Once upon a time, a good webcam used to matter only for business travel, long-distance relationships and other geographically challenged communication. Now so many of us are socializing from afar andthat this once afterthought product has been thrust into the spotlight. If you’ve bought a new laptop in the past year, chances are its webcam is good enough for your needs. But older laptops and cheap laptops and Chromebooks may still be cutting corners on the webcam to keep the price down. And if you use a traditional desktop you haven’t got a webcam. Hence, the booming market for them.
It’s not that difficult to find a decent external webcam: Market-leader Logitech makes most of the most popular name-brand models on the market, notably the $80and basic, education-focused $30 and you probably won’t go wrong just picking one that falls within your budget. Once you venture beyond known brands, however, you can get lost in a sea of commodity models.
We’ll update this list regularly with more advice and picks as we test webcams, so stay tuned. And for more advice, scroll down below our recommendations.
I had my doubts about this at first: There are so many small, unfamiliar brands on Amazon that it takes a lot more than a 4-plus star review to pique my interest. But I was quite surprised at how good this basic webcam is for just $40, much of which has to do with the software. It also supports Macs, something the camera it replaces doesn’t. (It’s the Creative Live Cam Sync 1080p V2, which remains a fine choice for Windows at an attractive $35 to $40.)
There’s only so much you can do with the image quality on a basic 1080p 30fps webcam, but the Nexigo still delivers better video quality than many 720p laptop webcams, with relatively solid white balance and autoexposure, even across various lighting conditions. Don’t expect great 1080p picture quality at full-size viewing or in low light, though. There you can see noise and softness, though it’s no worse than most 1080p webcams under $100. Scaled down to typical laptop viewing size, it looks good.
Nexigo’s software isn’t pretty, but some of it’s a lot more functional than much of what I’ve used. For instance, the manual white balance actually works well along a continuum rather than just giving you a choice between too pink or too green. It also allows you to save presets for all the adjustable settings. It doesn’t currently work with MacOS Monterey, so I couldn’t test that, but the company promises an update to support the latest version of the OS within the next couple of months.
It’s got a built-in mic, though the audio quality is disappointing. The mic performs noise cancellation, but you can’t turn it off or adjust it, and I heard quite a bit of popping and tinniness on my end.
The build feels about what you’d expect for a cheap webcam, plasticky but not fragile, and the mount supports tilt and swivel. Nexigo includes the typical loose cover. I hate those and have already lost it. Other trade-offs for the price: a captive USB-A cable and nonremovable mount. It also has a 110-degree field of view, which is kind of wide for your usual webconferencing. You can zoom digitally, but as with any 1080p webcam, that gets ugly fast.
Razer replaced its Kiyo with the Kiyo X at a lower $80 base price, a level that the Kiyo used to drop to when on sale. It did so by cutting out the ring light (which is useless) and the mic (the built-in mic in your laptop is better than most webcams’, anyway), as well as switching to a simple nonswiveling mount. There isn’t a lot to differentiate these entry 1080p 30fps from each other, but Razer’s stands out a bit for its accurate white balance and decent exposure — as long as your lighting doesn’t vary wildly. It’s new, so the price is still sitting at $80, which still feels high given how stripped down it is, but it’s bound to drop during the holiday shopping season and may be worth waiting for if you’re not desperate.
The 1080p Obsbot Tiny, a refined version of the Obsbot Tail that began life as a Kickstarter a couple of years ago with a different focus, replaces the Anker PowerConf 300 as my pick for the peripatetic. Though it’s larger overall than most webcams, it’s smaller than it looks and it’s worth the extra bulk for the built-in gimbal that lets it tilt and rotate to track you. That means it can cover you over 180 degrees without requiring zooming out until you’re just a tiny head in the frame. And it tracks quite well. It also has limited gesture controls — to control face lock for tracking and to zoom — which come in handy. The design is great as well, with a magnetic attachment to the mount and a large LED that not only tells you if it’s on, but that indicates if it’s currently focused on anything. Instead of a cover, you can tilt the camera down, so you don’t have to worry about losing a cap.
It has all the essentials covered as well, including solid video quality and a surprisingly good mic (though it lacks features you might be used to from the mic in your laptop or headset, like noise cancellation), as well as a lightweight utility to control the camera position and zoom in software.
There are some aspects I don’t like as much. In software you can zoom continuously between 1x and 2x, but the gesture control only takes you all the way in or out, while 1.5x is probably your best general choice. And since it’s 1080p, the 2x digital zoom doesn’t look great. While the auto white balance and exposure works pretty well, it doesn’t handle low light as well as the cheaper Anker, which can also do 1080p at 60fps (the Tiny is limited to 30fps). The latter wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the utility had some image controls, but the Obsbot relies entirely on Windows’ meh settings dialog, and even then only supports white balance and exposure. You can change aperture, but that setting doesn’t seem to do anything on any webcam I’ve tested thus far.
Because it’s so tall, you may not like mounting it on top of a big monitor, though I’ve got it perched on top of a 32-inch without issue. And it’s actually a benefit if you’re using it atop your laptop, since the way most people use their laptop cameras, it sits well below their eyeline.
This tiny webcam is designed for streaming (in case the name didn’t give it away) but it has some perks that make it appealing for general-purpose use. You can mount it horizontally or vertically, which makes it nice for video chatting with folks on phones or for shooting quickie TikTok or Instagram videos. It shoots in 1080p at 60fps, which can frequently give you better looking video than 30fps. Plus it’s small, so it can fit in cramped spaces.
Read more about the Logitech StreamCam.
Razer’s unconventional-looking webcam supports 1080p at 60fps, and because it doesn’t compress the stream it can produce some nice-looking video. It also has a sensor and autoexposure capabilities optimized to compensate for dim and harsh lighting, plus automatic white balance which preserves more natural-looking skin tones. And it comes with a cover; not as convenient as a lens shutter, but better for keeping dust off the front of the camera. The mount is also one of the most flexible we’ve seen.
Read our Razer Kiyo Pro preview.
Like the Logitech Brio, the Dell UltraSharp Webcam’s 4K resolution lets it zoom in on your face with less degradation than a 1080p model, and it’s a respectable webcam for streaming or a quick-and-easy option for shooting 4K video direct to your PC. Its cylindrical, all-metal body with magnetic mounts and lens cover feels more premium than those of competitors and makes a nice change from typical webcams, and it allows the webcam’s multi-element lens to deliver its excellent distortion-corrected views. Like the Brio, it supports 1080p 30fps and 60fps for low-bandwidth connections and streaming.
Plus, if you’ve got a modern Dell laptop, it supports the company’s Express Sign-In to automatically detect and put the system to sleep when you leave, and then to wake and sign you in when you sit back down.
There’s no microphone, but the mic array on a decent recent laptop should be better than any mic you’ll get on a webcam. And the software, which allows you to save custom presets and provides a lot of the features, doesn’t work on the Mac.
Read our Dell UltraSharp Webcam preview.
The Brio 4K webcam is one of the most popular models on the market thanks to its impressive 4K resolution and Logitech webcam smarts. 4K is useful if you want to zoom in to your face or a physical object without losing the detail as much as a typical 1080p model. If you have the network bandwidth to transmit 4K, you can deliver a sharp picture and even use it handheld to show viewers physical objects rather than just share your screen. You probably don’t really need 4K, so it can also broadcast in 1080p 60fps if you want good video that’s less stressful on your network.
Logitech even makes a special model of the Brio specifically for the Apple Pro Display XDR, the 4K Pro Magnetic webcam, so it can perch prettily atop your pricey monitor.
Read our Logitech Brio 4K Pro Webcam preview.
Which webcam specs are important?
You don’t need to worry about getting overcome by specifications. Frame rate (30 or 60 frames per second), resolution (720p, 1080p or 4K) and microphone (mono or stereo) are about it. That doesn’t mean they don’t really differ. Some are better than others in less tangible ways, such as how well the automatic exposure, white balance or focus works. Those tend to be what differentiate the just-OK cheaper webcams from better, more expensive ones with higher resolution or faster frame rates.
If you have nothing now, then anything’s a step up. Most affordabletend to still offer 720p webcams, though that’s changing rapidly, while most of the standalone webcam models on the market are 1080p (aka FHD). The latter usually has HD video quality that looks much better than the former, since the greater number of pixels makes your image look sharper for your video calls, video conferencing and live streaming. And because you can put a webcam on a tabletop tripod or perch it higher than the built-in webcam on a laptop, you can bring it closer to eye level which is much more flattering than the from-below-view most laptop webcams deliver.
One thing to keep in mind when buying a webcam for a Mac is that there are no controls built into the operating system. If you want to adjust exposure, zoom, white balance — anything really — then the support needs to be built into the specific application or into a utility that comes with the camera. Unfortunately, few manufacturers offer MacOS-compatible utilities; the Elgato FaceCam is a notable exception.
If you need to zoom in to better frame yourself without looking soft, crunchy or blocky or to demonstrate physical objects, think about jumping to 4K. You can alsoor (if you have one) as a makeshift webcam with an app or utility from the camera manufacturer. The software which allows you to use a digital camera as a webcam frequently caps the resolution at 1,920×1,080, but you may get better zoom results than from a webcam.