How to Use a Z as a Webcam (Streaming)

Streamer, you're nothing but a streamer/
So now you put your head in your hands, oh no!

You have two choices: HDMI or USB. I'm a Macintosh user, so I'll cover macOS use on this page. Windows users may need slightly different accessories, cables/adapters, or software. 

One word of advice before continuing: stick to 1080P (also referred to as Full HD). That's plenty of resolution for most streaming uses, and it's not going to stress your CPU or Internet bandwidth to use it. 4K is a still a bit of a reach for streaming. Even with my top-of-the-line gear and excellent connectivity I've seen far too many hiccups trying to make 4K work. Save yourself the frustration and concentrate on getting really good 1080P from the Z camera through to wherever it's going.

HDMI Streaming

Note: the Z50 doesn't have a way of turning off the on-screen display information, so isn't a great candidate for HDMI streaming.

You'll typically need an HDMI-to-USB converter hardware for this option. The device I've been using for some time is the Blackmagic Design Intensity (now Intensity Shuttle). The ATEM Mini is another possible BMD choice, and very useful if you want to run multiple cameras. Those are expensive options, but they're almost always in stock, work flawlessly, and BMD regularly updates their software and has excellent support. The Elgato Cam Link (and previous versions of it) has been the go to device for the gaming streamers for some time, but the virus has tended to make those difficult to find in stock.  For those on a budget, there are less expensive devices, such as this one, but be careful, as many of those reduce down to USB 2.0 speed and also require a USB-2-to-USB-3 adapter to work on current Macs. Atomos now has a product called Connect, which is a US$79 HDMI to USB 3.1 converter. 

Once you have the hardware, plug the appropriate HDMI cable between your Z camera and your converter, and plug the converter into your Mac's USB port. Note that the Z cameras use different HDMI connectors, as might your HDMI-to-USB converter. Most converters use the standard (Type A) HDMI connector. The Z6 and Z7 use the Mini (Type C), and the Z50 uses the Micro (Type D). Rather than using adapters, just find the right cable with the right connectors. Why? Because cable adapters tend to be more susceptible to flaky connections.

Generally, you must use software such as OBS or Ecamm to stream via HDMI on macOS, and you'll find that you have to point that software to your hardware (look for Video Capture Device in the menus). In Zoom, click the Video tab in your client and select your HDMI conversion device in the Camera pop-up menu. (A Windows user tells me that Sparkocam works well, too.)

If all you're trying to do is replace the built-in camera of your iMac or MacBook, you might find that your software doesn't see the camera (hint: use Photo Booth while sleuthing the problem; if the Z camera shows up in Photo Booth, you're golden). Some users will need some extra software, such as CamTwist, to make the camera show up, though.

USB Streaming

This method is simpler and doesn't require an additional device, but it generally requires that the software you use be compatible with Nikon cameras (e.g. OBS, Ecamm). Also Cascable Pro Webcam is another more generic choice, and can make the connection via Wi-Fi as well as a USB cable.

If your software supports Nikon cameras, all you have to do is connect a USB cable between your camera and computer, then select the camera in your software. But again, it generally requires that your software support it. If your software doesn't, check out CamTwist.

Nikon has a new Webcam Utility available in beta for Windows users to support USB streaming. This is really more of a driver that forces a connected Z5, Z6, Z7, or Z50 to report itself to the OS as "Webcam Utility" [sic]. You still have to select it from whatever software you're using (Zoom, OBS, Ecamm, etc.). 

Other Advice

  • You probably want to have the camera AC powered so you don't lose it in the middle of doing something because the battery died. Only the Z6 and Z7 currently have AC power options (EH-5). 
  • Don't use the camera's built-in microphones. Use an external microphone plugged into the camera with recording levels set properly, and preferably a lavalier mic.
  • Don't have the camera away from your computer screen. Best position is just above it, just like the built-in cameras on Macs. Look at the camera when talking, not the screen, if possible.
  • If you're expecting the camera to follow focus on you as you move, you should be in video mode with AF-F selected as the Focus Area mode.

Nikon's page on streaming with the Z cameras

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