advertisements for small devices that look like a USB thumb drive and cost around $10. The advertisements claimed that the devices would stream 1080P/30, plug and play, from any HDMI output into a USB-2, 3 or C port. Really? Ten bucks for the same basic functionality as devices costing over ten times more? It didn’t seem likely.
One of many brands of cheapo video streaming devices. HDMI in and USB out. No software or drivers required.
I browsed over to YouTube and searched for videos discussing streaming. I found videos that demonstrated the ability of the low-cost alternative capture cards and the reviews were good. As long as you are not looking for a long menu of specialty features, the low-cost devices will work and they are plug-and-play; no drivers or applications need to be added to your computer. I purchasing a model called Foxnova. The devices are also sold under the names Forest Flower, Lepiahong, eggday and axGear. I paid $15 with free Amazon two-day shipping.
Using the Foxnova capture card was, in fact, plug and play. Plug the Foxnova card into any available USB port, connect the big end of the HDMI cable to it, and plug the little end of the HDMI cable into the camera’s HDMI port. To test this, you need something to stream your video output to. If you have a Zoom account, just log in and select Host A Meeting – With Video On and your camera’s output should immediately display. At the bottom of the screen are several tools for testing your video and audio inputs. Alternatively, you can go https://webcamtests.com/mirror. This site has several streaming tools and is a good resource to bookmark if you plan to work with video seriously.
The camera displaying to webcamtest.com/mirror. Note all the stuff on the camera’s monitor display, none of which is shown in the streaming image. The battery pack is the 8.4v, 3300mAh Traxxas Power Cell.
Once I had the video output working, I discovered that the battery of the G7 gets used up quickly. I would estimate battery life at about 20 minutes for a standard BLC12 battery. This is a problem. The best solution is to use the optional AC battery adapter and power the camera from an AC outlet. I don’t have an AC adapter, but I do have a Traxxas Power Cell battery adapted to the camera that has 3300mAh and I used it for a 1 hour, 20 minute video without any problems. It’s not clear to me why streaming video runs down the battery so quickly. I suspect there is something in the HDMI interface that uses a lot of power.
On Christmas day we did have several video calls and the camera worked well. The output was clear and (I was told) that the audio was good. There was some difficulty in managing focus. I had the camera set on 49-point focus, which seems reluctant to re-focus during a video session. Later, I tested using eye-focus and I think this is a better option. You can also go for manual focusing and adjust, as necessary. I tested the cell phone Panasonic Image App with HDMI to control the camera, and it works, but I find the application less then convenient to use. Another option would be to use a wireless remote and just give a half click on the shutter any time refocusing is needed. There are a lot of options; you’ll want to experiment and see what works for your situation.
Overall, I would say that the G7 can do an excellent job of providing a clean video stream. You’ll have access to all your lens options and the features of your other accessories. The Photo Style and Filter settings in the camera display the same on HDMI as they do in the camera. So, if want a black and white video, for example, set it up in the camera and that is what you will stream.
This is certainly a more complicated solution than just using the camera in your phone, laptop or tablet, but it does provide a broader range of photographic options and good photographic quality. And, it’s been fun and educational to find yet another hidden feature in this gem of a camera.
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