If you don’t already have a laptop with a built-in webcam — or the one on your laptop isn’t very good — you might need a standalone webcam. Maybe it’s to be able to show your face during work or school. Maybe it’s for chatting with friends, or for side projects, like live streaming or recording yourself.
If you don’t want to actually purchase a webcam, though, there are several routes to take. You can get crafty with your phone (and spend hardly anything or nothing at all) by using an app that’ll fool your computer into thinking it’s a webcam. Or you can go in the total opposite direction and connect a pricey DSLR or mirrorless camera to your computer to use as a webcam — a very good one, at that.
But assuming you simply want to purchase a webcam, our goal is to make it easier for you to find the one that matches your needs and your budget. Here, I aim to decipher which USB webcams are worth your money.
We tested popular models from brands like Logitech, Microsoft, Dell, Opal, Razer, Elgato, and more. Once the dust settled, we landed on a semi-affordable webcam that we think is the best option for most people. That’s the Logitech C920S Pro HD, which usually costs about $60. It supports 1080p resolution capture at 30 frames per second, and the visual quality is satisfactory in most lighting conditions.
If you have some extra cash along with a desire for better video quality and more features, check out Logitech’s StreamCam. It also supports 1080p resolution, but with a faster 60 frames per second capture. This model is loaded with clever features, like an optional mode that can automatically follow your face around the frame. It also ships with versatile mounts, one for your monitor and another for a tripod.
The invite-only Opal C1, which is currently available for $300, is a recent addition to the list. I reviewed it in late 2021 and have been using it as my main webcam ever since. While I think it’s great, the webcam’s software is still in beta, and full Windows compatibility won’t arrive until late 2022. Opal will also begin charging a monthly subscription fee to access some premium features in the future, so keep that in mind if you’re shopping.
Note: Each camera’s video quality was judged by using it with Zoom (where footage is prone to compression, as it is with other web-based video calling apps), as well as with OBS Studio or VLC to see how it compares with a locally-stored recording.
1. LOGITECH C920S PRO HD
THE BEST WEBCAM FOR MOST PEOPLE
Works with: Windows, macOS, Linux, Chromebook
Usually priced around $60, Logitech’s C920S Pro HD provides better video and mic quality than others that I tested in this price range. This model can record in 1080p resolution at up to 30 frames per second, and while you won’t have an issue finding other similarly-priced webcams with those specs, the C920S Pro’s out-of-box color balance, exposure, and relatively fast auto-focus made it stand out from others I tested.
The picture quality has sufficient detail, and even in my relatively dark apartment, the C920S Pro had no trouble making my facial features look sharp. But it wasn’t a flawless presentation overall, as is to be expected for the price. In less-than-ideal lighting scenarios, the C920S Pro made my skin look over-saturated, with red spots where the webcam couldn’t compensate for the lack of lighting. Though in a work or play environment flush with natural light, this was noticeably less of an issue.
Picture quality aside, the C920S Pro has several welcome features, like a generous 78-degree field of view, status lights that activate when the webcam is being used by an application, and an included privacy shutter that can give you assurance that you’re not broadcasting unless you want to be. Some other nice features at this price include its strong articulating stand, which can sit atop your monitor or just as easily screw into a tripod. It’s just a great value for the price.
2. MICROSOFT MODERN WEBCAM
Works with: Windows, and in a more limited fashion, macOS
Like the Logitech C920S Pro, the Modern Webcam promises 1080p resolution recording at up to 30 frames per second. Compared directly to the Logitech, Microsoft’s webcam didn’t produce as sharp of an image. It was, however, able to produce a more true-to-life look for my lighting scenario thanks to its HDR setting.
HDR has some benefits, but it might also come with a few cons depending on your lighting. While the Modern Webcam did an admirable job of taming the pretty intense backlight that I have behind me during the day, it didn’t seem to have many tricks to make me look my best in other ways (at least without tweaking the picture with the Microsoft Accessory Center app). Through the lens of the Modern Webcam, I looked like I work in a dimly-lit basement apartment — which I do, but I’d rather not be reminded of that fact. As with the C920S Pro, this should be less of a problem for people who have no shortage of natural light in their room.
I appreciate that the Modern Webcam’s stand lets you hang it over a monitor, or screw it into a tripod. And it gets bonus points for having a physical privacy slider. This webcam also has a built-in microphone, but it strangely isn’t enabled by default. If you’re using Windows 10, you’ll need to download and enable that setting within the aforementioned Accessory Center app. If you’re using a macOS computer, well, you’re stuck with a webcam that lacks a microphone. Considering that this webcam costs $69.99, I think you’re better off with Logitech’s C920S Pro.