The C920 has been around since 2012, and it doesn’t include fancy, high-end features like 4K video, 60 fps recording, or Windows Hello face authentication. But there’s still no better webcam for the basics, and price drops have only improved the C920’s value—you can usually find it for $60 or less today, a significant drop from the $100 it cost when it was released.
If you need a less-expensive option, or something you can take with you, we recommend the Logitech HD Webcam C615. Its video quality doesn’t match the C920’s—the picture isn’t as sharp, the frame rate is lower at full resolution, autofocus is slower, and auto white balance isn’t as accurate—but the C615 is just as easy to set up, provides 1080p resolution, and has the best quality of any webcam under $50. Its mount also folds around the camera to protect the lens, making the C615 a better portable option than the C920.
If you regularly use your webcam to stream to sites like YouTube or Twitch, and want to be able to put smooth 60 fps video of yourself on top of your 60 fps game footage, you’ll like Logitech’s C922x Pro Stream Webcam. The C920, our top pick, is less expensive and our testers preferred its picture quality, but the C922x was a close second and it uses an identical microphone and monitor clip. It also supports smoother 60 fps video at 720p, it includes a tripod, and it supports (on Windows only) a background replacement feature that simulates a green-screen effect.
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Why you should trust us
Andrew Cunningham has spent more than six years writing about PCs and other gadgets for AnandTech and Ars Technica, and before that he spent five years in IT helping people buy the best tech for their needs. Kimber Streams has written about tech for six years and been a PC expert for The Wirecutter for more than three years. Kimber has tested hundreds of laptops, even more storage devices, and way too many peripherals—including wireless mice, mechanical keyboards, and webcams.
Who this is for
Most recent laptops and all-in-one desktops have a decent—sometimes even great—built-in camera, so many people don’t need a stand-alone 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 stand-alone webcam can also provide better quality for video calls, recording videos, and streaming games, events, porn—you name it!
How we picked
We evaluated 19 current webcams for this update to the guide, including our previous picks, new webcams released since the last time we tested, and best-selling cameras from Amazon. To narrow the field down to six contenders, we compared the specifications of each camera; test data from the previous version of our guide; Amazon reviews; and reviews from trusted third-party sources like PCWorld, PC Magazine, and Laptop Mag.
A good webcam for most people should meet all of these basic criteria, which we used as guidelines for our research:
- Price: You can get a great webcam for $50 or $60, so there’s no reason for most people to spend more. Even professional streamers or YouTubers with more demanding needs don’t need to spend over $100.
- Resolution and framerate: A webcam should ideally support a resolution of at least 1280×720 (720p) streaming at 30 frames per second, the maximum resolution supported by most mainstream video chat services. We favored cameras that support at least 1920×1080 (1080p) video at 30 frames per second, which is useful for the streaming apps that support it and for video recorded locally. Some high-end cameras support 720p video at 60 frames per second, which makes for smoother video but isn’t necessary for most people.
- Autofocus: For our main pick, we considered only those models that support autofocus, though we did consider one model without autofocus for our budget pick. This feature allows webcams to adjust their focus when you move closer to or farther away from the camera, or when you hold something up in front of it.
- Automatic brightness and color correction: You should be able to manually adjust these settings if you really want, but any good webcam should give you a decent image without requiring you to fiddle with settings.
- A decent microphone: Any webcam you buy should include at least one noise-cancelling microphone so that you can be easily heard when you’re chatting in a room with a little ambient noise (like a ceiling fan). But if you need better sound quality, you should consider our picks for office, gaming, or Bluetooth headsets with integrated mics.
- A good clip/stand: Any webcam needs a clip that makes it simple to attach it to a variety of laptop screens and desktop monitors, and it should be easy to tilt the mic up or down to adjust the view. Stands that also allow the cameras to sit independently on a table or desk, that allow the camera to swivel, or that include a tripod mount are a bonus.
A few other things are nice to have, but most people don’t need to worry about these:
- A glass lens: Glass lenses generally make for better picture quality than plastic ones. Most mid-level to high-end webcams have a glass lense, but ultimately the camera’s resolution, autofocus, and brightness/color adjustments have a larger impact on image quality.
- A larger field of view: A larger field of view (measured diagonally) means the people you’re chatting with can see more of you and your room at once. But for video chatting, a larger view isn’t that important, and most webcams offer roughly the same field of view anyway. Almost all of the cameras we tested had a field of view between about 70 and 80 degrees; the lowest-end model had a 60-degree field of view and the highest-end model had a 90-degree field of view.
- A longer warranty: Most of the webcams we tested had two- or three-year warranties. But overall, webcams are relatively simple, mostly stationary devices that don’t tend to break much.
- Extra software: If you’re running Windows 7 or newer, or any recent version of macOS or ChromeOS, most webcams will work without any extra software. If the webcam does include optional software, it should be purely additive and easy to use.
Five of the webcams we tested met or exceeded all of our requirements, and they were all from Logitech: the Brio, C922x, C920, C615, and C525. We also evaluated the Logitech C270, which lacks autofocus but meets our other requirements and costs only $20. In a previous round of testing, we tested (and dismissed) Logitech’s C930e and Microsoft’s LifeCam Cinema.
How we tested
Once we narrowed down the field, we took multiple pictures and videos with each webcam under controlled conditions so we could compare them directly. For our 2017 tests, here’s what we captured with each contender:
- A still photo in a room that was well-lit with both sunlight and overhead lighting. These are typical conditions for most webcams, so they give us a good idea of how you’ll look when you record video or chat over Skype. The mix of different light sources can also trip up a camera’s white balance.
- A second still photo in a well-lit room, but seated in front of a window. This shows us how the webcam handles different light levels in the same shot.
- A video shot in the same well-lit room. Again, this is close to ideal for most webcams, and it shows how detailed and smooth their recordings are and how their autofocus features work in typical conditions.
- A video shot in a dimly lit room. Most webcams struggle in low light, but that doesn’t keep people from using them without good lightning.
- The same two videos at 60 fps (for the Logitech C922x and Logitech Brio, the only two cameras we tested that support this feature).
- An audio sample in a room with a ceiling fan on high, but otherwise quiet, to test mic quality and noise suppression.
We then had seven Wirecutter staffers compare the images and videos from the different cameras, without knowing which was which, and rank their quality from best to worst. We used that data, our findings from the previous version of this guide, and notes from other professional reviewers to settle on our picks.
We also downloaded and used Logitech’s webcam software for the cameras we tested. All of these webcams are automatically detected by Windows 10, macOS, and other modern operating systems; Windows 10 downloads and installs the necessary drivers for you. But features like background replacement require Logitech’s software.
Our pick: Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920
The Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 is the best option for most people who need a stand-alone 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 features worked better than those of any of the other webcams we tested. Logitech introduced the C920 back in 2012, and there’s still nothing better for the price.
When comparing pictures taken by the six webcams we examined, our testers consistently ranked the C920 first, beating out even newer and more expensive models like the C922x and the Logitech Brio. The C920 produces sharp, 1080p-resolution video both locally and streamed through services such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and Zoom (though many services default to, or max out at, 720p to save bandwidth). They did think that the C920’s audio sounded muffled compared with the other webcams we tested, but the camera’s noise-reduction feature works well and the sound is still perfectly fine for casual chats and virtual meetings.
The C920’s autofocus works quickly, and the camera does a good job of adjusting its exposure and white balance—even in rooms with a mix of sunlight and warm overhead light, or when you’re sitting in front of a bright window. It did just as well as or better than the more expensive C922x and the Brio in these tests. By comparison, the less expensive C615 produced darker, less detailed images with too saturated colors, and the C525’s pictures in front of the window were underexposed, making the rest of the room too dark. The C920 does struggle in a dimly lit room—the frame rate drops as the camera adjusts its exposure settings to keep you visible, and you’ll see more image noise and less detail—but none of the webcams we tested did particularly well in low light.
Like the other webcams we tested, the C920 works right out of the box on Windows, macOS, and Chrome OS—just connect its USB-A plug to your computer (directly or via an adapter) and launch your video-recording or video-chat software of choice. If you need more control, you can manually adjust exposure, gain, brightness, contrast, color intensity, white balance, and focus using the Logitech Webcam Controller software for Windows or the Logitech Camera Settings software for Mac.1
The C920 has a large, 78-degree field of view (only the Brio’s was significantly larger at 90 degrees), and Logitech’s software allows you to zoom and pan—say, to keep your lovely face in frame without showing off your messy room.
The C920 sits on top of your screen: A fold-out foot braces against the back of your laptop or monitor, while a plastic tab sits in front to hold the camera in place. The C920’s large front tab provides stability, but if you’re using a laptop or monitor with a superslim bezel (like the Dell XPS 13 or HP’s Z27n), the tab blocks a small sliver of the screen. Alternatively, the base of the clip is sturdy enough to sit the camera on a desk by itself, or you can use the webcam’s 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 C920 is universally loved by reviewers. 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.”
Laptop Mag named the Logitech C920 one of the five best webcams in 2017, calling it “an easy favorite” that takes “sharp, color-accurate, and crystal-clear” images. The C920 has the best meta rating on Engadget, and is the top seller on Amazon with a rating of 4.4 stars (out of five) across more than 8,000 reviews.
Budget pick: Logitech HD Webcam C615
If you don’t want to spend more than $40 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—most people should spend the extra $20 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 to match the C920’s 30 fps you need to go all the way down to 640×480 resolution. In our tests, the C615’s images and video were darker, softer, and less detailed than those captured by the C920. Our testers preferred the C920, C922, and the expensive Logitech Brio, but they still liked the C615 more than the other budget webcams we tested, Logitech’s C525 and C270. Testers also universally preferred the C615’s microphone to the one on either the C920 or the C922x, which they thought sounded muffled compared with the other cameras. (You’ll want a headset or a separate microphone for anything beyond basic chatting with any of these webcams.)
Like the C920, the Logitech C615 is easy to set up on Windows, macOS, 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.
We do like the C615’s clip better than the C920’s. You can still perch the C615 on top of your screen, on your desk, or on a separate tripod for use. But the C615’s front tab is smaller than the C920’s, so it doesn’t block screens with super-thin bezels. The C615 can also swivel from side-to-side or tilt up and down, while the C920 can only tilt, and you can fold up the C615 when not in use, with the stand protecting the lens if you want to throw it in your laptop bag.
For streamers: Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam
The C920 is all most people will need for casual chats, video conferences, and even professional or semi-professional video recordings and streams, since it’s a 1080p webcam with sharp image quality, good white balance and exposure settings, and fast autofocus. But for regularly streaming video for an audience on sites like YouTube or Twitch, we really like Logitech’s C922x Pro Stream Webcam. It looks almost identical to the C920, and if you’re just using Skype or Google Hangouts, the image quality is similar. The extra $20 to $30 in cost buys you support for 720p 60 fps video recording and background replacement, as well as a tripod.
Most people don’t need a webcam than can do 60 fps. Most webcams, including our top pick, record and stream video at 30 fps, and if you use your webcam only for chatting, meetings, or basic videos and streams, that’s more than enough. Chat services like Google Hangouts and Skype usually default to 30 fps video to save bandwidth (and most don’t support 60 fps video at all), and 60 fps files are twice as large as 30 fps videos because they’re capturing twice the number of frames.
A 60 fps webcam is primarily of interest to people who frequently stream using live video services like Twitch, which can stream 1080p videos at up to 60 fps. For streamers who overlay video of themselves atop 60 fps game footage, having a webcam that can also record at 60 fps makes for a smoother, nicer-looking stream. And the C922x comes with a tripod, which gives streamers more flexibility than the normal C920-style clip allows.
The C922x also includes software that tries to separate you from your background, creating a green screen-style, background-replacement effect without the added cost, equipment, and space you’d need for an actual green screen. Removing the room behind you means that your webcam overlay takes up less space—it’s just you, not you and everything behind you—and obscures less of whatever is streaming underneath.
The Windows-only ChromaCam software that the C922x uses for background replacement actually works with any webcam, including the C920. The version Logitech includes with the C922x offers the same features as the $30 Pro version—it removes the ChromaCam watermark and lets you insert your own, and it lets you load custom background images and PowerPoint presentations.
In our testing, the feature did an okay job distinguishing my torso, head, and hair from the rest of the room as long as the light was good, but it had trouble recognizing or separating my arms and hands from the background, and it sometimes included the back of my chair, too. When we used the ChromaCam software with our top pick, the C920, the background replacement effect seemed to work about as well as it did for the C922x, so you’d probably be better off paying for the Pro version of ChromaCam instead of upgrading to a C922x just to get this feature.
For everyday use, the C922x works just about as well as the C920; our testers slightly preferred the C920’s pictures and video in our tests, but the C922x was almost always a close second. The exposure, color, and level of detail captured by the two cameras are similar overall, and most testers still preferred the C922x to the more expensive Logitech Brio.
The C922x is also easy to set up, and, as with the C920, you’ll need to install extra software only if you want to control the exposure and white balance settings manually—or if you want to use the ChromaCam software for background replacement. Both the Windows and Mac versions of the Logitech Camera Settings app for the C922x require you to open a separate app like the Windows Camera app or Photo Booth to preview your image as you adjust it.
Professional reviewers like the C922x, though they agree that it’s identical to the cheaper C920 in most ways. PCWorld says, “By most measures [the C922x] is the same camera Logitech launched in 2012,” but “it’s still one of the best webcams around.” Laptop Mag says that the background replacement software and included tripod make the C922x a better choice for gamers than the C920, but “if you just need a great webcam or don’t care about background removal, the Logitech C920 is a better deal.”
Should you be worried about privacy?
You may have noticed other people (including tech luminaries) covering their webcams with tape to protect their privacy. If you’re shopping for a webcam, you might be wondering—is this something you need to be worried about? To get more information, we spoke with Stephen Checkoway, who co-authored a research paper on webcam spying back in 2013.
“I don’t want to sound alarmist and webcam-based spying is not the most serious privacy threat facing computer users, but it is a real and serious issue,” Checkoway wrote. “There are Internet forums devoted to using remote administration tools (RATs) to surreptitiously take control of people’s (frequently young women’s) computers and spy on them.”
Almost all webcams, including every webcam we tested for this guide, have indicator lights that turn on when the webcam is active. But these aren’t foolproof, since it’s possible to disable the indicator light on some webcams. Logitech’s software for the C920 and C615 lets you control whether the light comes on when the webcam does, and if Logitech can do it, spyware makers can do it too.
If you decide to cover your webcam, you’ve got a few different options, including tape, Post-It notes, and stickers—Slate writer Jacob Brogan recommends painter’s tape or Washi tape, both of which are effective and easy to remove but don’t leave a sticky residue—or covers made for specific webcam models. The popularity and longevity of the C920 mean that there are multiple covers made just for it.
“Any of these will prevent recording video,” said Checkoway. “But one must be aware that preventing video recording is all that they do. In particular, they do not prevent audio recording.”
Luckily, there’s one totally foolproof way to keep all of our picks from recording video and audio without your knowledge, and it’s the one that Logitech itself recommended to us: Just unplug the webcam when you aren’t using it.
What to look forward to
Webcams that use Intel’s RealSense 3D camera technology differ from regular webcams because they can sense depth. They can separate things in the foreground of a picture or video from things in the background, and they can do it much more consistently and reliably than Logitech’s current background replacement feature. They can also use 3D facial recognition to log you in to your computer via Windows Hello (some other webcams, including the Logitech Brio we tested, use a simpler IR camera for this), and they support hand- and finger-tracking.
Models that use RealSense are already available, but they’re either significantly more expensive than the Logitech C920 (like Razer’s Stargazer or Creative’s BlasterX Senz3D) or intended for developers (like Intel’s own SR300). They’re also considerably more bulky than any of our picks. If and when these cameras become smaller and cheaper, they may become compelling alternatives to traditional webcams. Until then, they’re overkill for most people.
We disqualified the Logitech Brio because it costs more than three times as much as the C920, and because our testers almost always preferred images and video taken by both the C920 and C922. That said, the Brio is the only webcam we tested that can record 4K video—but only on computers with seventh-generation or newer Intel Core processors or modern dedicated graphics cards. The Brio also has a built-in infrared camera that you can use to log into Windows 10 using your face via Windows Hello, and it has a USB-C port instead of a built-in cable so you can use whatever type and length of USB cable you want. It records 720p video at 60 fps, works better in low light than our picks, and supports background replacement. It’s a great webcam—it’s just too expensive, and most people don’t need its extra features.
The Logitech C525 is a cheaper version of our budget pick, but it doesn’t support 1080p video, uses a plastic lens instead of a glass one, and doesn’t include a tripod mount on its foldable clip. Our testers found its images “grainy” and “fuzzy” and generally preferred the C615. We think the C615 is worth the extra money even if you’re on a budget.
We tested the Logitech C270 to find out how a $20 webcam would far against more-expensive models. It consistently placed dead last in our image-quality tests, it lacks autofocus, and its small field of view is claustrophobic compared with the views of the rest of the cameras we tested.
The Logitech C930e (also called the Logitech Pro Webcam) is a more expensive version of the C920 that’s aimed at business uses rather than home use. It has a wider, 90-degree field of view, meant to capture large meeting rooms for video conferences; this isn’t something most people need.
The Logitech C310, 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.
The Microsoft LifeCam Studio has poor reviews, and PC Gamer recommends the Logitech C920 over it.
The Brother NW1000 is more expensive than the Logitech C920 and has few—and lukewarm—user reviews.
The Gucee HD92 720p and HD92 1080p, the Havit HV-N5086, the eStorees USB HD Webcam, and the Cimkiz USB 2.0 HD Webcam are all listed as best sellers on Amazon, and they’re all available for $30 or less, but they all lack autofocus and come from no-name companies unlikely to offer good support if you need it.
(Photos by Andrew Cunningham.)