Like it or not, most of your human interaction probably takes place in front of a camera now. As social-distancing rules have shuttered workplaces, theaters, and bars across the world, homebound people are flocking to apps like Zoom and FaceTime to work from home, watch movies together, and remotely share a cold one.
But good luck partaking without a webcam.
While most laptops have built-in (usually abysmal) webcams, high-quality standalone webcams for PCs have become scarcer than toilet paper. Prices on Amazon have skyrocketed, retail stores like Best Buy are selling out, and even Craigslist opportunists are cashing in.
Hold up. Before you pay $400 for a used Logitech Brio, you should know you may already have a perfectly useful webcam substitute hanging out at the bottom of your desk drawer: Your old phone. Whether it’s an iPhone or Android device, you can convert it to a webcam in just minutes with the right app. Here’s how:
For Windows: iVCam
We tested multiple webcam apps for both iOS and Android devices, and concluded that iVCam from E2ESoft is the best for PC users. It lets you stream in multiple resolutions up to 4K, has low latency, works wirelessly or wired, and has an intuitive interface. Because it’s free, you’ll sometimes watch a short ad when you finish using it, but you can click out of it after three seconds.
Just download the app on your phone, download the drivers on your PC, and fire up your favorite videoconferencing app. “E2ESoft iVCam #1” will appear as a selectable webcam. If you want sound, you will need to also download E2ESoft’s Virtual Sound Card software, which is free. After installing it, open the iVCam app, click the three-line hamburger menu, select Play Audio To, and select E2ESoft VAudio. Afterward, open Settings (also in the PC app) and check the box to enable audio. You’ll need to select the same audio source in your videoconferencing app of choice.
For Mac: Kinoni EpocCam HD
Kinoni EpocCam HD is the best choice for Mac users. Yes, it’s $7.99, but the free version doesn’t include microphone support, which we consider essential. You can use it to stream wirelessly or via USB in up to 1080p resolution, from either your device’s front or back camera.
Just download the app, download the drivers for Mac, and fire up Zoom or your favorite videoconferencing software. It will see EpocCam as a selectable webcam, and Kinoni Audio Source as a selectable microphone.
As we discovered, converting a phone comes with some caveats.
- Opening any other app on your phone will kill the video connection, so using a dedicated phone makes much more sense than trying to use your everyday phone.
- In our experience, none of the apps are as reliable as a plug-in USB webcam. If you conference all the time for work and video dropping out could be catastrophic, you may still want to invest one of the best webcams, even if you have to pay out the nose for it.
- The rear camera on a phone isn’t meant for use as webcam, so it doesn’t have a wide-angle lens. That means the image will appear more “zoomed in” than a traditional webcam would from the same distance. You can counteract this by simply sitting farther away, or by switching to the front (“selfie”) camera on your device, which typically has lower quality but a wider angle.
- You may need to get creative with camera placement. Unlike a real webcam, a phone won’t perch conveniently atop your monitor, so you’ll need to consider how to aim it. A phone tripod or selfie stick could do the trick, if you’re crafty, or maybe you can use a phone dashboard mount for your desk. In a pinch, simple double-sided tape on the back of your monitor can do the trick, too.
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