Use Your Phone As A Webcam, No Special Apps Required

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Use Your Phone As A Webcam, No Special Apps Required
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These days of all teleconferencing, all the time have prompted many a post filled with different techniques you can use to turn an old Android smartphone or iPhone into a webcam. Far be it from me to crap on a good hack, but, well, I don’t think most people need to fuss with a special app in order to webcam-ify a phone. Here’s why.

If you want to use your smartphone as a webcam, it’s because your laptop or desktop doesn’t have one or the one that it does have is broken. (If it’s the former, that’s strange: Where did you acquire this ancient, feature-light device?)

Thanks to the quarantine-induced run on webcams, it’s difficult, but not impossible, to get your hands on a decent webcam for your various virtual chats. That, and you’re probably pondering why you should pay extra for a camera when you have an old phone sitting around with a built-in camera works just fine. I get it. But.

Why not buy a cheap-arse webcam?

Realistically, it’s a lot easier to get a mediocre webcam that will plug into your computer via USB and require next to no extra setup on your part. It’s true that a lot of the baller models are sold out right now, but you can still find some $50-80 webcams that will do exactly what you need: namely, splash a moving image of your face inside your next video chat. They won’t make you look amazing, but does it really matter that much when everyone will probably be staring at an inch-by-inch box of your head in a 30-person video call?

I normally don’t advocate for the expensive solution when a free one exists—using your Android to act as a webcam for your device, for example—but in this case, buying a cheap webcam is easy AF. Heck, you can probably even eBay an older webcam for a less-than-new price. Toss $30 or $50 at this temporary problem caused by your newfound work-from-home life and you’ll be set until your quarantine lifts.

Forget apps that stream your phone’s signal as a “webcam”

If do you go the other route and try to use your Android as a webcam, for example, I don’t think it’s worth messing with apps like DroidCam, which is limited to 480p video for the free version. (Unless you buy the app for $8, which unlocks 720p recording)

Instead, why not just install the app for whatever video chat service you’re trying to access directly on your phone? Who needs a fancy “stream your phone as a webcam to your computer” app when you can just… install Zoom on your phone?

You can then set your phone on your desk and point its rear-facing camera your way (or buy a mount that makes that process much easier, and which can then be repurposed to improve your photos in non-video chat scenarios and even with other devices).

The pitfalls to this technique are that you’re going to want to stay unmuted the entire time you’re in the chat (or use a video chat service that can automatically mute you when you’re not making audible noise.) Otherwise, you’ll have to use your phone’s crappier front-facing camera so you can tap mute on and off on the screen. If you’re just one tiny head in a tiny box in a gigantic group call sea of them, that’s not the biggest concern.

Don’t worry, you can still screen-share

“But wait,” you ask. “What if I have to present my laptop or desktop screen as part of the video chat? I should go through the annoying process of setting up my Android as a webcam then, right?”

Nah.

Here’s the genius move: dial into the meeting with whatever video chat app you’re using on your phone. That’s your mic and camera. Dial into the meeting again on your muted desktop or laptop, and that’s your screen-sharing device. Easy.

Is this more or less complicated than setting up an app like DroidCam? I would say it’s slightly easier and is going to give you higher-quality results, even though it’s going to require a little coordination on your part. Honestly, I’ve found that most people care more about the quality of a person’s mic in a video chat than what their face looks like. I can forgive ugly visuals; I can’t forgive someone sounding like they’re speaking through a bag of cotton balls.

Let’s recap

Instead of fussing with apps that let you turn your old phone into a webcam (which you likely have to pay for, and then fuss around with), I recommend:

Buying a super-cheap webcam

The easiest, but not cheapest solution. You don’t need something fancy if people just want to see your pretty face in a Zoom room full of 75 others. (Heck, you might not even need to enable video, period.) Take the money and time you’ve saved and rethink your audio setup. Here’s where you’ll want to spend your efforts, because nobody cares how you look if they can’t understand you.

Use the app for your video chat services + a tripod

Fire up your video conference, spin your phone around, set it on your desk (or on a tripod on your desk) and let ‘er rip. You don’t need a fancy webcam, even though you’ll wish you had an easier way to mute and unmute on your calls.

Use the app for your video chat services + dial into your meeting on your computer or laptop

This is the best of both worlds, if you ask me. Sure, you’re duplicating yourself in the video chat, but now you can share your screen on your desktop or laptop (and see what your phone’s camera sees, for any setup adjustments you need to make). You don’t need to fiddle with a fancy app—just sign in twice.


Of course, all this advice goes out the window if you’re trying to, say, layer a view of your webcam overtop your Twitch stream or something. Then, use all the apps you want—or wait for a quality webcam to come back in stock.

I think this is the rare exception, however; for most people, your phone’s app should be sufficient for showing your face in meetings. You can use its rear-facing camera to look better (and watch everyone else on a secondary laptop or desktop that’s also in the call) or simply use its front-facing camera and deal with it. Easy as that.

Comments

  • I hear ya, but I respecfully disagree.

    I’ve took the plunge with iVcam for Android (there’s also an iOS version) and at the tiny cost of $10, I now have a 4k webcam that I can use wirelessly or tethered via USB (usually required for the higher resolution and framerate options).

    One caveat is that you also need their virtual sound card app, VSC, to use your phone’s microphone for audio, which is another $30. Of course, like most people seem to do, you can use a headset and save the $30 for a takeaway dinner for 2.

    This all compared to any retail 4k web cam, is a steal.

    Bonus tip, I’ve cut an old mobile phone case in half and Command Stripped it to the back of my monitor to mount the phone when I’m using it during a video conference.

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