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Home News Best webcams of 2021 - CNN Underscored

Best webcams of 2021 – CNN Underscored

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(CNN) —  

A good webcam will save you from being a blurry mess on an important video call — and now that working from home is the norm for many of us, having a quality camera is more vital than ever. Almost all built-in laptop webcams are terrible, and if you’re working from a desktop, you’ll need a webcam to be seen during important Zoom chats. Webcams are also an essential part of any content creator’s toolkit, allowing Twitch streamers and YouTube pros to connect with their fans via smooth, high-quality video.

With a slew of webcams to choose from that range from affordable sub-$50 models to premium $200 cameras designed for content creators, trying to find the right one for your needs can be tricky. But fret not — we spent weeks testing 11 of the most popular webcams available right now to make that decision easy for you.

We used these cameras as our daily drivers on video calls and Twitch streams, and performed extensive comparisons to see how their video and audio quality stacks up under various conditions. We paid attention to important specs (for example, cameras with 1080p resolution look much sharper than those at 720p, and webcams that shoot at 60 frames per second produce noticeably smoother video than those at 30 frames per second), but also noted how all of those features came together in real world use.

The $69 Logitech C920S emerged from our testing as the clear winner for most people, delivering excellent picture quality and a sturdy, versatile design for an attainable price. The C920S made us look sharp in both bright and dim lighting conditions, and has some handy companion software for customizing your shots.

If you’re on a budget, the $39 Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 offers very impressive performance for a relatively low cost. This lightweight camera is especially ideal for laptop users, and delivers a warmth and field of view that rivals its more pricey competitors in some areas.

For content creators willing to invest in a high-quality camera, it doesn’t get much better than the $169 Logitech StreamCam. This attractive camera delivers 1080p video at 60 frames per second for extra-smooth Twitch streams, and has the unique ability to be positioned in portrait mode for when you’re trying to shoot the next viral TikTok hit.

Finally, for those looking to go all-out, the $199 Razer Kiyo Pro is our high-end pick. This camera also shoots at 1080p at up to 60 frames per second, but really stands out with an advanced light sensor that made us look great even in poorly-lit environments.

PHOTO:
Mike Andronico/CNN

Quick stats:

  • Video quality: Up to 1080p at 30 frames per second
  • Field of view: 78 degrees
  • Works with: Windows, Mac, Chromebooks
  • Warranty: 2 year

The Logitech C920 is the best webcam for Zoom meetings, casual catch-ups and basic live streams, and the more recent C920S is simply a better version of it that throws in a privacy shutter for a cheaper price. This camera is the gold standard when it comes to picture quality for the price, delivering warm, true-to-life photos and videos in both well-lit and dark rooms.

The C920 captures video at a crisp 1080p resolution at up to 30 frames per second, which made us look smooth and sharp on both Webex calls and recorded videos. Logitech’s camera also offers a solid 78-degree field of view, which is about the average for our testing pool in terms of how much of a room it can capture. The C920 captured a large amount of our room in our tests, and while its viewing angle was largely comparable to our MacBook Pro’s built-in webcam, the improvements in brightness and detail were immediately noticeable.

The Logitech C920 generally produced crisp, true-to-life images when we faced bright, natural light. Our only nitpick is that our face would occasionally get slightly blown out when we let a lot of sunlight in — a problem not unique to Logitech’s camera. Fortunately, the C920 continued to hold up well under low light, thanks to its built-in RightLight 2 technology that automatically adapts to the dimness of your room. Our low light shots were definitely grainy, but still brighter and warmer than many competitors under similar lighting conditions.

Design-wise, the C920 has a sleek, understated build that will fit into any home office without sticking out too much. Its flexible clip made it equally easy to mount on both our computer monitor and laptop screen, and it can be attached to just about any tripod. If you opt for the C920S model that we tested, you’ll also get an included plastic privacy shutter that covers the camera up when you’re not using it.

We generally recommend springing for a dedicated microphone for calls, but the C920’s built-in dual microphones are decent enough in a pinch. While our voice sounded a bit fuzzy and distorted in recordings, it was still loud and clear enough for everyday calls. However, our MacBook’s built-in microphone sounded much clearer, which was a common theme in our testing — even the most high-end cameras we used had lackluster audio.

The Logitech C920 also benefits from Logitech’s Capture software, which gives you a variety of fun and useful options for tweaking how you look on camera while letting you capture photos and videos. You can fine-tune the focus and white balance, adjust things like brightness and contrast and manually zoom in if you need a tighter shot.

Streamers can take advantage of the chroma key option that will cut out your background if you’re using a green screen, and you can apply various filters, text overlays and borders for filming custom videos. While the C920 works great out of the box, Logitech Capture is a handy and easy-to-use program for adjusting picture quality, and also an accessible way for aspiring YouTubers to shoot some quick videos.

Considering that you get all of this for as low as $69.99, the Logitech C920 is a no-brainer for anyone who wants a reliable webcam for looking clear and professional on conference calls. One quick note: oddly enough, the $69 Logitech C920S (which includes the privacy shutter) has a lower retail price than the standard $79 C920, even though both versions get you the same actual camera. As such, make sure you get the C920S — you’ll be getting more for a lower price.

PHOTO:
Mike Andronico/CNN

Quick stats:

  • Video quality: Up to 720p at 30 frames per second
  • Field of view: 68.5 degrees
  • Works with: Windows, Mac
  • Warranty: 3 year

If you’re seeking a no-frills webcam that will make you look presentable for your daily Zoom meetings and want to spend as little cash as possible, the Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 is hard to beat for the price.

The HD-3000 is one of the smallest webcams we tested, with a lightweight and flexible design that seems especially ideal for those working on the go. Its bendable rubber mounting clip made it easy to attach to both our monitor and laptop, and it’s small rectangular frame won’t distract you when you’re in the middle of an important assignment. This compact design does have one caveat — unlike many of the webcams we tested, the LifeCam HD-3000 can’t be screwed in to a tripod.

Microsoft’s camera shoots 720p video at up to 30 frames per second, and despite lacking the crisper 1080p of more expensive webcams, it still produced quality photos and videos in our tests. The LifeCam HD-3000 made us look warm and mostly true-to-life under bright natural lighting, and recorded smooth video at 30 fps. Under low light, shots on the HD-3000 looked considerably darker, but still retained an impressive level of detail and color accuracy.

But where the LifeCam HD-3000 really stands out against its main budget competitor — the also-great Logitech C310 — is in the viewing angle. The webcam’s 68.5-degree field of view captured the majority of our small bedroom, whereas the C310’s 60-degree angle made room for our face and little else.

Naturally, a webcam this cheap comes with a few trade-offs. The LifeCam HD-3000 has no companion software, so what you see is what you get in terms of camera quality. It’s built-in microphone is also lacking, as it captured our voice at a low volume and produced a steady buzzing sound that could become annoying during meetings. It’s not a dealbreaker — just make sure you use your laptop’s built-in mic or a dedicated microphone.

Despite those flaws, the Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 is an excellent bargain, and will at the very least mark a noticeable upgrade over most integrated laptop webcams. It’s the cheapest webcam we tested, with an attainable retail price of $39.99 that often drops down to $30 or less.

PHOTO:
Mike Andronico/CNN

Quick stats:

  • Video quality: Up to 1080p at 60 frames per second
  • Field of view: 78 degrees
  • Works with: Windows, Mac
  • Warranty: 1 year

As its name implies, the Logitech StreamCam is for enthusiasts who take their Twitch or YouTube game seriously. But it’s also a superb all-purpose webcam, with one very unique party trick that no other camera in our testing pool can pull off.

The StreamCam can capture video at 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice smoothness for detail and vice versa. Logitech’s high-end cam produced some of the silkiest, most true-to-life video of any webcam we tested, and generally captured rich and accurate colors. The StreamCam also exhibited some of the best autofocus of any camera we tried, quickly recognizing our face and producing a sharp, focused image anytime we streamed on Twitch or hopped on a conference call. It does falter quite a bit in low light, however, so you might want to consider some external lighting if you want to make it part of your streaming setup.

The StreamCam has the unique ability to switch between landscape and portrait modes, which makes it ideal for shooting high-quality video for mobile platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. Switching modes is a snap, too — simply pop the StreamCam out of its mount, position it vertically and it will automatically reorient itself for capturing video at a tall 9:16 aspect ratio that will play nice on phones. And if you’re not getting the right angle from your monitor or laptop screen, the StreamCam has full tripod mounting support.

On top of being easy to adjust on the fly, the StreamCam is also the clear winner in the looks department (if having a cool-looking webcam matters to you, at least). Logitech’s camera has an eye-catching plastic and mesh design that comes in your choice of graphite and white, so you can pick the model that best fits the vibe of your gaming den or video studio. The StreamCam also has one of the better built-in microphones out of the webcams we tested, offering good volume and clarity at the expense of a slight echo.

Thanks to Logitech Capture, the StreamCam has access to the same customization features as the C920, plus a few extra tricks. On top of being able to adjust color, brightness and focus levels, StreamCam owners can toggle features such as image stabilization (for those times when you accidentally hit your desk) and auto framing (which follows your head around to keep you in frame). There’s also a handy backlight correction option for when you’re being drowned out by the light behind you, as well as the ability to switch between mono and stereo audio capture.

The Logitech StreamCam is certainly an investment at $169, but its sheer flexibility makes it one of the best webcams for streaming video games, making fun YouTube videos and even shooting for TikTok.

PHOTO:
Mike Andronico/CNN

Quick stats:

  • Video quality: Up to 1080p at 60 frames per second
  • Field of view: 103 degrees
  • Works with: Windows (full software support), Mac (partial)
  • Warranty: 1 year

If you’re willing to invest in a camera that will make you look great under any lighting condition, the Razer Kiyo Pro is one of the best high-end options out there.

Like the StreamCam, the Kiyo Pro can shoot crisp 1080p video at a fluid 60 frames per second. This consistently led to great-looking photos and videos, with high brightness, rich colors and a smooth frame rate. There’s also an option to toggle High Dynamic Range (HDR) at 30 frames per second, which allows for noticeably richer colors if you’re willing to sacrifice a faster frame rate. It also has a wide field of view at up to 103 degrees, making it ideal for small group calls for those going into an office.

But where the Kiyo Pro really shines is its adaptive light sensor, which easily produced the best low-light shots of any camera we tested. The Kiyo Pro’s advanced lens uses the same STARVIS technology found in certain surveillance cameras, allowing it to deliver bright and sharp image quality even in the dark. photos and videos no matter how light or dark your room is.

The low light shots we took on the Kiyo Pro looked impressively lively, as the camera managed to accurately capture our skin tone, facial hair and bright yellow shirt even with minimal natural light shining through. Only the $199 Logitech Brio came close in this area, but we prefer the warmer, less overexposed shots we got from the Kiyo Pro under low light.

The Kiyo Pro is one of the more impressive webcams we tested in terms of build quality, with a lens that can be rotated a full 360 degrees as well as tripod mounting support. You also get a privacy cover, which adds some value to the high price. Just know that this camera is almost comically big, if you’re worried about subtlety.

You can fine tune the Kiyo Pro to your liking using the Razer Synapse 3 software, which allows you to manually adjust things such as brightness, contrast and saturation, or switch between pre-made profiles such as “cool,” “vibrant” and “warm.” If you really want to get into the nitty gritty, you can also play with things such as zoom, pan and tilt in order to frame a shot that looks just right for your stream.

Synapse isn’t quite as robust as Logitech’s Capture software, but it makes it easy to customize how you look on camera, and those built-in profiles are a nice touch. One small but important caveat — the latest Synapse software only works on Windows, so you won’t be able to fine-tune the Kiyo Pro’s video output on a Mac.

Speaking of drawbacks, the Kiyo Pro has one of the weaker built-in mics that we tested. While it picked up our voice with decent clarity, its volume was far too low to be reliable for video calls or Twitch streams. As we noted above, relying on any webcam’s internal microphone isn’t recommended, and the Kiyo Pro is aimed at creators who likely have or plan on buying a quality USB mic for their setup.

Nitpicks aside, the Kiyo Pro offers a whole lot for its premium $199 price tag, especially since its excellent adaptive light sensor can replace the need to buy external lighting. If you want to look as professional as possible when streaming on Twitch or giving an important presentation online, you’ll get some truly great video quality for your money.

We tested each of these webcams using a mix of everyday real-world use and more formal side-by-side comparisons. To judge image quality, we took photos and videos of ourselves with each webcam under various lighting conditions, including natural and low light, using Open Broadcaster Software. In order to evaluate each webcam’s onboard microphone, we recorded and compared clips of us speaking into each one using Audacity.

For webcams that offered companion software, we downloaded each respective program and tried out all of its major settings and features. We also connected each webcam to both a MacBook Pro as well as a Windows 10 PC to make sure it worked properly with both major operating systems.

We used these webcams in our day-to-day routines, utilizing them to dial into video calls on platforms such as Webex and Discord as well as to stream on Twitch. Finally, we evaluated factors such as how easy each camera was to mount to various surfaces, and whether it included any useful accessories.

Here’s a breakdown of every category and subcategory we graded these webcams on.

  • Image quality had a maximum of 50 points: video quality and frame rate (20 points), resolution and viewing angle (10 points), color and brightness (10 points), autofocus (20 points)
  • Software and features had a maximum of 20 points: software (10 points) and compatibility (10 points)
  • Design had a maximum of 10 points: build quality (5 points), mounting options and accessories (5 points)
  • Microphone quality had a maximum of 10 points: overall (10 points)
  • Warranty had a maximum of 10 points: overall (10 points)

Logitech C310 ($36, originally $49; amazon.com)

The Logitech C310 is an extremely worthy contender to the budget throne, with excellent video and audio quality for the price. However, the LifeCam HD-3000’s superior field of view and even more affordable cost gave it the edge.

Razer Kiyo ($99; razer.com)

The Razer Kiyo is the only major webcam that includes a built-in ring light, which is handy for staying well lit without any external equipment. However, its base 720p image quality just isn’t up to snuff with similarly priced competitors.

Logitech C922 ($99; logitech.com)

The Logitech C922 is a slightly enhanced version of our top pick, the Logitech C920, offering a higher maximum framerate of 60 fps, three months of XSplit Premium streaming software and an included tripod. Those are nice perks for broadcasters, but most folks will be just fine with the cheaper C920.

Ausdom AF640 ($88, originally $99; amazon.com)

This popular, no-name Logitech rival fared surprisingly well in our tests, offering good picture quality for the price and a highly flexible design that can swivel a full 360 degrees. But photos often got a bit too blown out, especially under low light.

Microsoft LifeCam Studio ($64, originally $99; amazon.com)

Microsoft’s midrange webcam takes decently detailed photos and videos at 1080p, and even includes a handy carrying case for when you’re on the go. But you can get brighter, better and more feature-rich webcams for the price.

Logitech C930e ($129; logitech.com)

The Logitech C930e took some of the best photos of any webcam we tested, and its wide 90 degree field of view is perfect for small conference rooms. However, it’s relatively high price and niche use case make it a tough sell for non-business users.

Logitech Brio ($183, originally $199; amazon.com)

The Logitech Brio was one of the top scorers in our testing pool, thanks to its ability to take wide, sharp shots and even record video at 4K resolution. However, its feature set and price are a bit overkill for the average user, and at this price, we prefer the more practical adaptive light features of the Razer Kiyo Pro.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing:

http://rss.cnn.com/~r/rss/cnn_topstories/~3/nWNvhMdqPmk/index.html

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