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, 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, 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.
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.
Logitech C920S Pro HD
The best webcam for most people
Works with: Windows, Mac, 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.
Other webcam options you might like for under $100
Microsoft Modern Webcam
Works with: Windows 10, 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.
Logitech C270 HD
Works with: Windows 10, macOS, Android, Chrome OS
If you’re really in a pinch, and your main requirements in a webcam are simply that it’s reliable, very affordable, and it has a microphone, you might want to check out the Logitech C270 HD. It’s by no means a stunner when it comes to video quality — it’s only capable of 720p resolution at 30 frames per second — so you’ll get a fairly fuzzy image no matter what your lighting situation is. You’ll get the best picture if you have it connected in a well-lit environment.
The C270 HD’s bulkier design will likely overlap your monitor’s screen, unlike the options above. It’s a minor consolation that its monitor mount doubles as a stand of sorts, so it can hold itself up on your desk or a table. Being an affordable webcam doesn’t mandate that it shouldn’t have good design, though, so hopefully Logitech improves this aspect in particular for the next iteration.
This isn’t the most glowing recommendation, but I understand that spending more isn’t something that some people may want to do. Most people should spend $60 on our top pick, but if you just want something that gets the job done without making a large investment, the C270 HD will do just that.
The best webcam for people who need better picture quality
Works with: Windows 10 and macOS
If you’re comfortable spending somewhere in the $150-$200 price range, your webcam selection will open up to devices that have sharper picture quality and other features that may make them worth the extra cost. Logitech’s Streamcam isn’t the newest webcam to be released, but it stands out as being a great value overall.
For one, it’s compact, and its picture fidelity can reach 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. To my eyes, the Streamcam had only slightly improved clarity, exposure, and color reproduction over the cheaper C920S Pro mentioned above. But it easily takes the win with its much more fluid capture at 60fps. The Streamcam also has a built-in dual omnidirectional mic and a fast auto-focus feature. For people who’d rather have a fixed focus webcam that isn’t constantly searching for objects in motion, Logitech’s Capture software lets you switch off the auto-focus, in addition to several other picture-tweaking settings.
These are all great to have (and what you should expect in a $100+ webcam), but it’s the extra features that put this one at the top. The Streamcam can record in landscape or portrait mode, which may save you a step when you edit clips that are made for mobile viewing. It includes two stands, one that can mount it to a tripod and another, more flexible one that rests on your monitor. The latter stand supports a generous amount of vertical tilt, as well as panning from left to right. Lastly, the Capture software allows you to activate an AI feature that can follow your face as it moves within the frame.
If you have an older laptop, one aspect of the Streamcam that might cause trouble is that it plugs in via USB-C. So, if your computer doesn’t have a USB-C port, you’ll need to purchase a USB-C to USB-A adapter. Also, there are other higher-end webcams that offer wider fields of view than the Streamcam’s 78 degrees, so you may want to look elsewhere if you want to capture an image that encompasses more of your room or desk setup.
Other options you might like in the $100-$200 range
Works with: Windows 10 and macOS
The Streamcam is a tough webcam to beat, yet Elgato’s Facecam comes close. It has a great balance of performance and features — offering slightly better-looking video quality than Logitech’s webcam — but its lack of a microphone combined with its higher, $199 price tag makes it tough to recommend to most people.
The Facecam has similar specs to the Streamcam. It can record at 1080p with up to 60 frames per second, and you can customize how you look in its companion software. After some tweaking to the many settings in Elgato’s Camera Hub app, I preferred how the Facecam made me look with my lighting setup (though its default settings out of the box weren’t great).
There are a few problems, though, minor as they might seem to some people. As I’ve already mentioned, the Facecam costs a little more, and for the price, its lack of a microphone surprised me, even if it may not be an issue for people who already use a standalone mic or a headset. And the Facecam’s boxy design won’t exactly blend in with every setup.
Despite its flaws, there is a lot to like here. The Facecam supports an 82-degree field of view that’s a little wider than the Streamcam’s, and the fixed focus means that the lens won’t be constantly going in and out of focus as you move around. The Facecam also produces footage that looks noticeably less grainy than any other webcam that I tested for this guide. Some other things I like about this model are that it includes a privacy cap and the webcam itself has a tripod thread on its bottom, so you can easily mount it to a tripod.
Whether you’re willing to forgive the Facecam for its lack of a mic, or if it wasn’t a problem for you in the first place, I’d still recommend waiting until this one drops a bit in price.
Dell UltraSharp webcam
Works with: Windows 10 and macOS
Dell’s new, cylindrical-shaped Ultrasharp webcam is another option with no microphone and a high price. But judging on looks alone, Dell’s seems worth the $199. The Ultrasharp is well-constructed, and includes two stands (one monitor mount, one tripod mount) that can magnetically snap into its bottom, making the setup very simple. It also ships with a privacy cap that snaps on magnetically. It looks and feels like a $200 webcam should.
Surprisingly, though, the Ultrasharp presented the worst out-of-the-box performance of the webcams that I tried. Making adjustments using the Dell Peripheral companion app definitely helped to bring the quality more into the territory that I expected, considering the high price. This model is capable of 4K resolution capture at up to 30 frames per second, and if you want more frames per second, it gives you the option to bump it down to 1080p resolution to get 60 frames per second. Despite having similar specs to some of the devices above, the Ultrasharp yields footage that’s a little blurry and grainy, and bumping down the resolution to 1080p didn’t seem to yield the advertised 60fps.
That said, it does have some features that you may be seeking out. Like the Streamcam, there’s an AI-driven feature that can keep you in the frame as you move around. It also supports Windows Hello facial recognition for logging into your machine securely. If you want a wide field of view, the Ultrasharp supports up to 90 degrees.
All in all, while the Ultrasharp might appeal to people who want a fancy-looking webcam with some interesting features, unfortunately, the overall performance doesn’t match the fit and finish.
Razer Kiyo Pro
Works with: Windows 10
The differentiating feature of the lens-shaped $199 Kiyo Pro, compared to other higher-end webcams, is its super-wide 103-degree field of view. It allows you to see more of your work or play space, as well as more of you. It can also be set to 80 degrees or 90 degrees, if you want to tweak the look.
Otherwise, its specs will look familiar if you’ve made it this far down the guide. It supports 1080p capture at 60 frames per second, and there’s an HDR mode that knocks the framerate down to 30fps in exchange for a more balanced-looking image. During my testing earlier in 2021, I thought it did a better job than the webcam that I’ve used the most during the pandemic: the one built into my 2019 MacBook Pro.
That’s underselling it a bit, though. It’s basically on par with the Logitech Streamcam in its ability to produce a satisfying picture with good exposure, although the image was fuzzier than I would have liked for the price. Picture quality aside, the build quality is excellent, and its stand lets you easily mount it on your monitor, or attach it to a tripod. But, this might be a more attractive option if it’s discounted.
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge