It is possible to use a Nikon D3500 as a webcam or for real-time capture to a computer. But you'll have to manually reset the…
With so many people working from home these days, there are many people looking for ways to make use of the gear they already have in their office environment. If you’re looking to improve video quality for your Zoom meetings or for recording virtual classroom lessons and already have a Nikon D3500 on hand, here’s how you can put that camera to use.
It is possible to use as the Nikon D3500 as a webcam for Zoom or Skype meetings or for real-time video capture to a computer for recording how-to video tutorials. But it’s not an ideal choice for it, mainly because of a hard-coded maximum 30-minute time-out for the camera’s Live View function. That means that you’ll have to manually reset the Live View every 30 minutes. That’s pretty inconvenient, although it’s not necessarily a dealbreaker for everyone.
So, with that important caveat, it is technically possible to use a Nikon D3500 as a webcam for Zoom or Skype meetings or for real-time video capture to a computer for recording how-to video tutorials. But it’s not quite as simple as just plugging your camera in with a USB cable. Here’s a guide on how to do it and what you’ll need to make it work. It is fundamentally identical to the process of using a Nikon D3300or Nikon D3400 as a webcam.
Many computers these days come with a webcam built-in. On laptops, it’s usually right above the screen, giving you that upward-looking angle. With desktops, some displays have it built-in; on others you need to add a webcam as an external accessory. But the problem with standard webcams is that their quality usually isn’t great, and there’s not a lot of flexibility in using them. They might be in a fixed spot, have fixed field of view, and have fixed focus. But using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera can potentially give you much better quality and much more flexibility than a regular webcam. You’ll still have full control over things like focus, depth-of-field, and zoom, just as you normally would.
You can use your D3500 as a webcam for videoconferencing Zoom meetings or classes. Or for vlog broadcasting from home. Or maybe you’re a teacher wanting to record home-schooling classes or tutorials. Or have a virtual visit with your doctor or family member. Or an artist or craftsperson creating how-to videos. Basically, there are a bunch of different reasons you might be wanting to do this. It is technically doable with a Nikon D3500, with the important caveat I mentioned at the top that you’ll have to manually reset the Live View every 30 minutes.
And there’s another catch. That is that you’ll need an extra accessory to make it work. Specifically, you’ll need:
So there is some cost involved, but it might well be cheaper than buying a new camera for the purpose, and you get the benefit of a lot of extra flexibility.
Once you have that video stream going to the computer, it’s available to your computer as a video input source. That means that you can use your preferred app or service to work with it. None of these require special, dedicated software. I have a few software alternatives below, but I’m focusing here mainly on getting the video stream to your computer so that your software or service can use it, whether that’s Zoom, Skype, VLC, QuickTime, or a high-end video editing suite like Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere Pro.
It’s worth mentioning that this is not quite the same thing as tethered shooting. With tethered shooting, you can connect the camera to a laptop or desktop with either a wired or wireless connection. That lets you control the camera’s settings, remotely press the shutter, and have the images transferred quickly to your computer. They will also give you a live preview feed. In a punch, you might be able to use that for live streaming, but there are two main issues with that. One is that the video feed is often jerky, has a low framerate, and has a lag. All of those things can be distracting. The other issue is that it can be hard to get that video feed available to other apps such as Zoom or Skype. Tethering is especially useful in a studio setting or for macro or product photography. But with live video streaming, which is what I’m focusing on here, you’re sending only video and audio signals from your camera to your computer. There’s usually much less of an issue with lag and jerkiness, and it makes the feed available easily to other apps.2 So tethering and the type of video output I’m focusing on here are similar but not the same.
Video signals in modern cameras are sent over HDMI video cables.3 It’s the standard used for HD TVs, projectors, and screen displays as well. The Nikon D3500 has a built-in HDMI-out port that can send the video signal out of the camera. But most computers can’t take that HDMI video signal as is. (Some laptops have an HDMI-out port, which is useful for connecting a laptop to a projector or display for Powerpoint presentations, but what’s needed here is an HDMI-in, which most computers don’t have as standard.)
So, to get that video signal from your camera to your computer, you’re going to need some hardware: an HDMI video capture device. It’s a small device that sits between your camera and your computer. It takes the HDMI video signal and converts it to a USB signal.
There are a few different HDMI-to-USB converters on the market. In general, they’ll work with any camera or computer or gaming console with HDMI-out, so these aren’t specific to the Nikon D3500. Some that I’ve found to work well and have personally used with the Nikon D3500 are:
My top pick, for a combination of performance, features, and price, is the Elgato Cam Link 4K. There are cheaper and fancier (as well as more expensive options), but this is a good combination. It looks like a slightly oversized USB thumb drive. It plugs directly into your computer. You then use an HDMI cable to connect the camera to the Cam Link.
It doesn’t require an external power source—it draws its power via the computer’s USB connection. It doesn’t come with an HDMI cable, so you’ll have to pick one up separately, but it does include a short USB extension cable, which is handy when you’ve got a crowded row of USB ports on your computer.
The other HDMI-to-USB video converters work fundamentally the same way.
The MavisLink HDMI capture dongle is one I’m including as a budget option that’s readily available (and seems to turn up under different brandnames). It looks very similar to the Elgato and works the same way. I’ve found it to work well enough, but it’s basically a cheap knockoff that is not the same quality as the others I mention here. Most noticeably, the picture quality is much harsher and more contrasty. But it connects and works with the D3500 and will get the job done at a much lower price. You can find them at Amazon.
The input end accepts a full-size (type A) HDMI connector. There are no buttons or switches.
It can accept a 4K30 input, but its maximum output is 1080p30. It’s compatible with Windows, Mac, and Android (but not iOS). And it doesn’t require an external power source. It also doesn’t come with an HDMI cable—you’ll have to pick one up separately.
The Magewell USB Capture HDMI Gen 2 converter is one I’ve covered before. It’s very similar feature-wise, but instead of plugging directly into the camera itself, you use a USB cable to go from the device to your computer.
I’ve been using this capture device for several years; it’s what I’ve used to capture the camera settings menu examples I use on this site. It works very well, and I have no complaints about using it.
There are two reasons it’s not my top pick here. The first is that it doesn’t plug directly into your computer. Or, more precisely, what I mean is that you need to use a separate USB cable to go directly from the capture device to your computer. That adds flexibility in that you can use different kinds of cables, but it’s also another moving piece. By contrast, the other options I’m focusing on here plug in directly without the need for an extra USB cable.
The second reason is the price. It’s a very good product, but you pay a premium price for it. In terms of what you get, it’s hard to justify paying double the price of the Elgato Cam Link 4K for this kind of use.
In addition to requiring a separate USB cable, this one is a little larger than the others mentioned here. A USB cable plugs in one side, and an HDMI cable plugs in the other. It doesn’t require a separate power source.
The Nikon D3500 uses a Type C Mini HDMI connector.
You’ll also need an HDMI cable. This is the type of cable that transmits video and audio signals. It’s possible that your capture card will include the right cables in the box, but don’t count on them being included. And the cable you have on hand to connect a DVR or BluRay player to your TV probably won’t work because it doesn’t have the right connector on one end. So you’ll probably have to pick one up separately.
Just like with USB, there are a few different sized plugs for HDMI, and you just have to make sure you get the right cable for your camera.
For the Nikon D3500, that means one with a Type C Mini HDMI connector on one end (for the camera) and a Type A HDMI connector on the other (for the capture device). Note that there are also HDMI to USB Type C connectors—they’re not the same thing. When searching for the ones you need, they’re most often listed as “HDMI to Mini-HDMI cables,” and you can often find them in lengths ranging from 3 feet to 15 feet. There is no need to invest in one of the super-expensive HDMI cables that some brands offer. You can also get bidirectional cables, which are often more expensive—you don’t need one of those for this purpose since the signal is in only one direction.
Once you have the necessary hardware, it’s a pretty straightforward process to get up and running, but there are a few things to watch out for and tweak.
Connect the HDMI capture device to one of your computer’s USB ports.
It’s best to use one of the computer’s own USB ports rather than through a USB hub (especially an unpowered one). That reduces the risk of power or connectivity problems.
With the camera powered off, connect the HDMI cable to the capture device (the larger connector goes into the device) and the camera’s HDMI port.
Tip: If the video feed doesn’t show up, make sure you connected with the camera turned off. I’ve found that it sometimes doesn’t switch over properly if you connect with the camera powered on.
You’ll have to put the D3500 in LiveView mode. If you don’t, it will only show the menus on the screen, not the through-the-lens view. On the D3500, the Live View mode is toggled on and off using the small LV lever on the top around the shooting mode dial.
In whatever software you’re planning to use, change the video source and audio source to the capture device. Precisely how you do that varies by software or service. Here are some of the common ones:
Settings (the cog icon at top right) > Video > Camera. From the drop-down list, select the one matching your capture device (it won’t be named after the camera)
Settings > Audio + Video > Camera.
File > New Movie Recording. Then change the video and audio input sources by clicking on the small down arrow to the right of the red record button.
File > Open Capture Device.
video icon > Video Connection > click on the drop-down menu.
Once you can see the camera’s output on the screen, there are some things you can tweak.
The first is the timer for the automatic-off for the Live View function. By default, it’s set to 10 minutes. You can increase that up to 30 minutes (I’m not aware of overriding that any further and increasing that time).
You can find this setting under
Settings > Auto Off Timers > Custom > Live View > 30m.
The next settings you might want to tweak are the output resolution and framerate settings. On the D3500, the HDMI settings are in the menu system under the Setup Menu, then scroll down to:
Setup Menu > HDMI.
There you can set the resolution/framerate output and the device control.
For the output resolution,
Auto is a good place to start and will work in most cases. If you need to tweak it for some reason, there are some other options as well where you can reduce the size or choose an interlaced version rather than the typical progressive. But, if in doubt, start with Auto.
You’ll notice another setting under the HDMI settings. That’s Device Control. It refers to being able to use a TV remote to control playback via the HDMI-CEC standard. And it’s only relevant if you’re connecting your camera to a TV or display to play back directly from the camera. So you can safely ignore it for our purposes here.
One other thing you’ll probably want to tweak is the display style. When you first connect it up, you might see icons and status displays around the image. You can get rid of those to get a clean live view by pressing the
info button on the back of the camera near the viewfinder. Each time you press it, it’ll cycle through a short selection of different versions of the screen, and one of them is a clean video feed with no extra information on-screen. Note that this is not the same as the
i button further down near the
OK button—they don’t do the same thing.
Once you’ve changed the Live View auto-off setting to 30 minutes, you’ll still need to manually keep it active every 30 minutes.
You’ll get a small 30-second countdown as it leads into the auto-off. It shows on-screen (and will show on the video feed). Like this:
You don’t need to turn the Live View on and off to reset the clock. You can tap just about any button, and it will gracefully reset the clock without blacking out the feed. The two options for doing that that I’ve found that are least likely to have any effect or interruption are to tap:
You can also lightly tap the shutter with a half-press, but this risks throwing off the focus.
If you forget to keep Live View active, it will automatically black out the video feed but won’t cut it off. What I mean by that is that viewers won’t be able to see you, but it shouldn’t disconnect you from the meeting session.
With that setup, you’re good to go for basic video streaming. There are some other optional extras that can improve the experience of using your DSLR as a webcam.
One important consideration is keeping the camera powered. The HDMI port does not convey power, and you can’t power the D3500 with the USB port. For short sessions, you can run the camera from its regular battery. For longer or more frequent recording, you might want to look at connecting the camera to an external power source.
With the Nikon D3500, you’ll want what’s known as a dummy battery with an AC power adapter. In this case, you’re looking for an EN-EL14 dummy battery replacement. This goes in the camera in place of the regular battery. It has a cable running out of it that you then connect to an external power source such as an AC outlet or car charger.
There are a number of different ones available. They all do basically the same thing, but some don’t come with an AC adapter included. So that’s something to watch for when choosing one (you can still add an AC adapter to the others, but you’ll have to pick that up separately).
The microphone built into the Nikon D3500 is OK but not great. The microphone on the D3500 is behind the two dots just below the “D3500” badge on the front.
The single best thing you can do to get better sound quality in your recordings is to add an external microphone.
With many cameras, there are two ways to go here. One is to add an external microphone to the camera. The other is to run the external microphone directly to your computer.
But the Nikon D3500 doesn’t have an input for an external microphone, so you’re limited to connecting a microphone directly to your computer and running the audio as a separate stream. That ultimately gives you more control and flexibility, but it also introduces some extra complexity in synching the audio with the video. The simplest option in this scenario is to make sure that your audio source and video sources are each set independently in the input settings of your software or service.
There’s a huge range of microphones that can work well for this, and covering them is far beyond the scope of this post. With the boom in podcasting in the last few years, there has been a corresponding boom in equipment for it. So you can get high-quality podcasting microphones. But you can also keep things simpler (and cheaper) with more basic models. After all, it’s something you can upgrade later if you want.
Lighting. Lighting can be tricky. If you have the D3500 in any of the auto-exposure modes (P, S, A), it will adjust automatically for the available light. But a better-lit scene will still look more professional than when you’re talking from the shadows.
If the whole scene is too light or too dark, you can still use the D3500’s exposure compensation slider to brighten or darken the whole scene. You can also set a manual exposure for even finer control.
That said, it’s usually better to start with decent lighting. You usually want the light source in front of you, not behind you.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and you can probably get good results from what you have before investing in more lighting gear. It might be natural window light (face the window or have it to a side from a front angle rather than have your back to it), a desk lamp (in front of you, slightly off to the side), or room lights (turn them on). In general, more light is better than less, and dispersed light or multiple light sources will help minimize harsh shadows.
Mounting. While it’s convenient to just set the camera on top of the computer or on your desk, that limits the angle of view and tends to emphasize every little bump or keystroke. So, for better quality, you’ll probably want the camera standing separately or at least on some kind of absorbing layer. Aside from that, you can use any of the usual photography mounts or other photography tripods—there’s nothing specific about this use that requires a specialized type of mount.
You can use any of the regular shooting modes. P is probably the most logical place to start.
If you’re using Windows, there’s another option that might be worth trying if you’re willing to tinker with beta software. Its less-well-tested for now, and your mileage might vary. The developer of digiCamControl tethering software has released digitCamControl Virtual Webcam software that is designed to let your DSLR emulate a webcam. The Nikon D3500 is listed as compatible. As a tethering approach, it might suffer from lag and jerky framerate—common issues with cameras tethered to computers—but it’s definitely worth a try if you’re looking for another option. One potentially very useful feature is that it’s designed to automatically restart the Live View when it times out.
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I've put together a number of resources related to the Nikon D3500.