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Whether or not you’ve been working from home for the past year, odds are you’ve at least hopped on Zoom to connect with family, play games with friends or attend a virtual event.
You’ve probably perfected your Zoom kit by now, from ring lights and backgrounds to WiFi routers and even sweaters (pajama bottoms can definitely stay on, we say). But even with COVID-19 cases dropping and vaccination rates on the rise, the workforce dynamic has likely shifted in a more permanent way. Some companies plan to allow partial or complete work-from-home arrangements — even when it’s safe for offices to re-open — and huge tech companies like Google have saved millions by keeping offices closed and cutting back on in-office perks and employee travel.
Basically, you might be working from home for a while.
That means it’s time for another home office upgrade — a webcam. After all, you want to be sure your well-curated background aesthetic is captured in high definition. We’ve covered the best webcams before, but it turns out a fantastic option is the one in your pocket. That’s right. With the right app, your iPhone can function as a fantastic webcam.
The Truth About Built-In Webcams
If you’ve logged into a virtual meeting, peeled back the tape covering your built-in webcam and been frustrated with the quality, here’s why: The standard resolution of built-in webcams simply hasn’t kept up with phones.
We reviewed Apple’s newest M1 MacBook Air last year, and for all its stellar performance capabilities, here’s how that review concluded: “P.S. If you’re wondering about the webcam on the M1 MacBook Air, the verdict was nearly unanimous: It’s still crap.”
It’s true. Even the best laptops on the market mostly sport webcams in 720p. Compare that with the last few iPhone models, all of which are capable of shooting 4K video — in addition to the standard 1080p HD video — and the discrepancy is pretty clear. Laptop cameras pale in comparison to iPhones when it comes to light sensitivity and depth-sensing capabilities as well.
The good news? You can use an iPhone as a webcam with a simple mobile app linked to a companion app on your computer.
How to Use an iPhone as a Webcam
Each of the apps we’ve sourced are simple to use and set up. To start, you’ll need to download a mobile app from the App Store, then find its companion app to download for your computer. When you launch the mobile app, you’ll sync it with the computer software, either via WiFi or a USB connection (it varies depending on which application you pick).
We recommend sticking with the USB solution whenever possible, as it offers a more reliable connection. You don’t want the WiFi giving you trouble in the middle of an important meeting. Once the apps are linked, head to the video settings on your meetings app of choice and select your newly integrated iPhone webcam.
The three apps below all accomplish the same goal but vary slightly in both price and the number of iPhone camera settings you can utilize.
EpocCam by Elgato is a great option for both Mac and PC users and offers WiFi, USB or NDI connection. That WiFi connection capability is a big selling point here, as competitors on this list don’t offer a wireless option. But, as we mentioned above, you’re better off using USB for a more reliable connection anyway. The app itself is free, though the basic version comes with limitations — most notably the fact that it only projects a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, probably a step down from your built-in webcam. The free version also slaps a watermark on your video, and limits some of your phone’s abilities, like the pinch-to-zoom function and the option to enable your phone’s microphone (certainly a step up from your computer’s).
We recommend paying $7.99 for the pro version, which enables all these features and displays your video in crisp 1080p. To get started, download the app on your iPhone, then head to Elgato’s website to download the proper drivers for your computer.
If you’re mostly taking meetings from a PC, iVCam by e2eSoft is a Windows-friendly choice for utilizing a phone as a webcam. Its free version also features a watermark and occasional ads, and supports HD resolutions for a trial period, before bumping you back down to 480p. The Basic Annual version costs $7.99 (yes, you’d have to re-up after 12 months) and eliminates the watermark, but doesn’t allow you to access Camera Settings, which offers some nifty exposure, white balance and focus tools. The Premium Annual unlocks these Camera Settings and costs $9.99 per year. The Permanent tier costs a one-time payment of $24.99, which means you wouldn’t technically break even until halfway through your third year using iVCam. Head to e2eSoft’s website to snag the Windows driver and download the mobile app from the App Store.
Camo by Reincubate is another USB-connection choice for both Mac and Windows users, though it comes at a much steeper price. At $40 per year, the pro version is by far the most expensive iPhone-as-webcam integration app on this list. The free version, like the other options on this list, includes that pesky watermark, caps you at 720p resolution and limits you to only using your phone’s main selfie- and outward-facing lens. However, it does allow you to access your iPhone’s audio and lets you connect multiple iOS devices to switch between different camera angles. Camo Pro unlocks all of your phone’s capabilities, and lets you utilize the telephoto and ultra-wide lenses — along with portrait mode — of the newer iPhones, in addition to all the lighting and focus adjustments. It currently supports up to 1440p resolution.
As we said, Camo is pricy, but it really lets you lean into all the incredible features of your iPhone camera. It’s available now on the App Store.
Accessories You’ll Need
Regardless of which app you decide on, you’ll likely need a few accessories to complete the setup. The webcam should feel like a seamless component in your work-from-home toolkit, so you should invest in a mount or tripod to ensure the experience is truly hands-free. And again, while the WiFi connection offered in EpocCam’s app is great, but we suggest going the USB route whenever possible, as this will guarantee the most consistent, reliable connection. We’ve sourced a few items that will round out your new webcam rig.
1. Lamicall Gooseneck Mount
Beyond the obvious quality upgrade, iPhones offer more flexibility and mobility, too. If you’re drawing, cooking or streaming a task that’s hard to capture from a computer or laptop, this gooseneck iPhone mount offers that flexibility. It easily clamps to the side of your office desk and can rotate into any number of customizable positions. You can either rig it so the phone sits above your laptop like a true webcam, or bring it down to showcase and stream work on your tabletop.
2. Apple Lightning to USB-C Cable
For iPhone users, this is a product of which you can never have too many extras. We’ve already recommended sticking to the USB route when it comes to using your iPhone as a webcam, and it’s best to use the short, 3-foot table. Otherwise, you’d have a bunch of extra slack cluttering your workspace. There are a number of options from third-party brands in the USB-C cable space, but you can’t go wrong with Apple’s own model.
3. SAIJI Tablet Stand Holder
If you have enough space behind your computer, consider this phone stand from SAIJI. It extends up to a height of 18.1″, which should be the perfect height to peer over a laptop. The base itself is only 6.7″ wide, so it won’t take up too much real estate on your desk. The gooseneck option we sourced above is pretty handy but is a bit of an eyesore. This is a much cleaner choice, as it’ll be completely hidden from view.
4. DK177 Laptop Phone Holder
This is the cleanest way to mount your iPhone. The base of DK177 Laptop Phone Holder sticks to the back of your computer, while the mount rotates out to hold your phone. It uses two round metal magnets — one for the mount and one to attach to the back of your phone — to prop up your phone. Without the bulky stands and mounting clips, this is definitely the clutter-free choice. The product photos mostly show phones mounted off to the side, but you could definitely rig this on top in the standard webcam position.