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The 2020 MacBook Air’s FaceTime HD Camera Is Still Lousy

Apple continuously improves the iPhone’s front-facing camera, but the company’s laptop webcams seem frozen in time, somewhere deep in the last decade. The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern made a video comparing the webcam in the just-released MacBook Air against webcams in the Dell XPS 13, the Google Pixelbook Go, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, and her elderly 2010 MacBook Pro. The Surface Laptop 3 and especially the Pixelbook Go easily bested the MacBook Air, with the XPS 13 bringing up the rear. Even the 2010 MacBook Pro’s 1280-by-1024 iSight camera performed better than the 2020 MacBook Air’s 720p FaceTime HD camera (1280-by-720 resolution) in some circumstances. None of them hold a candle to an iPhone 11’s front-facing TrueDepth camera, which provides a whopping 12 megapixels of resolution and can record 4K video at 60 frames per second.

Why are laptop webcams still so bad? Laptop lids are much thinner than most phones and tablets, people don’t tend to take selfies with a laptop, and hardware designers may assume that anyone who really cares will attach an external webcam. But with so many people now working and socializing via videoconferencing due to COVID-19 precautions and stay-at-home orders, we hope Apple improves its webcams for future laptop models. Besides, how are we going to get Face ID in a laptop without a TrueDepth camera system?

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Comments About The 2020 MacBook Air’s FaceTime HD Camera Is Still Lousy

Notable Replies

  1. Really good video. This woman is smart, funny, and makes an excellent point. I hope Apple hears her. The WSJ used to be pretty well connected to Apple. I hope that’s still the case despite Apple’s more recently discovered love for YouTubers.

  2. Indeed I discussed this in Apple’s discussion forums last month.

    All Apple’s laptops have pitifully poor webcams, the iMac Pro has a slightly better one.

    Yes the article rightly points out that laptops have thinner screens than phones but still one would expect something better by now.

    My hope is that rumours Apple are going to add FaceID and depth sensing to laptops will force Apple to finally make big improvements in image quality.

    One cannot be certain but so poor is the quality of Apple’s laptop webcams that I feel one can tell when an interviewee on a new channel is using a Mac. (For arguments sake I will accept FaceTime is superior to Skype for stability but if you start off with a poor image it does not matter how good your Internet link is.)

  3. Joanna Stern does really good work, indeed. I’ve never intersected with her at all, but I’d welcome the opportunity to meet her sometime.

    She also did a wonderful piece on the butterfly keyboards, and I’d hope that had some effect too.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUbfDilfutE
  4. Her pieces are truly amazing and fun. There’s a great piece from last month on trying to damage an iPhone screen with various cleaning products. You can access the whole series via https://www.wsj.com/video/series/joanna-stern-personal-technology. Although the Wall Street Journal’s paywall is pretty strict for articles, these videos do not require any subscription or login.

  5. That’s because of the very close personal relationship that journalist/editor Walt Mossberg shared with Steve Jobs. It’s well documented in Walter Isaacson’s bio. You can check out Mossberg’s excellent WSJ tribute to Jobs; it’s not behind a paywall:

    Mossberg continued the good relationship with Tim Cook. But a few years ago he his journalistic partner, Kara Swisher (he focused on the personal side of technology, she covered business and marketing) left the WSJ and the All Things Digital conferences they ran to found Recode and the Code Conferences. Mossberg retired not long ago.

  6. s5b

    I saw your reference to Joanna Stern’s review of the MacBook Air; in particular, the observations around the built-in camera for webcam use.

    In response, I noticed on Macintouch recently that there was a reference to a utility that allows you to use external cameras as an alternative webcam on your macOS or Windows machines. It’s called EpoCam. I’ve not used the product, nor am I affiliated with it in any way (even as a customer).

    But if you can use the fancy camera on your modern smart phone, which you always have with you, then this may be a solution to the poor camera performance on the current laptop crop. It would also make for a more flexible positioning of the camera, albeit with some hassle.

    https://macintouch.com/post/4210/epoccam/

    Cheers, S t u a r t .

  7. In fact, we’re testing EpoCam and another app right now. :slight_smile: More soon…

  8. s5b

    Good to know. Thanks.

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