Webcams were a bit of a stagnant space before the pandemic shifted much of the world to a work-from-home setup. In 2020, the Logitech C920 was still the best webcam in the mid-budget range despite being almost a decade old. The pandemic’s since seen a lot of companies launch new webcams to try to fill the world’s rising demand, but while we’ve seen contenders from the likes of Dell and Elgato knock premium giants like the Logitech Brio 4K off their thrones, we’ve yet to see a definitive improvement on the Logitech C920. Until now, with the release of the Microsoft Modern Webcam.
The name alone feels like it’s taking potshots at Logitech, even if it uses the same naming scheme as Microsoft’s recent keyboards and mice. At $70 and boasting HDR and a 78 degree field of view, this 1080p @ 30 fps camera does everything the C920 does, but thanks to recent innovations, it does it better and cheaper.
Microsoft Modern Webcam
The Microsoft Modern Webcam produced clear, rich color and detailed texture when I tested it at mid-day in my home office under what I would consider to be ideal lighting conditions (with my lamp turned on next to me and light shining in from the window to my left). This is in contrast to the Logitech C920’s picture, which is slightly blurry and has an unnaturally cool tone to it. You’ll also notice that background elements are more detailed and colorful in pictures taken with the Microsoft webcam, but without distracting from my face.
Low Light Room
Microsoft Modern Webcam
When I closed my blinds and turned off all light sources in my home office except for my monitor, the Microsoft Modern Webcam was noticeably darker and blurrier than in ideal light. This is to be expected, and we saw the same effect on the Logitech C920.
Where Microsoft’s camera differed was its priorities. Color remained rich and natural on the Microsoft Modern webcam, but the shot as a whole was overall dark. The bottom left corner in particular is hard to make out, although my face is easy enough to see. Meanwhile, the Logitech C920 retained its generally cool coloring, but this had the side effect of making the image as a whole appear brighter. While this meant my face looked blurry and a little paler than in real life, areas that were bathed in shadow on Microsoft’s webcam were easier to see here.
Microsoft Modern Webcam
When I saturated the Microsoft Modern Webcam with light by pointing it towards my window, it produced a much brighter, much more visible shot than the Logitech C920. While my window is somewhat obscured by glare, which isn’t uncommon even in higher price ranges, my face and background are all fully visible and only a little brighter than in real life. Meanwhile, the shot I took with the Logitech C920 is bathed in shadow and borderline unusable. That’s not uncommon even on premium webcams, which makes the Microsoft Modern Webcam’s fidelity under these conditions even more impressive. You could comfortably take a video call under these conditions.
Videos on the Microsoft Modern Webcam
Speaking of video calls, they are of course the intended use case for this camera. My experience capturing video was much the same as my experience with photos, and I’ve included a sample video below to show it off. I also recorded the audio for the sample video with the Microsoft Modern Webcam’s built-in microphone. Echo was present, like with most webcam microphones, but I also thought my voice was crisp and clear.
Build Quality of the Microsoft Modern Webcam
The Microsoft Modern Webcam is a small all-in-one package with no detachable cables or accessories. This makes it ideal for travel and for use with smaller devices like laptops, but it also leaves it feeling cheap and flimsy in places.
This camera does have a slightly premium feel at first blush, thanks to its sliding camera cover and reflective front plastic. But once you notice that the cover is made of foam and that the monitor mount lacks feet, that premium feeling starts to wear off.
The monitor mount is perhaps my biggest point of contention with this camera, as I couldn’t get it to securely attach to my main monitor. Instead, it would like to occasionally lean slightly forward, as that monitor (the non Quantum Dot version of this MSI Optix display) has a slight bump on its back. While the camera was still usable like this, it left me feeling slightly nervous and frequently making mild adjustments to the mount. However, when I tried attaching it to my secondary monitor, which has a flat back, I was able to get it to fit securely. On the plus side, the mount has a tripod screw on the bottom if you’d rather not bother trying to make it fit on your display.
The webcam’s USB-A cable is attached to the device, which isn’t uncommon for this price range. But that means you better not break it, because it cannot be replaced. It measures 61 inches when pulled fully taut, which is shorter than the Logitech C920’s (also attached) 72 inch cable, but is long enough to reach about every port on my desktop.
Microsoft’s webcam also isn’t too flexible, since it’s only point of articulation is a tilt that lets it move vertically either 45 degrees upwards or downwards. You won’t be rotating or swiveling this device. The Logitech C920 is in the same boat, but we have seen budget webcams from the likes of Ausdom with more configurability, and it would be nice to see big companies catching up at this point.
Like with most webcams, an LED turns on when you’re recording with the Microsoft Modern Webcam. In a classy touch, it surrounds the actual camera lens here.
Special Features on the Microsoft Modern Webcam
This webcam is built to be largely plug and play, but you can do some light configuration with the downloadable Microsoft Accessory Center App.
The big draw here is the ability to turn on HDR recording, a rare feature for a camera in this price range. But you also have sliders to control settings like brightness and contrast, plus a toggle for a “retouch” mode that attempts to brighten up your footage for you live. I found the results were always a little washed out for me, but it’s there if you want it. You can also choose to turn off auto white balance or auto flicker reduction and pick from a list of premade settings (although the only flicker reduction settings are 50 Hz and 60 Hz). Exposure gets a similar treatment, with the ability to turn off auto exposure and instead move a manual slider.
There’s also a toggle to turn off the microphone on the software level. In an odd move, the microphone is turned off by default, as it doesn’t meet Microsoft Teams certification. Surprisingly honest, given that Microsoft makes this device. Despite that caveat, I actually found that the audio I recorded on the built-in microphone was crisp and clear, if prone to echo. It’s not going to beat a dedicated microphone or headset, but it’s as good as any laptop microphone.
Also, despite this camera being made by Microsoft, it does not feature an IR sensor and thus will not work with Windows Hello. That’s not expected for an external webcam in this price range, but it’s another funny omission given how big that feature is for Microsoft.
Time has caught up to the Logitech C920, and the Microsoft Modern Webcam easily knocks it off its golden throne. The Microsoft Modern Webcam needed a few sacrifices to reach this price, but it excels in fidelity across a number of lighting conditions. Sure, the software is light and the build comes across as cheap and a little stiff and unconfigurable, but those same complaints could also be lodged against the Logitech C920. But unlike the Logitech C920, this camera is $70, is readily available and doesn’t make every shot look just a little washed out. It was also made this decade.
It’s also got HDR recording, plus it can at least tilt up and down and has a privacy shutter. Its monitor mount is a little fiddly and it’s arguable whether its default recording settings can handle extreme darkness as well as the C920, but everywhere else, this is the clear winner.