The Ultimate Webcam Buying Guide: Don't 'get web$CAMmed!!!

Deal Cadet

The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the greatest global tragedies for over a century. But, can you imagine what would have happened if the same had struck even a decade ago?

All facets of life including entire economy, academia, trade, healthcare would have suffered a complete halt, with the current levels of restrictions/lockdowns. The only thing that has cushioned the impact is internet/4G. People and economies managed to survive by going virtual.

This post related to selecting the right webcam seemed very necessary because:
1. In the wake of pandemic officegoers are working from home, students are attending online classes. All these depend on video streaming, therefore needing a reliable webcam. This led to a sudden surge in the demand, jacking up the price. Not only did they stop at charging unethical prices but kept selling outdated hardware that are not worth a penny at a premium. They made a true “avsar” (opportunity) out of the “aapda” (calamities).

2. In India, most students have been attending online classes via mobile, which have integrated camera. Those performing work from home are usually on laptops, which have integrated cameras too, but the quality is often poor. Those on desktop computers (between 8-40% of users, depending on the source of data) must compulsorily rely upon an external camera as a reliable audio-video source.

3. Students from poorer/uninformed sections are more likely to get scammed by heavily inflated and backdated hardware available on the market. Middlemen have scammed these sections by big

4. Most webcam reviews available online are criminally biased and possibly sponsored by a brand. It is highly likely that you might end up selecting a wrong article at an exorbitant price.

Hopefully, by the end of this article you’ll have a fair idea about which are the brands you must avoid. Then, you should be able to select by yourself t
he hardware that best fits your need. No spoon-feeding required. Lastly, will also tell you about how you can “create” your own DIY webcam.

Lets talk about resolutions/MEGAPIXELs:
How many megapixels do you need your webcam to be? 48, 64, 128? These are the numbers you are habitually used to hear these days. No. you need no more than 2.1MP. This is because, zoom/Google meet won’t feature your feed as Fullscreen, there will hopefully be many other participants. You will get only a portion of the screen to feature your video feed, even if you are the presenter. And the usual resolution of an average desktop monitor is 1080p or at max 2K. Video resolution is the number of dots or pixels captured in an image. Look at this chart: you will realize that you need no more than 2.1MP or 1080p. 720p will be more than enough for most used cases. Theoretically, the higher the resolution, the more detail that’s captured, resulting in more brilliance. But there are several other factors to a good video quality. Just don’t trust the megapixel numbers, most “shady” companies would conveniently fake these numbers.

Resolution Megapixels

720p 0.9
1080p 2.1
2k 2.2
QHD 3.7
UHD 8.3
4k 8.8
8k 33.2

Lets Talk orientation and aspect ratio:

One of the major problems with attending online classes/meetings on mobile devices is the “portrait” orientation mode. You might have seen some video feeds “lying down” during a meeting/video call. This is the orientation issue. Now a days zoom and Google meet usually resolves the orientation problem automatically, but not always. This is one of the main reason people recommend a desktop/laptop for any important meeting/academic sessions. The aspect ratio is another issue you should consider. It’s the ratio of pixels in the horizontal vs vertical dimensions of your video frames.

• Typical built-in webcams: 640×480 pixels in standard 4:3 format
• HD 720p external web
cams: 1280×720 pixels in 16:9 widescreen format
• Full HD 1080p external webcams: 1920×1080 pixels in 16:9 widescreen format

Now lets talk frame rates:
Trust me, videos are just collage of still pictures concatenated in time. Your eyes/brain cannot detect the discreteness if an object is shown more than 10 still fames per second. This is called frame rate. Framerate of 10 is a bare minimum requirement for a video to feel somewhat like a video. The more video frames per second (fps), the more fluid the video motion. Conversely, the lower the fps, the more likely you’ll see strange things like video out of sync with audio or jerky head movements. A good webcam should consistently deliver at least 25 fps for HD 720p video calls. You shouldn’t need more than 30fps. The data-rate generated by 60fps/1080p or more usually gets auto-compressed by zoom/Google. Your uplink bandwidth gets consumed, but the final video quality doesn’t get better.

Professional-grade optics/color-rendering:
Image quality is only as good as the lens that captures the image. You don’t need ultra-high-quality videos in most cases. Webcams that use professional optics, such as Carl Zeiss lenses, give you greatly improved image quality. High-quality multi-element lenses correct focal and color inaccuracies that cause blurry or poorly color-tuned images.

Autofocus is an important feature to look for in a webcam. Try to avoid manual focus cameras. Fixed-focused cameras are designed to handle normal focus ranges between 1 foot to 4 feet and are usually cheaper; but should better be avoided. My suggestion is don’t compromise on this point.

• Manual: Lets you adjust focus by hand.
• Fixed Focused/Always Focused: The camera is pre-set to a specific focus range. Better webcams keep you in focus by setting the range at 40 cm and beyond, the typical distance between you and your computer.
• Autofocus: The best webcams focus in and out automatically. Top-of-the-line models are designed with precision autofocus that’s ultra-smooth.

Sound quality:
Audio quality is the most important requirement for online classes/meetings. You must not compromise on this. Most webcams have a built-in microphone. Quality varies. A premium mic will include noise-reduction technology. High-end webcams come with dual mics, giving you HD quality stereo audio. You don’t need dual/stereo microphone.

Easy set-up:
Most webcams are now plug and play. Windows 7 onwards, the pain of finding and installing drivers for most reputed brands have mostly subsided. If you at all need a driver, it should be provided by the manufacturer via a CD. Insert the webcam’s software CD into your computer and follow the on-screen prompts. When installation is complete, plug the camera’s USB cord into your computer and you’re done.

Auto light correction:
If room lighting isn’t just right, your video image may be cast in shadows or look washed out. Auto light correction instantly detects and corrects for poor lighting. Better webcams have low-light boost, color boost and adjust exposure so you look your best, even in dim and harsh lighting. Even basic webcams offer some level of auto-brightness correction. For the purpose of study or meeting, have a table lamp near you, rather than depending on “auto-brightness” adjustment through webcams. Zoom or Google meet does a decent job in auto-correcting your brightness levels.

Face tracking:
High-quality webcams can intelligently adjust framing, keeping your face in the center of the screen when you move. Some also offer a wide-field-of-view, ideal for situations when two or more people are on camera. And, to be precise: you don’t need this feature at all.

Background Removal:
This is another functionality; many brands have put as an USP for their products. Remember, most background removal functionality in webcams are very basic. They are not dependable at all. You need a greenscreen to get any meaningful result. Did you know zoom offers the exact same functionality at the software level, even if your webcam doesn’t have the feature. But a cheap greenscreen and enable the option in zoom. And you are done.

There are brands like Logitech who have been charging unfair amounts of money for products with no-extraordinary performances. You should be aware of not investing your hard-earned money after these products. You will often see them on the recommendation list of various reputed sites like PCMag, TechRadar etc. Don’t get befooled. Brands like Logitech have invested little behind R&D, nor have they reduced the prices of their products to pass the benefits to their end-users. Instead, they have poured money in sponsoring of so-called “reviewers” who have been fooling people for years.

Date of Release:
Continuing from the previous point, you will see that the webcam products which Logitech sells today as “flagship” were usually launched between 2012-2015. The newer models have very insignificant updates. Neither have they reduced the price for older models, nor did their newer models had anything “new”. Not only Logitech, many industry old guards are culpable of this crony practice. Can you compare this to how much progress have been made in the filed of mobile hardware and network speeds in the previous one decade. Imagine how cutting-edge technologies have become affordable and got intertwined with our daily life. Now contrast that to the sector of webcam. Complete stagnation, mo R&D, no major improvement, same 2012 hardware at uber-premium price. This is a form of black marketing. Must be called upon and stopped.

So, don’t be fooled by the presumption that: you are paying higher prices, so you would get a truly better product. You may end up buying a piece of junk at a premium.

Article in progress… Not yet final.

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I will provide a brand and model-wise guide in next few days.