Using the Sony Alpha 6000 as a webcam (and other tips)

Before figuring out how to fix my Olympus camera (there’s a separate post about that) I ran with a Sony camera as a webcam, using the same HDMI adapter.

It took some work in the settings to get a clean HDMI feed, and even then, there’s some problems with it.  But it works OK, and for £25 on a HDMI cable and USB adapter, it’s much better than the one in your laptop.

I have a collection of native and adapted manual lenses, and I use these for webcam lenses.  They’re all primes, so they let in more light than my zoom lenses.

I don’t have to worry about whether autofocus works, or the video autofocus settings – I just select an aperture and ISO setting that works, and then manually focus the lens to where my eyes usually are. Then I leave it alone!

Issues

Playback mode.

HDMI isn’t a dumb feed. There’s communication, so when you start a zoom session or some other software that uses the web cam, the camera gets “notified”.

In the case of this Sony, this triggers it to go into playback mode, and as there’s no card installed, that means the HDMI feed displays “No memory card. Cannot play.

Press the ‘play’ button to exit playback mode, and the proper video feed kicks in, and you’re in business. In the settings below, I suggest customising the buttons to make it easier to enable the video feed.

It might be possible to get it to play back an image off the SD card, which is better than an error message!

Screen goes off at power-on

This is the same problem, it’s in playback mode. On the HDMI feed, it’s complaining about the memory card.

Press the play button to enable the camera’s display and the HDMI feed.

No selfie screen

The screen is strictly rear facing.

Settings

If you’re looking for one setting, then the very last one – to enable a clean HDMI feed – is the key one.

I use the movie setting on the settings dial.

  • This displays the video feed on the screen and HDMI, and overlays all information on the display.
  • In photo modes, the HDMI feed is clean, but the image only appears on HDMI

In the menus, working left to right, here’s some suggestions and commentary.

Camera (far left) menu:

  • Page 1: Movie File format.  Not sure if this has any effect on the HDMI feed.
  • Page 2: Video record setting can be VGA or 1440×1080.  The screen displays ‘VGA’ or ‘1080’, and this affects the HDMI feed. VGA is cropped left and right, and will be lower resolution.
  • Page 4: ISO AUTO. I’m not certain if this works in video mode, but if it does, that’s really nice, as it’ll compensate for low light. While low ISO is generally good, and especially for photos, for a web cam, I think it matters less. The camera on your laptop will probably need to run quite a high ISO and will be much noisier than an A6000.
    • If you find the video feed is sluggish, this might be because you have low light, and the shutter speed is too low. This would suggest Auto ISO does not work, if you’ve selected that, instead select a higher ISO.
  • Page 4: White balance. It’ll default to auto.  But if you find your image is too orange or too blue, you might need to select
  • Page 5: Zoom. No, that’s not what that menu option means!!
  • Page 6: Movie – select program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, or manual. The first time you select movie mode, the camera prompts you with this menu, this is how you ‘fix’ that decision.
  • Page 6: Auto slow shutter.  Don’t know what this does, but it’s a movie setting, so I’ll mention it.
  • Page 6: Audio recording, wind noise reduction. I would turn off audio on the camera. Not sure if it has a built in mike, but you probably don’t want to use it. If you do use the feed, then for a web cam the wind noise reduction should be off. I’ve seen reviews of other cameras where the wind noise reduction has done odd things with the audio.
  • Page 6: Steadyshot. If you have a lense that supports it, and the camera is on a tripod or some sort of mount, turn this off.
  • Page 6: Memory, memory recall.  This looks like the ability to save three sets of settings. This might be useful if you use the camera for other things. Like .. yeah, photos.

Cog menu

  • Page 6: Custom key settings.
    • It might be useful to have a button set to white balance.
    • Custom 1 is right next to the shutter button, facing forwards. So, if there was a way to use that button to cancel playback mode, it is easier to reach than the playback button is.  One option that does work is: Grid Line.  In my testing, pressing that switches the camera from playback to video mode (with the clean HDMI feed) and brings up the grid line options on the rear display.  A second press cancels grid line mode.

Playback menu: unfortunately, I can’t find a better workaround for this camera’s fondness for playback mode.

Briefcase (far right) menu:

  • Page 1: Audio signals. Not sure what this does, but it may be relevant to disabling audio in the video feed.
  • Page 2: Mode dial guide. Nothing to do with video exactly, but if you don’t want the splash screen to pop up every time you change modes on the top dial, set this off.
  • Page 2: Pwr Save Start time – this might need tweaking. I don’t recall anything specific about power saving with the Sony, but on my Olympus I have to push the shutter button a lot to wake the camera back up. When the webcam starts being used, it doesn’t seem to wake my Olympus up again.
  • Page 2: check the PAL/NTSC selector, particularly if anything really weird is going on with the video feed.
  • Page 3: HDMI resolution: 1080p is going to be better than 1080i
  • Page 3: CTRL for HDMI – I’ve got that turned off, but it doesn’t seem to do anything.
  • Page 3: HDMI info display. This one’s key – to get the camera screen to display all the status indicators, and get a clean HDMI feed, set this off.

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