Why Is External Webcam Better Than My Built-in Laptop Camera?

Updated on Sep 1, 2021

Hard to predict that video conferencing has taken over the business world and become an essential part of work for millions of people. If you've been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you've probably been using your webcam more than you have in years. Indeed, after discovering the benefits of remote work, some workforce tends to continue meeting by video after they return to the office.

Here comes the dilemma: invest in an external webcam or stick with your laptop's built-in option. Keep reading to determine built-in webcams vs external webcams, which is right for you.

Working From Home with Webcam

What Is Built-In Camera? How Does It Work?

Almost all the laptops on the market come with a built-in webcam today just with various specs. Though some laptop manufacturers have optimized the performance of the built-in webcams, still, your picture may look dark and grainy especially in less-than-optimal lighting conditions.

The webcam fits in the top edge of the bezel around the screen, so it's at just the right height for video chatting. A microphone is usually set next to the webcam so people can hear you at the same time. Built-in webcams require no additional setup with all of the relevant software and drivers preinstalled by the manufacturer.

What Is an External Webcam? How Does It Work?

You may ask: "Why should I invest in an external web camera when my computer already has one?" A webcam is a video camera that feeds or streams an image or video in real-time to or through the Internet, which has more space for electronics offering better resolutions, better quality photos and videos, and better quality audio.

External webcams are small cameras that typically sit on a desk, attach to the laptop, or on a stabilizer like a stand or a tripod, which requires to be installed manually. While most external webcams require very little for the initial configuration and mostly work on as soon as they are plugged in.

External Webcam Better Than Embeded Webcam

Webcam vs Laptop Camera Comparison

The external webcam deserves a higher price due to its outstanding performance and functions that an embedded webcam doesn't possess. Affordable webcams start at around $30 and totally exceed the quality of your average built-in webcam. Decent mid-range options cost around $60 to $100, while the best webcams cost $100 to $200.

Here is a comparison chart for External Webcams vs Built-in Webcams:

Embedded Webcams External Webcams
Size of Components Small-sized embedded webcams have small components, influencing the level of camera performance and image quality. With fewer space constraints, external webcams typically have higher quality components, providing better resolution, speed, fluidity, color balance, and noise reduction.
Lens DO NOT have room for a multipiece lens stack, affecting the image quality. Have a multi-piece lens stack, greatly enhancing the level of image quality.
Light Sensitivity DO NOT adjust or fine-tune in lower light environments, causing reduced image quality. Some can fine-tune in lower light environments, generating better quality images.
Stereo Quality Sound The quality of microphones embedded in computers varies, according to microphone location and the overall computer solution. Some external webcams have built-in stereo microphones offering a high definition-like audio experience.
Focal Length The limited focal length will make images in shorter distances not as crisp. Some have autofocus functions and can adjust the focal length for near or far — the subject is always in focus.
Field of View Most suitable for one-on-one communications. Allow a wider field of view — more than one person can participate at any endpoint.
Mounting Way The built-in design skips the installation step but makes the movement of the laptop less convenient obviously. The external design provides more flexibility to the installation, on the desk, attach to the laptop, or on a tripod are all available.
Certifications Embedded webcams are often not designed to perform to certification standards for video calling platforms. Some external webcams are designed to work seamlessly with commonly-used video calling platforms, ensuring the cameras offer enhanced features to enable an optimized video & audio experience.

Laptop Webcam vs External Webcam PROs & CONs

Built-in Webcam Advantages

  • Cost-saving Choice: Assuming that you already own a laptop with a built-in webcam, no additional costs increased.

  • Easy to Use: Built-in webcams are all set up and ready to go when you get your laptop with all the necessary software and drivers installed. They are already installed at a suitable height for video calls, no need to adjust them or find the right angles.

Built-in Webcam Limitations

  • Unsatisfactory Effects: The resolution and sensors on built-in webcams will make your picture look grainy to others.

  • Less Flexibility: You can't adjust the angles or pick it up or even move it when needed.

  • Unfriendly Maintenance: The embedded webcams are part of your computer, which will be harder to troubleshoot or fix if something goes wrong.

External Webcam Spotlights

  • Higher Resolution: Even the best built-in webcams won't exceed a 720p resolution, while most webcams offer at least 1080p Full HD and often 4K resolution for much greater picture quality.

  • Clearer Audio Performance: Some webcam has a compact all-in-one design with speakers and mic arrays making your calls natural-sounding.

  • Wider Field of View: External webcams often offer wide angle and zoom options so you can adjust the shot as necessary.

  • Smarter Auto Adjustment: Most external webcams have the technology to adjust for poor lighting, so your picture won't be dark and grainy if your light conditions aren't ideal. And some support AI Tracking, which can automatically keep you framed front and center in all your videos.

  • Better Flexibility: You can tilt or twist the head of an external webcam more easily than you can turn around your entire laptop.

External Webcam Downsides

  • Extra Expenses: Unlike built-in webcams that come as part of your laptop, you need to buy your external webcam separately.

  • Additional Installation: Although generally straightforward, there's still a degree of setup required with external webcams — you may need to install some drivers or software to get it running.

Should I Buy an External Webcam?

After knowing the differences between built-in vs external webcams, it's time to decide which is right for you. Do I need a Webcam? Objectively, external webcams offer better video quality with more features you won't find in a built-in model. Even so, some people are happy with their basic built-in webcams now, or they only use their webcam infrequently, it'd be just fine with the built-in offering their laptop already has.

If the picture and sound quality are of paramount importance, then a high-end external webcam will suit your needs better than a standard internal webcam via its wide-angle lenses, stereo microphones, and advanced auto-focus capabilities. If you regularly use a webcam for work or to communicate with your friends and family and are unhappy with the quality of the built-in webcam now, then you should definitely consider buying an external webcam.

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