What Are Webcam Frame Rates?

Why FPS isn't the whole story

A webcam affixed to a monitor.

Pexels / Public Domain

Many new computers ship with a built-in webcam for video communications. Computers that don't have built-in webcams support webcam peripherals. The higher a webcam's frame rate is, the happier you'll be with your device. What is a frame rate and why do you need to pay attention to this number?

What Is a Frame Rate?

The frame rate is the number of pictures a webcam takes and transfers to the computer screen. Frames are measured in frames per second. If a webcam is described as 30 fps, it can take 30 pictures every second and transfer them to the computer screen.

How It Works

When a picture (or frame) is captured by a webcam with a low fps rating of 15 fps or below, the webcam creates a JPEG file of each still image and transmits a series of these JPEG still images. When the frame rate is higher than 15 fps, the webcam streams the video using the computer's internet connection.

Internet connections and webcams have both come a long way. 15 fps is nearly unheard of, with 30 fps being the new minimum for most cameras. Webcams record to a video file, such as an MP4, AVI, or MKV, or stream the video in one of those formats over the web. Video files, like traditional film, are a collection of still images. The webcam's frame rate determines how many still images go into making those video files. Higher frame rates equate to smoother video and larger file sizes.

Various quality settings for webcams on Windows 10

Frame rates generally range from 15 fps to 120 fps. Stay with 30 fps or higher if you don't want to transmit choppy video. The higher the frame rate, the smoother the video.

Frame rates are usually tied to the resolution of the camera. For example, a camera may capture 60 fps at 720p but only be able to capture 30 fps at full 1080p.

To stream video, you'll need a webcam with a decent frame rate and a high-speed internet connection.

Outside Factors

Although the rating of the webcam may indicate one speed, it may capture video at a different speed. Certain factors affect a webcam's frame rate, such as the capabilities of the webcam software, the subject matter being recorded, the resolution of the webcam, the amount of light in the room, and the available bandwidth.

Running multiple devices over a computer USB port can also slow the frame rate. The ports may play a role too. Use the fastest USB 3.0 ports for your webcam.

USB Cable

Another way to increase a webcam's fps is to increase the lighting in the room and defrag the computer hard disc.​ If the drive is still slow, consider investing in a Solid State Drive (SSD).

Defragment and Optimize Drives app icon for Windows 10

The Future of Webcams

Frame rates will continue to rise in conjunction with webcam resolution, which determines how sharp the video is. As high frame rates and high-definition resolutions become more commonplace, prices will drop and the low frame-rate webcams will disappear. It will not be long before 60 fps becomes the bare-bones minimum for an entry-level webcam.