There are few companies quite as dedicated to streamers as Elgato, so when it announced that it was coming out with its own webcam, the hype was real. Now that the Elgato Facecam has been out in the wild for a while, we’ve gotten the chance to put it through its paces and see how it holds up in real-world use. At $199, it’s expensive for a webcam, and especially so for one that’s limited to 1080p without HDR. Yet, this little camera aims to earn its keep by bridging the gap between webcams and full-size DSLRs by delivering image quality settings its competitors just don’t offer. If you don’t mind spending some time tweaking settings, it’s one of the best options for a Full HD webcam today.
Elgato Facecam – Photos
Elgato Facecam – Design and Features
The Elgato Facecam is a webcam designed to keep you looking sharp in the corner – or front and center – of your live streams. To accomplish that goal and stand out from the ever-more-crowded pack, it comes loaded with features to offer an edge in image clarity while also feeling more like a professional camera than any other webcam on the market. Much of what makes it special lies in the software, but not everything, and just like any camera, great image quality starts with the lens and sensor.
The Facecam is able to record up to 1080p at 60 FPS. It delivers a crisp, detailed image with smooth natural motion on recordings. It captures at a fairly wide 82-degree field of view, falling in the middle of its two biggest competitors, the Logitech StreamCam (78-degrees) and Razer Kiyo Pro (103-degrees max, but digitally adjustable to 80 or 90 in Synapse). It’s the equivalent of a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera and is just wide enough to leave you comfortably centered in your environment without any fisheye effect. It also has an f2.4 aperture, which is a bit slower than the Kiyo Pro or the StreamCam but doesn’t make a big difference in performance.
Where it stands apart from those cameras is with autofocus: there isn’t any. Instead, the camera uses a fixed-focus system and is designed to keep you crisp whether you’re leaning in for a close-up or reclining in your gaming chair. The focus range is technically 11.7 – 47.2 inches but I found the focus usable as close as eight inches away and as far away as seven feet. Depending on your tolerance for softness, the Facecam is more versatile than the official spec sheet lets on.
The fixed focus system is a double-edged sword, however. There’s no hunting for focus. You can sit down and know you’re coming in clear. Focus breathing is a persistent issue for glasses-wearers like myself and sometimes cameras won’t relocate me at all, so this was a nice change of pace. If you do product reviews or just like giving viewers a closer look at something you have in your hand, it pales in comparison to active focus. With the Streamcam and Kiyo Pro, you can hold an object up inches away from the lens and it will focus in with plentiful detail. The Facecam has its one-foot focusing distance and that’s it. Push in further and what you’re holding only gets blurrier.
Hidden behind that sensor is a high-quality Sony STARVIS CMOS sensor and custom image processing engine. Also found in the Kiyo Pro, Sony’s STARVIS technology is such a good fit for streaming that I recommend any streamer shopping for a webcam to actively seek out cameras that feature it. Originally limited to security cameras, STARVIS allows the Facecam to have far better low light performance than traditional webcam sensors. Colors and clarity are both enhanced, so if you stream in settings with limited lighting (like most streamers playing games in their bedrooms or spare room), it’s a good choice to make the most out of your camera investment.
The Facecam begins to set itself apart in what it does after the image hits the sensor. It applies the usual calculations for color, white balance, and correcting any imperfections that may have made their way through the lens, and then sends that image in uncompressed format straight to your computer. This allows the camera to capture finer details than most other 1080p webcams, particularly in areas like hair that tend to lose definition.
Elgato has designed the camera to open up DSLR-like controls within its Camera Hub software. For the first time (at least in my experience testing webcams), you’re finally able to adjust core settings like ISO and shutter speed, options previously limited to full-size cameras. These settings allow you to fine-tune the exposure and motion clarity of the picture just like you could with a full-size camera. Using them, it’s possible to balance brightness, motion, and noise directly while other webcams hide those options behind basic exposure and brightness sliders.
This is especially important when streaming in low light. The Facecam, like most webcams, tries to remedy the lack of key light by cranking the exposure, leading to a terrible amount of noise. Manually dialing in the ISO and shutter speed allows you to achieve a far better picture than the camera can do on its own. Left to its own adjustments, it becomes a grainy mess, but with manual settings, it looks surprisingly good for such a tiny sensor.
There are also slider settings for other core adjustments as well: saturation, contrast, sharpening, and white balance can all be tweaked to taste (brightness appears baked into the exposure settings). These settings are common to webcams but no less important. A large preview window allows you to see a live feed from the camera and observe how each adjustment affects your final image.
For users who don’t want that added level of control, each of these settings can be left on their defaults or toggled to Automatic so the camera does the work. On its own, the camera looks alright. Not great, and certainly not worth the $200 asking price, but alright. Because of that, getting familiar with Camera Hub and dialing in custom settings feels more necessary than most other pieces of webcam software.
Elgato’s suite is the only place to access all of the settings the camera has to offer. It’s also the only way to save any of your changes to the camera’s flash memory. I tend to leave most webcam software and instead adjust settings within OBS. You can certainly make the Facecam look good in OBS alone, but for the best image, especially in poor lighting, Camera Hub is the only way to go.
The picture is good, the software is rich, but the Facecam’s build quality leaves a lot to be desired. At $199, you expect a webcam to feel premium but it’s exactly the opposite. I was surprised at how lightweight it felt. It fell off my monitor multiple times during setup just from adjusting the USB cable. It’s made entirely of plastic and feels hollow. This isn’t what a flagship webcam should feel like. It is simultaneously one of the most expensive and one of the most cheap-feeling 1080p webcams I’ve used.
I was also surprised to find that the camera doesn’t include any kind of microphone. Since it’s targeted at streamers, it’s probably safe to assume that most users will have a separate mic, but for this price, it really should have been included. What if you want to take a meeting during the day? You’re forced to set up a second mic and, speaking from experience, you don’t want people talking about your microphone or gaming headset when you’re trying to give a presentation.
Elgato Facecam – Performance
I tested the Facecam in a variety of settings over the week I spent with it. Everything from low-light gaming with RGB in the background, to overhead desk shots, to virtual meetings in an office setting lit with fluorescent lights. Throughout all of this testing, the camera delivered a clear image that was exceptionally smooth and natural thanks to the 60FPS frame rate.
Elgato Facecam – Stock Settings
Out of the box, the camera accomplishes its most basic job, delivering a clear image that’s reliably smooth, but it overexposes the image and loses detail. Compared with the Razer Kiyo Pro, there’s no competition: the Kiyo is far better out of the box than the Facecam. In the images below, you can see the two camera side by side on default settings (with no HDR). This is a camera that demands custom settings. Without them, it just doesn’t compete. With them, that changes in a big way.
Elgato Facecam – Stock Settings Comparison
The lack of autofocus was an early disappointment, but my feelings changed the more I used it. I used to spend time before every video making sure I was perfectly in focus and doing tests to make sure it wasn’t going to lose me if I moved in a certain way. That’s just not a worry anymore (though I do miss being able to hold things up to the camera for a close-up).
What really impressed me (when dialed in) is the level of detail the camera is able to provide. Capturing in uncompressed 1080p means that small details come through more cleanly than other webcams. My regular scruff usually comes across soft on webcams, but makes for an easy way to tell the advantage of Elgato’s image processing on this camera. Will stream viewers notice after YouTube and Twitch’s compression algorithms have been applied? Probably not, which draws into question whether that’s worth paying for explicitly for streaming versus pre-recorded video. If you do create content ahead of time, it’s noticeable.
I was also very impressed by the camera’s low light performance – again, after customizing my own shutter speed and ISO. Out of the box, it’s incredibly grainy. The colors are good, much better than a camera without STARVIS baked in, and it maintains an admirable frame rate for smooth motion, but the amount of noise detracts from those advantages. With a few minutes in Camera Hub, I was able to adjust the shutter speed and reduce the ISO to minimize grain and maintain a more realistic, colorful image. This is even true in the worst conditions, when lit only by my monitor, represented in the “low light” examples below. With even a normal room lamp nearby, the grain can be reduced even further.
Elgato Facecam – Custom Settings Comparison
One thing software can’t overcome is the lack of HDR. Compared side by side with the Kiyo Pro, the Facecam had a much harder time with shadows and highlights. At my day job, my desk sits in front of a big window. Out of the box, the Facecam completely washed that out and parts of my face due to the daylight. Adjusting the exposure settings made a big difference, but there’s no way around the lost detail in the highlights. In normal and lower light settings, the Kiyo Pro is also able to retain more shadow detail, visible in the textures of fabric, such as my shirt in the samples above.
At the end of the day, though, I’d still choose the Facecam over the Kiyo Pro or Logitech Streamcam. It’s true that the auto white balance and auto exposure settings sometimes miss the mark, but once you’re familiar with Camera Hub, it’s possible to make the Facecam look great, even if you’re only lit by your computer monitor.
The question is whether it’s enough to justify the high cost of entry, and I think for most users the answer is no. The additional settings are nice, and as a camera geek, I am thrilled to finally see them made available on a consumer webcam like this, but they are not required to pull a great-looking image from other webcams. The Dell Ultrasharp retails for an identical price, is much better built, also has a Sony STARVIS sensor, 4K video, high dynamic range, reliable autofocus, and an even easier time nailing exposure and white balance. The Elgato Facecam, then, is really for people who want the nuance of setting their own ISO and shutter speed.