Yes, I know that’s a rather click-baity title BUT IT’S TRUE!
For the last year or so, I’ve used an old iPhone SE 1st Generation (from 2016) as my webcam. Phones often have great cameras, so why not use them as your webcam?
I’m a Mac, so to get the iPhone to talk to the Mac I use brilliant app called Camo. Camo also works on Windows and iOS and Android phones! (There’s a free version, but it has limited features and can only do 720p, so not ‘full’ HD. The ‘Pro’ version is about £4.50 a month, £35 a year or £70 for a lifetime license. I’ve got the lifetime license and it’s worth every penny!)
My previous webcam was a Logitech C615 (which cost about £60 back in 2014). Although the C615 is an ‘HD’ webcam, the difference between it and the iPhone is night and day, especially with the colour accuracy/vibrancy.
With Camo (Pro) you can tweak your focus (auto or manual), colour settings, white balance and gamma level. You can also add a overlay on the camera image, from their templates or you can make your own (these can be useful for corporate/media things). Camo can work with any camera you can connect to a Mac and it can then be pulled in as a ‘camera’ into basically any app like Skype, Zoom, Teams, etc. Camo really is great.
Here’s what the original image from the iPhone SE and Camo looks like. (Click to see it full size.)
It’s pretty good. Nice and sharp and good colours and lighting (it helps that my desk is opposite a big window!). However, it’s also quite a wide shot. You can see a good bit of a picture on the left and the top of my mic’s pop filter at the bottom (near my arm).
Camo also allows you to digitally zoom (or punch) into the picture. I’ve used this quite a lot, to get a nicer framed image. The below is at 135% zoom on Camo. (Click to see it full size.)
It still looks good, but with the digital zoom it’s got ‘less sharp’ (which you could argue is an improvement!).
But I wanted better! So I looked at some options, starting looking at ‘pro’ webcams. These tend to be 4K – which is 4X the pixels as 1080p ‘HD’.
A big advantage of using 4K (and so having 4X as many pixels) is that you can ‘punch in’ into the image, using the camera’s own tools or Camo, and still get a nice sharp image 1080p/HD image. This is how a 4K camera would be of most use to me.
Some of these ‘pro’ webcams come with their own zoom facilities, or even have fancy gimbals to move around and can use AI to track faces, objects (like whiteboards) or even look down at things on your desk – fancy!
The main ‘pro’ webcams are the:
- Logitech Biro Pro/4K/Stream – 4K £150 to £240
- Nexigo N970P (it comes with a remote) – 4K £150 to £180
- Dell UltraSharp Webcam [WB7022] – 4K £150 to £180
- Elgato Facecam – 1080p/HD – £140 – £150
- Elgato Facecam Pro – 4K 60fps – £300
- OSBOT Meet 4k – 4K Has AI Tracking – £140 to £160
- OSBOT Tiny 4k – 4K has AI tracking and a gimbal to move around – £270
- Insta360 Link – 4K has a gimbal and fancy AI tracking – £320
Even at £150, that was really getting into more than I wanted to pay. I don’t use my webcam that much – I’m not a video content creator and am not on it all day in meetings! I want a good quality camera, especially to use when I’m thechristmas.expert (yes, I am, really).
So I started to think what other options there could be. I could use a ‘proper’ camera. But they get even more expensive (Sony’s cheapest ‘vlog’ cameras are around £500).
I also wondered how my computer (a 2012 Mac Mini – it still does everything I need) would cope with a 4K signal…
Then I remembered that I’d got a 2X ‘telephoto’ lens (they’re also sometimes called portrait lenses) that can fit on a phone. I got it years ago as part of a ‘5 in 1’ phone lens kit by Camkix, which you can still get for about £15. I’ve only ever really used the macro lens (which is very good) for taking photos of flowers and insects.
So I wondered if clipping that on my iPhone SE might help and would optically ‘punch in’ on me. AND IT WORKED! (Click to see it full size.)
Now we’re getting somewhere. The crop is pretty good, at about the same zoom level as the 135% zoom on Camo (there’s no zoom/punch from Camo it’s all the lens) and it’s still sharp – nice.
Not so nice is the ‘barrel distortion’ on the items in the background, especially the door frame – and the sunset photo looks a bit wonky too. This type of distortion is quite common with ‘not so good’ telephoto lens (and you sometimes see it on wide angle lenses).
I got this lens kit in 2015(!) and the technology for clip-on style phone lenses had moved on a lot in the last eight years. So I went looking for a ‘good value’ telephoto/portrait phone lens. I looked on many photo review sites and YouTube and one lens that came up a lot was the Apexel APL-HD5T.
The video that really helped me decide was this one. It’s mostly in Hindi, but there are graphics on the screen showing what it’s doing (the video will start at the visual comparisons bit). It compares the Apexel lens with two other phone zoom/telephoto/portrait lenses, including one from Kase which costs over twice as much.
The Kase has a slight ‘better’ zoom but I don’t actually want a ‘big’ zoom, I just want a ‘good’ one – with no bendy doors! So I ordered an Apexels one from eBay for less than £20.
Let’s take a look at its result. (Click to see it full size.)
VERY NICE!!! We’ve kept the same great sharp image as on the Camkix lens, but there’s no more bendy door or wonky picture!
So there we have it. I’ve ‘2X-ed’ the quality of my webcam for less than £20 (or $20)! I’m very pleased with the result.
So how much would this kind of webcam set-up cost you?
- iPhone SE 1st Generation – (Refurbished) £70
- Camo Lifetime License – £70
- Apexels APL-HD5T – £20
- Table Clamp Adjustable Arm (to hold the iPhone) – £20
Total – £180 – £110 if you’ve already got a decent phone! And if you use the free version of Camo and have something to hold the phone – a £20 lens could be a game changer all on its own! (The prices are in £ as I’m in the UK, but it would be pretty similar in other currencies.)
That £180 is about the same price as many of the ‘pro’ webcams (much less if you re-use a phone). Granted, it can only do 1080p/HD, and not 4K, but pretty much all streaming tools like Zoom, Skype, Teams can also only do 1080p/HD anyway!
And I also still have a backup phone if I need one!