It’s difficult to buy a device that doesn’t include a camera these days, but the humble webcam has yet to be rendered obsolete – especially in the context of video chats and live camera streaming. It’s a niche market that presents a dilemma: good quality is important but the application is too narrow to justify spending a lot of money on it.
Fortunately, the market offers a number of choices with crisp, high resolution capture at affordable prices. Are you tired of fuzzy Skype videos, poor audio clarity, and low framerates? Don’t settle for bottom-of-the-barrel cameras or built-in laptop cameras. The following webcams will open up a whole new world for you.
Note: All prices are based on Amazon listings at the time of writing this article, and were mainly chosen for their video capture performance. For capturing still images, we recommend a digital camera instead.
Logitech HD Pro C920 ($60)
The Logitech HD Pro C920 is about as good as it gets in this price range. It’s capable of full 1080p at a steady 30 frames per second but only when used with Skype. For non-Skype uses, you’ll only have access to a 720p resolution at the same frame rate.
The camera compresses video data in real-time using H.264 compression for awesome quality while keeping the bit rate low. Image quality itself is reasonable with sharp lines, rich colors, and a fast autofocus mechanism. It clips onto laptops and monitors with ease and can even be mounted on a tripod for advanced positioning.
Are you a fan of streaming on Twitch? The Logitech C920 has been a top recommendation among gamers over the past half year or so. You won’t find another webcam with this kind of quality and feature set without first doubling the price tag.
If the Logitech C920 isn’t available to you or you’re just not keen on Logitech, then the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema HD brings many of the same benefits. To be clear, the Logitech C920 is the better choice, but the LifeCam is a formidable adversary for the price.
This webcam maxes out at a 720p resolution but the image quality is a bit disappointing. While it does have a nifty autofocus mechanism, some users have complained that it’s a little too sensitive and can sometimes be annoying.
That being said, it’s easy to use — just plug it in and install the accompanying software — and it’s extremely flexible. Not only can the camera rotate a full 360 degrees, it can tilt up/down, and the mount is flexible enough to attach the camera to any kind of edge.
Genius WideCam F100 ($39)
The Genius WideCam F100 is a strong choice if you absolutely need 1080p video. Even at such a high resolution, this webcam can capture at 30 frames per second without any stutters or skips ,and the video quality is surprisingly good.
Unfortunately, it lacks an autofocus mechanism – so you’ll need to fiddle with manual adjustments instead (which shouldn’t be much of an issue unless you frequently move your camera to different positions). It also lacks the ability to zoom. These two features might seem trivial, but you may find it inconvenient after a while.
The camera itself can be rotated, tilted, and swiveled to your liking, although the swiveling (side-to-side adjustment) is limited to preset angles. It’s still more flexible than most cameras, but not as flexible as it could be.
Logitech HD C310 ($30)
The Logitech HD C310 is several years old by now, but it’s still a solid purchase when you need a webcam on the cheap. For nearly half the price of the C920, you can still get 720p video with auto-correction for lighting. While the image quality is fine, the video can be a bit choppy at times.
As for the mount, it’s about as basic as they come. There’s a simple clamp that makes it easy to attach the camera to a laptop or a monitor, but the camera itself can only tilt up/down over a small range of motion. The lack of rotation and swivel means that it has to be mounted directly ahead of you.
If your budget is limited, you can’t go wrong with a Logitech C920 – it offers the most bang for your buck, and you should only look into an alternative if it doesn’t work on your computer for some reason (e.g. driver issues). However, if $50 is too much, any of the other alternatives should serve you well enough.
One last note: there was no mention of audio quality for any of the recommendations. The built-in microphones for webcams are rarely so bad as to be unusable; but at the same time, they’re never spectacular. They’re fine for casual use but if you want good voice quality, you should look into supplementing with a standalone microphone.
Check out our podcast equipment guide for some microphone recommendations.
Which webcam are you using? Are there any good ones that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!