You can dress up for your next Zoom meeting all you want, but if you’re using your laptop’s puny webcam, you’re likely to still look foggy or unfocused. Especially if you’re regularly working from home, you probably need something a little better. If you’re new to the world of webcams, though, the vast array of options might be overwhelming. Let’s walk through what kinds of features you need in a webcam, and some of the best options out there.
What to know before buying a webcam
Before you buy a new webcam, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind, starting with:
When it comes to cameras, pixels and resolution matter a lot. This is why your built-in laptop camera feels pixelated. When you’re buying a new camera, 1080p is the baseline. Don’t buy a 720p camera.
If you can afford it, go for a 4K webcam. This will help you better with framing and cropping (if you plan on using the webcam to record videos for YouTube).
Frame rate signifies the smoothness of the video. A 30fps video is pretty good, but a 60fps camera will give you a better, more natural-looking video.
Again, the bigger the lens, the better. A bigger lens means more light reaches the sensor, making you look better. This is called aperture size, and it’s measured in f/(number) format. Most webcams lie in the f/2.0 to f/2.8 range, so you don’t need to worry about it.
Field of view
The lens also determines the field of view. This denotes how much area is captured by the video. A wide field of view will capture a lot more of the room. Webcams usually range between 60 to 90 degrees field of view, and 78 degrees is the most common.
Most inexpensive webcams you’ll find on Amazon are fixed focus. This means if you move your face around, or you lift up your hand to show something, it will not automatically change focus. We would recommend you use a webcam with autofocus for a better experience — most webcams these days offer the feature.
Some budget cameras come with microphones, but you don’t need them. It’s best to use the microphone in your headphones. Many high-end cameras, like the Dell Ultrasharp Webcam, don’t come with mics anymore.
Can you get away without a webcam?
If you can’t find a webcam (because of supply chain issues), or if you just don’t want to spend $50-100, it might be better to use your smartphone than to buy a cheap, no-brand webcam online.
While it can feel like a logistical hassle, using your smartphone as a webcam is fairly straightforward. You can use free software that is available for both iPhone and Android smartphones to connect your phone’s camera as a webcam for any video calling app on your computer. You can even turn your DSLR camera into a webcam.
It’s a good solution in a pinch, but if you’ll be on video calls frequently, an actual webcam will serve you better. Here are our picks.
Best overall webcam: Logitech StreamCam
Logitech is a well-known brand in the webcam industry, and the StreamCam is the cumulation of decades of development. It’s a square, 1080p webcam specially designed for the YouTube generation.
Even in the default settings, it’s great for recording video interviews and podcasts. Plus, it shoots 1080p videos at 60 fps, giving you smoother, natural-looking videos. Because of its unique shape, you can use it to shoot portrait videos as well (for TikTok or Instagram).
StreamCam has a very versatile mounting system, and it comes with a tripod stand.
Best budget webcam: Nexigo N60
If you’re looking for a good camera under $US50 ($69), try out Nexigo’s N60. At $US40 ($56), it’s a basic webcam that has its fundamentals clear. It’s a 1080p webcam that records at 30 fps. But where Nexigo shines is its software. While the camera is basic, the software gets pretty good video quality out of it.
There are a couple of downsides: The 110-degree viewing angle is too wide, and zooming in doesn’t help. Low light performance is OK, at best, and getting good results requires quite a lot of tweaking in the software. But for just $US40 ($56), it’s a good buy.
The most reliable workhorse: Logitech C920x HD Pro
The Original C920 webcam came out in 2012. This webcam series has been going strong for 10 years, and we still feel confident recommending it for your home setup. The reason is simple: It’s an absolute workhorse — you’ll find this camera in practically every office conference room. It doesn’t have the best image quality (the StreamCam will eat it for breakfast), but what it has is reliability and customisation.
The 1080p webcam will record at 30 fps, at 78 degrees field of view, and with autofocus. Once set up, use the Logitech software to tweak the brightness and contrast, and you’re ready to go.
Best midrange option: Razer Kiyo X
Razer, the company behind baller RGB gaming components makes a pretty good webcam for under $US100 ($139). Razer’s Kiyo X is a refined version of their previous Kiyo webcam. They added the X and dropped the microphone and the ring light. But the webcam is still good at what it does, which is image quality.
You get 1080p video at 30 fps, or 720p video at 60fps. It has autofocus, and it comes with a versatile mounting system. Where Razer wins is its video customisation and settings.
Razer is good at balancing whites and the exposure on its own — just give it enough light.
Best 4K high-end webcam: Dell Ultrasharp Camera
If you have the money to spend, and if you’re looking for the best video quality, go for the $US200 ($278) Dell Ultrasharp Camera. The 4K camera lets you shoot high-quality videos directly on your computer, and it lets you zoom in on your face with way-less degradation than a 1080p camera would. It also supports 1080p at 60 or 30 fps if you don’t have the bandwidth to stream 4K video.
The camera doesn’t have a microphone, but as we mentioned above, you don’t really need it. What the camera does have is customisable software that helps you tweak the video quality, and lets you use presets.