USB Webcams are Sold Out. Here Is How to Use Your iPhone Instead

Maker News Technology
USB Webcams are Sold Out. Here Is How to Use Your iPhone Instead

Pandemics apparently bring out some odd shopping tendencies and supply chain breakdowns. First the stores ran out of toilet paper. Then they ran out of yeast. And now, with everyone telecommuting to work and school, there’s a shortage of USB webcams, with many people doubling (or quadrupling) the price of what they still have in stock.

I need a 2nd camera, but not being able to buy one, I’ve spent the last couple days looking for an option using the supplies I have on hand. One of those, a $20, hacked-apart Logitech webcam that I use for Octoprint monitoring, could suffice, but its image quality is really poor and washed out. It would be a bad experience for a viewer to see me switching between my laptop camera and that one during a broadcast.

I also have an old iPhone 5s on my desk that I periodically tinker on, and with its decent camera, I began to think that there could be a way to set it up as a 2nd USB camera too. I did some googling and found a couple options — one that lets you set up your iPhone to use with OBS (a free but powerful broadcasting software package). Problem for me is that it costs $16 to add the phone functionality (cheap, but not cheap enough for me to test for viability), and OBS introduces more complexity than what I’m aiming for.

A second option I looked at, EpocCam, is free, but my initial attempts to get it working yesterday evening were met with failure, so much so that I started to wonder if it’s just malware in disguise.

But I came back to EpocCam this morning with a twitter search to see what others were saying about it. There were enough people endorsing it, some less than an hour before my search, that I figured I was simply doing something wrong. I installed and uninstalled repeatedly for an hour. Finally I reached out to what seemed to be a trustworthy poster for some help.

I tried the restart, and it worked. Suddenly I had two cazmera options on my laptop, one of them my old iPhone. Now I’m set to go for a fun Family Maker Camp broadcast/build next week (please tune in!)

Here’s how to set it up, with a few important notes in bold that the EpocCam instructions omit for some reason:

  1. Download the EpocCam app from the app store (I’m using the free version, which puts a watermark on the image and restricts you to 640×480 resolution; the $7.99 HD version lets you go up to 1080p and show a full 16:9 widescreen perspective). The app lets you do a wireless or USB-tethered connection.
  2. Download and install the EpocCam driver for your computer (OSX 10.12+ or Windows 7+).
  3. IMPORTANT: Restart your computer.
  4. The camera streaming function doesn’t work until you open a streaming video app (Important note: Zoom’s latest security update has broken its compatibility with EpocCam, so this will only work on Zoom if you have an old version installed, or when they fix this issue). It works fine on my old installation of Zoom on my personal laptop, Hangouts, and on Jitsi.
  5. Open the EpocCam app on your phone. You’ll have to leave it running to keep the stream going.

I learned a few other things along the way:

-For the iPhone, minimum requirements are iOS 10.3+ and an iPhone 5s or newer (I mistakenly had thought my phone was an iPhone 5 when I published this. Apologies to anyone that tried it but couldn’t install.)

-If you have any troubles, try restarting your app. Worse than that, reboot the phone and computer.

-WiFi actually seems to work better in my tests, but you may want to play with this.

-I ended up paying for the HD version but mostly am only able to get it to connect at 720p. I’ll update if I figure out how to force it to do 1080p. Still, 720p is pretty good for a 2nd overhead camera.

-If you have an old Zoom installation and can use this, you can switch cameras pretty quickly on a Mac by pressing Command-Shift-N

-There’s an Android version available (WiFi only); I tried it with a very cheap, old Motorola and it took numerous tries to connect, then was a bit laggy. Not sure if it’s the phone’s fault, or the app.


There are likely various PC options for this as well — if you know any that you like, shoot us a tweet!

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Mike Senese

Mike Senese is a content producer with a focus on technology, science, and engineering. He served as Executive Editor of Make: magazine for nearly a decade, and previously was a senior editor at Wired. Mike has also starred in engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, fixing cars, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza. You might spot him at his local skatepark in the SF Bay Area.

View more articles by Mike Senese


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