With the rush to work from home also came high demand for video conferencing. Zoom added more new users in January and February of 2020 than in all of 2019. Online and brick-and-mortar retailers also saw a mad dash for webcams. Leaving many new remote workers without. Not to mention friends and family having to rely only on their phones to see each other via video calls. There are webcam alternatives for conferences and chat. That’ll allow you to join in on those calls to various degrees.
The coronavirus outbreak has pushed a lot of people to work from home, many for the first time. Even more people are practicing social distancing. Don’t panic. At the end of the day you’re doing the same job. And you can still reach out to friends and family. But you’ll need to do so with a different toolset. This site is here to help you make the changes needed to make the most of the situation.
Your Laptop Has a Webcam
You don’t need a webcam alternative if you have a laptop. Almost all laptops from the last 6-7 years include a built-in webcam. So much so that people especially concerned with privacy have a hard time finding a laptop without a webcam and mic built-in.
A built-in webcam isn’t as nice as most external models. But it’ll get the job done, especially given supply shortages. On group video conferences everyone’s video quality will be less than ideal, so no one will notice.
You can verify your laptop has a webcam by looking in the upper center of its display, just above where the picture ends. On MacBook Pros you may need to shine a light in the spot to see the camera lens.
Going back to privacy concerns, if you want assurance of webcam privacy put black electrical tape over the lens. It comes off easily when you want to use the webcam. If you’ll be using the webcam a lot then consider a more permanent cover.
Sticks to upper bezel of your laptop’s display. A sliding cover goes over the webcam lens for privacy.
- Thin enough to allow laptop to close.
- Works well with laptops, iMac, smartphones, and tablets.
- To install align with webcam. Then press and hold for 15 seconds.
- Can be removed. Use screen cleaner or isopropyl alcohol for any sticky residue.
Your Phone As a Webcam Alternative
You can use your phone as a webcam alternative for your next video conference. Software based solutions allow your phone to transmit its video to your computer. Then have that video used by video conferencing or video chat applications. But you’ll need to come up with a solution for mounting your phone.
Always use the rear camera over the front camera. The rear camera offers better quality. And you won’t get unwanted glow with the phone’s screen pointed away from you.
EpocCam from Kinoni is a cross-platform webcam alternative that uses your iPhone or Android. It also works with Mac or PC. Any combination of phone and computer works in the same manner. It has a free version which is suitable for testing. But you’ll need the paid version for work, as the free version occasionally puts up a watermark.
- Phone OS: iOS, Android
- Computer OS: Mac, Windows
- Cost: $8 for phone app
- Connection: Wi-Fi (5GHz preferred)
- Video Resolution: 480p (free), 1080p (pro)
To setup install the app on your phone and the drivers for your computer. I had to restart my Mac to get the drivers loaded, though the installer didn’t require a restart. Open the phone app. On your computer open your video conferencing software. Then select EpocCam as the camera. The video stream should appear.
On my iPhone 8 the video looked normal on both the phone and computer. On my Moto G6 the video on the phone was stretched. But the video being sent out was fine.
When running the free phone app a text watermark appears at the top or bottom of your video from time to time. This will be visible to anyone else on the video call. You need to buy and use the full version to remove it.
EpocCam mentions USB connections working. It is only advertised to work on Windows. But I couldn’t get it up and running on my own. I expect it required a complicated setup, as does DroidCam.
DroidCam from Dev47Apps is an Android and Windows only webcam alternative. It requires a little more setup. And you have to run its Windows app in the background. But its free version has no watermarks.
- Phone OS: Android
- Computer OS: Windows
- Cost: $5 for phone app
- Connection: Wi-Fi (5GHz preferred), USB (advance setup required)
- Video Resolution: 480p (free), 720p (pro)
To setup install the app on your Android and the Windows client on your computer. Open both the phone app and PC program. You’ll need to enter the IP address listed in the phone app into the computer program. From there the video stream will come across. The computer program has to remain open for video conferencing programs to see the video.
In your video conferencing programs select DroidCam as your camera. The video should appear in the preview.
DroidCam does not work with the version of Skype pre-installed on your PC. Or installed via the Microsoft Store. You can uninstall that version of Skype. Then download a different version from the Skype website which will work.
The free version of the app only offers SD video quality. And ads run on the phone app. But there is no watermark on the video being broadcast. And the phone’s screen goes black after a bit to save battery life.
By default the app works over Wi-Fi. You can use USB, which offers a more reliable connection between phone and computer. But the setup is not simple. Visit the developer’s connect guide for instructions.
EpocCam vs DroidCam
Personally I’d go with EpocCam. It costs a few dollars more. But you get a higher video resolution and easier setup. Not to mention it is the only option if using an iPhone and/or Mac.
DroidCam can work if you need the solution to be free. Its USB connection offers a more stable connection if your Wi-Fi signal is weak. But go through their setup guide as it isn’t as simple as plugging in your phone and opening the app.
Mounting Your New Phone Turned Webcam
A feature of any webcam you buy is it can mount on top of your monitor. Your phone not so much. So you’ll either need a phone mount that can raise it up high enough. Or get creative with a DIY solution.
What you don’t want to do is keep the phone on your desk. Even in a phone stand it’ll have a terrible angle of you. Looking up at someone is the least flattering option. And craning your neck to stare at the phone the entire time will be off putting. You’ll be better off turning off video for the call.
Look at getting a phone stand that raise it up to your eye level.
Raise your phone up to 30 inches above your desk. Allowing you to place the phone’s camera at eye line for the best video angle.
- Device clamp can fit any size smart phone, but not a tablet.
- Base clamp fits any desk, table, or other surface up to 2.4-inches thick.
- Gooseneck is bendable and clamp can rotate. Allowing you to position phone at almost any angle.
- Longer than cheaper options. Being able to reach your eye line is important for looking good during a video call.
Or come up with a solution for attaching the phone to the side of your monitor. With its camera pocking out, while the rest remains secure.
Don’t hold the phone for the duration of the call. One, that’s more tiring than you might release for a 45-60 minute meeting. Two, you won’t be able to hold it stead. The shaking video will be a distraction to others, even when you’re not speaking.
Go Audio Only
If you can’t make good use of a webcam alternative then skip the webcam entirely. You can join video conferences and calls without video. The software will treat you like a caller to a conference call. Your audio will work, and you still need a microphone of some kind.
To your audience you’ll either appear as a black square on their wall of video feeds. Or you won’t be on their list of video feeds at all. On the bright side you’ll be saving yourself and everyone else some bandwidth.
When only offering audio on a video conference you need to introduce yourself when you speak. You won’t enjoy any visual queues the software offers the active speaker. Say “This is Tim” before you jump into the conversation. If you haven’t spoken in a while say “This is Tim, again” to make sure everyone knows who is speaking. With a smaller team meeting of people you know this might be skipped. But if more than one of you is audio only consider identifying yourself as needed.
But I Really Need a Webcam
The above webcam alternative are things you can try right now with what you have available. But none are as ideal as actually having a webcam. To that end there are things you can do to increase your chances of being able to buy a webcam when available. You’ll need to setup some alerts. And check inventory both with retailers and direct from the manufacturers.
Check With Your IT Support Group
Company IT support groups were trying to source webcams for employees along with everyone else. They have established supply chains and vendors. If you need the webcam for work check in with them to see if they might have one available in the near future. They may also have another webcam alternative you can try. If not you can always shop around on your own.
Buy What’s Available, Don’t Wait For What Is Ideal
Don’t get hung up on looking for a particular model. Or brand for that matter. Focus on what is available and affordable. Most modern webcams will meet the minimum requirements. With many offering some or all the recommended specs to get you through a video conference call.
Minimum Webcam Specs:
- 720p video capture resolution
- 15 fps (frames per second)
- Auto focus
Recommended Webcam Specs:
- 1080p video capture resolution
- 30 fps (frames per second)
- Auto focus
Anything else is bells and whistles that might be useful, but aren’t required. If you don’t have a headset, earbuds, or other form of microphone for your computer then also pay attention to the built-in mic.
Setup Inventory Alerts
Amazon and B&H Photo both sell a lot of webcams. Both also have in stock alerts you can setup. Go through their webcam listings. Then setup an inventory alert on any of interest to you. You’ll get an email when inventory is available. Use an email account you check regularly, as resupplies are likely to get sold out quickly.
Check Directly With Manufacturers
Logitech.com was one of the last places to sell out of Logitech webcams in March 2020. When new inventory is available it gets divided among the various retailers. But a company may keep more for direct sales, as it has a higher profit margin.
Logitech Webcams – Under Collection to the left go through the different options. Logictech doesn’t list all webcams on one page. There are viable models under each collection.
Microsoft Webcams – Microsoft sells a lot of computer accessory hardware. None of it dominates the market. But it is good quality. With less consumer traffic than Logitech receives.
Razer Kiyo – Razer is known for their PC gamers computer accessories. Their Kiyo webcam is made with video game streamers in mind. But will work equally well for a work video call. Its built-in light ring is great if you have no lighting from the front.
Check Your Local Retailers Remotely
Your local Walmart and Target stores will remain open. They are often categories as essential businesses. While that is for their grocery section it does allow access to their electronics. But you don’t want to break stay-at-home order just to see if they have a webcam in stock. So instead use BrickSeek to check local inventory.
You’ll need to look per item. But these stores usually don’t stock more than a few models of webcams. Use the DPCI finder link to get the reference number for the model webcam you’re looking for. Then enter it and your zip code to check nearby inventory.
Please note there can be a delay in BrickSeek’s inventory listing and the store’s. You could see 1 webcam available on the site, only to find it got sold at the store. The higher the list inventory the more likely it’ll be there when you arrive. You can try online ordering for pickup. The store can confirm availability without you having to leave home for nothing.