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Webcam Buying Guide - Webcam Specifications, Features & More

From types of webcams to specifications and features, this webcam buying guide will teach you everything you need to select the best device for your needs.
January 22, 2021

In this Article:

Do You Need a Webcam?

With many offices and schools going remote, a webcam is more important now than ever.

What to Look for in a Webcam

Find out what features you should prioritize when looking for a new webcam.

Types of Webcams

Read more about the different types of webcams available on the market.

Webcam Specifications

Learn about the different webcam features and functions available, and determine which might be most important to you when making a purchase.

Webcam Features & Functions

Learn about the different webcam features and functions available, and determine which might be most important to you when making a purchase.

Tips & Tricks

Learn how to make the most of your webcam with these tips.

Webcams have become a part of everyday life. Finding the best webcam can be the difference between an enjoyable or frustrating remote workday or remote hangout session. From types of webcams to specifications and features, this webcam buying guide will teach you everything you need to know to select the best device for your needs.

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Do You Need a Webcam?

With many offices and schools going remote, a webcam is more important now than ever. Most phones have cameras and can suffice in an emergency, but they are often uncomfortable to work on or severely limited by their battery life. Laptops almost always have a webcam built into the device. However, built-in webcams have their own limitations that make them less than ideal for any long work from home or remote school sessions. A standalone webcam can provide improved quality and convenience.

What to Look for in a Webcam

Depending on what you plan to use your webcam for, there will be certain specifications and features you should prioritize. No matter what you need the webcam for, there are also many quality-of-life features that can benefit any user.

Does the device come with any kind of mount? Is there any way to change the angle on the webcam? How will this webcam work in low lighting or rooms with windows? All of these are great questions that will help you narrow down exactly what you should look for in your webcam. We’ll cover these features and more below.

Types of Webcams

All webcams will serve the same purpose of capturing video. Still, there are a few different types of webcams out there. Knowing the differences between them is essential to purchasing the best device for you. Below are the most common types of webcams and some traits associated with each. 

Built-In Webcam

Webcams that are a part of a device, such as laptops or phones, are considered a built-in device. There is nothing inherently wrong with these webcams. However, their lack of features and flexibility can make them challenging to work with. For this reason, it is recommended to use a separate dedicated webcam when doing any important remote work.

External Webcam

Standalone webcams that connect to your PC or laptop by USB are called external webcams. These cameras often come with some sort of mount that can adjust to multiple angles and make using the device easy and efficient. 

Plastic Lens Webcam

There are two primary types of external webcams: plastic lenses and glass. To put it plainly, plastic is less expensive but sacrifices clarity in the process. Plastic lens webcams can still be great for remote meetings or schoolwork. They may fall flat in more creative tasks where video capture in higher resolutions is required.

Glass Lens Webcam

The highest quality webcams will have glass lenses. This allows for the device to have incredible resolutions up to 4K and is perfect for content creators or anyone looking to get the best image possible from their webcam.

Webcam Specifications

As with any piece of technology, it is best to know the device's basic specifications before shopping. This helps you to find the best possible solution for your tech needs. Webcams are no different. Understanding webcam specifications can help ensure you get the best webcam for your needs. Here’s what you need to know. 

Resolution

As with a monitor or television, resolution is how you measure the clarity of a digital image or video. Webcams and monitors can sound similar when talking about resolution, because most webcams will be displaying images on a monitor. For instance, terms like full-HD, 4K, or UHD will tell you a little about the device but are more familiar with TVs and monitors.

With webcams, you can tell how clear the picture will look by checking the numbers associated with the webcam's resolution. 720P and 1080P are considered high-definition and will work for most home offices or remote learning tasks. Higher resolutions like 1440P or even 4K are overkill for routine video meetings or the classroom. Top-of-the-line webcams capable of those resolutions can quickly become expensive and are only needed for specific professions.

Frame Rate

Overall video quality is determined by more than just resolution. While the resolution is how clear the image can look, the frame rate tells you how smooth the screen's moving images will be. Frame rate, sometimes referred to as frames per second (FPS), is less important with webcams than with monitors but can still be necessary for some users. Most webcams are capable of at least 30 FPS, which is still considered high quality and is suitable for any occasion. Higher frame rates, like higher resolutions, are not necessary for most webcam users but can be a must for some professions or hobbies.

Field of View (FOV)

Another important webcam specification is field of view. This measures how wide of an area will be captured by the device. Measured in degrees, the values associated with the field of view typically range from 60 to 90 degrees. The width of the area being captured increases as the number goes up. Just remember that when it comes to field of view, the higher FOV, the wider the area you will be able to see on the webcam.

Webcam Features & Functions

Less uniform than specifications, features are webcam traits designed to help deal with everyday problems you may run into when using the device. Small quality of life functions can make a massive difference in your webcam and digital video's overall quality. Here are some common features and functions to look for when buying a webcam.

Built-In Microphone

An often-overlooked feature is an included microphone in a webcam. Built-in microphones can eliminate the need for bulky headsets or desk clutter with external microphones, headphones, webcams, and more. Be careful, though, when using microphones in webcams. They are often designed to capture the sounds of the entire room and easily capture background sounds if you are sharing your space.

Autofocus

Webcams often have some kind of focus control or functionality built into the device. Focus is how the webcam chooses which objects in the frame to focus on. Most modern webcams have autofocus, with some being better or quicker than others. Autofocus does just as the name implies. The webcam automatically focuses on the person in frame. Higher quality autofocus can be better at dealing with multiple light sources or areas with busy backgrounds.  

Green Screen

Special effects are not just for the big screen. Many modern webcams can utilize some form of green screen or chroma key effects. While not required for most remote tasks, special effects are great for social interactions such as video calls or specific tasks like school projects. Webcams that support this feature can change your background to any image.

Portability

When talking about webcams, portability refers to how the webcam can move around your space to create different angles and how it travels between areas. One of the most significant benefits of using an external webcam is that they are incredibly portable and capable of capturing almost any viewing angle. Using an external webcam makes it possible to video chat with an entire classroom, office, or small group of people. 

Low-Light Correction

Just like with autofocus, low-light correction is a built-in feature in most modern webcams. This feature can brighten and adjust images in dark rooms. Low-light correction is a lifesaver if you need to use your webcam in the early morning or evening. Multiple light sources can also cause webcams issues, but light correction can help deal with that.

Software Support

Some of the more high-end webcams come with a full range of software support. Software features can range from anything previously mentioned in this list to other functions like slow-mo effects and RGB sync. The main benefit of having a webcam with software support is that it gives you more control over every aspect of the device. The software will allow you to see and set resolutions, frame rates, and zoom. Every webcam is different, so be sure to check if a device comes with software and what features it offers.

Tips & Tricks

To round out this webcam buying guide, here are few tips and tricks for getting the most out of your new webcam.

Typical Angles

While external webcams allow for all kinds of viewing angles, some are considered more professional than others. The most common and pleasant viewing angle is looking slightly down or to one side, with the person communicating centered in the frame. Often, there will be a preview of your video before you go live in any app. Use that time to experiment and find viewing angles that work best for you.

Quality Adjustments

Webcams can also be adjusted to fit a particular situation better. If you find your webcam is not looking like it should, you could try reinstalling or updating the device's drivers. When webcams come with software, there will likely be controls within your operating system to adjust resolution or frame rate as well. You can prioritize resolution if you need a clear picture and will not frequently be moving. Conversely, you could prioritize the frame rate if you need to capture any fast-moving actions or presentations. 

Cleaning

As with any piece of technology, unplug the device before attempting to do any maintenance. Once unplugged, spray glass cleaner onto a microfiber cloth or paper towel, never the device itself. Then gently use the cloth to clean the lens to ensure no dust or dirt is building up that could damage it. You can also use an air duster to remove excess debris from any part of the webcam safely.

Security & Privacy

As with any piece of technology, unplug the device before attempting to do any maintenance. Once unplugged, spray glass cleaner onto a microfiber cloth or paper towel, never the device itself. Then gently use the cloth to clean the lens to ensure no dust or dirt is building up that could damage it. You can also use an air duster to remove excess debris from any part of the webcam safely.

The best way to ensure that your webcam is safe from malicious parties is to unplug it. If your device is unplugged, no hacker or scammer in the world could get access to it. With built-in webcams, however, unplugging your webcam is not possible. In that case, the best solution is to purchase a lens cover. The device is inexpensive and straightforward, providing an excellent way to physically hide the video from your webcam. Lens covers typically clip to the device itself and can be quickly closed or opened to hide or share your video.

Summary

Using a webcam has become commonplace. Because of that, you may need to buy a better device. We hope this webcam buying guide helps you understand all the specifications and features you need to find the right device for you.

External webcams have a number of features and benefits that can make working remotely much more comfortable. Special features such as autofocus and built-in microphones can make the difference between a smooth video conference or annoying technical difficulties. Hopefully, after reading this guide, you feel confident in your webcam knowledge and can find the best device for your needs.

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