Mediocre zoom
January 19, 2021 10:13 PM   Subscribe

I want low quality videoconferencing experience.

I have a lot of awful meetings now and I just don't want to appear crystal clear on my webcam. I'd prefer that my camera were of serviceable but grainy quality, especially for big meetings where my camera is required to be on only for asinine reasons. I want to be there, but not in high definition 1080p full color clarity.

Does anyone have suggestions for a webcam setup that will work with Zoom, but not work well? My laptop is a newer macbook and has usb C ports. The camera is of excellent quality. I have a feeling that a low quality webcam set up farther away from my face would be a great option, but would like specific recommendations for cameras or for camera placements that will make me less legible on screen.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A piece of clear sticky tape over the webcam?
posted by kickingtheground at 10:17 PM on January 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Try to arrange a situation when you are backlit. I sat with my back to a window today and my MacBook Pro gave me a decent “incognito interview” look.
posted by oxisos at 10:29 PM on January 19, 2021 [16 favorites]

The macbook camera is not all that great to begin with. Almost any standalone camera will be much better quality. But to get the absolute least from it, make sure you have insufficient lighting. That will make you grainier and for sure look worse. I tried out a piece of packing tape over mine, like kickingtheground suggested and it made it just a touch blurry - but I got notably worse results by sticking the packing tape to my nose for a second before sticking it to the camera, so it's got a nice layer of nose oil on it.
posted by aubilenon at 10:31 PM on January 19, 2021 [8 favorites]

Teens are reportedly using filters to achieve a similar effect, or even funnier a fake-glitchy effect (so they can plausibly say they didn’t hear the teacher call on them). Sorry I don’t know what terms, or where, to search. But kids are inventive!
Ask one of them!
posted by mahorn at 10:33 PM on January 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Well, speaking from experience, if you have no natural daylight and warm low lighting, you will look positively orange and very grainy. I am teaching night classes over Zoom for the first time this semester, and for my first class I looked so orange and grainy I had to change to a room with cooler lighting. The next Zoom was such an improvement my students actually commented that I was not orange any more.

So swap out your bulbs from cool lighting to warm, close all your blinds so you don’t have any natural lighting helping you look better. Sit with your back to the light source and voila! You’ll be a dark orange grainy mess.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:23 AM on January 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

Lowest-resolution USB webcam I can find on Amazon is 720p. (The Logitech C270, which I have and actually like, though my goal is to be MORE visible, not less.) You'd need a USB hub or some other way to convert it to a USB-C connection. Most everything else is 1080p.

eBay turned up some lower-resolution cameras, but again, you'd have to hunt for something that's not 1080p. (There are search options for 640x480, 800x600, etc., but those seem not to work as they were still bringing up listings for 1080p cameras.) You'll need to look for stuff that's used, discontinued, and as old as possible. After flipping through a few pages I found a Logitech C110 that supposedly has a maximum video call resolution of 640x480, so I'm sure you can turn up something similar.
posted by commander_fancypants at 12:29 AM on January 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Try to arrange a situation when you are backlit. I sat with my back to a window today and my MacBook Pro gave me a decent “incognito interview” look.

Yes, if your camera doesn't have good exposure settings, a bright background (window, or a white wall lit by outside light) will turn you into a dark silhouette as the camera tries to deal with all the bright light from behind you.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:22 AM on January 20, 2021

You're supposed to be able to turn off HD in Zoom, though that's probably still not going to get you to actual graininess.

Applications for controlling the camera color settings could help you wash out the colors, but I have no recommendations for macs.

Can personally vouch for low light... and for using a 10-year-old laptop.
posted by trig at 3:19 AM on January 20, 2021

I stick blu tac over the camera lens overnight then remove it when ready. It leaves a very fine matte-yet-greasy residue that comes off easily enough if you ever need it to, and adds enough distortion to hide my disdain.
posted by mani at 3:48 AM on January 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you can arrange your room to somehow include a part with bright light and a part with lower light, and then sit in between, Zoom’s light adjustment will struggle to figure out which settings to use. I do this unintentionally; I have an L-shaped room where the lamp is on one side of the L.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:29 AM on January 20, 2021

I would advise against this. I feel your pain but it almost certainly looks weird, I know from experience. Better off getting a webcam and placing it in an elevated position.
posted by geoff. at 5:28 AM on January 20, 2021

My old Thinkpad X220 has a pretty terrible webcam (720p I think, and just generally terrible.) Old thinkpads can be had cheaply but of course might come with other issues.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:15 AM on January 20, 2021

Agree with those who say you can do this just with lighting! I often end up backlit for afternoon meetings, which works. Extremely under-lit is good too.
posted by mskyle at 6:28 AM on January 20, 2021

Another low tech option is to touch the side of your nose with your finger and touch your camera with the same finger. The oils from your skin on the camera will give a slight blur and coupled with backlighting, looks pretty awful.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 8:19 AM on January 20, 2021

I believe that Elizabeth Taylor's "white diamonds" ads toward the end of her life were famously using a very ting layer of Vaseline smeared on the camera lens to soften and smooth her appearance. That should be a reasonably safe thing to do, as long as the vaseline was VERY thin and you don't have any holes on the front of your camera that might get gunked up.

Alternately, just buy the cheapest webcam off amazon?
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:35 AM on January 20, 2021

I have a whole box of webcams dating back to the late 90s. If you have any nerd friends, one of them might be able to hook you up with an ancient webcam. Throw in a USB C->A adapter and it should work with your computer. I dug one of them out of the box - which I bought on clearance in 2010 - and use it for Zoom on my Windows PC. It reliably gives me mediocre quality.
posted by Hatashran at 9:13 AM on January 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I ended up setting up a guest wifi network with speeds *just* low enough that my video gets pixely, but audio is still fine. Works well for when I'm not feeling like being in high res.
posted by nixxon at 9:29 AM on January 20, 2021

If it's enabled, I often use the black and white video filter (it's called "noir") because I think I look less frightening.
posted by Mngo at 10:09 AM on January 20, 2021

I have a brand-new external webcam that has a manual focus knob. You won't look glitchy, but you'll be out of focus if you want!
posted by rikschell at 11:44 AM on January 20, 2021

Recently the Open Broadcast System added native support for presenting its output as a virtual webcam on OSX. It's got all sorts of filters you could use to mess with your video. I learned this accidentally, but picking a resolution that Google Hangouts is not expecting caused my no end of problems - to other people on the call my video and audio was was hanging. Maybe zoom has similar issues?
posted by phil at 12:57 PM on January 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I love nixxon's idea. But you'll have to drop pretty low.

Some ideas

- Make sure Zoom has the "HD Camera" switch OFF!
- Third party tool (you'll have to pay for, but can trial) Reintubate Camo. Uses your iPhone. Wired, but you can connect it up and tell it to output a much lower virtual camera. Seriously 480x360 and lower are choices. The free version does a max of 720 (and will go lower - but you can't turn off the Watermark.
- You could use snap camera (from the makers of snapchat, free). Snap camera has an infinite set of filters, and if you're inclined, I just checked and they have some slight defocus/grunge filters.
- Last, iGlasses (paid) you can lower the sharpness.
posted by filmgeek at 2:25 PM on January 20, 2021

Get an old external iSight and connect it by kludging together multiple adapters. The only thing that changes about that recipe now is that you have to add an Apple Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 USB-C adapter on the end.

This is actually what I do for my video for work, because I like the style of the external iSight and the video is good enough; its relative blurriness almost creates a soft-focus effect that I don't mind. But yeah, you can also make it glitch out pretty good if you accidentally (or deliberately) mess with any of the connecting pieces. Bonus: In macOS Catalina, if you unplug that chain of adapters and plug it back in, sometimes it just doesn't work at all until you restart, something about the USB controller having issues. These things bug me, though not enough to change—but for you, they'd be perfect!
posted by limeonaire at 5:27 PM on January 20, 2021

Oh, and don't use Snap Camera for this, because it will in some cases show a yellow-and-black loading icon, a yellow outline around your video, a yellow icon at lower right, or even all yellow if it glitches out like mine did recently. It's likely to be really obvious that you're using it, increasing your chances of being called out for any video issues.
posted by limeonaire at 5:33 PM on January 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

i would also vote for an even cheaper no-brand china oem webcam. OR a piece of smudgy/matt plastic in front of the lens plus poor lighting, if it doesn't impact your quality of work.
posted by cendawanita at 6:55 PM on January 20, 2021

I asked this question recently.
posted by oceano at 11:42 PM on January 20, 2021

You can usually FORCE a resolution inside the Zoom app that's more grainy than the default one.

You can also use poor lighting on your desk which would definitely add to the graininess.
posted by kschang at 5:29 PM on January 22, 2021

The Logitech webcam I stole from my office (I think the model is C200, or at least it looks very similar) has a lens you can turn to focus it. A half turn in either direction makes me pretty damn blurry.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:46 AM on January 25, 2021

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