Dell’s New Webcam Wants to Replace Your DSLR

It combines a Sony image sensor with the latest IR and proximity-sensing tech

Key Takeaways

  • Dell’s Ultrasharp Webcam uses a 4K Sony Starvis image sensor to improve low-light performance.
  • It supports Windows Hello biometric login and can automatically wake your PC when you approach it.
  • Priced at $199.99, it’s not inexpensive (but certainly less than a DSLR camera).
Someone using a Dell UltraSharp Webcam sitting at a kitchen table with a laptop.

Dell

What if your webcam could make your coworkers think you’re using a full-sized DSLR camera? 

Dell's new Ultrasharp Webcam is designed to pull off that trick. It works like any webcam, connecting over USB and handling image quality adjustments automatically. But unlike most webcams, it has a Sony image sensor designed to improve image quality in poor lighting. Dell thinks this will take webcam video quality to a new level—no ring light required.

"The fact is, due to the pandemic situation, a lot of us are staying home, taking a lot of calls," Wee Kee Yeo, a vice president at Dell Technologies, said in a remote press briefing. "A lot of users are pursuing the path, asking 'how do I make myself look fantastic?'" 

A DSLR Benchmark, but Not DSLR Technology 

Until now, the answer to that question was expensive: buy a DSLR and use it as a webcam. The results are great, though it costs at least $500 and is supported by a limited number of cameras. Dell’s Ultrasharp Camera aims for similar results with less hassle at a more affordable $199.99 MSRP.

However, Dell isn’t using a full-frame DSLR image sensor in the Ultrasharp Webcam. The camera instead uses a 4K HDR Starvis that Sony originally sold to security camera manufacturers. This might seem a bit of bait-and-switch by Dell (though Dell never claims to use a DSLR-caliber sensor, instead calling DSLR a "benchmark"), but it’s understandable given the price.

Starvis is meant to improve video quality in poor or uneven lighting. This describes not only the dim hallways security cameras monitor, but also a home office lit by a single LED lamp in the corner of the room.

The Dell Ultrasharp Webcam isn’t the first webcam with a Sony Starvis sensor. That honor goes to Razer’s Kiyo Pro, which was released in February. I’ve tested the Kiyo Pro and found it arguably delivers the best low-light image quality of any webcam today. Dell’s use of a Starvis sensor with 4K resolution is promising given what the Kiyo Pro can deliver at 1080p. 

All the Features (Except the Microphone)

There’s no disputing the quality of DSLR, but using such a camera with your computer has its own disadvantages. Cameras for professional photographers are packed with settings that can make using the camera intimidating. DSLRs also lack PC-centric features that improve everyday use.

Dell’s Ultrasharp webcam throws in the kitchen sink. It supports 4K video at 30 frames per second or 1080p at 60 frames per second and can adjust between a 65-, 78-, or 90-degree field of view. HDR support is included and used to improve exposure and color balance in uneven lighting.

It’s also a feast of the latest AI-driven camera technology. It has an IR sensor to enable Windows Hello facial recognition login. Dell goes the extra mile and throws in a proximity sensor to support user presence detection, a feature that automatically wakes your computer when you approach (and puts it to sleep when you step away).

The Dell UltraSharp Webcam mounted on a computer screen.

Dell

The webcam’s software supports auto-framing, which, like Anker’s new Powerconf C300, can track your movement and crop the video to keep you centered. There’s also a tripod mount and magnetic privacy cap. One key feature is absent, though: a microphone.

"We intentionally didn’t add a microphone to this device," Ray Watkins, Dell’s consumer reviews program manager, said in a remote press briefing. Dell expects customers keen on a high-end webcam will prefer to use a dedicated microphone. Still, I think it’s an odd omission. 

A Webcam for Every Angle

Dell’s briefing focused on how the Ultrasharp Webcam appeals to office professionals who’ve shifted to remote work. However, Watkins said that’s not the webcam’s only use. He believes it will have broad appeal for content creators, including YouTubers and Twitch streamers. 

"This is going to be huge in the gaming community," said Watkins, "because for the cost of one SLR, you can have four or five of these cameras doing multiple angles for your streams."

A streamer with five Ultrasharp Webcams sounds like Dell’s wildest dream, but there’s truth to the point. Razer’s Kiyo Pro, as mentioned, also uses a Sony Starvis sensor, but it lacks many of Dell’s features, including an IR sensor, proximity sensor, and 4K resolution. The Ultrasharp Webcam could be a tempting alternative.

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