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Working remotely has become the norm in 2020. And with an uptick of Covid-19 cases this winter, coupled with a phased distribution of coronavirus vaccines, those who can telecommute will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. A Gallup poll found that two-thirds of U.S. employees working remotely would like to continue doing so. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 37 percent of U.S. jobs could be done remotely.
SKIP AHEAD A simple guide to webcam features
Given that many of us are working from home for the long haul — with some companies even switching to permanent remote work — a good webcam is crucial for those face-to-face meetings (as is a microphone if the one you use isn't cutting it). We’ve covered plenty of other work from home enhancements for you to consider, from ergonomic keyboards and mice to ergonomic chairs, laptop stands, monitors and more. So if the webcam in your laptop isn't up to snuff, we compiled some of the best USB webcams worth considering right now. The pandemic has made certain models harder to find over the course of 2020, but stock seems to be a bit more stable right now in 2021 — though you may have to shop around a bit more to find the best price on a certain model.
Best webcams in 2021
If you’re not entirely sure what you want of your new webcam, we'll explain the features you'll want to watch out for after these top options.
Best webcam overall: Logitech
If you want a good quality image and decent audio at an affordable price, Logitech's C920 and C920S models are widely considered the best bang for your buck. Stock is limited, but if you can find it for under $100, grab it — the C920 is the standard model while the C920S has a privacy shutter that I definitely recommend using.
Best affordable webcam with built-in ring light: Vitade
If you like the idea of built-in lighting but don't want to spend much, there are quite a few off-brand webcams on Amazon you can grab at relatively lower prices. Vitade is one such brand, offering its webcam with a built-in ring light that'll do well enough for most people.
Best webcam with a built-in ring light: Razer
Your camera is only part of the equation: Good lighting can go a long way to making you look better on Zoom — that’s why ring lights have become so popular this year. Razer's Kiyo webcam is designed for video game streamers, contains a high quality camera and a built-in ring light to make you look your best, if you're willing to pay a little extra for lumination.
Best basic, affordable webcam: Firsting
Maybe you want something with no frills that'll get the job done in a pinch. Firsting may not have the best video quality around, but if you just need something to get you by, it'll do the trick for a very, very low price.
Best webcam with 4Kresolution and facial recognition: Logitech
Stepping up in quality, the Brio is Logitech's high-end offering, boosting the video quality up to 4K and adding an infrared camera for facial recognition. This allows you to log into Windows without entering your password, which is so convenient you'll never want to go back.
Or stick with what you have lying around
You may not have a webcam right now but if you have a DSLR camera, you might be able to hook it up to your computer and use it for video calls. Camera purveyors Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm and Panasonic all have free software that can turn their recent cameras (like the Sony Alpha a5100 or Nikon D3500) into streaming webcams. GoPro also has similar software, as does budget tech brand Wyze, so check what you have lying around — you may already have the gear you need for those face-to-face video calls.
How to find the best webcam for you
When shopping for a webcam, don't just look at the "1080p vs 4K" and call it a day — there's a lot that goes into a good-looking picture. Specifically, keep an eye on some of the features below to find the right fit for your needs.
Resolution and frame rate
Resolution isn't the end-all-be-all, but it is still part of the package. All other things kept equal, 1080p is going to look better than 720p, and 4K is best of all — though probably overkill for Zoom calls. You'll also want something that can at least record at 30 frames per second.
Some cameras use cheap plastic lenses with narrow fields of view, which will make the video look smudgy and cramped. Ideally, you want a camera with a wider aperture (i.e. f/2.0 instead of f/2.8) a glass lens, and a field of view above 65 degrees.
Autofocus, auto-brightness and color
Some webcams just spit out whatever picture they take, while others audo-adjust the brightness, color, and focus for the best picture. These are all good to have if you want to look your best.
Remember, you aren't just showing people your face—you're also talking to them, and good quality audio is just as important (if not moreso) than good quality video. You may even want to invest in a separate USB microphone for best results (and if you do, your webcam's mic is of little consequence).
Lighting, privacy and other extras
Finally, some webcams have extra features like built-in lighting, a privacy shutter to keep the lens covered when you aren't using it, or detachable cables. None of these are strictly required (after all, you can light your face with a desk lamp and cover your webcam with tape), but they are nice to have.