How to Choose a Webcam
The top performers in our review are Logitech HD Pro C920, the Gold Award winner; Logitech HD C615, the Silver Award winner; and Genius WideCam F100, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a webcam to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
Most laptops and many computer monitors come with webcams, but for people who don’t have a device with a built-in webcam, we’ve found 10 high-definition USB cameras. These dedicated webcams are packed with features and capabilities, often offering better resolution than a built-in device and more tools to help you create the type of video you want. In fact, new webcams are so much better than many built-in cameras that some people prefer to disable their on-board webcam and use one of these.
Unfortunately, because many companies are moving away from dedicated webcams and instead installing their technology in monitors and laptops, the number of webcam options is dropping. We initially set out to review only those webcams that offer 1080p resolution. However, many manufacturers are dropping their webcam lines, and in order for us to fill our lineup, we had to look at a few 720p devices. These cameras tend to be cheaper than the full HD options, but they have limited feature options. Still, we limited our lineup to the best 10 products, and we were able to reject a few low-end webcams.
On our lineup, there’s a wide variety of cameras, ranging from $100 full-HD peripherals to $14 webcams with 720p HD capabilities. Most webcams are plug-and-play ready, but a few come with additional software. Do not let this extra installation turn you away, though, as that extra software usually includes some kind of video or photo editing tools.
For people who decided to save money on their home computer by buying a desktop, a webcam is nearly always a necessity to facilitate online video calls. Some people like to use their webcams to start a YouTube channel or to video chat with loved ones, and while all of the cameras on our list have built-in cameras, you'll get better sound quality from USB microphones. As video files begin to take up hard drive space, an external hard drive can supplement your computer’s storage. We also have several articles about webcams to help you get the most from your new USB camera.
Hardware features influence the performance of any webcam. All of the webcams we reviewed are USB 2.0 compatible, so they will work with any USB ports. Beyond that, each one is radically different from the others. Some offer glass lenses, while others use a highly compressed clear plastic. Most use either automatic or fixed focus lenses, but a few give you the option of manual focus. Some offer zoom capabilities and some give you light correction.
Webcams: What We Evaluated, What We Found
A webcam's performance is linked to both your computer’s capabilities and your internet speed. We were able to find the best webcams by testing them on the same computer. It can be incredibly frustrating to get a new webcam only to see clipping or slowing, so make sure to perform some system maintenance or check your internet connection before blaming the webcam. That said, we did find that video quality is influenced by the available resolution and the maximum capture speeds.
Image Quality: Pay Attention to Frame Rate
All of the cameras offer high-definition resolution, and most offer full 1080p. While these numbers look impressive, it’s important to make sure you understand when that resolution is available. For some webcams, in order to film at 1080p, you have to turn the frame rate down to 22 frames per second. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to figure out how to adjust the frame rate. In order to keep your videos smooth, aim for the highest frame rate possible, regardless of the resolution. Even a 60 fps video in standard definition will look far better than a 15 fps high-definition video. The best webcams offer 30 frames per second at 1080p resolution.
General Info on Our Testing
Top Ten Reviews seeks whenever possible to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the products in our comparison both through loans from the companies and through retail purchases. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Webcam?
Webcams: What Features Are Important?
When deciding on features, it's important to consider your views on two things: video calls online and vlogging. People who are video chatting with friends and family through Skype or Facebook need a camera that offers automatic or fixed focus, face tracking, light correction and noise reduction. These tools allow you to talk without worrying about your webcam’s settings. Vloggers are looking for a more purposeful set of tools, and while light correction, face tracking and noise reduction are nice, the best tools for these users are manual focus, one-click uploads and the ability to zoom. A webcam that offers all of these features looks great, but if you don’t use those tools, you may be spending too much money.
Webcams: Why Does Design Matter?
When it comes to design, there are several subtle differences between each webcam. You’ll notice that some cameras use glass lenses, while others use plastic, though this might make little difference. Sure, it’s easier to scratch plastic than glass, but if you rarely move your camera, you don’t have to worry about scratches. Instead, you should look for a camera that offers both an up-and-down tilt and left-and-right swivel, since this allows you to quickly and easily adjust the camera view without rearranging your computer.
Webcams: What Support Options Are Available?
The variety and availability of support options are wide ranging. Some manufacturers offer two-year warranties, although the average warranty is one year. If you want to make sure your webcam is properly supported, look for a manufacturer that offers several options online. You can first try to fix your device with FAQs or downloadable manuals. If you still need help, make sure you can contact customer support by email or telephone or that you can ask other users on forums.
Webcams: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The primary way to distinguish between the top cameras is price. Typically, the higher the price, the better the features. While you can get a camera for under $20, it will not have many of the tools that come standard in most other cameras. On the other hand, while the $100 cameras are easily the best of them all, you should ask yourself if you need all of those extra features to get the video quality you want.
Our favorite webcams were the Logitech HD Pro C920, Logitech HD C615 and Genius WideCam F100. The Logitech offers the most features and tools and the best image quality. The only two issues we noticed were that it is not rated for Mac operating systems and it is expensive at $100. The Logitech HD C615 has many similarities to the C920, although it offers a slightly better design with the ability to swivel left and right and lacks the ability to zoom or record at 30fps above 480p resolution. Lastly, the WideCam F100 is similar to the Logitech camera but lacks a few tools and does not offer a zoom function.