Pretty Much All Laptop Webcams Suck

Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal compared the webcam in the 2020 MacBook Air with the one in her ten year old MacBook Pro, a Dell model, and a Microsoft Surface. They’re pretty much universally bad — especially when compared against a smartphone’s front-facing camera.

Dan Moren, Six Colors:

But here’s the thing: it’s not just the MacBook Air. The 13-inch and newly released 16-inch MacBook Pro both have a 720p camera, which is probably the exact same part. The tech specs for the 5K iMac say it has a “FaceTime HD camera” and don’t specify the resolution, but it says the same about the 2017 5K iMac I’m using, which definitely has a 720p camera. In fact, only one Mac has a webcam better than 720p—the 2017 iMac Pro, which has a 1080p camera.

It’s a bit embarrassing when compared with the 4K camera in an iPhone 11, but I would be completely fine with a 720p webcam if it were a good webcam in every other regard. But it isn’t even close to acceptable.

My desk is positioned right underneath a north-facing window, giving the camera on the front of my iMac the best possible chance with bright but indirect light. Yet my face is nearly always overexposed, the focus is iffy, the image is grainy, and the colours are not right. It isn’t a problem with the camera in this iMac, specifically, because I have the same kinds of issues with my 2012 MacBook Air — and it isn’t a problem with the room because I’ve used that MacBook Air in lots of places and it has never looked great.

The lid of a modern Mac laptop is surely too thin to support the same kind of optics and sensor that are used in the iPhone, but surely the camera could be better than it is. To be fair, the camera in my iMac does look better than the one in my partner’s 2018 MacBook Air. But all of these cameras are simply checking a box right now: yes, the new Mac you are buying has a built-in webcam, and be thankful it’s not the one Dell uses.