If they’re not built-in to the computer and its hardware, webcams tend to sit atop the computer’s monitor or rest on a desk or table beside it. Usually, a USB cable links them to the computer, allowing the user to take advantage of its features. Webcams are most commonly used for personal and professional video calls and conferences and online live streaming, but they can also take and record videos and pictures. Thus, some people use them for home video surveillance, whether for a baby or pet in another room or simply to monitor their computer room or office when not at home. And if you choose to use your webcam to record videos or take pictures at home, they automatically save those recordings to your computer’s hard drive, with no extra uploading time or energy necessary.
Why buy a webcam?
You may feel as if it’s not worth investing in a streaming webcam since most laptops these days come with their own built-in. However, if you have a regular computer monitor or PC rather than a laptop, it probably won’t come with a pre-installed webcam; you’ll have to buy your own if you want to stream video or make video calls on it. Even if you do own a laptop with a built-in camera, using an external, standalone webcam instead allows you to select the quality and features that meet your live streaming or video needs. Plus, they’re easy to upgrade or repair, unlike the built-in cameras that come with most laptops or desktop computers. Many external webcams offer higher-quality picture and resolution than built-in ones. They can have handy extra features like autofocus, extra microphones, or a ring light for superior sound quality and more flattering lighting. This provides a clear, crisper, more professional look for work video meetings or presentations and ensures you look less pixelated on-screen while live streaming or video chatting with a loved one or potential date.
What should you look for in a streaming webcam?
- Picture Resolution: Perhaps the most important factor to consider is the webcam’s resolution. Lower resolution means a grainy picture, so look for a resolution of at least 720p (1280×720). A 1080p (1920×1080) webcam is preferable. Along with resolution, also consider is the frame rate. A slower frame rate, measured as frames per second (fps), may mean that you get a glitchy streaming experience. A minimum of 30 fps is recommended. Also keep in mind that some webcams are more adept at adjusting to quick, sudden movements than others; a model with an autofocus or image stabilization function is convenient in this respect. Others offer color correction, which helps eliminate that annoying blue light appearance that sometimes appears when video chatting at night or in the dark.
- Microphone: Built-in microphones are handy for capturing sound and providing superior audio quality. Some of these built-in microphones also have noise-canceling tendencies to help filter out distracting background noises. Be sure to also consider the microphone’s range, which lets you know how far you can stand from the webcam and still have it pick up your voice.
- Lighting: We’ve all had those video calls where it appears as though every flaw and imperfection on your face is glaringly obvious on-screen. Sufficient and flattering lighting plays a big part in improving your on-screen appearance. Fortunately, many streaming webcams have some sort of built-in lighting features that make it easier to achieve. Some cameras offer automatic low-light correction, so they’ll automatically adjust to dim light if you’re video chatting in a darkened room. Others have ring lights built-in, which photographers have long used to achieve optimal lighting.
Are there any other features worth considering in a streaming webcam?
Be sure to check that any external webcam you buy is compatible with whatever type of desktop or laptop you own; it’s not going to do you any good if you can’t properly connect it to your monitor. Most webcams these days are compatible with both Macs and Windows, but be sure they’ll connect with whichever generation of software your computer has, especially if it’s on the very old or brand new side. Some can also connect directly to different phones or programs commonly used with webcams, like Skype, Zoom, and Youtube. Some even hook up to gaming systems like Xboxes. You’ll also want to ensure the mounting device will fit properly onto your monitor or stand upright if you plan to prop it up on your desk instead. (If it doesn’t stand upright on its own, you may need to invest in a small tripod for it.)
Also consider the webcam’s field of view. A webcam with a wide-angle view will have a broader line of vision. The field of view is usually measured in angles; a 60-degree angle will only really capture whoever is sitting in front of the computer, a 78-degree angle will show two people sitting next to each other on-screen, while 90 degrees and above shows the whole room.
Another handy extra that some webcams come equipped with is privacy covers, which offer an extra layer of cyber protection against hackers when your webcam isn’t in use. They also help keep dust and dirt out of the camera. You can buy your own separately, but it’s nice to have one included with your purchase so you don’t have to spend extra money or worry about buying a privacy cover that properly fits your webcam.
JETAKu Streaming Webcam with Privacy Cover
This high-quality webcam comes with many useful features, most noticeably a built-in privacy cover for safer streaming.
Pros: The video quality on this webcam is smooth and clear (1080p) with a wide 100-degree lens view, and its auto low light correction is powerful and flattering, making this webcam ideal for streamers who want their viewers to see them clearly, even in dimly-lit conditions. It’s compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, Linux, Ubuntu, and Chrome OS, and it works well to live stream on most social media platforms and Xbox One. Its clasp is designed to be universal, so you should be able to clip it atop to pretty much any desktop or laptop. There’s also a tripod slot if you want to mount it upright beside your computer. And a privacy cover comes included with your purchase to help prevent hackers from spying on you through your webcam when it’s not in use.
Cons: This webcam, while providing good resolution, does have a lower frame rate than many similar models. This means it isn’t great at handling sudden movements. It also lacks a zoom feature and color correction; you won’t be able to zoom in or out on your home screen, which can be useful for people doing presentations from home. The low light correction will help some with discoloration, but it’s not as effective in this area as a color correction feature.
Bottom Line: This cover-protected webcam gives you good picture resolution, a full-room view, and a studio-like microphone, and it’s incredibly simple to set up—just plug it into your USB port, and you’re ready to start video chatting, no software required.
Angetube Streaming 1080P HD Webcam
With this handy little webcam, you won't have to invest in a separate ring light, making it an ideal choice for live streaming.
Pros: This is one webcam that was clearly made with live streamers in mind. Not only does it feature a built-in ring light, but the light has three different brightness options. You can easily flip between the levels with just the touch of a button right on the front of the webcam, so it’s speedy and easy to figure out the perfect lighting for your environment. With two internal microphones that pick up your voice from almost 10 feet away and filter out background noise, you should have excellent speech quality and clear audio as well. It’s optimized for connecting with popular streaming platforms like OBS Xsplit and Mixer, and Xbox One for gamers. It’s compatible with both Macs and Windows.
Cons: The autofocus feature does help streamline sudden movements better than some webcams, but this model lacks an image stabilization function, so it’s not the best out there, either. Some users also reported that the webcam’s clip was on the flimsy side and could be easily knocked off the computer. And while this webcam does have a small red light to indicate when it’s turned on, some users found that the light is too weak and hard to see unless you’re staring at the webcam head-on.
Bottom Line: If you’re testing the waters of live streaming, this webcam is an investment well worth trying out. Not only is it small, lightweight, and compatible with many live streaming softwares, but it offers superior lighting and lighting adjustment options compared to many other webcams.
Elgato Full HD Webcam for Video Conferencing
This high-end webcam ensures high-quality picture for video chats, gaming, streaming, and more.
Pros: This is a truly high-end, premium webcam that offers a wide arrange of useful features you’ll be hard-pressed to find in its less expensive cousins. It possesses excellent resolution and frames per second, of course—1080p and 60 fps—but it has more to offer. The studio-quality glass lens is far superior to a plastic lens, and it comes with a zoom in/out feature that many non-premium webcams lack. Other notable functions include a built-in sensor that captures greater details, a fixed focus range, and an internal cooling system. Moreover, if you have a smartphone, you can download the compatible app which allows you to adjust the webcam’s brightness and exposure and can save and remember them, so you won’t have to reset the settings every time you use your webcam.
Cons: Premium products come at a premium price, and this webcam is no exception. You also won’t be able to access some of its premium features if you don’t own a smartphone to access the app, and the settings in the app may take some fiddling and getting used to. The webcam also lacks its own built-in microphone and has a surprisingly limited field of view for a high-end model; it’s maximum angle is 82 degrees, enough to show multiple people sitting in front of a computer but not large enough for conference calls that showcase the full room.
Bottom Line: If you’re willing to spend a little more money on a higher-level webcam, this model is well worth a good long look. It offers a wide range of bonus features and advanced settings that most inexpensive webcams simply can’t match.
eMeet 1080P Webcam with Microphones
If you're looking for a webcam that will get the job done without breaking the bank, you'll love this multifunctional model.
Pros: If you’re looking for a webcam with an extremely simple setup that’s functional for a wide variety of uses, including video conferencing on Skype, Zoom, and YouTube, this 1080p webcam will meet your needs at a reasonable price. It works on Windows and Mac. It also possesses automatic light correction, which ensures you’ll look great on-screen in dimmer or poorly lit environments. The built-in double microphones automatically reduce outside noise and pick up audio more clearly. The webcam also has a privacy cover, an attachment clamp, and tripod compatibility if you prefer it to free stand beside your computer instead.
Cons: While the auto light correction is ideal for dark rooms, you may find that it’s not as great in brightly lit environments and may make you look washed out. Unfortunately, there’s no way to adjust the lighting on the webcam to reduce these impressions. And while this webcam does come with a privacy cover, some users did report issues with finding it and adjusting the privacy settings.
Bottom Line: Technology, especially more modern technology, can be a pricey investment, making it hard to keep up with the latest and greatest innovations if you’re on a tight budget. Fortunately, this high-resolution and highly compatible webcam will meet your video chat and live streaming needs at an affordable price.
Logitech C920x HD Pro Webcam
A highly compatible webcam with fine-tuned lighting adjustment that offers sharp video quality in dimly-lit rooms.
Pros: There’s a lot to love about this little but effective webcam. It can be used for Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and it’s compatible not only with PCs and Macs but with laptops and even tablets as well. It boasts a low-light adjustment feature, ideal for video chats and streaming in poorly lit environments. There’s also an autofocus feature to reduce the risk of blurry images. The built-in dual microphones are noise-canceling, so you don’t have to worry about ambient noise. You even have the option to blur or change your background if wanted.
Cons: The resolution on this webcam is a bit lower at 720p, so there may be times when the on-screen image isn’t quite as sharp or detailed as it could be. Also keep in mind that you can’t really adjust or change the webcam’s viewing angle; some are tiltable on different angles to capture different viewpoints, but this model isn’t one of them.
Bottom Line: If your living space doesn’t offer great natural or overhead lighting options, it can be tricky to find a place for video chatting or live streaming that doesn’t appear too dark or dim on-screen. That’s where this webcam comes in handy, as it’s equipped with a low-light adjustment feature that helps with this particular issue.
The internet and online video has allowed for a more connected, interdependent world than ever before, and webcams play a large role in that. Whether you need to video chat with a co-worker or employer in another part of the country or talk to a loved one overseas, a good webcam allows you to see their face and hear their voice with no more than the touch of a few buttons.