July 26, 2022
If you want to use a dslr, mirrorless or vlogging camera to record video, live stream, or take calls on your Mac, you’ll most likely need to connect it via a video capture card.
Some cameras do have a clean USB output so you can connect directly to your computer but these cameras can be expensive and the USB connection can often cause frame rate and latency issues.
An HDMI capture device will give you a more stable image and can be used with the vast majority of modern cameras, including more affordable vlogging cameras like the Sony ZV-1.
Choosing the right capture card
If you’ve ever searched for “capture cards” on Amazon, you’ll know there’s A LOT of options out there and, as with most video production gear, they vary in quality and price.
The industry standard these days is the Elgato Cam Link 4K. The Cam Link will give you a stunning image but it only comes with USB-A so, if you have a modern Mac, that means you’ll need a hub or adapter to connect. And, with a price tag of almost $130, it can feel like a lot of money, especially if you’re just starting out with video production.
There are, however, a ton of more affordable options online — some for as little as $20. These generic capture cards come in all shapes and sizes but, for the most part, they’re all basically identical inside. Here are a few of the cheaper capture cards we’ve tried in our tests:
Generic capture card vs the Cam Link 4K
So how do these more affordable capture cards stack up against Elgato’s offering? Here’s a side by side comparison:
As you can see, with the generic capture card, the image is a lot more saturated and a little more compressed but this is still a really decent picture, especially for the price. You can get a clean, stable 30 FPS, 4K image that looks better than almost any webcam on the market.
The next question is — can you change your camera settings to improve the image from a generic capture card and get something that’s closer to the Cam Link 4K? Let’s find out!
Improving the image of generic capture cards
Most cameras that offer a clean HDMI out also include settings for tweaking that image. In our case, we’re using a Sony camera which includes settings for customizing colors, including saturation.
We dropped the saturation by -4 to get a much more toned down image that looks a lot more natural. Of course, depending on your camera, your available settings and ranges may vary so we recommend playing around with the image until you get something you like.
Almost every camera has settings to tweak the output colors. Typically, you can find these settings in a menu called Color Profile, Creative Look, Picture Profile, or Picture Styles.
Check out the images below to see a side-by-side comparison of the before and after image using the cheaper capture card as well as the tweaked capture card vs the Elgato Cam Link.
As you might have expected, the Elgato Cam Link still has the edge on the more affordable options but when you consider the difference in price, the image you can get from a ~$20 capture card and a little bit of refinement is great value for money. If you’re shooting video on a budget, or you’re just starting out, we definitely recommend getting your hands on one of these generic capture cards.