Razer Kiyo Pro – Design and Features
The Kiyo Pro is a beastly webcam. It uses a circular design instead of the usual rectangle found on most webcams but sits even higher than the original Razer Kiyo in size. In fact, it seems designed to look like a mirrorless camera lens, complete with the knurled front ring that begs to be turned (but can’t be). It feels solid with a metal front ring, molded plastic rear, and surprisingly hefty weight. Razer went all in on sturdiness, even opting for a large Gorilla Glass 3 protective panel for the lens, and a plastic lens cap to protect even that while traveling. It’s cliche to say a product is “made to last,” but that is certainly the impression it gives. Frankly, it’s the sports car of webcams for build quality.As I would expect from any webcam, it comes with its own stand to balance on the edge of your monitor, but it’s strong enough to double as a tripod and hold the Kiyo Pro all on its own. The camera attaches to the stand with a standard ¼-20 thumb screw that also allows it to pivot and easily frame your shot. The stand also allows the camera to tilt anywhere from a slight upward angle to a full 90-degrees to point straight down at your desk.There’s also a second ¼-20 thread on the bottom of the stand, so you have plenty of options to use a standalone tripod with just the camera or an adjustable mount like the GorillaPod without losing flexibility. The stand is so good, though, that I didn’t see a need to mount it on a tripod. It’s one of the best I’ve ever used due to its strength and adjustment options.
The big challenge facing webcams versus larger cameras is their small sensor size. A camera that looks great in bright light can look grainy and terrible in dim lighting. The Kiyo Pro meets this challenge with a larger-than-average Sony IMX327 image sensor (2.1MP) and 2.9 micrometer pixel size, along with a wide F2.0 aperture that allows it to gather more light. Those features are nice, but probably wouldn’t be enough to make a big difference on their own, which is where STARVIS and HDR come in.
Between the new sensor, STARVIS and HDR, low light performance is the name of the game for the Kiyo Pro. STARVIS is proprietary tech owned by Sony and isn’t something I’ve come across in gaming hardware until now. It has been a popular choice in security cameras for some time, however, allowing users to record in near complete darkness in full color with far less noise than a traditional camera sensor. Applied here, it means that you can stream in near-dark conditions with a far better image than a webcam has a right to.
HDR, on the other hand, complements this by evening out the image for a wider range of color and exposure. When enabled through Synapse, the camera captures images at multiple exposures and blends them together in real time. What this means in practice is that Kiyo Pro can adapt much better to different lighting scenarios than most webcams today, including scenes that are too bright. In my testing, it didn’t completely eliminate hot spots if my Elgato Key Lights were too close but it performed much better than I expected in this regard. That said, HDR mode has its own share of downsides and isn’t going to be the best choice in every situation.
Compared to the original Razer Kiyo, the Pro bumps the maximum resolution to uncompressed 1080p60 and this is really where the disappointments start. Compared to the original Kiyo’s 720p60, it’s a welcome bump but with the “Pro” moniker, I was really hoping to see it compete with the Logitech Brio’s 4K resolution. It’s true that streamers and virtual employees won’t use 4K but many content creators still use webcams for recording and at $199, it would have been nice to see it really compete there.
I was also surprised to see that the Kiyo’s most defining feature, its built-in ring-light, was removed. In speaking with Razer, I was told that the designers didn’t feel it was necessary thanks to the STARVIS technology and I simply disagree. Particularly in HDR, the Kiyo Pro could benefit from a solid white light source as I found it very reactive to warm white lighting.
The webcam features an adjustable field of view which can be set inside Razer Synapse. At its widest, it’s industry-leading at 103-degrees. This is a good fit for multi-person streams but results in a very noticeable fisheye effect. It can also be stepped down to 90-degrees, a match for the Logitech Brio and much wider than the Logitech Streamcam’s 78-degrees. The final two steps match the Streamcam and crop in further to 65-degrees for a nice head and shoulders shot.
If you’re using a work machine, do note that Synapse is required to make the most of this camera. You’ll need to open it at least once to enable HDR and to enter the widest field of view. Synapse also allows you to make some basic adjustments to brightness, contrast, saturation, and color temperature, but these can all be accessed through OBS or Windows’ Camera app.
If you’re planning on using this camera for its microphone, you’ll be pleased to know that it offers stereo omnidirectional microphones. They sound good and offer a full, bassy tone that’s not compressed like the Logitech Streamcam. It doesn’t offer the best noise rejection, however, so if you need to chat in a noisy environment, plan on reaching for the headset.
Razer Kiyo Pro – Performance
I tested the Kiyo Pro head to head against its closest competitors, the Logitech Brio and Logitech Streamcam, as well as against my Lumix G85 connected with a CamLink. Like the Kiyo Pro, the Brio is also HDR enabled while the Streamcam is not. I tested each camera multiple scenarios to get a feel for how it would perform:
- Standard Lighting: Corner lamp with normal soft white bulb, 100-watt equivalent, 3-4ft away. Second light source in the opposite corner of the room. Full RGB on the PC and peripherals.
- RGB Lighting: Nanoleaf panels on the rear wall and to my right, approx. 3ft away. Elgato Key Light and Key Light Air both on. Larger Key Light at 20%, smaller just enough to light the other side of my face. Monitor/PC lighting.
- Well Lit: Both key lights on, just shy of causing clipping, tuned to “cool white” color temperature.
- Low Light: Worst case scenario. Only monitor/PC lighting, curtains drawn.
When it comes to the Kiyo Pro on its own, I was impressed by its image quality but quickly realized that it would need tweaks to really look its best. Out of the box, the image quality is good but slightly soft and tends toward warmer colors. When swapping from SDR to HDR mode, I was surprised by how effectively it smoothed out hotspots on my skin from the corner lamp. At the same time, HDR seemed to add more contrast and darkened the image overall. Enabling HDR also drops the framerate to 30 FPS. The smoothness of a 60 FPS stream is hard to go back from but in unideal lighting, it’s a reasonable trade-off for the improvement to image quality.
That said, this is a camera that loves white light. When I took it to my day job under the office fluorescents, I was surprised by how good I was able to get it to look. Without adjusting anything, it’s a dramatic leap forward from your average laptop webcam, but with custom settings applied, I was able to get it looking very good. Much better, in fact, than I could with any kind of colored light in the mix.
Compared to the Logitech Brio and Streamcam, the differences are fairly stark. Logitech clearly tunes its cameras for exposure and skin tones, even in warm lighting. In HDR mode, the Kiyo Pro usually came across too amber and the heightened contrast made it look underexposed on default settings on everything but the “Well Lit” scenario.
As you can tell, once the cool white lights overtook my normal room lighting, everything cleared up. In fact, I prefer the colors of the Kiyo Pro to the Brio here. Swapping over to RGB lighting (my approximation of stream lighting), that amber cast returns slightly, but both Logitech cameras both over-compensated and made my face too pale. The Kiyo Pro also did a better job of preserving detail in the dark areas of the picture, like my sweatshirt. Oddly, it caused very noticeable banding across my Nanoleaf panels which none of my other cameras have ever displayed.
Where the Razer webcam shined was in low light performance. Even against Brio, there was far less grain and much better colors. Grain still exists, but since the conditions were so poor, the fact that it does as well as it does proves Razer’s claims. For low light performance, it’s excellent.
Like most cameras, you can increase image quality with some custom tweaks and I consider that almost a necessity here. Surprisingly, disabling HDR made a major improvement to the amber cast and exposure almost immediately, so clearly it’s a result of the camera’s processing. If you have a lighting scenario similar to mine, you might consider running the camera in SDR mode and being done with it. The SDR image is still very good but lacks the smoothness of HDR.
Thankfully, it’s possible to make big improvements just by adjusting the sliders inside Razer Synapse. By boosting brightness, lowering contrasting, and tweaking a handful of other settings, I was able to really improve the overall image.
One thing that really stood out to me, however, is that the Brio still offered the crisper picture, even after I applied sharpening to the Kiyo Pro. In fact, taken as a whole, for the same price, the Brio offers more detail, brighter exposure, better color balance, and comparable performance in all but very dim scenarios. Fortunately for Razer, the Brio still has the worst auto-focus performance I’ve ever seen on a webcam. The Kiyo Pro, on the other hand, would hunt briefly if I re-entered the scene but generally stayed locked on my face.