Up and down, side to side, zooming in and out – if you need to move around during online calls or presentations this compact camera will track your movement in crisp quality video.
For years as a tech journalist I joked, “thank goodness video calling didn’t take off” alongside “I have a face for radio”. Then came Covid and the rise of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. Those of us who’d never much used our laptops’ built-in cameras suddenly reached for them… and realized they weren’t very good.
Enter: an array of webcams designed to perch on the top of your screen. They offer better specs than the built-in camera and they connect via plug-and-play USB, so the camera footage simply appears in the same place as your built-in cam. You can even flick between the cameras with ease. The only challenge then is picking which external webcam to buy.
This innovative webcam is a new 4K version of the Obsbot Tiny, a camera built onto a gimbal, complete with gesture control. The two-axis gimbal offers smooth, filmic movement and the camera uses AI to track you as you move. The technical term is a PTZ webcam: it pans, tilts and zooms to follow you around. Pace up and down like a stand-up comedian and the camera follows. You can make your Zoom presentations more interesting, give your YouTube videos a professional touch, or look more dynamic as you lead an online yoga class.
Gesture control means you can make an L shape with your hand to zoom in and out. You can also hold up an open palm next to your face to lock or unlock yourself as a target – setting whether the Obsbot Tiny 4K tracks you around or not. It works like those clever smartphones that take the picture when you smile.
Video quality is a crisp 4K, which is the big improvement on its predecessor, and the base of the camera boasts dual omni-directional mics with noise reduction.
Unboxing, the camera comes in a neat carry case that will prove handy when you use your laptop on the move. And it comes with two cables. There’s the USB (C to C, but there’s an adapter to convert to the commonplace A) and also a separate USB power cable. Essentially, plug it into a USB 3.0 port and you just need one cable, but if your laptop has USB 2.0 then you may need the second cable to plug into a second USB port for extra power. The base of the camera is magnetic and attaches to a mount that sits comfortably on the top of a laptop or flat screen. The camera base is also threaded for use on a tripod.
It has an 86° field of view, can pan over 150° and tilt by 45°. You control the zoom level (up to 4x) and whether or not to use HDR for improved contrast. Little lights on the front of the camera base indicate what mode it’s in and whether it’s locked on a subject. The privacy mode is a nice feature: use your hand to point the camera directly downwards and the video and audio are both cut off, with the lights turning off to confirm this.
When plugged into USB, my Windows 11 laptop recognized the camera straight away and it appeared in the Camera app as well as in software like Zoom. The button for swapping cameras (the one that looks like you’re swapping from front to rear camera) lets you switch between your camera options.
Picture and sound quality were both superb. With picture of course being better in bright light than low light. Zoom was simple. Hold up your hand in an L shape beside your face and the camera zooms in or out. It automatically zooms 2x, the gesture simply toggles between zoomed in or out. But in the settings, which you find in the Obsbot app that’s installed automatically, go to Gesture Control-Zoom Setting and you can select the preset zoom level, anything up to 4x. Having tested them all, and seen my skin at 4x zoom in high definition, I’d say 2x is plenty. Remember: face for radio. The app also gives you manual control over the gimbal. You could almost imagine using it for filmmaking.
To select whether the camera follows you or is static, the gesture is raising an open palm beside your face. This works fairly well but isn’t recognized as consistently as the L. The green lights on the front of the camera base turn blue to indicate that it has noticed either gesture.
There is no visual indicator on the camera to tell you whether you’re zoomed in or out. Looking at your mug on screen works of course, but if you’re screen-sharing a presentation and can’t see your own face then you don’t know for sure what your zoom level is. But the green lights under the camera do indicate whether it is tracking your movements or not. If you have a wide bar of three green lights then it is tracking you. If you have a narrow bar of a single green light in the middle then it isn’t. This is helpful, as moving your head around just to see if it follows looks goofy.
Tracking is smooth and not too fast. And it uses two axes, so when you stand up from your chair and step back it looks up at you, as well as following you side to side. The mic still pics up what you’re saying well. It picks up your speech anywhere in the room but doesn’t pick up surrounding noise. The train passing at the bottom of my garden (back door open) barely registered and when my doorbell rang it didn’t pick up much of what I said there.
The only annoying thing is that the Obsbot is quite heavy, sat atop your screen. If you’re working at a desk then this isn’t a problem until you change the screen’s tilt. But work with the laptop on your lap and it moves a little as you type… enough that the camera can tip over.
If you don’t mind that it’s a bit bulkier than your average webcam, the Obsbot Tiny 4K is a great buy for anyone who likes to move while making video calls.
Spend around £25 less if you’re happy with 1080p Full HD video quality instead of 4K with HDR. You get a 90° field of view camera with AI tracking, pan, zoom, tilt and gesture control. But we’d say it’s worth paying the extra for improved video quality.
Logitech makes high-end PTZ webcams for the boardroom that cost five times this much. This quirky alternative is a motorized 1080p camera with a remote control but no auto tracking. You manually control the camera. It has a 78° field of view, can pan over 180° and tilt by 55°.
j5create 360° All Around Webcam
Another innovative design with a meeting room in mind. The 1080p camera can be tipped back so it faces the ceiling, at which point its ultra-wide angle lens can give a 360° view, putting every person around the table on screen at once.
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