best webcam

If you are streaming, then you need a good webcam. In this guide, we’ll help you find the best webcam for streaming and for gaming in 2016.

It may be that you have chat interviews coming up. Or maybe you need to catch up with family or friends elsewhere. Or perhaps you have a streaming gig going with viewers following your every channel. A webcam is certainly a good electronics gift idea for Christmas 2016, so have that in mind as well.

The table underneath shows the best webcam 2016 as of December 2016 for your budget and needs. The first webcam is perfect suited for live streaming, YouTube, gaming, and other usage scenarios, and most users pick that one. The table below is definite and shows the best webcams right now. We hope that you find the best webcam in the table below.

TypeWebcamVideo QualityPhoto QualityMicrophone 
Best Webcam 2016Logitech C920
(Editor's Pick)
Full HD 1080p15MPYes
Best Webcam For The MoneyMicrosoft LifeCam HD-3000720p4MPYes
Most Flexible WebcamLogitech C525720p8MPYes

Webcams are pretty much standard accessories among gamers these days. The advent of Let’s Play and Twitch-style streaming has brought about a sharing culture where watching team members during tournaments is almost as vital as viewing actual game plays. Of course, watching face cams at the corners of livestreams is not for everybody. But it’s also true that just about all the top streamers and in-game clients conspicuously offer personal channels as come-ons. If you get a webcam for streaming, we recommend that you also purchase the best microphone for streaming as well for that purpose.

These are the times when a fast connection and a decent webcam are definitely required. But when setting up their gaming desktops, users tend to pay little attention to these things until the need hits. The first thing to consider is that webcam images must be evaluated on the basis of their processed quality. Using cheaper webcams normally results in lesser imagery which you wouldn’t be caught dead in. But spending way too much on business- or industrial-level gear may only bring you up against the vagaries of your site’s lighting and current streaming limits, beyond which you’ll likely enjoy little if any difference in quality despite the higher cost.

Once you’ve gone over these aspects and are looking to see what’s out there, it can be difficult to assess the performance of webcams without first using them. We found ourselves trying some ten or so models in a bid to discover the best ones available to consumers.

Logitech C920 – Best Webcam 2016

Pros
  • Superior imaging qualities in various settings
  • Broad field of view is great for group pictures
  • Digital zooms don’t generate visible quality issues
  • Auto-focus and imaging settings superior to that of rivals
Cons
  • Preset colors can be somewhat de-saturated, but are readily corrected

The company owns the leading webcam brand and has more models in the market than any of the others. Logitech basically pegs every 10-Dollar price point up to $70 with various models which scale up in features as well as price. Throughout the trials, Logitech’s webcams regularly showed higher levels of performance than their direct rivals, although they were comparatively priced higher as well. The C525 and C615 are mid-range units which offer increasingly more useful features and easier operation rather than higher imaging performance as the price steps up. But the next-higher C920 model produced images of noticeably better quality.

The qualitative difference is rather evident once you’ve examined its output. With high resolutions enabled up to 1080p, a broad field of view, sharply focused images, and wide-angle capability, this model delivers stills and videos which can appear to be the product of a properly serious camera. Under most low-light conditions, auto-adjustments were nicely executed to the point that our testers began doubting if they had dimmed the lights appropriately. It doesn’t hurt that the C920 usually costs less than the rival model which perform similarly. For instance, Microsoft’s LifeCam Studio is usually priced at about ten dollars less but offers considerably inferior imaging. If you’re willing to spend more for better quality with a deeper field of view then you can try Logitech’s highest-end C930e which is usually priced only $30-40 more, although that model does come with certain business-centric caveats

One trial we put each sensor unit through was to rapidly swipe our hands very near to their lenses to determine how well their autofocus and brightness, as well as white-balance mechanisms, responded. The C920 passed this test with the figurative flying colors. Rather than rendering a fleshy blurriness which was the norm with this maneuver, the Logitech’s processor produced detailed captures of mine and others’ fingerprints. This model continually swayed us with its consistent capture quality in both perfect as well as less well-lit and chaotic settings. We managed live streams of outdoor events and sports at different times of the day with just the webcam running off laptops. The frames were full of difficult pans of persons running around in front and oftentimes juggling the view, but the C920 never failed to record naturally sharp videos.

We did encounter issues where Logitech’s applications wouldn’t auto-install after plugging in their units. This is a small nuisance which Microsoft‘s webcams were not prone to, although to be fair the Logitech applications were quite decent once we got them running. This C920’s automatic processing performed well in response to various lighting conditions, although both white balance and color saturation could use some calibration. And colors can appear a bit faint and slightly de-saturated, although this is remedied well enough using the provided applications. If you won’t be moving around or changing lighting that much, we’d advice configuring and tuning its settings manually as the automatic modes did not always process images perfectly.

We actually wondered if the large-frame output would prove to be an issue when doing live streams of gaming and other interactive events. Our faces tended to appear a bit tiny when seated at a table. When we tried scaling down face cam feeds into our screens’ corners, we thought the wider-angled views would hinder rather than help. But the webcam’s provided application enabled easy digital zooms and frame-size adjustments without visible declines in quality. Higher-end webcams are still constrained to 1080p streams and 720p Skype sessions, and the hype about high-resolution performance can be a bit misleading at times. It won’t help if a mobile can capture high-megapixel images, but its lenses and processors are low-end components which don’t really perform well. Ultimately, the C920 has a camera module capable of producing great images, which is what truly matters. This is truly the best webcam for Skype as well.

Although it’s the priciest webcam which Logitech markets to consumers, the C920 is hardly ever sold at list price and is usually found at around $70 or so. This may still sound pricey, but it does represent an obvious bump up in performance over comparable models, which basically makes it the benchmark in consumer webcams. Less expensive models down the line and from competitors offer conspicuously lesser performance and anything costlier will not deliver noticeable upgrades in image quality unless you graduate to using regular cameras. The Logitech C920 is also the best webcam for YouTube videos and streaming if you ask us (including Twitch).

Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 – Best Webcam For The Money

Pros
  • Camera head has great flexibility
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Best-value imaging performance
Cons
  • White-balance adjustments can waver with auto-adjustments on

Logitech’s line of webcams usually represent the best performance in their classes, but they tend to be respectively priced to match.  Sensors capable of capturing brilliantly detailed images are not cheap to manufacture, and not everyone needs or wants to spend a lot on top-of-line capabilities. On the other hand, there are way too many generic cams being sold online which are hardly worth buying. There’s a need for a middle-of-line webcam capable of taking decent images. The HD-3000’s $30 pricing undercuts most of Logitech’s offerings, and it delivers respectable performance in its budget class.

This is a webcam which simply plugs in and works with little fuss. It comes with a highly flexible stand which readily mounted all the monitors we fitted it on. The camera’s head is designed to easily adapt to most monitors’ bezels. This superb ease-of-use is a hallmark of Microsoft’s hardware designs and one where they are clearly superior to rivals. It also helps that their designers’ intimate knowledge of the Windows OS enables them to engineer quick and reliable auto-updates and upgrades of drivers and applications.

The model’s auto-adjust system known as TrueColor was very competent at adapting to various lighting conditions, although the white balance would sometimes waver too much. For instance, when facing the sensor with a white-colored surface behind me and as I slid my hands to cover/uncover the white area, the imager would adjust white balance settings on the fly in compensation. The problem was, it did this aggressively to the point of alternately casting reddish/bluish tones washes on my face as my hands moved, which was rather distracting. The good news is that there were enough settings which can be tweaked for a more stable recording of nicely saturated images. Users may find it better to turn off auto-adjustments and manually set white-balance levels and color levels in many situations.

Given that its performance not quite matches that of the Logitech C310, Microsoft has done well to lower the HD-3000’s price below its rival’s by about $10-15, especially given its almost comparable image quality and superior ease-of-use.

Logitech C525 – Most Flexible Webcam

Pros
  • Can be angled to face most directions along a broad front
  • Application offers excellent auto-adjustment of images
  • Mount can be collapsed to enclose the lens while traveling
Cons
  • Competing models provide better-quality imaging although with less versatility

This isn’t among Logitech’s best for sure, but it sells for a relatively low $40 or so and does deliver a nice feature set for the price. In terms of quality, the pricier C310 is capable of better imaging for a slightly higher cost. But the latter’s mechanism allows only vertical adjustments and doesn’t mount well on certain types of monitors, whereas this model’s camera can be angled towards a wide range of directions. It also features a more flexible mounting system which collapses to enfold the sensor head when detached and moved around. The C525’s design appears to be particularly appropriate for laptop use as it can conveniently substitute for built-in webcams. Its versatile operation makes it the best option for users who need to set up calls or feed streams in nontraditional settings or on the go between various sites.

The C525’s unique mounting functions are not commonly found in video conferencing gear. It literally unfolds out of the box and deploys onto your screen like some robotic creature. Only Logitech’s C615 offers comparable mounting modes, but while that higher-end model offers a bit more performance and design polish, it can also cost at least $20 more. That jump in price gets the C615’s cost nearly into the C920’s ballpark but well short of the higher model’s qualitative edge, whereas the less costly model can readily fill in for it with nearly the same degree of quality. Thus the lowly C525 hits the sweet spot in that it offers a distinctly useful feature set along with decent sensor, a rare combination among webcams.

The C525 features the best balance of quality and features for those who’ll be traveling much or moving around. It may not have imaging quality as good as the C920’s, but it can be readily adapted to work well in most settings. The hardware also takes advantage of Logitech’s excellent auto-adjustment system in that it can produce usable recordings under most lighting conditions. It may not be the right option for you if you require the highest performance, but it’s highly adaptable and convenient and captures relatively decent stills and videos for the price.

Testing webcams and stuff

It could be you have a chat coming next, or have to catch up with friends or family members elsewhere or abroad, or perhaps you have ongoing streams with many views hopping on. With all these, you’ll surely need a fast connection and a good webcam setup, right?

But gamers don’t tend to pay much attention to such considerations when setting up their gaming rig, at least until the need strikes. Just remember that a power gaming desktop won’t have a ready solution in place like most gaming laptops. You’ll have to hunt down and set up a good webcam to complement the rest of your station.

For a computing accessory which likely won’t be used too often in comparison to other input devices such as keyboards and mice, it makes sense to figure out a good balance of cost vs. imaging quality which conveniently meets your needs.

To this end, the C920’s combination of features and performance was justifiable over that of every other model we tested. It provides superb imaging for a price lower than that of the pricey business-centric models it can compare to in terms of performance. Logitech’s range of webcams has always been among the broadest available, and their models offer dependable performances across the board for small price premiums over competing units.

Methods and Sources

Each webcam was tried in the actual conditions they would literally “face”. For instance, Skype calls are among the everyday uses of non-streaming users, but the app itself constrains resolutions to 720p or lower, thus limiting the field by default to models which are generally already capable of such operation.

We used OBS to do live streams and capture videos while assessing each webcam in terms of full-screen as well as downscaled face cam sessions. Each manufacturer’s application was used in capturing images at their highest resolution setting, with autofocusing on and manual adjustments applied to appropriate settings such as white-balance level and brightness. Various light sources from fluorescents to LED monitors were used to test each webcam under real-world lighting conditions of the kinds most gamers are used to.

Other than video performance, we also evaluated the ease with which each model was set up and operated. Every brand has distinct mounting procedures for various models, thus all webcams were tried with several monitors which varied in shape and size. We figured out how quickly we could re-adjust each webcam’s tilt and/or height, as well as each one’s propensity to come off or lose its set position once the screen or tabletop got knocked or jarred. In addition, we also considered whether each model’s supplied cable was lengthy enough to extend all the way to a PC located on the floor.

We did not forget to see if the official driver or application downloads did install and run properly after plugging-in and preparing each unit according to instructions. And of course, we captured trial audio with each model’s integrated microphone and checked the recordings for any losses or artifact, although this is a less critical aspect since we focused on imaging performance first and foremost.

Rival Runner-Ups

Even though Logitech’s C920 is our overall choice, we did find a few good-looking webcams that can deliver decent image quality at budget prices no higher than $30. Many featured strengths in ease-of-use or versatile operation which may appeal to certain buyers. In most cases, the type of camera lens/sensor made the biggest difference in performance, followed by the software processing used.

There were quite a number of competing models jostling for secondary honors in this test. Even though we’ve already settled on our top pick, there were a few which impressed us in certain areas. We thought it helpful to list these runner-ups and their strongest features, along with some short reasons as to why these didn’t make the cut.

Logitech C310

This model features quite a decent sensor and has a more budget-friendly price than most of Logitech’s offerings. But unfortunately it was positioned price- and feature-wise against Microsoft’s HD-3000, which was easier to setup, update, and adjust and recorded images only a tad less sharp than the C310’s. The HD-3000’s commendable performance and slightly lower cost showcase Logitech’s price premium, which seemed unjustifiable in this case.

Logitech C615

As discussed previously in our take on the C525’s performance, this model features a similarly adaptable design and slightly superior imaging. But its higher price brings it almost into the formidable C920’s territory, against which it simply cannot compete, even with the advantage of its travel-friendly mount.

Logitech C930e

This model integrates a slightly better performing sensor than the C920’s. But in return for a huge $30-40 jump in pricing, what you get more of is a design and feature set that’s best optimized for conferences and other workgroup activities. The problem here is that Logitech’s nicer applications can’t really be used with this business-focused model, and the procedures for tweaking its wider field-of-view and processing to better suit individual usage aren’t convenient. Don’t get us wrong, the hardware and integration are top-of-the-line and very polished for the intended uses, but the C930e’s package just isn’t appropriate for personal use by regular consumers.

Creative Live! Sync

Creative has been manufacturing a number of inviting budget models lately, but it’s also getting harder to recommend their latest due to uncompetitive performance. You might think this webcam is a good deal for under $20, but then you’ll have to manage with mediocre image quality, difficulties in mounting, and deficiencies in (as in mostly none) software.

Creative Live! Chat

This is another model in Creative’s small range of webcams which is hard to use, let alone recommend. The adaptability of its camera and its video performance certainly does outshine that of the Sync’s. Its problem is that Microsoft’s HD-3000 offers superior ease-of-use and performance that can usually be had for just five dollars more, and there’s little reason to settle for less.

Creative Senz3D

Creative’s Senz3D may have been designed to be a great webcam, but it asks too high a price in return for middling 720p resolution and performance that’s no better than that of Logitech’s C310. Its big proposition is the inclusion of an advanced 3D motion-sensing system. This worked well enough with certain applications and the included games, but otherwise there’s a dearth of titles specifically optimized for it. This model appears to be the company’s latest try at a more budget-friendly version of Kinect’s technology, but for use with PCs. Like Valve’s steam machine initiative, their focus on PC-based gaming can be worthy of support from the hardcore gaming community. But we think webcam buyers should wait for more developer support before seriously considering this premium-priced model. It won’t be very useful otherwise, and as a webcam it remains uncompetitive against rivals in its price range.

Microsoft LifeCam Cinema

Microsoft’s latest webcams are much simpler to use nowadays due to their high level of OS integration as well as their uniquely adjustable head designs. That said,  this particular model’s performance and imaging quality doesn’t quite match that of its nearest Logitech rivals, which cost can much the same or slightly more.

Microsoft LifeCam Studio

Much like the Cinema, this model’s unique adaptability and excellent camera and processing make it a serious contender. But it suffers from the same problem as other rivals to Logitech’s best models, in that the class-leading C920 can normally be found selling for only ten dollars more. The Studio is certainly a polished, easy-to-use, and very capable 1080p model. But its high-end rival offers all this plus better performance under more varied lighting conditions for only a small additional cost.

Coming Next

In the future we plan to test Logitech’s C270, which is priced lower than the C310 but still costs more than Microsoft’s HD-3000, which excelled as the budget-friendly choice. Logitech and Microsoft hold sway in this market, with the former dominating in quality. So it would be interesting to have a look at Brother’s NW1000, a high-end model that may well match the C920’s performance and features although at a slightly higher price.

At the low end, we cannot recommend webcams costing less than $20 at retail for any serious use, particularly with streaming applications. The market trend has been stable lately, in that to get more performance at higher resolutions, you must spend more on models with higher-end designs and features. Logitech’s C920 is clearly the best webcam for both personal and gaming uses. Unless prices change or advanced new models are introduced, we believe it will remain so.