Buying a webcam may seem like overkill when laptops and phones have their own built-in cameras. Yet there are a few reasons why you might want to use an external webcam instead of your laptop’s, especially when more of your professional life and even family time is taking place on Zoom.
For starters, while laptop cameras are extremely small (since they have to fit in the monitor’s edge), external webcams have no such constraints. Because of this, they can have multiple, higher-quality lenses that allow them to deliver better resolution, speed, color balance and overall enhanced images and video. Webcams also have a variable field of view, adjustable zoom and autofocus, and provide the flexibility to position them as desired on top of your computer’s screen or attached to a tripod.
External webcams provide, no doubt, more benefits than those embedded in your laptop, and can make a significant difference in how you look in your digital meetings. What’s best is that there’s no need to break the bank. The most affordable webcams start at around $30 and mid-range models cost around $50 to $100, while high-end options can go up to $200.
Webcam buying guide
Even though most webcams require little configuration and are usually ready to use once you remove the packaging and plug them into a USB port, there are a few features to take into account when shopping:
• Video Quality. When it comes to a webcam’s video quality, resolution is key. Low resolution — anything under 720p — is usually the cause of grainy images on the screen.
Fortunately, most webcams today feature high-definition video capture, from 720p up to 4K, which delivers the sharpest, best-lit images, much like you’d see on top smart TVs.
It’s important to note, however, that most video-calling and streaming platforms, such as Zoom or Google Hangouts, will only support a maximum of 720p or 1080p resolution, which is usually enough to offer high-quality video for daily use.
• Frame rate. Another important metric regarding video quality has to do with the frame rate, which is measured in frames per second or fps. Higher frame rates prevent stuttering and produce a smoother and less “laggy” video feed.
The preferred frame rate varies depending on the tasks at hand. For instance, vloggers and streaming gamers may benefit the most from a camera that records both at 30fps and 60fps, whereas users who just want to do occasional video conferences may be fine with a camera that records at only 30fps.
• Field of view. A webcam’s field of view is measured in degrees and tells you the width of the area it can cover. A wider field of view is great to capture more than one person facing the camera or more of your background.
Typically, low-price webcams feature a 60° field of view, which is just wide enough for one person to appear on camera. Business and professional webcams like the Razer Kiyo Pro or the Logitech C930e (reviewed below) feature a wider or adjustable field of view of up to 103°, which is broad enough to show an entire conference room table.
• Autofocus. Webcams with autofocus ensure that the camera keeps focusing on you, even when you’re in movement. This type of focus is preferable to fixed focus, which doesn’t adjust the picture and will typically show you clearly only if you’re sitting within a few feet of the lens. If you need to move around often while on camera — as might happen if you’re teaching or taking a class, for example — consider a camera that can automatically refocus.
• Microphone. Most webcams have at least one built-in microphone. Others, like the Logitech 920 and similar models in our list, come with two microphones (one on each side) to provide clearer, natural-sounding audio. Some dual microphone webcams feature omnidirectional mics, meaning they can capture audio from multiple sides.
Built-in mics in mid-range and high-end webcams generally deliver solid audio quality for video calls and live streams. However, if you’re a professional content creator who needs impeccable sound, buying an external microphone might be the way to go.
• Compatibility. Each webcam has its own set of system requirements. These minimum requirements let you know which operating system the camera is compatible with — whether Windows, macOS, or Chrome — the amount of RAM needed, and the type of USB port.
Do note that most webcams use a USB-A port. If your computer only has USB-C ports, like MacBooks, you’ll need a USB adapter.
1. Best overall: Razer Kiyo Pro Streaming Webcam
Resolution: Up to 1080p | Frame rate: Up to 60fps in 1080p | Field of View: Adjustable up to 103°
The Razer Kiyo Pro is among the best premium options out there if you want a webcam with pro-level image quality and fidelity.
It can capture uncompressed 1080p footage at 60 frames per second (fps), convenient for streamers who want sharp and smooth videos. It’s packed with great low-light capabilities too, featuring STARVIS technology — used in certain surveillance cameras — to deliver better brightness adjustments and clarity in dark settings. Plus, the Kiyo Pro’s wide field of view (adjustable at up to 103°) lets you show an entire room and multiple people, if you want.
The downloadable Razer Synapse 3 software lets you play with video and image configuration; however, take note that the software is not compatible with Apple’s macOS, though separate programs in the app store such as Webcam Settings do a similar function.
Now, if you just don’t want to invest $200 on a webcam and don’t need all the bells and whistles, its predecessor, the Razer Kiyo is another great option. For approximately $100 less, it offers video recording in 1080p at 30fps, which is ideal for everyday video conferencing. It also features a built-in ring light for a clearer and brighter video image.
2. Editor’s pick: Logitech C920x Pro HD Webcam
Resolution: 1080p | Frame rate: 30fps | Field of View: 78°
If what you want is the best value webcam for the money, take a look at the Logitech C920x.
For around $70, you get a webcam that supports crisp and detailed video recording in both 720p and 1080p at 30fps. Additionally, it features autofocus (which lets the camera keep focusing on you’re far away from it) and an automatic low-light corrector that adjusts brightness and contrast when needed.
The C920x comes with two built-in stereo microphones, one on each side of the camera, which allow it to capture sound from different angles. According to most testers, the audio isn’t the best and can sound distant at times, but it’s clear enough for video calls and other daily tasks.
Like other Logitech webcams, the C920x has a universal mount that fits most screens, be it on laptops or external monitors, and there's hardware to attach it to a tripod.
For some users, such as streamers and gamers, the 30fps rate may not be enough to broadcast live without experiencing lags or distortion. If that’s the case, check out the C920’s sister, the Logitech C922. It costs about $30 more, but it supports video recording at 720p at 60fps, which is the preferred streaming resolution for most.
3. Best for low prices: Logitech C310 HD Webcam
Resolution: 720p | Frame rate: 30fps | Field of View: 60°
If you’re looking for a webcam that offers excellent video quality for a low price (around $40), the Logitech C310 is a solid contender.
Perfect for virtual meetings, the Logitech C310 comes with 720p resolution, and it’s compatible with popular video calling platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts. It features auto-light correction to help adjust and improve image quality in low-light conditions. The built-in microphone is a great addition for the price — it can pick up your voice from five feet away, although it can sometimes sound airy and far-off.
The Logitech C310’s main drawback is its mounting system. It has no horizontal movement to the left or right. Similarly, even though its adjustable mount clip is said to fit on most monitors, it doesn’t provide strong stationary support, meaning that any abrupt movement might knock the camera out of place.
If by chance the Logitech C310 is out of stock, take a look at the Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000. They also produce quality video images and typically cost less than $40.
4. Best wide angle webcam: Logitech C930e 1080p HD Video Webcam
Resolution: 1080p | Frame rate: 30fps | Field of View: 90°
What distinguishes the C930e from our editor’s pick — another Logitech, the C920 — and other contenders is its wide-angled field view. At 90°, the C930e is Logitech’s go-to webcam for businesses.
The 90° field of view is well-suited for group meetings or showing your workspace’s background, such as a whiteboard or a bulletin board during conferences, presentations and virtual classes.
Another game changer is its built-in H.264 video coder. Unlike other webcams, the C930e does the video processing itself without having to rely on the computer and the network. This allows it to free up bandwidth and deliver a smoother streaming experience.
The C930e main drawback is its fairly high price, typically around $130. This may seem especially costly when you compare it with the C920, which gives the same 1080p video quality for about $30 less. However, if you need the wide angle, the C930e is well worth the price — especially if it's an investment in your business.
5. Best 4K webcam: Logitech BRIO Ultra HD Webcam
Resolution: Up to 4K | Frame rate: 60fps at 1080p | Field of View: Adjustable up to 90°
To get the sharpest, clearest image available from a webcam, the Logitech BRIO is your best option.
This BRIO supports multiple resolutions, shooting video in 4K UHD at up to 30 frames per second (fps), in 1080p up to 60fps, or in 720p at up to 90fps. It also offers an adjustable field of view from 65° to 90°, giving you the freedom to show more people or more space if you want.
Additionally, it supports Windows Hello, meaning that Windows users can set up the BRIO to work as the face authenticator for logging into their computers. In other words, no need to worry about passwords.
Apart from its hefty price, typically around $200, the BRIO's main drawback is that its impressive resolution is not compatible with most video-calling or streaming platforms yet. (You can still use the webcam for Zoom, Google Hangouts and such, but the video won't be in 4K resolution.) Nonetheless, you can still use it to stream and upload 4K videos on YouTube.