What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Webcam

Learn what to look for when buying a webcam

Although many laptops ship with webcams, there are still plenty of reasons to buy an external one. Whether you need it for business meetings, training webinars, video podcasts, or chatting with the family, getting the right high-quality webcam matters. Take these important factors and features into account to find the best one for your needs.

Webcam Essentials You Need to Look For

Here are some basic features you need to look out for when shopping for a new webcam:

Resolution

A webcam with high resolution is a must. The lower the resolution, the grainier the image looks on the screen. Most modern webcams support only high-definition video capture. Look for a video capture resolution of at least 720p or higher. A 1080p webcam is even better. They're becoming more common and more affordable.

Frame Rate

A high frame rate is also important. Webcams without high frame rates produce images that stutter and periodically freeze on the screen. Frame rate is measured in frames per second, so look for "fps" on the webcam packaging. You need a minimum of 15 fps to stream video.

Webcam Resolutions settings in Windows 10

A frame rate of 30 fps or higher is recommended, with 60 fps being ideal, but it's not as common in lower price ranges.

Lens

The type of lens the webcam has affects its performance. Some entry-level models have plastic lenses, but it's wise to stick with a glass lens, which improves performance without significantly raising the price.

Logitech HD Webcam C525

Still Images

Look for a webcam that takes still images that are at least two megapixels. Most current models take images much higher, and 15-megapixel captures are common.

Microphone

A built-in microphone is another standard feature. It's not difficult to find a webcam with two or more built-in. Microphone quality has improved a lot over the years. Omni-directional ones, which record from every direction around the camera, can be found in most mid-range and high-end webcams.

Other Webcam Bells and Whistles

The following features aren't essential, but they're nice to have.

Motion Sense

Motion sensing can turn your webcam into a security system, and some models come with this feature built-in. If yours doesn't, you may be able to download software for it. Check the manufacturer's website to make sure.

Logitech HD Webcam Properties window

Auto-Focus

Auto-focus is another feature to look for. Most people don't sit perfectly still while filming. A webcam should refocus, at least a little, to where you're sitting in relation to it.

Special Effects

Depending on the type of video chatting you do, you may want to include special effects, and many webcams come packaged with these abilities. If the one you want doesn't, the manufacturer website may provide special effects software for download.

High-Def vs. Ultra HD Considerations

Most webcams capture high-definition videos. If you plan to post clips to social-networking sites, low-quality videos can affect viewers negatively. It's not difficult to find a quality webcam that records at 720p for a reasonable price. So, even if you want one for occasional video chatting, get an HD camera.

For more professional work, even if that's uploading videos to YouTube or streaming on Twitch, invest a bit more for a full HD 1080p camera. They're fairly common, and the price won't break the bank.

If you need the absolute best quality, research webcams that record at resolutions above 1080p, up to 4k Ultra HD.

Only people with monitors that support these resolutions will benefit from the increased picture clarity. These cameras should probably be reserved for special cases or if you make a living from creating online content.

Most webcams are affordable, but you tend to pay for what you get, so be sure to weigh your feature needs and budget needs carefully.

Webcam System Requirements

Not every webcam runs on every computer or operating system. Make a note of your computer and operating system, then check the requirements for the webcam that caught your eye. Mac and Linux users need to take special care here. Most webcam manufacturers make sure their cameras work on all current Windows versions, however, finding a camera for Mac or Linux (including Chromebooks) might be more challenging.

Most webcams have minimum processor speed, memory, and hard drive requirements. If your computer's new, it should meet or exceed these. If you plan to work with high-definition video on an older system, you may run into compatibility problems.