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External Webcams vs. Built-In Webcams

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a built-in/embedded webcam and an external webcam?

CDW Expert CDW Expert

In this era of remote and hybrid work, webcams have become a staple. Coworkers in disparate locations can now connect via video calls. While some use all-in-one computers for video collaboration, others have dedicated external webcams for collaboration. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a built-in/embedded webcam and an external webcam? And what should you consider before making your final purchasing decision?

What Is an External Webcam?

External webcams connect to computers through a USB protocol and are clipped on or attached to the top of your device. Because external webcams are comprised of larger, higher-quality components and have additional sensors, lenses, and software, they produce higher-quality video, images, and audio.

Advantages of External Webcams

  • Resolution/video quality - external webcams have larger casings, which allow for bigger, more durable, and higher quality components. As a result, you get higher resolution, more lenses for zooming in, autofocus, faster frame rate, better color balance, less background noise, and additional features you won’t get with a built-in webcam.

    Some cutting-edge laptops now provide Full HD built-in webcams, but the majority are 720p. However, external webcams offering 4K resolution provide a crystal-clear image.

  • Audio quality - Some laptop mics are less-than-satisfactory, but webcam mics often have built-in mics or even mic arrays for stereo-quality sound.

  • Enhanced field of view/framing adjustability - If you’re looking to show off your background or simply show more than just yourself in the frame, an external webcam is essential. You can tilt, rotate, and otherwise position your external webcam so that you look your most photogenic. There are various clip types out there so you can find what works best for your desktop setup.

  • Superior low light performance - Most external webcams deliver better images in low-light conditions and automatically adjust for low lighting. Some even have integrated lighting, so your video quality is consistent and optimal.

  • Replaceable - Unlike built-in webcams, external webcams are easily replaceable and upgradeable. They often have software and drivers that make them compatible across a wide range of operating systems and video conferencing apps.

Disadvantages of External Webcams

  • Additional cost - external webcams can cost you anywhere between $20 to $200. Opting for features such as 4K video, backlighting, and/or a mic array would increase costs. If you’re on a budget and don’t feel the need for all the frills, external webcams might not be for you.

  • Compatibility issues - there’s always a possibility some external webcams aren’t compatible with certain devices. You must look at the compatibility requirements carefully to make sure you’re getting a webcam you can use.

  • Setup required - external webcams are usually plug-and-play, but setup may be required. Sometimes you may need to install the webcam software or update drivers, so you can use it with your operating system or device. This can be an obstacle for those who are not tech-savvy.

  • Additional power needed - sometimes webcams need to be connected to an independent power source, increasing energy consumption. This could also increase your need for cable management.

What to Consider When Buying a Webcam

For a more extensive look at what to consider when buying a webcam, be sure to read our webcam buying guide. Overall, here are what your main considerations should be:

  • Budget - if you have the budget, there’s little reason to not purchase an external webcam. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Importance of video quality/resolution/audio - if clear, smooth video and audio are important to you, an external webcam is a must. You simply won’t get the same quality out of your laptop webcam, no matter how much you tweak the settings.

  • Room lighting - Does it look like you’re lurking in the shadows when you’re video-chatting? Or is the natural lighting inconsistent in the room you’re working in? You should probably invest in an external webcam…or at least consider a better lighting setup.

  • Intended use - Will you need to show more than yourself in the frame? If so, you should consider an external webcam since your framing will always be restricted with an internal webcam.


If you’re looking for an external webcam, look no further: CDW sells webcams from the best in the business, including Dell, Lenovo, Logitech, and Microsoft. Are you OK with an internal laptop webcam? We also offer laptops with 1080p webcams. No matter what your requirements are, we have the solution you need.

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