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The best webcam

There are lots of horrible webcams. We pick the top few.

Whether you’re an aspiring streamer, have a Skype interview coming up, or simply have friends abroad you want to keep in touch with, you’ll probably need a webcam at some point. Unfortunately, when building a gaming PC, a webcam tends to be that component you only realize you’re missing after you need it. There are a lot of webcams out there, and it’s hard to judge a camera’s quality without plugging it in and using it firsthand. After testing more than a dozen different products, I'm confident these are the best webcams you can buy.

Skype is no longer the sole choice for video conferencing. More modern apps such as Discord, Zoom, and many others are surging in popularity thanks to their abundant features and ability to handle higher-quality capturing. While Skype restricts your video input to a mere 720p, many other video chat clients bump that to 1080p. I test all our webcams at both resolutions. Additionally, streaming is more popular than ever, so I’m keen on each webcam’s performance in that regard as well.

Even now in 2018, the Logitech C920 is still the best webcam overall for streaming or calling your friends and family. We've continued to see new webcams being released, and some have entered our labs, but the C920 remains our favorite pick for its quality, build, and attractive price. If you don't already have a webcam, get the C920.

On the high-end spectrum, the Logitech Brio’s ability to capture 4K HDR makes a strong case. Its prohibitively expensive, but it's a nice upgrade if you have cash to spare and want to capture in 4K.

The Razer Kiyo replaces the Logitech C525 as the most versatile webcam. Although it’s nearly three times the price, it touts respectable image quality and a built-in ring light. The ring light casts directly onto the streamer’s face and helps tremendously in dark environments, making it one of the best options for use in caverns.

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The best webcam

  • Excellent picture quality in multiple lighting conditions
  • Wide FOV is useful for groups, and can be digitally zoomed without a noticeable drop in quality
  • Auto-focus and image adjustment are better than the competition
  • Auto color can be a bit washed out, but is easily adjustable in software

Logitech makes a lot of webcams. They have the most options of any manufacturer, essentially selling a webcam at each $10 interval between $30 and $70 (£20 GBP to £48 GBP). Through all my testing, Logitech cameras were of a consistently higher quality than their competitors, but they were also more expensive. The c525 and c615, Logitech’s mid-tier options, added more features and ease of use instead of increased camera quality, but the next step up, the Logitech c920, was clearly on a different level.

All you have to do is look to see the difference in the c920’s picture quality. It has 1080p resolution with a large FOV, a sharp image, and a wide angle making everything about its picture look more camera than webcam. When I was testing it in low light, the auto image adjustments worked so well I had to double check the lights were actually turned off. It’s significantly cheaper than other webcams of its caliber. The Microsoft LifeCam Studio is only $10 cheaper but looks significantly worse, while the Logitech c930e has better, but comparable, video quality with a higher FOV and costs nearly $40 more.

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The best high-end webcam

  • First 4K webcam
  • Superb image quality
  • Supports HDR recording
  • Detachable cable
  • Crazy expensive
  • Autofocus struggles to change focus
  • Subpar clip

The Logitech Brio features a flush, full glass front, upping the aesthetics compared to Logitech's previous webcams. Its extras include a handy carrying pouch and a privacy clip that covers the camera when it's not in use.

Along with the standard capturing resolutions, the Brio is the only webcam today capable of capturing in 4K. Though its image quality is very good at 1080p and below, its 4K images are stellar.  What's more is that the Brio supports recording in HDR, bringing richer colors to compatible HDR screens. A side note: The Brio can only record in 4K when connected to a USB 3.0 port. If you're only seeing 1080p as the recording option, check to see if it's connected to the right port.

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The best budget webcam

  • Very flexible camera head
  • Easy plug-and-play usability
  • Best quality for the price
  • White balance will fluctuate annoyingly when auto image adjustment is on

The Logitech c920, and Logitech cameras in general, are really top-notch, but that quality comes at a premium that not everybody wants to pay. High fidelity cameras are expensive to make, and the generic $5 cameras that litter Amazon and Newegg are simply not worth it. So while the $25 Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 might not seem so budget, generally staying in the $25-30 (£20.06 GBP) price range, it is the best quality you can get at such a low price.

The HD-3000 is a plug-n-play camera in the truest meaning on the term. The stand is very adaptable and fit every monitor I put it on. The camera head has a large degree of flexibility, meaning I could just throw it on top of my monitor and adjust on the fly. This flexibility and ease of use was a trait of all the Microsoft webcams and is one of the key places they have bested Logitech. They were were also the only ones to download their webcam software automatically (on Windows, go figure), and that software is very robust.

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The most versatile webcam

  • Compact design
  • Ring light is amazing for low light situations
  • Inherently boosts saturation
  • Great image quality
  • Expensive for a webcam
  • Saturation boost looks unnatural in certain scenes
  • No adjustment software

Shelling out $100 for a webcam seems excessive, but the Kiyo gets you some nifty features for your money.

The Razer Kiyo's built-in ring light is both interesting and pragmatic. Having a light source built directly into the camera is a godsend for streamers in dark environments. The light's intensity can be adjusted by turning the dial on its outer circumference. When not in use, its saucer-like body neatly folds into a cylinder, and the cable neatly wraps around its body.

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How we test webcams and others we tested

Webcams have become a part of gaming culture. With the rise of YouTube Let's Plays and Twitch livestreams, seeing who is playing a game has become nearly as important as seeing the game itself. Not everyone cares about seeing a facecam in the corner of their favorite stream, but it's no coincidence that pretty much every top-rated streamer has a webcam prominently featured.

Whether you're an aspiring streamer, have a Skype interview coming up, or simply have friends abroad you want to keep in touch with, you'll probably need a webcam at some point. Unfortunately, when building a gaming PC, a webcam tends to be that component you only realize you're missing after you need it. When I switched back to a desktop PC after using a gaming laptop for four years I had a truly embarrassing moment as I realized, "Oh right, those don't just come built into the monitor."

First and foremost, a camera should be judged by the quality of its picture. If a webcam's price seems too good to be true, it probably doesn't look very good. Super cheap webcams can have the visual fidelity of filming yourself with a potato, but spend too much money and you'll hit a plateau where you can't see a practical difference besides the cost. As a PC peripheral that will be used infrequently by most of us—when compared to something like a mouse or keyboard—or scaled to the corner of a streamer's screen, I wanted to find the perfect balance of price and image quality.

Out of every camera I tried, the Logitech c920 was the overall best. It has the best image quality available without approaching the $100 price point of the webcams it can be compared to. Logitech has the widest webcam selection by far and, for the most part, their cameras were consistently the best ones I tried. You have to pay a bit more than other brands, but it's usually worth it.

The Logitech c920 is my primary recommendation, but I also picked out the best budget webcam (one that doesn't look like crap, and costs only $25) and the most versatile webcam for travel or unusual desk setups.

Believe it or not, the only difference is the camera used.

The only difference is the camera used: Logitech c920 vs Creative Live! Sync

Testing webcams

Discord's video conferencing feature has taken the world by storm. As such, we've included it as a testing software alongside Skype. In both apps, we test the video quality at the maximum supported resolution. For streaming and video recording, OBS is still our choice go-to app, while images are captured in the default Windows Camera app.

I used OBS to both livestream and record video from each camera, testing them both fullscreen and scaled down to a "facecam" size. I also used each manufacturer's webcam software to take the highest possible resolution pictures with each and manually adjust settings like white balance, brightness, auto-focus, and others where applicable. Each of these situations were tested with multiple lighting setups from overhead fluorescent bulbs to nothing but the glow of the monitor in front of me.

The process of selecting the right webcam is much like choosing a good camera. Most of the metrics we use to determine camera quality also applies to webcams. You should pay attention to the image quality, color accuracy, focus speed, and customizable features. Although most of us have dedicated microphones, the onboard microphone can come in handy when in a pinch.

One of the greatest determiners of image quality is the amount of noise present in an image. When lighting is ample, most webcams have no trouble producing good image quality. The quality of a webcam is more accurately reflected in low light, where the camera needs to digitally compensate for the lack of light. Generally speaking, more expensive webcams come with higher quality sensors and usually have less pesky color blots compared to cheaper ones.

The other crucial aspect is the color of the images. Before we even begin to examine the color quality, we should pay attention to the white balance. White balance gauges the temperature of the lighting from your surrounding environment and sets the white point accordingly. If the white point is incorrectly set, the image may be masked with a blue or yellow tint. Unless a tuning utility is included, the white balance is usually automatically adjusted by the webcam's processor.

Next is exposure, saturation, and contrast - all three are equally important. Exposure is the brightness of the image, saturation is the depth of the colors, and contrast is the difference between black and white. Brightness ensures that you can be seen clearly, while saturation and contrast make your images pop. Again, unless a software is included, these settings are normally adjusted automatically by the webcam's processor. More expensive webcams are more adept at replicating the most accurate scene.

Software for webcams is just as critical-if not more so-than other peripherals. Although many streaming and conferencing apps have built in adjustment options, using the manufacturer's driver software allows you to adjust the settings globally.

Aside from the video quality, I also took a look at their ease of use. Each manufacturer has a different method of attaching a webcam to the monitor, so I tested them across different monitor shapes and sizes. I took into account whether the webcam cord was long enough to reach from the top of a monitor to a case underneath a desk. I tested how easy they were to angle, readjust, and if they would fall off or reposition themselves if I bumped the desk. I tested the plug-n-play nature of them and noted whether the webcams downloaded drivers or software automatically. Lastly, I recorded audio with their built-in microphones, but this was not a heavily influencing factor as a webcam should be bought with video in mind first.

Competitors

We tried out a whole bunch of webcams during the testing process for this article. The Logitech c920 was crowned the victor, but here are some of the others we tried and why they didn’t quite hit the mark.

Logitech C922 Pro:

The key difference between the previously released C922 and the C922 Pro is the included tripod. Other than that, its image quality is nearly indiscernible from the original C922 and even the C920. The C922 Pro is $74.99 on sale without the tripod and $99.99 for both. Even at its $74.99 sale price, I still recommend picking up the C920 over the C922 Pro. If you really need the tripod, then you can grab it for $14.99.

Logitech c310:

The c310 is a very nice quality camera and is on the lower-end of Logitech’s prices, but that also makes it a good example of the premium you pay for a logitech webcam. The c310 has a crisp image, but any other advantages it has over the Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 are negligible compared to the price increase.

Logitech c615:

As I mentioned in my discussion of the c525, the c615 has a versatile design and a nice quality image, but it’s also a steep price increase from the c525. For $10 more you can get the c920, which blows this out of the water even without the foldable design.

Logitech c922:

A great choice for those trying to get into streaming, the c922 comes with a few months of the XSplit broadcaster for free and a decent background removal tool built-in. It can also do 1080p at 60 fps, as opposed the c920 which can only hit that framerate at 720p. Unfortunately, the higher price for what is otherwise essentially the same camera means it's better value to pick up the older model at a lower place while you still can. 

Logitech c930e:

This is a better quality camera than the c920, but it costs nearly $40 more and is designed with business conferencing in mind. That means the Logitech webcam software won’t work, adjusting the image can be very difficult, and the FOV is far wider than an individual person would want. It’s a fantastic webcam, but really not intended for the average consumer.

Creative Live! Sync:

Creative makes cheap webcams that seem appealing enough, but I can not recommend that anyone buys them. The Live! Sync manages to make $18 look expensive with its very poor picture quality, unadjustable camera head, and no webcam software.

Creative Live! Chat: 

Once again, Creative’s Live! Chat is not worth its price. It is definitely better than the Sync, with an adjustable camera head and a higher quality picture, but the Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 is only about $5 more expensive. There are simply better options for a similar cost.

Creative Senz3D:

I don’t think the Senz3D is really meant to be a webcam. It’s extremely expensive yet has a max resolution of 720p and quality comparable to the Logitech c310. It has 3D sensing and motion controls which didn’t work too badly, but I was hard pressed to find games for it besides the ones that came with it. I think this is Creative’s attempt at making a cheaper, PC-centric Kinect which is a noble goal, but until more people take advantage of the included SDK, the Senz3D won’t have much use.

Microsoft LifeCam Cinema:

The Microsoft cameras are significantly easier to use in both their software and their adjustability, but the picture quality isn't up to Logitech's bar. The LifeCam Cinema’s design is unique and flexible, but its cost is high considering Logitech’s higher quality.

Microsoft LifeCam Studio:

Similar to the LifeCam Cinema, the LifeCam Studio is a great camera with fantastic adjustability, but it’s only $10 away from the significantly better Logitech c920. The Studio is a fine looking 1080p webcam, but only $10 more will get you a huge step up.

Logitech c920 webcam

Future testing

I still need to test the Logitech c270, their webcam that is slightly cheaper than the c310. However, it’s still more expensive than the Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000, which I recommend over the c310 as a budget option. In general, I am interested to see a true competitor to Logitech enter the webcam market, as currently only Microsoft can hold a candle to its quality. I also want to test the Brother NW1000, another high-end webcam which could rival the c920, even if it does cost more.

Lastly, I want to buy as many different low-end, $5 webcams as I can possibly find and see if even one of them is slightly worth it. But if the webcams I've tested are any indication, you get what you pay for, and you're not going to want to stream games, or even use Skype, with a webcam that costs less than $20.

We’ll keep this list up to date as new webcams are released and prices shift. Price for quality had a big influence on my judgment, so if prices permanently dip or raise, it could affect the how highly I rate a specific webcam. As for the Logitech c920, unless it goes back to costing $100, it will take a new webcam entering the market to dethrone it.

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