What is a webcam? Here’s what you need to know Leave a comment


  • A webcam is a built-in or standalone camera that captures still images and video on a computer.
  • Webcams are commonly used for video conferencing and for online video streaming.
  • Even if your laptop has a built-in webcam, there are reasons why you might want to add a standalone device.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

A webcam is a simple video camera that, when attached to a computer, lets you capture still images and video. It’s commonly used for video conferencing with software like Zoom,

Google Meet
, Skype, and other apps. 

What to know about webcams

Though popular for years, webcams have become all-but-essential hardware for many students and professionals during prolonged periods of remote working and social distancing. There are also many webcams online which constantly stream images from points of interest like museums and zoos. 

Webcams are relatively simple devices that can be built into your laptop or tablet, or they are standalone devices that are plugged into your desktop. Some monitors also have built-in webcams. Most webcams have a modest resolution of 720p or 1080p, though it’s possible to find

4K
models as well. They have no onboard memory for image storage or physical control buttons. 

Instead, webcams are controlled by software on the computer. To mitigate privacy concerns, some webcams have physical shutters that can be slid to cover the lens. This ensures it’s physically impossible for the webcam to be operated remotely to capture stills or video without the owner’s permission.

Built-in vs. standalone webcams

For the most part, all modern laptops have webcams built in, usually in the bezel at the top of the display, more or less aligned with the user’s eyes. (A few laptops have been known to position the webcam in the display’s lower bezel, which has the unfortunate effect of pointing up at the user’s nose.)

Tablets like the iPad, Amazon Fire tablets and Androids models also have front-facing cameras in the bezel that can be used like webcams. 

GettyImages 1218616501

Most laptops feature a webcam at the top center of the bezel.

Basak Gurbuz Derman/Getty Images


In addition, standalone webcams are available which plug into your computer via USB. You can add these external webcams to a

desktop computer
or to replace a laptop’s built-in webcam. 

GettyImages 532781644

Standalone webcams are small cameras that tend to clip to the top of a computer display and often also include a tripod mount.

Steve Chenn/Getty Images


Built-in webcams have the advantage of being integrated into the computer, which means there is no extra setup or configuration, and the cost of the webcam is already included in the original price of the laptop.

There are a few reasons why you might want to use a standalone webcam, though:



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