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.
How we picked and tested
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 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 most people don't need to spend more. Even professional streamers or YouTubers with more demanding needs don't need to spend over $100.
- Resolution and frame rate: 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.
- 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 to a variety of laptop screens and desktop monitors, and you should be able to easily tilt the mic up or down to adjust the view.
Once we narrowed the field, we took multiple pictures and videos with each webcam under controlled conditions so we could compare them directly. 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 no other camera is better for the price.
When comparing pictures taken by the six webcams we examined, our testers consistently ranked the C920 first; it beat 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 that of 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.
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.
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 model'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.
For streamers: Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam
The C920 is all most people will need for casual chats, video conferences, and even professional or semiprofessional video recordings and streams, because 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.
This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.