External or built-in webcam, which one is better?


Using a video chat to communicate with customers, friends, and business partners, while working on your laptop, has been extremely popular in the last couple of years. To do so people are either using their built-in webcam or one of the many available external solutions.

But which one is better – the external webcam or the one that’s built inside your laptop?

Good quality external webcam can deliver better video performance than the built-in model. They have better light sensitivity, field of view, and resolution. Most built-in webcams have lower video quality but do not require additional expenses.

OK, this was the short answer.

For those of you seeking a more detailed explanation let’s dive in and see how these two devices compare to one another.

Are there laptops without built in cameras?

Yes, there are laptop models that have no built-in camera. Usually these are older models and a couple of mobile gaming devices from Asus. HP laptops customized through their website can also lack a webcam.

In case your laptop has no camera, you have no other option but to use external cam.

Why do external webcams cost more?

This has to do with the competitive nature of the laptop market. Built-in webcams are cheaper and have basic features. In contrast external webcams are apt to have better components and more features but at a higher price.

Why are built-in webcams smaller than the external?

External webcams are not constrained in size like the embedded models, they use higher quality components and improved optics to deliver better image quality, color balance and noise reduction. The built-in cams are smaller to be able to fit inside the laptop’s small bezel.

What is the difference in focal length between external and built-in?

Built-in webcams usually lack multiple lens components and have reduced focal length. This makes short distances images not as not as crisp as they should be. On the other hand, high quality external webcams can adjust their focal length to give crispier images at any distance.

Does an external webcam have a wider field of view?

Embedded webcams have a short field of view. This is useful for situations where there’s only one person inside the frame. External webcams typically allow for a wider field of view. This way you can monitor a wider area and put more stuff inside the frame.

Webcams with a field of view around 68 degrees and more are the best option. The overall quality of the call is infinitely better when you have this much.

Who has better light sensitivity external or built-in webcams?

In low light environments, most laptop built-in web cameras deliver lower quality images than some external devices. It is similar with strong backlight, embedded models lack the quality of a good external webcam.

Lighting is critical when you are making a video call. Usually light levels differ based on the position you are at the moment. For example if you are in front of the window, the backlight can be a problem. A good webcam should adapt to different light levels.

Which model is more portable external or built in webcam?

To be able to position your built-in webcam for things other than face-to-face video calls you have to reposition your laptop. External webcams are much more flexible in this regard. There are wireless models that are very easy to install and position.

What is more expensive built-in or external webcam?

Built-in webcams do not require additional expense, they are embedded inside the laptop and do not add more than $10 to the final price. On the other hand a good quality external HD  webcam can cost more than $100.

The bad quality and the lower price of built-in laptop webcams is dictated by the market. Until recently the demand for high quality embedded laptop cameras was not high. The average consumer was happy to use a crappy 720p built-in for their day to day stuff. That’s why manufacturers are not incentivized to pair their laptops with better webcams. Although there are laptops with Full HD webcams on the market.

Do external webcams have a microphone?

Lots of external webcam models have high quality stereo microphones built inside. They are capable of delivering audio quality similar to high definition standards. Because laptops are not famous for the audio quality of their built-in microphone, an external webcam is the better solution.

Do external webcams have higher resolution than the built-in model?

Yes, external webcams can have higher resolution than the built-in camera. There are external devices that can deliver 4K resolution at 60 FPS. These models are perfect for streaming. On the other hand the majority of the built-models use 720p resolution. Even an expensive laptop like the 2020 Apple MacBook Pro Has a 720p camera.

What makes a good quality webcam?

The refresh rate, the size of the CMOS, and resolution are not the only features that make a quality webcam.

Additional factors that contribute to the overall quality of the webcams are:

  • Quality optics – lenses and other optical components
  • Good firmware
  • High frame rate with prolong use
  • Good performance in low-light environment
  • Color accuracy
  • Wide field of view
  • Autofocus
  • Larger sensor and lens

Good rule of thumb is to use a plug and play device. Webcams that require additional software to operate are not the best choice.

In conclusion

Overall, if you decide to go with an external webcam you are making a significant step forward in terms of video quality.

Any external model with Full HD (1080p) resolution will beat the HD (720p) webcam built inside your laptop.

We must note that there are laptop models that have Full HD webcams, but as of today, your choice is somewhat limited.