How to choose the best webcam

Increase the image quality of your stream or video meeting with the right webcam

Text:
Daniel Haaf

Thinking about getting a webcam for your computer or laptop? Then you should read our guide below where we’ll go through the most important things to look out for. We’ll give you some recommendations on the best webcams right now, and help you choose the right one. 

We’ll also suggest some practical accessories for your webcam that will give your livestream or video meeting that little bit extra, that will enhance the quality further. Another important thing that you might not know is that you may not have to buy a new webcam at all if you have a newer mobile phone or tablet. We’ll tell you more below.

Some good webcams:

The advantage of using an external webcam 

External webcams have larger camera sensors and better optics than laptops have. The reason for this is that there’s more room for better components and manufacturers don’t have to compromise as much to keep costs down. The better optics let in more light to the camera sensor, and they often have better lenses than a laptop has in its webcam. 

The camera sensor in turn is comparatively large, and can take advantage of more light information, which increases the image quality with less noise in the dark areas. On the whole, an external webcam can provide a much better image quality for a comparatively low cost. 

Another advantage is that an external webcam can be used for more than just one computer. With a USB switch you can quickly change from, for example, your laptop to a desktop, whenever you want.

Four things to bear in mind before you buy a webcam

1. Resolution

The resolution tells you how many pixels the webcam supports in each frame. The higher the resolution, the more detail in the video and the better the sharpness.

  • 720p / HD
  • 1080p / Full-HD
  • 2160p / 4K

Bear in mind that resolution is just one of several factors that affect image quality and how viewers experience the image. One piece of advice is to choose a webcam with a resolution of 1080p as there are many excellent models at a reasonable price.

If you choose a webcam with 720p or 4K, there should be a specific purpose that justifies the purchase. For example, that you want additional functions that are only available on the model you buy, such as built-in ring light or HDR support

2. Number of frames per second / fps 

Webcams record videos at either 30 frames per second or 60 frames per second (fps). What you need depends on whether you are only going to use the webcam for video conferencing or if you want to stream on sites like YouTube and Twitch.

If you only want to use the webcam for video conferencing, 30 frames per second will suffice, but if you are considering streaming, 60 frames per second is good. Bear in mind that 60 frames per second sometimes means that the webcam must lower the resolution to 720p, or HD resolution. It affects the image quality negatively, so it’s a trade-off. Which is more important - high resolution or  smoother imaging?

3. The holder 

Where do you want the webcam to be placed? Many webcams have a special holder that allows them to be mounted on top edge of the screen. There are also models with removable holders so you can choose other, more practical stands for placement to the side of the screen. Ideal if you need to compensate for a window on one side or if you want to use the webcam for streaming while playing. Some webcams, such as Logitech StreamCam, can rotate the image 90 degrees so that the holder can be hung on the short side of the screen.

4. Compatibility

Not all webcams work optimally with all computers and platforms. In some cases, there are so-called universal drivers that give you an image, but without all the setting options that the manufacturer's own drivers and software provide. Check carefully what works with your particular computer and what support the manufacturer provides before you buy your new webcam. 

Be aware that if you want to use your webcam with a game console for streaming, with Xbox, you can use many Windows 10-compatible webcams, but if you have a Playstation console, you must use Sony's own Playstation Camera, except if you connect your game console to a recording card for your computer, and connect your webcam that way.

Practical extra features 

Autofocus: With autofocus, the webcam keeps track of the distance between you and the lens. If you move, the focus is automatically adjusted so that you are always sharp in front of the camera. If you always sit at the same distance, however, it’s better to set a fixed focus that never changes. 

Face tracking: More advanced webcams have software that can identify your face and keep it in focus at all times. A bit like regular autofocus, but at a higher level. Some models can even zoom in on your face and follow it within certain distances. 

HDR: With HDR you get an image where light and dark parts are more evenly illuminated. It’s easier to avoid blown-out highlights or completely black. This feature is currently only available on the most expensive webcams from a small number of manufacturers.

Windows Hello: If you have a Windows 10 computer, you can use a Windows Hello-compatible webcam to log in to the face-detection operating system. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent for macOS at the time of writing. 

Lens protection: Do you find it a little scary to have a webcam right in front of you when you are by the computer? With a built-in lens cover, you can place a physical cover in front of the lens and never risk being seen by mistake. 

Adjustable angle of view: Webcams with adjustable angle of view make it easier to adapt the image for different situations. If you are alone, you can choose a narrower image that focuses entirely on you. If you are two or more, you can instead widen the image angle so that everyone is visible.

Your Android phone or iPhone works as a webcam with the right app. Photo: Daniel Haaf, PriceSpy

Use your existing mobile phone, tablet or camera

If you already have a newer mobile phone, tablet or compact / system camera, you can use it as a webcam. With the right application on your Android phone or iPhone, you can easily turn it into a webcam. Many camera manufacturers have software so that their newer camera models can be used with Windows and macOS, however, far from all cameras are covered. 

The advantages here are that you can use your existing gadget and that the image quality is much better than the webcam in the laptop.

Here are some good links for you who want to use your existing gadgets:

Bear in mind that you may need extra equipment such as a power adapter for your camera and an HDMI cable to get picture and sound to a computer. Don’t forget to read carefully how to connect your gadgets and what is needed.

Webcam with built-in lighting. © Razer

Microphones and light settings

Even if you have a good webcam, it’s difficult to get good image quality if the light in the room is poor. Therefore, you should take a few minutes to think about the lighting.

If you’re sitting in a dark room, extra lamps that, for example, lighten shadows on the face could be a good idea. It works just as well with a cheap IKEA lamp as special ring lights adapted for streaming.

The important thing is that you have even lighting on both sides of the face, to avoid the image being grainy in dark areas, or highlights blown out. 

A very small number of webcams have built-in ring lighting. A popular webcam with ring lighting is the Razer Kiyo. The model is adapted for streaming, but works just as well for the video conference in the office as for the game session you want to upload to Twitch.

If you want to take it all to the next level, look for a good microphone. You can use a gaming headset, your wireless in-ear headphones or an external USB / XLR microphone.

This article is written by Prisjakt's editorial staff. No one else has influenced the content of it. There are no paid links or other types of advertising collaborations. Daniel Haaf can be reached at [email protected]nu.