An external lens won’t completely fix your webcam woes, but it has its benefits

Technology

Recently, some of the most popular webcams have been difficult to buy at major online retailers as people bought them to help stay in contact while social distancing or working from home during the pandemic. For example, as of this writing, Logitech’s popular C920 HD Pro webcam is sold out on Logitech’s US online store, and its listed price on Amazon US is currently well above Logitech’s own $79.99 asking price. Other models are available, but the situation means you might not get the exact webcam you want.

That means people have had to get creative by using standalone cameras or even old iOS or Android devices as replacement webcams. But today, I’ve been trying out a different approach: using an aftermarket lens from Moment to improve my laptop’s existing webcam, rather than replacing it entirely. The lens mount was originally designed for smartphones (where most of Moment’s focus has typically been), but Moment tells me it started targeting laptops in response to customer demand.

The Moment Webcam Set, which I’ve been testing, is a $77.98 bundle (currently discounted to $61.98) that includes an O-Series mount and an 18mm wide-angle lens. Alternatively, if you’ve already got a Moment lens, you can buy a mount separately for $29.99. (There are versions for both its O-Series and newer M-Series lenses.) It also works with phones and tablets. Importantly, all of these kits are currently listed as available on Moment’s online store; there are no stock shortages here.

Installation is simple. The mount has a screw with a rubber cap on it, which you turn to hold it steady against the back of your laptop screen, and you can shift the front part of the mechanism up and down so that the lens hole lines up with your webcam. (I found it helped to have my camera app open while I was doing this so I could get the alignment right.) Moment says the lens mount supports laptops as thick as 10.75mm, and there’s a thicker rubber screw cap included for slimmer laptop lids. Then, you can attach the lens itself into place on the mount.

The effect of the wide-angle 18mm lens was obvious, as you can see from the photos below; it gave my webcam a much wider field of view. Whereas previously, my Surface Laptop’s webcam typically only included my face and the tops of my shoulders, with the lens installed, its field of view stretched down to my chest and included much more of my surroundings (but also, regrettably, the mount itself). It’s even a much wider field of view than the Logitech C920 HD Pro I included as a comparison. Naturally, this effect will vary depending on which lens you use, which laptop you’re mounting it to, and whether you opt for the O-Series or the M-Series mount (the latter of which is designed for larger lenses).

There are some limitations to this approach. The biggest, obviously, is that it relies on your computer having an existing webcam to work. So if you’re working on a laptop like the webcam-less Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 or a desktop computer with an external monitor, then an external lens won’t be much help.

Even if it does, it won’t do much to fundamentally change the quality of your webcam. Putting a lens over it doesn’t change the fact that my first-generation Surface Laptop is still taking photos using a 720p webcam. Compared to a decent standalone 1080p webcam like the C920, the difference is stark. And yes, I tried to see if I could mount Moment’s lens to the front of the C920, but Logitech’s webcam was, unfortunately, too thick.

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It’s also a little bulky. Once installed, the arms on the Moment mount covered part of the top middle of my screen, and it goes without saying that you won’t be able to close your laptop with the lens mount installed. Oh, and on my machine, the mount also seemed to break Windows Hello’s face unlock. The limitations mean that you’d probably want to detach the lens whenever you’re not using it, but thankfully, that’s a fairly easy process.

That doesn’t mean the lens mount is without its uses. Being able to change your webcam’s focal length could be really helpful. The 18mm lens that comes in the bundle, for example, makes the field of view much wider, perfect for getting your whole family in frame for a Zoom call. Better still, if you’ve already got one of Moment’s lenses lying around, getting a mount for your laptop is a fairly cheap investment and something you can use across multiple devices.

I don’t think Moment’s webcam kit is for everyone. The cost of the bundle is comparable to a decent standalone webcam (if you can find one in stock). And if you choose right, an external webcam should give you a good boost in image quality. But if you’re someone who’s already invested in Moment’s lenses, then its webcam mount is a neat way to get more out of your existing hardware.