What Should I Look For When Buying a Webcam?

Most of us depend on the advice we hear when buying a digital device. The tendency is we end up with something far from what we expected. I was guilty of this. Had I equipped myself with even a few details, I would have decided on the right model. So when I needed a webcam, I dared myself with what should I look for when buying a webcam, or what I needed a webcam for.

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Here’s the big BUT. Just because I needed a web camera doesn’t mean every webcam in the market is fine. For example, modern laptops come with a built-in webcam but their features are limited. If you’re wondering why the angle between your face and your laptop display doesn’t look great, the reason is it’s the kind of quality a fixed webcam inside a laptop screen offers.

An external webcam still renders the properties that help you look and sound your best on the screen. The big thing to consider is how to find a suitable webcam for you knowing the number of choices available today. So together, let’s talk about everything you and I need for the best webcam possible.

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What Should I Look For When Buying a Webcam?

1) Resolution 

You want a webcam with the best picture quality. Resolution means the amount of detail that a camera can capture which is measured in pixels per inch or PPI. The more pixels your webcam has the more details it lends even larger pictures can come up nicely without becoming blurry. In short, the higher resolution provides clear images.

man in blue and white plaid shirt using macbook pro

There are three resolutions you need to know:

  1. High definition (HD, 720p) has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. This is the typical Skype, Zoom, Facetime, and other live video streaming.
  2. Full high definition (FHD, 1080p) measures 1920 x 1080 pixels and are mostly used to record a professional-looking presentation.
  3. Ultra-high-definition (UHD, 4K) has a higher resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels and can produce sharp-looking video images, visibly a lot sharper than 1080p.

So you have to look at the megapixels – at the least, a webcam should have 640 pixels by 480 pixels. That’s the average. Megapixel is a term commonly used to indicate the maximum supported value. For instance, a full high-definition camera (FHD) webcam with a resolution of 1920×1080 has the ability to capture up to 2073600 pixels or 2.0736 megapixels.

The best webcam for remote learning is a 1080p webcam.

2) Frame Rate

Frame rate is another metric for video quality that measures frames per second (FPS). It determines how many still images go into a video file, or how many video frames a camera captures per second of video. If 30 fps means 30 frames captured in a single second of video, 60 fps similarly capture 60 frames in a single point of time, as well.

The higher the frames, the smoother the video recording or streaming will be. While a minimum of 15 fps is enough to stream video, higher frame rates (60 fps and over) deliver smooth footage and a larger file size. A lower fps rate, on the other hand, may create an uneven and broken video and inconsistent audio.

For example, to record someone broadcasting on camera, the 1080p at 30 fps setting is preferred, while gamers streaming may find 720p resolution video at 60 fps at least fine. For teaching online, at least 30 FPS is recommended although 60 FPS will obviously be more natural and smoother movement of people and objects between frames.

Not many models provide 60 fps or more. So spend time scrutinizing the packaging or ask the manufacturer about frame rates. The NexiGo N660P is an autofocus webcam with 60FPS 1080P video capture resolution.

3) Lens &Autofocus 

Your webcam should have, at least, the ability to refocus. This is because when recording or broadcasting in a home or office, there is a tendency of light and glare hampering picture quality. Webcams with autofocus have their lenses the ability to focus focal points or adjust to a clearer upshot at any distance from the camera.

This is obviously preferable since it can distinguish people, windows, and walls and can perform the required optimizations for a livelier look. Since you are teaching live online with inconsistent movement speed, the autofocus feature is able to hold a target “focused” toward the lens and not lose it.

Not having this capacity may be hard for your webcam to find you as the target unless you stop moving. Autofocus may be more reliable than manual focus when it comes to moving targets.

Majority of webcams we have now have autofocus features. Higher-end models like Razer Kiyo come with a built-in ring-light positioned around the lens to remove shadows and provide adjustable levels of light and low light. Lens affects every webcam’s performance. If you’re wondering if plastic lenses are worth buying, I suggest upgrading to a glass lens right away for surely improved performance.

4) Field of View (FOV)

The field of view of a webcam measures the width of the area that the focal length of the lens and the sensor size can capture.  If your webcam has a wide-angle lens it follows that it has a larger field of view and a maximized image. A webcam with a decent FOV means that the object being imaged totally fills the sensor of the camera and the image created is shown on a monitor at full display.

This is why the FOV of webcams generally ranges between 90 degrees and 180 degrees and is measured in degrees:

  • 60-degrees ideally captures one person.
  • 78-degrees is wider and can capture two people.
  • 90-degrees is great for huddle rooms with people seated and a whiteboard.
  • 180-degrees go for larger conference halls with audio and video conferencing.

5) Portability

Webcam designs that are built lightweight and transportable are among the best. Why? Because it allows you to bring the device in your tote or backpack bag anywhere you go. These cams connect over a USB interface and are universally compatible on a variety of platforms. Since the device is not fixed into your monitor, you can live stream in the classroom, in your office, at home, or in any outdoors.

Portable (USB) webcams also are equipped with larger lenses so it gives you the option to enlarge or widen its distance from your monitor for an expanded field of view, or fine-tune the focal length for near or far subjects. It allows you to capture a group of people at a conference table. Since you can simply disconnect and connect the device to any computer, portable webcams are less prone to overheating because they disperse heat faster.

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Video Conference, Skype, Webinar, Video, Conference

How Can I Look Better on a Webcam?

1) You want to make sure that you have enough light for your face to be seen bright and clear. Although the more light is better, check where your light is coming from. Light from your background might be too glary, or you might be seen in shadows. The best lighting is just slightly above the camera.

2) Have your camera at eye level. Your viewers would want to look you in the eye and not on your nose or chin. If your laptop is too below eye level, take a box or pile some books to elevate your laptop a little bit higher and aligned to your eye.

3) Position yourself an arm away from your screen. Most webcams today have wide angles which means that they can distort figures like an elongated chin and nose, or making your face wider or longer when you’re really close to your cam. Sit back a little bit to compress the image and make you look more natural.

4) Use manual settings for color and exposure. You can adjust specific settings for brightness and saturation. If for example, your forehead looks so shiny or blown up on cam, you can choose the right exposure. This app though poses a lot of compatibility issues. It would be best to find something that’s going to work for your setup.

5) Get a clean background. A clean-looking background sends a positive and happy message to your viewers. It provides a plain and clear ambiance that does not divert the attention of your viewers to the clutter, decors, or what’s on your background than focusing on you and what you’re saying.

6) Be presentable. This is very practical and means you also have to present yourself in proper clothing, well-combed hair, clean and lively face. You don’t want to see someone on cam who looks sleepy and who seems to have just jumped out of bed.

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Conclusion

Since online teaching is the trend of this generation, keep your video calls clear. That means you need to invest in one of the best webcams with higher resolutions. Most built-in laptop cameras have 720p which is enough for streaming, but some conference calling software may restrict your broadcast quality to 1080p resolution and 30fps.

This makes investing in a modern webcam should be on a top standard or that with the ability to crop your frame and keep it sharp – your face should be visibly bright and clear. Although going for a 4K model is beyond the basic need for plain broadcasting; the 4k sensor, autofocus capacity, and high dynamic range can give you beautiful videos.

In this case, you would love the Logitech Brio if you’re a teacher requiring large videos or streaming in a wide range of lighting conditions. You’ll benefit from its 5x HD zoom and autofocus along with the finest 90 FPS.

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FAQ

1) Why should I buy an expensive webcam for remote learning?

When it comes to teaching online, a high-end webcam steps up your video quality. Our list of webcams above is a selection of the best models coming from reputable brands. Online teachers should only use webcams that can perform much better than a built-in webcam, in terms of focus, low light correction, field of view, colors, frame rate, colors, and screen space.

An expensive webcam obviously carries features that let you move smoothly, confidently, and with ease. This does not only upgrade your teaching online performance, but it is also helpful if you ever need to create YouTube video lessons, hold a parents’ meeting, or do live streaming for high-end projects.

2) What would I need a 1080p for if a 720p is fine?

The 720p resolution is typical in most built-in webcams found in laptops and desktop computers. Yes, this resolution is fine, however, it may disappoint you if the sensors are not up to your expected capture and video quality.

A 1080p resolution is a standard resolution for good-performing webcams. It delivers a Full High Definition (FHD) measuring 1920 x 1080 pixels that you may need for recording a professional-looking presentation. A 720p means High Definition (HD) with 1280 x 720 pixels, and while it goes for typical online broadcasting, top conference calling software may restrict your broadcast quality to 1080p resolution.

If you’re planning to buy an external webcam, why not go for the 1080p resolution that improves the resolution of the 720p signal more than two times over?

3) Can you differentiate “Manual Focus” and “Autofocus” in webcams?

Manual Focus is a feature that allows you to adjust your camera focus by hand, while Autofocus offers a precision focus in and out automatically. Manual may be preferred for selfie captures, but for moving images, Autofocus performs better.

For example, if you’re shooting a large video and you want to stabilize the camera to focus a scene, you can do this by placing the focal point on various parts of the frame at a quick tilt easily. This is an incredibly powerful technique if ever you need to focus on very specific scenarios.

4) Why is my webcam lagging?

Lags on video calls can depend on your signal, internet connection, or congestion. Test your internet connection speed. If your connection regularly falls below the recommended speed, you may need to upgrade to a higher Internet service plan. Your webcam may also lack sensors for smooth video capture. Often, it has something to do with poor lighting and incorrect resolution.

The best solution is to shift to an external webcam.

5) Why do built-in webcams perform less?

Built-in laptops are typically designed with a smaller sensor and lens, which are the two important elements for clear and crisp images. Built-in webcams, at the time they were invented, were intended for occasional conference calls, casual chatting, and not much like today’s need for advanced specs.

Since built-in webcams have all the relevant software and drivers pre-installed, there is no more need for additional setup, so what you see is what you get. If you’re looking for improved sound and picture quality, then a high-end external webcam will suit your needs better than a standard internal webcam.

The big difference is that external webcams require an additional outlay for software installation, but these webcams can provide more space for lenses and other electronics, better resolutions including quality photos, videos, and audio.

Do you have suggestions about what to look for when buying a webcam? Share them in the comments.

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