That tiny webcam on your laptop has probably gotten more use in the last year than ever before. Many of our professional lives have been infiltrated by a never-ending stream of Zoom meetings, and for some, that new routine isn’t going away. Once an afterthought, your computer’s webcam has become one of its most important components — and the fact is that most built-in lenses are not designed to provide consistent, high-quality video chat experiences.
Many realized that quickly last year and turned to the internet in droves to pick up external webcams. In addition to leveling up your appearance in could-have-been-an-email work calls, external webcams also make you look better on video chats with your friends and family, and they’re essential if you do any live streaming on Twitch or another platform.
But as with most PC accessories, it can be tough to sort through the sea of options out there. We at Engadget tested out a bunch of popular webcam models to see which are worth your money and which you can safely skip.
What to look for in a webcam
Resolution and field of view
Most built-in webcams have a resolution of 720p, so you’ll want to look for an external one that’s better than that. FHD (1080p) webcams will give you a noticeable bump in video quality and ideally you’re looking for something that can handle 1080p at 60fps or 30fps. If you’re considering a cheap 720p webcam, look for one that supports at least 30fps (most will) or even better, 60fps. However, if your primary concern is looking better during video conference call, 1080p is the way to go.
Some webcams can shoot in 4K, but that’s overkill for most people and most video conferencing services like Zoom, Google Meet and Skype don’t even support 4K video. When it comes to streaming, Twitch supports up to 1080p video but YouTube added 4K live streaming back in 2016. Ultimately, with 4K webcam shots having such limited use, most people can get by with a solid 1080p camera.
Field of view controls how much can fit in frame when you’re recording. Most webcams I tested had a default field of view of around 78 degrees, which was enough to capture me and enough of my background to show that I really need to organize my home office. You’ll usually see narrower fields of view (around 60 degrees) on cheaper webcams, and those aren’t necessarily bad. They won’t show as much of your background, but that also means you won’t be able to squeeze as many friends or family members into frame when you’re having Zoom birthday parties. And on the flip side, more expensive webcams may let you adjust the field of view to be even wider than average.
Autofocus and other “auto” features
Webcams with autofocus will keep you looking sharp without much work on your part. You should be able to move around, step back and forth, and remain in focus the whole time. Some models let you manually adjust focus, too, if you have specific needs. Devices with fixed focus are less convenient, but they tend to be more affordable.
You’ll also see other “auto” features listed in webcam specs, most notably auto light correction. This will adjust the camera’s settings to make up for a dimly lit room. If you don’t have a well-lit setup for your video calls, or often take calls in different places where you can’t control the lighting, this feature will be valuable.
Most webcams have built-in microphones that, depending on your setup, might end up being closer to you than your computer’s own mics. Check to see if the model you’re considering has mono or stereo mics, as the latter is better. Some even use noise-reduction technology to keep your voice loud and clear. While audiophiles and streamers will want to invest in a standalone microphone, most others can get by using a webcam’s built-in mic.
There aren’t a ton of fascinating breakthroughs when it comes to webcam design. Most are round or rectangular devices that clip onto a monitor or your laptop screen. Some have the ability to screw onto a tripod stand and others can simply sit on your desk beside your computer. But unless you really like having people stare up your nose, the latter isn’t really ideal. We recommend clipping your webcam to your monitor and ensuring that it’s at or slightly above eye level.
A few webcams go above and beyond by adding hardware perks like built-in lights and lens covers, too. The former can help you stand out in a dark room, while the latter makes it so hackers can’t view you through your webcam without your knowledge.
Most external webcams that are just good enough to be a step up from your computer’s built-in camera cost between $50 and $100. If the webcam has the same resolution as the built-in one on your laptop, you should look out for other specs like auto light correction, a wider field of view or an extra-long connecting cable that can provide a step-up in quality or ease of use.
Spending over $100 means you might get advanced features like 4K resolution, vertical and horizontal recording options, stereo mics, customizable video settings and more. But unless you’re spending hours on video calls each day or streaming multiple times each week, you can safely skip most of those high-end options.
Best overall: Logitech C920s Pro HD
The Logitech C920s Pro HD webcam seems like a great value on paper. And it proves that to be true not long after you take it out of the box. For $70, you’re getting an FHD webcam that can shoot in up to 1080p/30fps, has a 78-degree field-of-view, dual microphones and auto light correction. It’s a fairly average-looking webcam measuring 3.7-inches at its widest point, with the lens in the middle and its two microphones on either side.
The adjustable base is quite sturdy and, while I kept it hooked to my external monitor most of the time, you could easily attach it to your laptop’s screen or sit it on your desk and angle the camera upward. There’s also a hole on the underside if you wish to connect it to a tripod. There’s an optional lens cover in the box that provides protection when you transport the webcam, but also gives you extra privacy.
I immediately saw an improvement in video quality when I took conference calls using the C920s Pro HD. I’m lucky enough to have one lamp and one large window in my small home office, so I’m usually not fighting for good light. But even on cloudy days, the camera’s 1080p video was sharp and produced fairly accurate colors. While cheaper cameras struggled on rainy days with the lamp off, the C920s Pro HD illuminated my whole face and had minimal shadows.
All Logitech webcams can use the company’s Camera Settings app to adjust things like field of view, brightness, color intensity and autofocus, but I kept the default settings on this one. The C920s Pro HD does have autofocus and it was so good that I barely noticed it. I was always in focus during my video chats and I never saw the camera struggling to regain focus even if I moved around.
Just don’t get confused if you decide to buy it — there are actually a few versions of the C920 webcam. The $70 C920s Pro HD is the one I tested and it differs from the $80 C920 Pro HD model by coming with a privacy shutter. The $100 C922 Pro HD Stream webcam looks identical to the C920 models but it ups the HD video recording to 60fps and comes with a tripod in the box.
Best budget: Aukey FHD PC-LM1E webcam
Aukey’s FHD webcam combines the right features at a great $30 price to make a solid budget accessory. There are going to be sacrifices when you’re looking at cheap webcams, but let’s not forget one of the most important features — resolution. Aukey’s device shoots in 1080p, and while the colors are a bit washed out, the overall quality was much better than my laptops’ built-in camera.
The Aukey looks a lot like Logitech’s C920s Pro HD webcam with its camera sitting dead center, flanked by dual microphones. The base is also similar, allowing you to clip it to a screen or sit it on your desk and angle the camera towards you when you’re on a call. What you don’t get in Aukey’s camera is a lens cover, so you’ll be sacrificing a bit of privacy with this one.
In addition to good video quality, I liked that Aukey’s webcam had a wide field of view but, disappointingly, you can’t adjust it like you can with Logitech’s. Audio quality is also good, albeit a bit on the quiet side, though noise-reduction keeps your voice crisp.
While its modest improvements are well worth its $30 price tag, you will sacrifice in some areas. Arguably the biggest problem I found was this camera’s poor low-light performance. There’s no auto light correction, so you will be cast in shadow if you’re taking a call at night or in poor lighting. Aukey’s device also doesn’t have autofocus, which sounds worse than it actually is. Its fixed focus is sufficient when taking video calls from my desk, which is where I spend 90 percent of my work-from-home time.
Best premium: Logitech Brio
If you’re willing to spare no expense on a webcam, Logitech’s $200 Brio is the one to get. It has a lot of things going for it, but the best and most important feature is its 4K recording. It’s capable of shooting in 4K/30fps in addition to 1080p and 720p in either 60fps or 30fps. I kept it set at 4K and I never looked better on a video call. My feed was sharp and clear, and the only negative thing about it was the slightly inaccurate colors (they came off slightly more saturated than normal).
Low light performance was stellar as well. The Brio’s light correcting technology with HDR made up for the cave-like environment in which I was sometimes forced to record. As far as sound goes, the dual microphones inside the Brio were some of the loudest and clearest of any webcam I tested. They also use noise-cancelling technology to capture audio from up to one meter away while blocking out background noise.
The Brio also had the most customizable settings of the Logitech cameras I tried. In addition to brightness, contrast, color intensity, white balance and autofocus, you’re able to adjust HDR, field of view and image ratio in the Camera Settings app. While I kept most of the default settings, I changed my field of view from 65 degrees to 78 degrees (the third option of 90 degrees was too wide for my taste), and it captured just enough of my background but still kept me as the focal point.
I also opted to turn off autofocus because I found it to be finicky. Issues with the Brio’s autofocus have been documented online and I’ve reached out to Logitech for troubleshooting tips. An Engadget colleague who uses the Brio as his daily webcam hasn’t experienced the autofocus issues, so there just might not be enough contrast between myself and the background.Since I take most video calls from my home office desk, adjusting the focus manually to fit that environment worked well for me.
It’s hard to get excited about webcam design, but Logitech tried to make the Brio as sleek looking as possible. Instead of a mere rectangle, the Brio is an elongated oval with rounded edges and a standard base that clips securely onto a screen. The front is a glossy black, punctuated only by the camera lens, two tiny slits for the microphones and the IR sensors. The latter make the Brio compatible with Windows Hello, so you can unlock your system using facial recognition. And when you want more privacy, you can use the included lens shade to cover the camera.
In addition to the Brio, another worthwhile premium webcam is the Razer Kiyo Pro. While the Logitech Brio is a better $200 buy, the Kiyo Pro is a strong competitor. It shoots 1080p video at 60/30/24fps and it has slightly more accurate colors than the Brio. However, it’s not compatible with Windows Hello and its comically large, circular design might be off putting to some.
Best for streaming: Logitech Streamcam
Out of all the webcams I tested, I had the most fun using Logitech’s Streamcam. While it’s a bit weird to say I “had fun” with such an innocuous piece of tech, I found the Streamcam to be remarkable in many ways. First and foremost, the video quality is excellent — it shoots in 1080p/60fps and its video is slightly sharper than that of the Logitech C920s Pro HD. Details in my clothing came through much better and, whether I liked it or not, so did some of the texture on my skin. The Streamcam was also one of the best devices when it came to color reproduction.
All of those perks remain the same even when you’re shooting in low-light conditions. The Streamcam’s auto-exposure feature made up for the darkness in my office on gloomy days. And it has the best kind of autofocus — the kind that you never notice in action.
The dual, omnidirectional mics inside the Streamcam delivered my voice loud and clear during video calls. If you stream often and find yourself without an external mic, it’s nice to know that you could get by with the Streamcam’s built-in ones in a pinch. The microphones also have noise reduction to keep your voice font and center.
As far as design goes, the Streamcam is a bit larger than most. It’s a chunky almost-square that can easily be positioned on a monitor or on a tripod, and a unique feature of its design is its ability to shoot either vertically or horizontally. I kept mine in the standard 16:9 format, but some streamers who post to social media often will like the 9:16 format that’s best for Instagram and TikTok. Logitech also made sure the Streamcam was optimized for Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), XSplit and Streamlabs, so you can use it directly out of the box for your next live session.
The Streamcam is the best all-purpose webcam on our list, though not everyone will want to drop the $170 on one. If you want a device that doesn’t compromise quality, has solid advanced features, can be used both for work and live streams, though, the Streamcam is a great value. It’s higher price tag keeps it from our top spot because those who just want to look better on Zoom calls with their friends, family and colleagues don’t need to spend $170 to get that.