My old smartphone now makes for a killer webcam

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Seriously upgrade your video calls with your old phone.

Webcams are especially good at two things: Being small and being convenient. One thing they’re not great at, though, is being cameras. Even our go-to webcams like the Logitech C922 hit a “good enough” video quality that looks fine at 1080p, 30 fps, but doesn’t perform too well in low light or capture the vibrancy a real camera does. Give up some picture quality and in return you get a gadget that easily clips to a monitor, has Windows drivers that just work, and a microphone that can pinch hit in an emergency. After a year of using my webcam more than I ever have before, I got tired of that trade-off.

For a couple weeks now I’ve been using my old Pixel 3 smartphone as a replacement for my webcam, and after seeing the difference in quality, I don’t plan on going back. It’s not quite as convenient as an “it just works” webcam from Logitech, but setting it up was still surprisingly easy. And as with the rest of my gaming PC, I’ve gotten some satisfaction out of building a better camera setup myself.

How much better is it, really?

The camera has always been the biggest selling point of Google’s Pixel smartphone line. I got a Pixel 3 in 2018 and eventually dropped it, giving the screen a gnarly crack. I just lived with the crack instead of paying for a repair, and used it for two years until the power button inexplicably snapped off. At that point, it wasn’t a very nice phone to use day-to-day, so I put it in a drawer for a few months. But I realized my Pixel 3 was still a perfectly good camera.

Judging by the high level specs, the Pixel 3’s 12.2 megapixel camera should be much sharper and more detailed than my Logitech C930e, which records video with a 3MP sensor. Megapixels aren’t everything—for photos, the Pixel sensor has stayed competitive for so long because of Google’s image processing more than because of the sensor itself. Still, Logitech’s popular webcams have been using the same sensor since 2012, so I’d expected a newer, bigger sensor to offer a much better picture.

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