Updated by Christian Cawley on October 28th, 2016.
Don’t have a webcam, but need to make an urgent video call on Skype or some other video conferencing service? Perhaps you already have a webcam and want to add a second camera to your setup?
All you need is your Android phone and a suitable app.
Why Use Your Phone As A Webcam?
You’re caught short. Your children want to chat with their grandparents over Skype. Or perhaps it’s your boss, wanting a teleconference to discuss that report you submitted.
But you don’t have a webcam.
Although they come built into many monitors and all-in-one PCs, not everyone has a webcam. Peripheral webcams are popular, but they can prove tricky to install and temperamental even when they’re set up correctly.
The solution is something we’ve covered previously on MakeUseOf, but time has moved on. Arguably the best — perhaps really, the only — choice you should make is to install DroidCam, an Android app that turns your smartphone (and if you have a good device for grabbing it, your tablet) into a handy, portable webcam.
DroidCam comes in two parts, an Android app that is free from Google Play (premium $4.00 version also available), and the desktop client component, which is available from www.dev47apps.com/droidcam for Windows and Linux.
Begin by installing the Android app. With this done, switch your attention to your desktop PC. After downloading, unzip and run, following any on-screen instructions.
Once launched, you’ll be invited to input the IP address for your DroidCam. This should be easy to find, just run the app on your Android and it will be displayed, as well as the port number. Back on the desktop client, you’ll notice that it is possible to stream audio from your phone as well, and choose video quality — low, normal, and high are available.
Should you opt to connect via USB, all you’ll need is the USB cable that came with your phone.
When you’re ready to proceed, click Start to begin streaming. The mobile app will then send the image from your phone’s camera to your computer. For devices with two cameras, tap the Settings button on the mobile app and check the appropriate box to switch to the camera you want to use.
Although the free version of DroidCam offers some good options, it isn’t perfect. For instance, you can only use the webcam in landscape mode, zooming is limited as is resolution, brightness, and various other controls that are found in the menu across the bottom of the DroidCam desktop client.
To activate these, you’ll need to upgrade to the paid version of DroidCam. Naturally, we would only recommend that you do this if you feel you’ll use these features, otherwise remain with the free DroidCam release.
Setup is largely the same as with DroidCam. However, although there is a configuration tool that you will need to fill in, IP Webcam requires you to view the output through your web browser. Only Chrome or Firefox are accepted here, so Windows users can’t use internet Explorer as it doesn’t stream correctly. You’ll need to use the http://[IP ADDRESS]:8080/videofeed URL to view the feed.
Various image resolutions are available for video and stills, and rear smartphone cameras are supported, although front-facing cameras aren’t yet fully supported.
Once you’re up and running, tap the Actions… button on your Android device to check the app is running correctly, to stop and start the camera, and more. Want to know more? Check our previous assessment of IP Webcam, or just start using it…
Sharing Your Webcam With Skype or Hangouts
You’ve setup a webcam and it is streaming images from your phone’s camera to your computer. But how do you use it within an application like Skype?
Simple. The client, once installed, is recognised by your operating system as a new webcam. All you need to do is use the appropriate menu option in your chosen video chat app to select the camera. This will work with DroidCam, but not IP Webcam.
In Skype, this would be Tools > Options > Video settings, where you’ll find the Select webcam dropdown menu. Select your Android webcam from the menu, click Save and you’re done. You’re not limited to Skype, incidentally, as other chat services supporting video should accept video from your smartphone camera, including Hangouts, which, as we know, is cooler than Skype.
Remember when using any webcam for video chats to make sure you follow our steps for looking presentable and professional.
We’ve been looking at the free options for each of these apps, and there is a good reason for this. If the free version works and is competent, then there’s a strong chance that the full version will be equally — if not more — impressive.
Assessing these Android webcam apps, I’ve noticed two key things: the variation in the number of features available in each, and how easy they are to setup.
So, the winner is DroidCam, for being very easy to setup and providing good support for messenger apps. While the features on offer are limited, it gets the job done.
But what do you think? Have we missed an Android webcam app that you rely on? Tell us in the comments.