It was virtually impossible to buy a webcam just two years ago (in 2020), as the avalanche of video calls made so many of us realize just how bad computers' built-in webcams can be.
Fortunately, the price spikes and shortages are now (mostly) over, and right now you can quite easily get a great external webcam for a reasonable price. And you're going to want to do so because video conferences and remote work don't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
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Why You Should Buy an External Webcam
For anybody with a laptop or desktop that's more than two years old (from 2020 or before), chances are that its built-in webcam isn't very good. That's because up until the pandemic, when people started working remotely and taking more video calls, it just wasn't a high priority for manufacturers. A lot of older computers have a webcam that's capable of capturing a 720p image (or worse), which frankly isn't very good.
Now that we live in a hybrid working world and video conference calls are a common practice, a good webcam has become rather important. Instead of replacing your entire computer to get one with a solid webcam, you can just an external webcam. It's the cheaper option. Plus, many of today's external webcams are higher-quality and have unique features than the built-in webcams of new computers.
What to Look for
4K, 2K or 1080p resolution: Most older desktops and laptops have built-in webcams with not-so-great resolution — think 720p or less. So when you upgrade to an external webcam, you typically have the choice of resolution. The higher-resolution webcams are, as you'd expect, more expensive.
Make sure it's compatible with your computer: Not every webcam works with every computer, which is why when researching which to buy you want to make sure it's compatible with your Mac or Windows PC. Some webcams have companion apps that allow you to customize various settings, such as frame rate, resolution, brightness and more. And if these companion apps aren't available on your computer, then you're not going to get the most out of your webcam.
Field of view (FOV): This is simply how much of you — and your background — the webcam captures and keeps in frame. Typically, a webcam's FOV can range from 60-degrees to over 100-degrees. The wider the FOV, the more that the webcam is able of capture. Some webcams allow you to switch between several FOVs, too, which is usually done via companion software.
Microphone and speakers: There are quite a few webcams that are designed as all-in-one solutions, meaning they also come with built-in microphones and speakers. This tends to jack up the price of the webcam and can be unnecessary (and inconvenient) if you already have external speakers or an external microphone that you already use.
The more features, the higher the price: Each webcam is a little different. They have different design features, such as privacy shutters, built-in mic, speakers and lighting. Additionally, there are some webcams that have special features forzoom, pan and tracking. And some have companion software that allows you to adjust things like lighting, ISO, shutter speed and more.
We've been writing about and reviewing desktop accessories products — including computer speakers, keyboards, mice, USB hubs, external microphones and webcams— for near-on a decade. We also work with major brands and talk to experts within the audio industry. The below selections of webcams are a combination of products that we've tested as well as products that are made by brands we trust.
We're spending more time at home working (and playing) on our desktops and laptops than ever before, and that means listening to our computer's built-in speakers — which, likely, aren't very good. An easy way to change that: buy a nice a pair of computer speakers.