February 25, 2022

The best camera for Zoom calls

Name a webcam. I’ve likely tested it.

Way back in the depths of the pandemic, I found myself helping my clients set up Zoom studios. A lot of this was remote—a task that involved shipping webcams, microphones, and lighting and then instructing the clients on how to properly set each element up. Several webcams fell over. One of them got chewed up by a dog.

If you’re looking to record a guest for some social media content and want more than that 720p file from Zoom, check out riverside.fm. Riverside, as somewhat of an industry secret, allows users to record their client’s webcams and audio at uncompressed quality for editing later.

I wanted to provide my clients the highest quality webcam so that they would look their best. Sources for “the best webcam” like Wirecutter and Engadget and CNet weren’t cutting it, often opting to show webcams that were merely popular and had high reviews. Yes, the Logitech C920 had fantastic reviews and was a great 1080p camera. Yet, the lack of dynamic range (i.e., that “blown out” window behind your Zoom call) showed the C920’s age.

Needing a better camera, my business partner and I bought a huge variety of webcams off Amazon. We bought the top sellers from Logitech and Razer. We bought webcams off eBay. We bought webcam-on-board cameras (think exposed wires and green PCB boards) that lacked a housing and attempted to fit them into a housing. We tried so many cameras.

Our findings were that, well, all webcams were universally pretty terrible. Most lacked dynamic range. Some had difficulties with autofocus. Others were incredibly noisy. None of the 40 or so cameras we tried could compete with a mirrorless camera hooked up to a computer through an Elgato Camlink or an NDI protocol1.

In the end, we opted for mirrorless cameras, which prevented us from shipping cameras permanently, but we did at least have very high-quality streams of our clients.

I still do “Zoom studio” building, so if you have an interest or just general questions, let me know.

The best webcams

These days, in 2022, we are finally starting to see some webcams with very good image quality. If you happen to have a mirrorless camera laying around and you consider yourself tech savvy, then you could get better image quality out of that then any of these cameras here. But, of course, that’s at the expense of ease of use. All of the below webcams are much easier to set up and use daily. And they don’t overheat.

Logitech StreamCam Plus

$100 - $149

This camera outputs a natural-looking image with high dynamic range. Logitech got skintones right on this camera. Its microphones are good, too. Of all of the webcams that were released in the last two years, the StreamCam Plus produces the best-looking image.

Staples and BestBuy both have the StreamCam in stock in multiple locations around Tualatin, Sherwood, and Beaverton. I wish I could recommend a few local electronics stores, but none yet carry this webcam. The wonderful people at AMT Computers & Electronics in Sherwood might soon have a few in stock if you call.

MEVO Start

$325 - $400

Okay, okay, this webcam is expensive and not for everyone. But, hear me out on this. The MEVO is a completely wireless, battery-operated camera capable of live streaming over your phone’s hotspot anywhere in the country. You can go live on your company’s social media from anywhere, no WiFi or cables necessary (though it can run off both).

Better yet, if you buy another MEVO, you can pair them together and switch between them during a live stream for a dual camera setup that traditionally would cost thousands to produce with multiple crew members. They even have some AI technology built into the app for automatically switching between cameras, though I haven’t tried that.

The MEVO is available locally in Tualatin at Bestbuy.

Lumina

$199 - $200

Speaking of AI, the next camera on this list is the Lumina. The sleek aluminum chassis of the Lumina houses a rather large sensor for a webcam, all of which is powered by an AI to create a very nice-looking image.

The makers provide a color chart for users to hold up to the camera during calibration. Each chip on the chart, kind of like Pantone colors, is a lab-validated color that, when held up to the camera, will show any variations in color caused by the lighting in your office. The software corrects the color on the camera so that the chart looks as it did in the lab.

The image out of this camera is getting close to the Logitech StreamCam Plus, but it’s not quite there yet. This is definitely a camera to watch as every day they are making improvements to their image AI.

This camera can be purchased online here.

Opal C1

$300

The Opal C1 has it all. A fantastic image. Very good audio quality. A beautiful housing. Future-proof 4K recording. For $300, while not cheap, this camera produces an image as good as a $2000 mirrorless camera wired into your computer. It does not overheat. It does not require extra microphones. It has minimal setup. This is the webcam to beat all other webcams.

The Opal is, as is most silicon-valley tech, in an invite-only stage. You can still reserve a spot here.

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