With so many of us now working from home, it’s no wonder that decent webcams are becoming increasingly hard to find these days. Sure, the blurry camera built into your laptop may suffice, but what if you need a higher image quality than that? Or what about those who choose to work on powerful desktop computers?
Rather than waiting for the latest stock drop of the Logitech C920, a much cheaper – and dare we say better – option is likely in your hand as you read this. Modern mobile phones are equipped with cameras that can massively outperform purpose-made webcams in many ways, which makes them a fantastic option for anyone looking to save some cash, or simply need access to high-quality video recording online.
Below you’ll find everything you need to plug in and make calls in gloriously non-fuzzy quality, and usually with high framerates to boot. If you don’t like the setup required then make sure you keep checking our frequently updated list for the best webcams in 2020 for stock availability and prices across the UK and US.
The hardware you’ll need
First up, you’re going to need something to position your phone with. Amazon has a huge selection of tripod stands that can accommodate a wide range of phone sizes, and you can pick up a real bargain for a simple stand. There are also options available for those who might want a collapsable, minimalist tripod for frequent travel or even Bluetooth controls for anyone who needs to control the phone at a distance. At a pinch, you can just prop your phone up against the desk or books, just make sure you’re in a good frame when you test the recording.
Next, you’ll want to make sure your phone is plugged into a power source whilst recording. Video and streaming are extremely demanding on the device battery, and you don’t want to be caught short mid-meeting or presentation. The actual battery life duration will depend on the model of your phone, but it’s generally better to play it safe and keep a plug socket or power bank nearby.
If you’re happy to join your meeting via your mobile device, then you can leave here and start setting up immediately. Most current meeting software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet has apps for both Android and IOS, meaning that if you’re equipped with headphones that connect directly or via Bluetooth via your phone then you can simply enter your call through your mobile phone, without the need to connect to a computer.
A downside to this will be that should you need to send out links or open sent files, you’re forced to do so via your phone, making for an ineffective choice for students, teachers, or even long business meetings. If you just need a hands-free way to call family and friends however, this is a great way to set up your online family gathering without being judged on the angle you hold your phone during the call.
The software you’ll need
There are two main apps that we would recommend when using your phone as a webcam: EpocCam and DroidCam. Both have their merits depending on what phone and computer you’ll be using.
If you’re using a Windows or Linux computer then DroidCam has a plethora of free features and supports both Android and IOS devices. We would suggest that if you’ll be using your phone as your webcam frequently, pay the $5 (around £3.70, AU$7) to upgrade to DroidCamX to get rid of banner ads and include a few quality of life features life higher framerates. The free options are substantial though, so it’s certainly not a requirement for infrequent use.
To get set up, you’ll need two pieces of software: the DroidCam Android app, and the desktop client from Dev47Apps. Once both have been installed onto their respective devices, make sure that both the phone and the computer on using the same Wi-Fi network. The DroidCam Android app should have your IP address listed for you to enter onto the desktop counterpart and connect the two apps.
If you have a desktop microphone then make sure you uncheck the audio box at this point of the setup, or else your mobile audio will be used as your meeting webcam. Honestly, using any external microphone will provide better audio quality than the mobile so using a built-in microphone like that seen in many current headphones, or even a desktop mic will be an improvement. This can be set up in the meeting settings of your preferred program.
You may need to restart your computer after this, but by following those steps you should have an operational webcam for your calls. Sadly, the desktop client for Droidcam required for use isn’t currently available for macOS, which leads us to our second option for Mac users.
EpocCam was purchased by Corsair back in October 2020, which means that future optimization to work with other Corsair owned brands such as Elgato (a provider of specialist streaming and web recording). EpocCam will work across both Mac and Windows devices and has both a free download and the option to buy the EpocCam Pro software for $7.99 (around £6, AU$11).
The free version of the software is rather restrictive when compared to all the freebies that Droidcam provides, as you’re limited to 480p video resolution, a watermark on-screen, and no option to use your phone audio as the microphone. If you’re using a laptop then the built-in microphone should be more than sufficient, but as mentioned, a headset or external mic will be a huge improvement.
If you DO bite the bullet and pay for the premium software version however, the quality and options made available can outperform many expensive webcams currently available. The $7.99 price tag is much cheaper than any decent webcam online, and you’ll get glorious 1080p video quality, pinch to zoom, and the option to use your phone light. You also don’t need to install a desktop client – just head over to the Epoccam website and install the appropriate drivers for your device, and the accompanying mobile app will do the leg work for you.
The phone app is available on both the Apple store and Google play store, and we didn’t experience any hiccups during our testing across the popular conference call services. Just remember to look for ‘Epoccam’ in the camera settings of your preferred call software and keep the app open whilst recording, or else you’ll lose video.