The pandemic has meant many of us working from home have seen not-so-fantastic images from our webcam, but Dell is offering a fix… for a price.
Ever since 2020 hit and many of us have been working from home and schooling from home, we’ve allowed the world to see more of us from our computer’s webcams than we ever did before. They were always there for video chat, sure, but up until the pandemic forced us home, most of us hadn’t relied on them as much as we do now. Thanks, coronavirus.
But that reliance has also brought with it an understanding that the webcams our computers often come with aren’t always fantastic. It’s something Apple seemed to directly acknowledge with last year’s 27 inch iMac, which included a major update to the FaceTime HD camera, and even in this year’s iPad Pro, which included a feature called “Centre Stage” to let the better camera follow you around using smarts and cropping.
We don’t all have the money for a new computer just for a webcam upgrade, or even a new tablet, and so the fix to these woes may instead be in a webcam, with that accessory returning to the fore.
While you can always plug in a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a USB cable, provided you have one that’s supported by Mac or Windows, the optional extra that is the webcam may be coming back, brought on not just by the pandemic’s work-from-home movement, but also the bigger monitors many of us are using alongside.
Your monitor probably doesn’t have a webcam built in, and so if you’re trying to engage in video chats, Zooms, Meets, and Microsoft Teams calls, you’re probably opening up that laptop just for that purpose, rather than simply letting your monitor do the work.
Dell’s return of a webcam means you might not have to. This week, the maker of some of those screens has launched the UltraSharp Webcam, an external webcam that can sit on the top of your monitor or mounted to a small tripod, and provide a 4K resolution for those calls, plus a performance modelled from DSLR cameras.
You see bigger cameras are a little bit different from how a small webcam typically works, with much of it coming down to the lens. While a typical webcam lens is fairly open, it captures everything, something you’ll know only too well working from home: it sees you, your background, and all the books and pets behind you, so much that we’re all now familiar with our homes intimately.
Armed with a decent lens, however, a DSLR or mirrorless camera can focus on a specific part of the frame, delivering depth of field that keeps you in focus, but not necessarily the rest of your home.
It’s a sign of a good lens that can do this, and if you’re trying to pick a lens for your camera, an aspect you’ll need to think about, but not in webcams. They’re invariably pretty much fixed on one specific field of view: everything.
The Dell UltraSharp Webcam aims to be a little bit different, using a multi-element lens with three fields of view able to be set, cropping the image so that it’s all of the scene or more tightly locked onto you, with HDR also lighting up you against the background, too.
The result may well be something more in line with what you can get out of a larger lens and camera, and it even features some of that AI-enhanced subject centring much like how Center Stage uses machine learning to work on this year’s iPad Pro.
Dell’s UltraSharp Webcam also works with Windows Hello over on the PC, but like all external webcams, it’s an optional extra, and one that will cost a little more than just using the webcam on your laptop. In Australia, the Dell UltraSharp Webcam is priced at $379, making it a little more costly than simply opening up your laptop, but possibly a choice that will make you look better, too.