So you need to start streaming video of your smiling face, and the webcam in your laptop isn’t cutting it. (Alternately: the complete absence of a camera on your desktop computer isn’t cutting it.) You need a dedicated camera, and you need the best one for your use case and budget. You’re in luck: they’re all here.
With a huge shift towards working from home currently occurring, webcams are in short supply at the usual retail suspects like Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart. So for the picks below, we’re going to link directly to the manufacturer pages, where some of them can be ordered directly from the site stores. If you can’t find them there, try setting up an in-store alert or looking on the secondhand 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 you should keep in mind.
- Resolution: Most new webcams will have a resolution of either 720p (1280×720) or 1080p (1920×1080). A few will be higher, like our upgrade pick, but for most users 4K resolution is overkill. After all, you’ll only occasionally be taking up an entire screen! Unless you’re recording specifically for a professional production, save yourself some money and stick 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 back at just 24. If you’re looking for super-smooth video—like matching up to 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 any Windows or macOS software that requires them. If you’re looking for more professional video, you may want to use one that comes with a companion desktop program for adjusting the video settings.
- Privacy: Several upgraded webcams have built-in shutters that physically cover the camera’s aperture. It’s a nice touch, but the nice thing about a USB webcam versus a laptop is this: you can unplug it.
- Microphone: To be honest, even the best webcams have substandard microphones. Even using a basic combination headphone/microphone set made for phones would be better. If you want high-quality audio, get a dedicated USB mic.
With all that in mind, check out our selections below.
The Best Standard Webcam: Logitech C920s
If all you need is a reliable picture and a decent microphone, this mid-range option from Logitech has you covered. In fact, it has two microphones for “stereo” recording (though you’ll still be better off with a stand-alone mic or headset). Other than that, it has a basic USB connection and 1080p resolution, with a decent enough lens 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 flip-up privacy shutter, 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 go-to camera. Its 4K recording resolution, HDR recording, and high-quality lens are ideal if you’re counting on perfect clarity. The camera can pan and zoom its digital image as well. Combined with flexible mounting options (including a standard camera tripod) and an included privacy shutter, it’s as good as it gets without connecting a dedicated dSLR or mirrorless cam to your PC. As a bonus, the infrared sensor works with Windows Hello verification.
The Best Budget Webcam: Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000
There’s nothing especially impressive about this square little camera, aside from the low price. It can only record in 720p (which will be fine if all you need is something for meetings), it has a basic mic (which you probably shouldn’t rely on), and it’s certified for Skype. It also has a handy adjustable mount that should work with any monitor or laptop, or in a pinch, standing on its own.
The Best Webcam for Game Streaming: Razer Kiyo
Gamers who want to stream their faces in addition to their games should check out this model directly from Razer, the people who make those keyboards and mice with too many lights. This 1080p camera also has lights, but it’s just the right amount: a ring light can illuminate your face if the lighting from your USB-powered RGB mousepad isn’t enough. Notably, it also records at 60 frames per second (720p), so your personal video can be as smooth as your game video. Razer’s camera adjustment software is also surprisingly powerful.
The Best Add-on Webcam for Laptops: Logitech StreamCam
This pricey, newer model from Logitech boasts what no other camera on this list does: a USB-C cable. Between that, an impressive 1080p/60 sensor, and a mount that can clamp to the thinnest laptop screen or connect to a standard camera tripod, it’s an excellent choice if you need something that’s a big step up from your laptop’s built-in webcam. It also has automatic face-tracking focus—ideal if you’re recording outdoors or in other environments you can’t control.