If you need a webcam for video calls, streaming, or recording, we recommend the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920. It’s by far the best we’ve found after researching 16 top models and testing five over countless video calls. It has sharp, 1080p video at 30 frames per second with fast autofocus and quick, accurate auto white balance, giving it the best video quality of any webcam we tested. The C920 is easy to set up on both OS X and Windows and it has handy (but entirely optional) software for both operating systems.
Most recent laptops and all-in-one desktops have a decent—sometimes even great—built-in camera, so many people don’t need a standalone webcam. But if your laptop’s integrated webcam is really bad (or broken, or in a dumb place), or if your desktop or display doesn’t have a camera, a USB webcam that sits on top of your screen is the best option. A standalone webcam can provide better quality for video calls, recording videos, and streaming games, events, porn—you name it!
A great webcam should have at least 1280×720 resolution—1920×1080 is ideal—and support autofocus and automatic white balance. It should be easy to set up and should sit securely on a wide variety of monitors and laptops, and any included software should be intuitive to use. Tilt, pan, zoom, and other framing adjustments (either in hardware or in software) are optional, but are nice perks available in most webcams above $40. We didn’t look at any webcams that cost more than $100 because you don’t need to spend that much to get a great one.
With these criteria in mind, we researched 16 best-selling and well-reviewed webcams, and narrowed that group down to five for testing: the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920, the Logitech Webcam C930e, the Logitech HD Webcam C615, the Logitech HD Webcam C525, and the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema. We tested each on OS X and Windows with Skype calls, Google Hangouts, and Zoom meetings; we explored the included software; and we mounted each on several monitors and laptops.1
The Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 is the best option for most people who need a standalone webcam, thanks to its superb image quality, ease of setup, and helpful (but optional) software. Its video—1080p at 30 frames per second—was crisp and clear in our testing, and the autofocus and auto white balance worked better than those of any of the other webcams we tested. Logitech first introduced the C920 back in 2012, and there’s still nothing better for the price.
This webcam had the best image quality of the five webcams we tested, and it produced sharp, 1080p-resolution video both locally and streamed through video services such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. The C920’s autofocus feature was faster at changing focus between my face and other objects than autofocus on the competition. And this webcam accurately autocorrected white balance, even in a testing environment with sunlight streaming through a window and a warm LED bulb overhead. Other webcams handled this situation poorly, either making the side of my face too bright or everything else too dark.
Wirecutter writer Kevin Purdy helped me test each webcam’s audio, and he concluded that the C920’s built-in microphone produced the “least problematic” audio of the five webcams we tested. He described audio from the other webcams as “more compressed,” “more staticky,” or “boomier,” and said they “picked up more ambient noise.” If you’re using the webcam for a call with friends, family, or coworkers, the C920’s microphone works just fine. If you’re streaming or recording and need better audio quality, we recommend pairing the webcam with our pick for best USB microphone.
The C920 works right out of the box on Windows, OS X, and Chrome OS—just plug it into your computer and launch your video-recording or -chat software of choice. If you need more control, you can manually adjust exposure, gain, brightness, contrast, color intensity, white balance, and focus in the Logitech Webcam Controller software for Windows or the Logitech Camera Settings software for Mac. (The Mac software doesn’t show a preview when you’re adjusting settings, so you’ll have to use OS X’s Photo Booth app or other video software to test your tweaks.) The C920 has a huge field of view, and the software allows you to zoom and pan—say, to keep your lovely face in frame without showing off your messy room.
The Logitech C920 sits on top of your screen; a fold-out foot braces against the back of your laptop or monitor, and a plastic tab sits in front of the monitor to hold the camera in place. The C920’s front tab is larger than the ones used by the other webcams we tested—a design that provides greater stability—but if you’re using a laptop or monitor with a superslim bezel (like the Dell XPS 13 or Dell UltraSharp U2715H), the C920’s tab blocks a small sliver of the screen. You can instead mount the camera on a standard tripod mount, if that better fits your use.
In addition to the software settings, you can physically tilt the webcam up or down to control what’s in frame. The C920 doesn’t, however, let you swivel the camera left and right. This isn’t a dealbreaker, because you can always slide the webcam around or change the framing within the software, but if you need that feature, take a look at our budget pick.
The Logitech C920 is universally loved by reviewers (at least, the few who cover webcams).
Tom Marks of PC Gamer tested at least 11 webcams and crowned the Logitech C920 the best of the lot, saying, “Time and time again, the C920 impressed me not just for the quality of its image in ideal conditions, but its consistent quality in all settings.”
Lifehacker named the Logitech C920 one of the five best webcams back in 2012, saying, “If you work from home and use video to stay in touch with colleagues and attend meetings, or if you just use it to stay in touch with friends and family around the world, the Logitech C920 HD webcam offers stunning video quality—including Skype and other video calling (when supported) in 1080p, autofocus, sensitive dual stereo microphones, and full HD video recording if you produce video from your computer.”
PCMag gave the C920 an “Excellent” rating in 2012, citing “crisp, well balanced video recordings. True 1080p video chats with Skype HD. Clear audio recording in stereo.”
If you don’t want to spend more than $50 on a webcam, we recommend the Logitech HD Webcam C615. Its video quality, autofocus, and auto white balance aren’t as good as the C920’s—and most people should spend the extra $30 or so to get that better performance—but the C615 is just as easy to set up and has the best video quality of any webcam we tested under $50.
The C615 is capable of 1080p video, but in our tests the image quality and frames per second didn’t match those of the C920—to match the C920’s 30fps, you have to drop the C615’s resolution all the way down to 480p. The C615’s video quality was, however, better in both local and streamed tests than that of the 720p Logitech C525 and Microsoft LifeCam Cinema. The C615’s autofocus was a bit slower to respond than the C920’s and occasionally didn’t quite focus on my face. Finally, though the C615’s auto white balance was more effective than that of the other sub-$50 webcams, the sunny side of my face was still blown out—the C920 didn’t have the same issue.
The C615’s microphone is passable for casual chats, but it sounded “warblier” and “more staticky” than the C920, according to Kevin. If you need high-quality audio for streaming or podcasting, we recommend using a separate USB microphone.
Like the C920, the Logitech C615 is easy to set up on Windows, OS X, and Chrome OS—just plug it in and it works without any additional software. The same apps (Logitech Webcam Controller for Windows and Logitech Camera Settings for Mac) work with the C615 if you want manual control over the framing, exposure, brightness, contrast, color intensity, white balance, or focus.
The Logitech C615’s mount works largely the same as the C920’s: The webcam sits on top of your screen, braced against the back of the computer or monitor and stabilized by a small tab in front. But the C615’s front tab is smaller than the C920’s, so it doesn’t block screens with super-thin bezels. Like the C920, you can mount the C615 on a tripod, but the C615’s mount can also do a couple of things the C920’s can’t: It lets you manually pan and tilt—the C920 can only tilt—and you can fold it up, protecting the lens, to shove it in a bag.
The C615 has a 4.4-star (out of five) rating across 1,359 user reviews on Amazon.
The business-focused Logitech Webcam C930e (also called the Logitech Pro Webcam) costs around $30 more than the C920 and has harder-to-navigate software that offers less manual control over the camera.
PC Gamer named the Logitech C525 the “most versatile.” Our budget pick, the C615, has an identical mount design and better-quality video that goes up to 1080p rather than capping at 720p, plus the C615 doesn’t cost much more.
The Microsoft LifeCam Cinema had the worst video quality of the webcams we tested; the picture was dark, blurry, and underexposed during every video call.
The Logitech C310, Logitech C270, Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000, Genius WideCam F100, Creative Live! Cam Sync, and Creative Live! Cam Chat all lack autofocus, which is a necessary feature for most people.
Razer hasn’t released its Stargazer webcam—marketed toward game streamers—yet, but at its projected price of $200 it’s too expensive for most people, especially when you can get our top pick for around $70.
The Brother NW1000 is more expensive than the Logitech C920 and has few—and lukewarm—user reviews.
PCMag gave the HP Webcam HD 5210 an Editors’ Choice award back in 2011, but you can’t buy it anymore.
In February 2017, Logitech released the Brio 4K Pro Webcam. Along with offering the best webcam video resolution, the camera can shoot 1080p video at 60 frames per second and has a 5x zoom. It also has a flexible mount with hinges designed to fit various monitor sizes, as well as a privacy shutter to shield its camera lens. Although we don’t expect that most people need to spend $200 for a 4K webcam, we plan on testing the Brio to see if it’s worth recommending as an upgrade option.
(Photos by Kimber Streams.)
Originally published: June 14, 2016