How to use a smartphone as a great webcam
I’ve been on the hunt for a new webcam lately for the sole reason that I go to a lot of Zoom meetings and I last bought a webcam, the Logitech C920, in 2017.
Five years ago is an eternity when it comes to consumer electronics. Imagine my surprise when I started researching new Zoom cameras and kept seeing the recommended C920 series. That’s all well and good, but the main takeaway here is that webcam technology has evolved at a freezing pace.
So instead of throwing a Benjamin for a mid to upper tier webcam that may or may not be significantly more advanced than what I already have, I thought I’d see if my phone – the Google Pixel 5a, which has a very good camera – might do the trick instead.
Spoiler: It’s possible! The same goes for other Android phones and the iPhone. And it’s free and only takes a few minutes to set up.
For this we will use the excellent Camo appwhich is available for iOS and Android on the mobile side, and Mac and PC on the computer side.
The basic application is free; for iOS, there’s a premium version with higher resolutions and more sophisticated features for $5 per month, $40 per year, or $80 for a lifetime license. Start with the free version, however, that might be all you need.
Installation is a relatively simple two-step process where you install the app on both your phone and your computer. You can mix and match: Android to Mac, iPhone to PC.
I installed the desktop app first, although it doesn’t really matter which order you go in. The desktop app just tells you to install the phone app, and vice versa.
Once the phone app is up and running it will ask for permission to access your camera (eg yes) and then ask you to connect your phone to your computer using the cable that came with your phone .
(Note: If you are pairing Android and Windows, you need to enable USB debugging on your phone. It’s not very complicated, but it is indeed a few more steps. Follow these instructions here. If you pair another combination (iOS to Windows, Android to Mac, iOS to Mac), the process is automatic.)
Once the connection is successfully established, you should see yourself in the Camo application window on your computer.
Enable your webcam in video conferencing applications
As long as the app is open on your computer and on your phone, your computer will see your phone as a selectable webcam in almost all video conferencing apps, but not all of them, so check this list for compatibility.
In Zoom, for example, just click the Settings icon in the top right corner, then click Video, then choose “Camouflage” from the Camera drop-down menu. If you don’t see Camo as an option, try forcing Zoom and restarting it, or just restarting your computer first.
How is the quality?
It’s day and night, friends. The animated GIF below might not do the differences justice, but one image is from my webcam and the other from my phone via Camo.
The webcam looks soft and washed out, while the phone shows much truer lighting and each of the 43 years my face has endured. (Hmmm, maybe that’s not a great selling point after all. But you get the idea.)
Phone mounting options
So you have everything set up and running. Now we need to figure out how to hold your phone in place. Here are a few options, each costing around $15: