What is a Webcam and How Does it Work?

Deyan Georgiev
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Updated · Apr 19, 2023

Deyan Georgiev
Website Manager | Joined October 2021

Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Fa... | See full bio

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Webcams this, webcams that…

What is a webcam??

It is a video camera that is attached to a computer and gives you the ability to capture images and video. 

What is a webcam used for?
Well, a lot of things. Recently, thanks to the pandemic, most people use theirs with video conferencing software like Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, and other apps.

What Is a Webcam?

A webcam is a small camera directly or indirectly connected to a computer, or a network, which serves a variety of purposes. From taking photos to live conference business calls - it can do it all. 

Do you need to buy one?

Many laptops have a webcam built into the display, but if yours doesn’t - there are external options.

What Types of Webcam Devices Are There?

So, what are your options?


Standalone webcams predate most other types. They usually connect to the computer via a USB cable. Older models may use serial port connectors or other methods of data transfer. 

Standalone options provide the most control over your peripherals. This allows you to pick a high-quality camera and microphone or headset to suit your needs. 

Webcams With Microphones

Many newer standalone web cameras include a built-in microphone. This removes the need for a separate one or a headset. You can use these webcams with only a set of headphones. 

Those are compact and convenient.

Network Cameras

Network cameras work much like conventional webcams, but transmit their data through wireless or Ethernet connections. Often used for closed-circuit security television (CCTV) and other security supervision purposes.

How Do Webcams Work? 

Its setup consists of a digital camera connected to your computer, typically through a USB port and cable. 

It comes with a webcam software. The program "grabs a frame" from the digital camera at a preset interval (for example, a picture is taken once every 30 seconds) and transfer it to another location for viewing. 

High frame rates are generally better. This indicates the number of pictures the software can grab and transfer in one second. 

For example, if you use a web cam for streaming, go for one with a minimum rate of at least 15 frames per second (fps) 30 fps is ideal. To achieve high frame rates,  or to host and own an online meeting like a webinar, you need a high-speed internet connection.

Once it captures a frame, the software broadcasts the image over your internet connection. There are several broadcast methods. Using the most common one, the software turns that image into a JPEG file and uploads it to a web server using File Transfer Protocol (FTP). 

Built-in vs Standalone Camera

Nowadays, there are integrated webcams on computers and laptops. While these built-in models are more convenient to use, external options do have some advantages. Which works best for you depends on what will you use the device for.

Setup and Cost

Built-in options require no additional setup. They are typically ready to go straight from the manufacturer, with all of the relevant software and drivers preinstalled.

In contrast, external webcams require additional expenditure and must be installed and set up manually. 

While most are usually ready to go as soon as they are plugged in, you might still need tweak a few settings.

Upgrade and Maintenance

Whether this will be easy or hard, depends entirely on which option you have.

You can’t choose what your built-in computer webcam will be. All you can do is hope that the manufacturer got a good one. 

If you go for an external option, you have all the freedom. 

If something should go wrong with a built-in webcam, you'll need to open up the display to get at its lens and wiring.  An external model is much easier to access. 

In addition, the troubleshooting process with an external webcam is much more straightforward. You can plug it into a different computer to check it's still working, for example, which is not possible with an internal option.

Scope and Portability

As you already know, there are different uses of a webcam. So, you need to take a few things into consideration:

External webcams are more difficult to place (on top of a monitor for example) but also more flexible. You can twist around the head more easily than you can turn around your entire laptop.

External models are much more suited to remote monitoring situations. For example, they're much easier to place on a window or a door.

If you're on the move with a laptop, however, an internal webcam has the edge, as everything is integrated into the computer itself. There are no additional devices and wires to think about packing and unpacking.

Wrap Up

Thanks to the pandemic, webcam devices are now a crucial part of our daily lives. 

We use them for e-learning, work collaborations, and just chatting with friends. 

You have two options to choose from: the integrated camera of your device or an external model. 

Whichever you go for, just make sure it fits your needs.


Is a webcam the same as a laptop camera?

Technically no, because a webcam can be a stand-alone camera device, while laptop cameras are usually built into the display of a laptop computer.

What is the purpose of a webcam device?

The purpose of the webcam device is to help people collaborate more effectively and to increase social interaction in real-time video calls for example.

How do I use the webcam on my computer?

Depends on the type you’ve chosen. If it’s integrated, just start a call and enable the video. Or you can go to Settings, find Camera and turn it on. If it’s an external model, you’ll have to connect it to your device via a USB cable. Then you follow the aforementioned steps.

What is a webcam for a laptop?

These days, all laptops have integrated cameras. You can use them for calls, video conferences, collaborative tasks, etc.

If you’re still wondering what a webcam is, check the article above.


Deyan Georgiev

Deyan Georgiev

Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.

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