Best webcam 2021: Top choices for WFH video calls | ZDNet
Millions of people turned to video-conferencing apps to keep in touch with family and friends during lockdowns. Video calls have been vital for businesses too, allowing staff to maintain contact with colleagues and clients while working from home. And even when lockdown restrictions are a thing of the past, video calls will be a core element of hybrid working practices going forward.
Most laptops and all-in-one desktop PCs now include a built-in webcam, so it’s not essential to buy any additional equipment for video calls. However, those built-in cameras do tend to be fairly basic, with moderate resolution and image quality, a limited viewing angle, and few controls. Business users who want to project a more professional image can benefit from a dedicated webcam that delivers a better image, as well as a high-quality microphone and other features.
Cheaper webcams tend to offer 720p resolution (1280×720 pixels) and some of the better 720p cameras do provide perfectly good image quality. Increasingly, though, high-definition cameras are becoming the norm, offering ‘1080p’ (1920×1,080) or even 4K (4096×2,160) resolution. Other features to think about include an adjustable stand that allows you to tilt and swivel the camera, a wide-angle lens, and a noise-cancelling microphone.
Most webcams use a standard USB connection, so they’re compatible with both PCs and Macs, and can generally be used with standard video apps such as Skype and Zoom. However, Mac users should also check to see if the camera requires a special app from the manufacturer that provides additional features.
As the rather long-winded name suggests, the Brio Ultra HD Pro is Logitech’s top-of-the-range personal webcam for business users (there’s another model called the Brio Stream, which looks virtually identical, but is aimed at gamers).
It’s packed with features, including a high-quality glass lens that supports full 4K (4096×2160) resolution with HDR (High Dynamic Range) for optimum picture quality. You’ll need a PC or Mac with USB 3.0 or USB-C in order to use the 4K mode, but the camera also offers 1080p and 720p modes for older computers as well.
The Brio provides three viewing angles, with 65-degree designed for simple head-and-shoulders shots, while 78-degree can fit another person into the image, and 90-degree provides a wider view of the room for presentations and demos. There’s also a 5X digital zoom available, although this only works when using 1080p resolution, along with a privacy shutter, dual noise-cancelling microphones, and optical and infrared sensors that support Windows Hello for extra security.
Logitech’s webcams are primarily intended for personal use, but the company also makes a number of ‘ConferenceCams’, such as the Connect, which are more versatile.
The cylindrical Connect is designed to sit on a desk, rather than being attached to a computer screen, but you can pan and tilt the glass lens using the handheld remote control (which also covers the lens for privacy when the Connect isn’t in use). The camera provides 1080p and 720p video modes, with 4X digital zoom, and its 90-degree field of view is good for stepping back and giving presentations, or covering small groups in an office.
There are two internal microphones, and the Connect can also work as a speakerphone for audio calls, using Bluetooth to connect to your mobile devices. It even includes a rechargeable battery so that you can quickly pick it up and carry it from room to room, allowing you to use it as a standalone speakerphone without requiring a USB connection to your PC or Mac.
Logitech has been in the webcam business for decades, and its current range covers everything from low-cost cameras for home users right up to boardroom video-conferencing systems costing thousands of pounds. But if you’re after an affordable business-quality webcam, then the C930e is a good place to start.
Equipped with a high-quality glass lens, the C930e delivers 1080p resolution – which can be scaled down to 720p if required – and a 90-degree viewing angle with auto-focus, so that you can step back to a whiteboard for presentations if need be. There’s also 4X digital zoom for close-up work, dual microphones and a privacy shutter in case you’ve just stumbled out of bed in the morning.
You can tilt and swivel the camera on its adjustable stand, which can be clipped onto a laptop or external monitor. There’s a tripod connector too, although you’ll need to provide the tripod yourself.
The Kiyo webcam was one of the products that helped Razer expand out of its traditional gaming market, gaining good reviews that helped to attract many people who are now working from home.
It’s no surprise, then, that Razer has now followed up with the Kiyo Pro. Some have been disappointed that the Kiyo Pro sticks with the same 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080) as its predecessor, while increasing the price to $199. However, Razer has added new features that ensure the Kiyo Pro can cope with the varied and unpredictable lighting conditions of a home office.
The scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass lens can record 1080p video at 30fps with HDR to provide stronger colours and contrast, or it can step up to 60fps — without HDR — for smooth, sharp animation. The lens provides three different viewing angles, and also includes an adaptive light sensor designed to cope with low-light conditions.
Unfortunately, Razer’s Synapse software, which controls the camera settings, isn’t available on the Mac, so the Kiyo Pro is currently Windows-only.
Lenovo’s handy little VOIP 360 Camera Speaker seems to have been discontinued, but the company recently launched a new range of ThinkSmart collaboration devices that includes a variety of video and audio devices for home and office use.
The ThinkSmart View is an unusual option for video calls, effectively acting as a self-contained terminal. The all-in-one unit combines a touch-sensitive 8-inch screen with 1280 by 800 resolution, a 5MP camera, twin microphones and a built-in speaker. And rather than using USB to connect directly to your computer, it uses wi-fi to connect to your home or office network. It also supports Bluetooth so you can use a wireless headset or external speakers if you want.
Aver’s Cam340+ that we covered last year provides 4K resolution and an impressive wide-angle lens, but it’s fairly expensive, so the company recently released the Live Streamer Cam 513 to provide a more affordable alternative.
The Live Streamer Cam 513 costs $250 when bought direct from AverMedia in the US, but we’ve seen it for sale online for under $200. Despite the lower price, the Live Streamer still provides 4K (3840 x 2160) resolution to provide a clear, sharp image. It doesn’t have the wide-angle lens of the Cam340+, but AverMedia states that its 94-degree field of view is suitable for small groups of up to four people in a huddle room, and the adjustable stand also allows you to rotate the camera freely.
The camera does require a USB 3.0 or USB-C port in order to handle 4K streaming and, somewhat oddly, AverMedia reports ‘video delay’ when used with macOS that might cause syncing problems, so the LiveStreamer may not be the best choice for your new candy-coloured iMac (or any other Mac model).
ClearOne’s Unite range includes an extensive selection of webcams, starting at around $65 for the 1080p Unite 10 and rising to over $1,500 for the 1080p Unite 200 PTZ with its mechanical pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) functionality and powerful 12x optical zoom lens. The new Unite 50 4K AF is a 4K camera with electronic PTZ (ePTZ) that’s suitable for both huddle rooms and working from home.
As the name suggests, the Unite 50 4K AF provides 4K resolution (3840 x 2160), while the ‘AF’ refers to its AI-powered ‘auto-framing’ option that allows it to quickly focus on the speaker. The wide-angle lens provides a 110-degree viewing angle, capable of covering an entire room, and there are pan-tilt-zoom controls that could be useful if you need to move around while giving a presentation or lecture.
This versatility comes at a cost, though, with the Unite 50 costing $399 when bought direct from ClearOne in the US, or £475.55 (inc. VAT) from its UK retailer. It doesn’t include a built-in microphone, so you’ll need to provide a suitable microphone or speakerphone set-up yourself.
There’s a confusingly similar model called the Unite 50 4K ePTZ, which has a slightly wider viewing angle (120-degree) but lacks the AI-powered auto-framing. This costs $349 from ClearOne.
Poly’s Eagle Eye Mini that we reviewed last year is still available, but the company recently launched a new range of Poly Studio products, starting with the affordable Studio P5.
Priced at just $129, the P5 provides HD resolution (1920 x 1080) with a low-light compensation feature for when you’re burning the midnight oil, or making calls to colleagues in another time zone. There’s a 4x zoom option and directional microphone so that you can focus the camera on you, rather than any background activity, and a privacy shutter for when you’re off-duty.
In many respects, the P5 is a fairly conventional webcam, but you can also use one of Poly’s USB wireless adapters to connect it to a Poly headset or speakerphone, and the Poly Lens software provides remote management features for your IT department. And if — like me — you find that long video calls give you a headache, there’s also a Poly desktop app for Windows and Mac that you can set up to give you notifications when it’s time to take a break, and to control other camera settings as well.
Viofo is best known for its range of dash cams and action cams for cars and motorbikes, but the growth of working from home has prompted it to launch the P800, which is one of the most affordable 1080p webcams we’ve seen so far.
The P800 costs just $49.99. Most cameras in this range are restricted to 720p resolution, so it’s certainly good value for money. The company gets the basics right though, with 1920 by 1080 resolution and twin microphones that are mounted on opposite sites of the camera body to provide good stereo sound. There’s a privacy shutter and adjustable stand that can sit on a desk or attach to your monitor. The stand also allows you to rotate the camera, and provides a tripod connector (tripod not included), while the 5.9ft/1.8m USB cable gives you plenty of room to move the camera around.
Owl Labs made quite a splash when it launched the first Meeting Owl back in 2018, and the company followed up that success with the updated Pro model (the original Meeting Owl is still available from a few online retailers, so make sure you select the correct model).
The Meeting Owl Pro is, admittedly, rather expensive for simply working from home, costing $999, but it’s an excellent option for small groups who may want to maintain social distancing while working in a huddle room.
The Meeting Owl Pro’s most innovative feature is its 360-degree camera, which provides HD video (1920 x 1080) with a split-screen effect that shows a panoramic view of the entire room along with a close-up Smart Zooming view of the current speaker. You can also lock the camera onto a specific part of the room, which can be useful for individuals who are giving presentations or lectures while working from home. The Meeting Owl Pro also includes a built-in microphone with an 18-foot (5.49m) radius so that you can all spread out a little, and a ‘tri-speaker’ for room-filling sound.
Harman Kardon is best known for its stylish home audio systems, but AMX is part of its professional division, which also provides audio and video equipment for the business market.
There are two versions of the Acendo Vibe, with the ACV-2100 model simply consisting of a large soundbar speaker that can provide an audio upgrade for an existing video-conferencing set-up. Alternatively, the ACV-5100 model adds an HD webcam as well, with FHD (1920 x 1080) resolution and wide-angle (110-degree) field of view that will work well for presentations when working from home, or for a small meeting room.
Like any good soundbar, the Acendo Vibe is very well connected, providing USB for computer connection, HDMI for a TV or larger display, and Bluetooth to allow the soundbar to work as a speakerphone when taking calls from a smartphone. The official price is actually listed around £1300/$1300, but we’ve seen the ACV-5100 online for as little as £550 (inc. VAT) and just $300 in the US.
Cisco recently announced a new range of Webex Desk devices aimed at both home and office workers, and the first to arrive is the Webex Desk Camera.
You can’t buy directly from Cisco, unfortunately, but it’s worth shopping around online as the Desk Camera is a competitively priced 4K (3840 x 2160) webcam, costing around $170 or £160 (inc. VAT) from Cisco’s third-party resellers. It’s designed for use in low-light conditions for people working from home, and uses a combination of auto-focus and AI-powered face-recognition to keep you in focus. The face-recognition features also allow it to support Windows Hello for extra security.
Adding to the Webex Desk Camera’s value for money are twin microphones that support better-than-CD 48KHz stereo audio. It can work as a conventional webcam, clipping onto a laptop screen or external monitor, but can also work alongside other Webex Desk products, and provides remote management features for IT departments via the Webex Control Hub.
Why do you need a webcam?
Most modern laptops — and many desktop PCs — already have a built-in webcam, but these are often low-cost cameras with 720p resolution (1280 x 720 pixels) that provide relatively poor image quality. If you’re working from home and want to make a good impression with your clients and colleagues, then a high-quality webcam with better image and sound quality is a very worthwhile investment.
Do you need special software for your webcam?
Modern webcams that use a USB interface — either USB-A or USB-C — are ‘plug-and-play’ devices that should work automatically with any PC or Mac, without requiring any additional software or drivers to be installed. However, some webcam manufacturers do provide their own apps that provide additional controls and features. Some of these apps will only run on Windows PCs, so Apple users should check on Mac compatibility before buying.
Will your webcam work with your video software?
The USB compatibility of modern webcams should ensure that they work smoothly with any video software that runs on your PC or Mac. However, some webcams may offer features that are designed for use with specific apps, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Some manufacturers also provide their own proprietary video conferencing systems that require both hardware and software to be provided by a single manufacturer.
How did we choose these webcams?
The webcam market in recent months has very much been driven by people who are working from home, and who need to upgrade the basic 720p webcam in their laptop or desktop PC. This means that the primary feature we look for is improved image quality provided by a 1080p (1920×1080) or 4K (3840×2160) webcam. Other useful features include auto-focus controls or a wide-angle lens to keep the speaker clearly in sight at all times, and twin microphones to provide high-quality stereo sound.
Which is the right webcam for you?
For simple video calls with colleagues you may find that an affordable 1080p camera is perfectly adequate, but if you really want to look as professional as possible then a more expensive 4K model can make a big difference. A wide-angle lens is more expensive, but can be useful for small groups sitting around a table in a huddle room, or for people who need to stand up while giving a presentation. Not all webcams include a built-in microphone — some people prefer to use a separate microphone or a shared speakerphone system — so check on that before buying.
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