Your MacBook webcam isn’t doing you any favors

Libé Ackerman

Apples MacBook feature terrific specs, but almost all of these laptops share an unfortunate quirk: a flat-looking 720p webcam with lots of noise and a lack of depth-sensing technology. the MacBook Pro M1 2021 turned out to be an exception with its Full HD webcam, and the MacBook Pro 2022 Rumored could very well follow suit. But it won’t de-pixelate your appearance on Zoom right now.

The 720p webcam is the same basic type of camera that Apple has been installing in laptops for years, and it’s not the first time we’ve complained about it. Many Windows laptops are only marginally better, many with similar resolutions lower than 1080p, but at least some have better light sensitivity, better color accuracy, or better depth detection for facial recognition logins.

So what are we going to do about it?

There is at least a reasonable chance that you will connect to an online video meeting from a Macbook Air or something similar. It means you are not at your best. Especially for a smaller, low profile laptop like the Air, your camera won’t be at an optimal angle if it’s sitting on your desk or kitchen table and pointed towards you.

One option is to use your phone’s camera. Front or rear cameras will be better than any laptop you have. For television appearances from my home office, I use my phone mounted from an eye-level tripod clip. I also used Elgato EpocCam Software, which runs on my phone and allows me to use the phone as a wireless 1080p camera for my MacBook. The Pro version costs a few dollars and won’t work for all scenarios, but it’s worth it if you’re using a compatible app like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

You could also connect an external webcam from Logitech or another company. But if you’d rather not bother, here’s how to get the most out of the webcam you have.

Elevate your laptop

If your laptop is close to a good ergonomic position for your hands, it’s far from the best place for a Zoom meeting. Get some big books. Get some giant board game boxes. Prop this sucker. Use large coffee table books or something similar, so you won’t get as much wobble. Do not use empty cardboard boxes.

Where do you want the camera to point? Have it rest just above eye level.

2020-mba

A not great shot of the 2020 MacBook Air webcam. Note the soft image quality and the laptop must be propped up higher.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Good lighting cures (most) ailments

MacBook Air webcam images are particularly poor in low-light situations. Many other laptop webcams are like this too. This is why film and television sets and professional photography are flooded with giant lights. You don’t need all of that, but a good source of natural sunlight is a simple and inexpensive way to dramatically improve your webcam shot. Face the window, don’t put your back to it. You want the camera to see the window light, not the window itself.

If natural light isn’t available, don’t spend a ton on a fancy lighting setup. This the entire UBeesize is less than $35 and includes an 8 inch ring light, a tripod to mount it and a phone clip as well. Many people at CNET use this setup or something similar for remote work.

Know the Macs with a better webcam

The MacBook Air and most MacBook Pros both have this 720p webcam. But the MacBook Pro 14 2021 and Professional 16 have excellent 1080p cameras, as well as the iMac M1 24 inch 2021. Previously you could only find in Discontinued Products $5,000+ iMac Pro and 27 inch iMac.

My colleague Brian Cooley has a lot more general advice on webcam setupincluding some great headset suggestions — though your phone headset or AirPods should be fine for anything short of a live hit on CNN.

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