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Suddenly, video meetings are all the rage and right as we all head into the world of virtual work, Apple has released the update to the perennial favorite, the 13-in MacBook Air. The keyboard has been upgraded, and the processors pack more speed – there are plenty more details in our recent review. As great as all the new upgrades are, the webcam got left behind this time and it’s not amazing. 

It’s not gone unnoticed by those who’ve been out to buy the new laptop device, some who’ve been put off by the lack of quality webcam, and reviewers have also taken note. It’s not like Apple have dropped the ball and allowed their reputation to slide, everyone knows MacBooks don’t get the best webcams. On kit like the iPhone, iPad Pro, etc there are some very decent cameras on the front and back, but what you get with the MacBook is a 720p resolution, a lot of noise, flat looks, and no depth-sensing technology.  

No one at Apple could have known about the mass migration to Zoom, and if they did they kept it super quiet. But now the software, along with plenty of other video conference systems, is becoming the new normal. They’ve used this same camera time and again over the years, and its inadequacies are well documented by reviewers. There’s precious little better in Windows laptops, with sub-1080p being standard, but there is generally better sensitivity to light, more accuracy in the color, and better depth-sensing to do facial-recognition log-ins.

What’s the fix, then?

We’d place a bet somewhere around evens that you’re heading into your video conference using a MacBook Air, or similar. The odds get better on the chances you’re not looking too great. Particularly with a low-slung laptop like the MacBook Air, the camera is going to be at an angle to accentuate your chins when sitting at your kitchen table or desk.  

Image credit: appleinsider.ru

The first solution is to use your phone and its in-built camera for your video meetings. Chances that one or all of them are better is very high. Dan Ackernan, who initially wrote a version of this article for cnet, has been using a phone mounted tripod clip set up at eye level when needing to shoot video and appear on TV.  

The next choice is to get an external webcam from a company like Logitech. However, you’re not the first person to try this and most webcams are sold out on Amazon and other usual haunts, so the built-in camera is what you’re stuck with. Once resigned to that fact, read on for tips on how to make the most of it.

Getting high

If it’s good for your hands, it’s not going to be great for your face. When you’ve got a decent, ergonomic position for your hands to be typing, your camera is going to be far too low to look good in a Zoom meeting. Reach for some big books – those $200 uni textbooks deserve to be repurposed – or raid the board game cupboard to find some boxes to give your computer height. Empty pizza boxes don’t work, sadly; too much wobble in empty boxes. Whatever you use, you need to get your computer propped up.

Optimal positioning is somewhere just above eye level so your colleagues aren’t getting a good look at how you’ve not clipped your nasal hairs since lockdown started.

Getting lit

When the lights are low, the MacBook Air’s camera performs at its worst. This isn’t unique to laptop webcams, by all means. Ever wondered why there’s so much lighting on movie sets and in professional photography studios? You don’t need to go quite that far, but if you can get close to a window with natural sunlight you’re going to improve your webcam shot a great deal. You need to be facing the window to achieve the right effect; don’t have your back to it. The camera should be seeing the light from the window rather than the window itself. 

Image credit: shadowgraphy.com

No natural light? No biggie. There’s still no need to drop an annual salary on a fancy lighting rig. You can pick up a kit for $50 from places like UBeesize, that comes with a tripod to mount your phone and an 8-inch ring light. Ackerman and most of his colleagues are on to this type of rig, or similar, at the moment.

Getting Better

Escaping the realms of the dreaded 720p webcam is hard, with it featuring on everything from the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, all the way up to the iMac. Hidden in the Apple computer line-up, however, is one computer with a better webcam. Odds that you have it are pretty slim, because it costs $5,000 or more. The iMac Pro uses a 1080p FaceTime HD camera. But honestly, it’s not worth the investment just for that.

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