Best Webcams for Videoconferencing
For $50 or less, you can buy a model with admirable image and sound quality from Aukey or Lenovo
One thing that’s harder to reproduce, however, is the experience of being face-to-face with colleagues in a meeting. Until we all migrate to some sort of virtual-reality setup peopled with 3D avatars, we’re stuck with videoconferencing. But that doesn’t mean we have to resign ourselves to grainy, unattractive video.
How We Tested
We tested all seven models for picture quality, audio quality, ease of use, versatility, privacy, and security. We weighted the criteria differently, placing the most emphasis on picture quality, as you might expect from a webcam test.
To test picture quality, we used the webcams to take two still images, one of an industry-standard resolution chart and the other of a person.
We then captured three videos—one of the resolution chart, one of a person talking, and one of a moving hand—to test whether movement resulted in blurry or otherwise smeared images. Most webcams record at 30 frames per second, which is sufficient for video calls. Some higher-end models can operate at 60 frames per second for more intense action.
We did all of these tests under three different lighting conditions to simulate varied working environments. And, for comparison, we ran the same tests on the webcams on a MacBook Pro and an HP Envy 15. After all, there’s no reason to buy a webcam if it’s no better than the camera that comes with your laptop.
Next, to test audio quality, we recorded sound clips using the built-in microphones and listened back using high-end headphones.
We also evaluated the privacy and security of all seven webcams. Consumer Reports looks at these areas in lots of connected products. But it seemed particularly relevant here because webcams are recording devices that sit on your desk and transmit audio and video across the internet.
Among other factors, we relied on thorough examinations of the privacy policies and related documents, whether or not the webcams had any known security vulnerabilities that hadn’t been patched, and whether or not the manufacturers spelled out the terms of any data collection that may occur as you use their device.
In the course of our privacy and security tests, we discovered a problem regarding the status indicator light that we think manufacturers should fix, namely that in many cases the light turns on only when the camera is operating but not when the microphone is on. Read our article on webcam security to learn more about this problem, what the manufacturers have to say, and what you can do to protect yourself.
Now let’s look at how the webcams performed.
What We Found
Of the seven webcams we tested, one model clearly outperformed the others, and one produced picture quality inferior to that of the webcams built into the two laptops. The remaining five did just fine and, for many consumers, the optimal combination of price and performance is likely to be found among those options.
The Logitech Brio was the outstanding performer, offering users the best picture quality and the second-best audio quality. It can record video at up to 4K resolution at 30 frames per second (1080p video can do 60 frames per second). It records clean audio with the built-in microphone (meaning the person on the other end of the video call should be able to hear you clearly) and includes handy extras like a privacy shutter to block the camera and a tripod mount so you can easily place the webcam on your desk.
At a retail price of $165 to $200, though, it was the most expensive model we tested.
The Microsoft LifeCam Studio produces poorer picture quality than the webcams found in our MacBook Pro and HP Envy 15—despite retailing for up to $80. On the upside, it was the only webcam with a status indicator light that turned on an alert when audio was being recorded. (Microsoft recently released a $70 webcam called the Modern Webcam that wasn’t available in time to be included in this report.)
The remaining five models are where things get interesting.
They are the Aukey PC-LM1E, Lenovo Essentials FHD, Logitech C270, Logitech C920 HD Pro, and Razer Kiyo. Of these, we think the Aukey and the Lenovo represent the sweet spot for consumers, offering better picture quality for roughly $40 to $50 than what you’d find in a laptop.
The Aukey brand may not be as well-known as Logitech or Lenovo, but the PC-LM1E offers real value for consumers given the $50 retail price. It supports up to 1080p video at 30 frames per second. And it has most of the useful features you’d want to see, including color correction and noise reduction, which improve image quality without forcing the user to manually adjust settings.
At 55 degrees, it has one of the narrower fields of view we saw in our tests. But that may not matter if you’re used to appearing solo on Zoom and simply want to improve your workspace setup.
Aukey earns substandard scores for security and privacy for a number of reasons. The company doesn’t provide security researchers with an official way to report vulnerabilities, for instance. It doesn’t say how long it retains data collected from users. And it doesn’t give users a way to delete that data.
Aukey products currently have limited distribution but can be purchased on Aukey’s website.
The Lenovo Essentials FHD, which retails for $30 to $40, supports up to 1080p video at 30 frames per second and includes useful features like noise reduction and auto color correction. It has a tripod mount, a built-in privacy shutter, and a 95-degree field of view, making it easier to fit more than one person in the frame at once.