So you need to start streaming the video of your smiling face, and your laptop’s webcam doesn’t cut it. (Alternatively: the complete absence of a camera on your desktop computer does not cut it off.) You need a dedicated camera, and you need the best for your use case and your budget. You’re in luck: they’re all there.
With a huge shift to working from home, webcams are rare among the usual retail suspects like Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart. So, for the choices below, we will create a direct link to the manufacturer’s pages, where some of them can be ordered directly from the stores of the site. If you can’t find them there, try setting up a store alert or looking second-hand market.
What to look for in a webcam
Webcams are pretty simple little gadgets: a small digital camera, a microphone, and a USB cable to plug into your computer. But there are a few specifications that you should keep in mind.
ResolutionMost new webcams will have a resolution of 720p (1280 × 720) or 1080p (1920 × 1080). A few will be higher, like our upgrade choice, but for most users, 4K resolution is overkill. After all, you will only occasionally use an entire screen! Unless you are recording specifically for professional production, save money and stay with “full” HD.
Framerate: The vast majority of webcams record at 30 frames per second, which is as good as standard video – a movie plays at just 24. If you’re looking for ultra-smooth video – like matching a streaming video game – you can bump it up to 60.
Software: Modern USB webcams are plug-and-play and should work with more or less all Windows or macOS software that needs them. If you are looking for a more professional video, you can use one that comes with a companion desktop program to adjust the video settings.
Privacy: Many upgraded webcams have built-in shutters that physically cover the opening of the camera. It’s a good idea, but the good thing about a USB webcam compared to a laptop is this: you can unplug it.
Microphone: To be honest, even the best webcams have substandard microphones. Even using a basic handset / microphone designed for phones, it would be better. If you want high quality sound, get a dedicated micro USB.
With all of that in mind, check out our selections below.
The best standard webcam: Logitech C920s
If all you need is a reliable image and a decent microphone, this mid-range option from Logitech has you covered. In fact, it has two microphones for recording “stereo” (although you will always be better with a microphone or a standalone headset). Aside from that, it has a basic USB connection and 1080p resolution, with a lens decent enough to please your boss in almost any lighting situation. Its price is easy to swallow (assuming you can find it at retail), and the package includes a fold-down privacy flap, in case your home office is in a sensitive location.
The best webcam upgrade: Logitech Brio Ultra HD Pro
For those who need superior video quality, the Logitech Brio Ultra HD Pro is the must-have camera. Its 4K recording resolution, HDR recording and high quality lens are ideal if you are counting on perfect clarity. The camera can also pan and zoom in on its digital image. Combined with flexible mounting options (including a standard camera tripod) and an included privacy shutter, it performs as well as possible without connecting a dedicated DSLR or mirrorless camera to your PC. As a bonus, the infrared sensor works with Windows Hello verification.
The best budget webcam: Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000
There is nothing particularly impressive in this small square camera, apart from the low price. It can only record at 720p (which will be fine if all you need is something for meetings), it has a basic microphone (which you probably shouldn’t be counting on) and it is certified for Skype . It also has a practical adjustable stand that should work with any monitor or laptop, or should stand alone.
The best webcam for game streaming: Razer Kiyo
Players who want to spread their faces in addition to their games should discover this model directly from Razer, the people who make these keyboards and mice with too many lights. This 1080p camera also has lights, but that’s just the right amount: a ring light can illuminate your face if the lighting of your RGB mouse pad powered by USB is not enough. Notably, it also records at 60 frames per second (720p), so your home video can be as smooth as your game video. Razer’s camera tuning software is also surprisingly powerful.
The best complementary webcam for laptops: Logitech StreamCam
This expensive new model from Logitech has what no other camera on this list does: a USB-C cable. In between, an impressive 1080p / 60 sensor and a stand that can mount on the thinnest laptop screen or connect to a standard camera tripod, it’s a great choice if you need to something that is a big step forward compared to your laptop’s built-in webcam. It also has autofocus with face tracking, ideal if you are recording outdoors or in other environments that you cannot control.